Film

Preservation and Perseverance

Jake Meaney
Away from Her

Away from Her grasps at that which can't be held and kept: the white of snow, the white of the winter sky, the white of the lacunae of memory. The Paper tires desperately to hold on to the Romantic ideals of journalism at its best, while watching it fade into obsolescence.

Away From Her (dir. Sarah Polley)

What startles most about Away From Her is not its reserve and subtle grace in treating a subject that could've easily gone down the dark road of crassly manipulative Hallmark Hall of Fame emotional pornography. Nor is it the focus on a primarily elderly cast facing tough wrenching questions of encroaching senescence, such a rarity in film these days. Nor is it that Julie Christie, just turned 66, is still more luminous and alluring than actresses a third her age.

No, what startles most about Away From Her, a poetic, poignant and unflinching portrayal of Alzheimer's Disease and its effect on a marriage, is that it was adapted and directed by a 28-year-old. Sarah Polley has never been a particular favorite of mine (truth be told, I've only ever liked her in the recent remake of Dawn of the Dead), but watching her assured and courageous directorial debut, I find myself having to do a whole lot of backpedalling and revising of my previous opinions of her. And whatever one does make of her former work as an actress, if Away from Her is any indication, she will soon be a directorial force to be reckoned with.

Away from Her

I don't know what inner resources or experiences she was able to draw from to conceive of and realize such a mature and respectful treatment of a subject well beyond her ken, but the proof is on the screen. Assured, confident, and unafraid to wade into a deeply traumatizing arena of seismically emotional catastrophe, she directs with a steady, lyrical hand, weaving the film together with fades to white: the white of snow, the white of the winter sky, the white of the lacunae of memory. Her film treats questions of love and endurance in the face of illness, devotion in the face of the purgatorial oblivion of a disease that destroys the very core of identity.

Of course, a good amount of Away from Her's success depends upon the two leads, Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie, who play the beleaguered couple Grant and Fiona. Heartbreaking without ever becoming cloying or cheesy, their performances complement the grace of the film itself, both choosing understatement when histrionics could easily have been in order. Christie's exemplary turn as a wife slowly slipping into the haze of Alzheimer's, of course, is no surprise. But Pinsent, a Canadian actor whom I must confess to being completely unfamiliar with, is the emotional core of the film. His persistence, his unconditional love, his railing against and final acceptance of a situation so utterly beyond any control, is hewn of the very marrow of life.

In still images from the documentary, Editor-in-Chief Jimmy Young looks over the day’s paper.(Courtesy Prince Spells/Centre Daily Times/MCT)

The Paper (dir. Aaron Matthews)

Aaron Matthews' The Paper is a fairly straight forward, fly-on-the-wall look at the inner workings of the Daily Collegian, the private, student-run newspaper at Penn State University. Focusing on the daily travails of the newsroom editors and staff as they develop stories and try to bolster flagging circulation, the film illuminates larger issues of an increasingly besieged print media, as well as commenting tangentially on campus wide issues of race, rape and homophobia.

The editorial staff, especially eternally beleaguered editor in chief James Young and managing editor Bridget Smith, wrestle throughout with the sort of Romantic ideals of journalism and its nature (e.g., hardline feature reporting about serious issues) that are fading into obsolescence in a world that favors rapid-fire sensationalism and entertainment. The overarching question of journalistic integrity versus the very real need, business-wise, to appeal to their target audience (18-25-year-olds) yields several attempted solutions, e.g., a regular feature on fluffy relationship and sex advice, and increased sports coverage at the expense of more serious issues. But these attempts to secure readership are merely fingers in the damn.

The Paper

Circulation only starts to bounce back when the decision to run a virulently homophobic letter to the editor in response to the paper's front page picture of two gay couples kissing ignites a shitstorm of controversy that explodes across campus and into the world at large. While addressing serious campus-wide / societal issues, this story, godsend though it may be to flagging circulation, is still predicated on exactly the sort of sensationalism the students were hoping to resist.

But it's hard to resist the initial naïve enthusiasm of the fledgling journalists who have yet to be disillusioned by the rigors and compromises real world reporting entails. And yet, one is also encouraged by their struggle, and coming to terms with the very real exigencies of making it in the media in the 21st century, of achieving the proper balance between popular news and preservation of the traditions of journalism.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image