A personal selection of the last week’s cultural highlights, in which the triumph of the independent spirit recurs as a theme.
Film: In Search of a Midnight Kiss I’m slowly working my way through key films in the Mumblecore catalogue. To date, I’ve seen Lynn Shelton’s “Hump Day” (2009), Joe Swanberg’s “Hannah Takes The Stairs” (2007), Andrew Bujalksi’s “Mutual Appreciation” (2005), Aaron Katz’s “Cold Weather” (2011) and Matt Bissonette’s “Passenger Side” (2009) – and loved every single one. Definitions of the movement abound, but the one I like best is by Andrea Hubert. Writing for the Guardian newspaper in 2007, she describes mumblecore as “a body of work that encapsulates a world of intimate relationships between uncertain characters in the vague pursuit of happiness…or something. It’s hard to tell; they tend to mumble.” Not only does this perfectly capture the thematic and narrative focus of the films, but the droll, self-effacing wit I’ve found so charming about them. This week I finally saw “In Search of a Midnight Kiss”, Alex Holdridge’s award-winning romantic comedy about two people who can’t face the prospect of being alone on New Year’s Eve. And let me tell you, it is absolutely terrific. Funny, intelligent, brimming visual invention and effortless cool, this is independent filmmaking to aspire to. It’s evocation of place is exceptional, and like Passenger Side, it shows an LA that is actually lived in. Interestingly, both films include an establishing shot of the Hollywood sign from unconventional angles – a short hand symbol, I think, of the film’s orientation towards its not-too-distant relatives.
Podcast: This American Life: I haven’t listened to many podcasts over the last six months. There were just so many I was subscribing to (each with its own back catalogue of unmissable shows) that I couldn’t get through them all quickly enough. This created a huge storage problem for me, and so in a moment of frustration I just deleted them all. While I haven’t quite cracked the storage problem, I’ve slowly started to resubscribe to some of my favourites, including “This American Life“. This American Life is one of the great institutions of American Public Radio – completely free and subscriber supported – and which, via its weekly podcasts, TV shows and live cinema broadcasts, continually defies categorisation and has earned the admiration of its growing international audience. The simplest way to describe what it’s about is to use the words of the show’s host, Ira Glass: each week they choose a theme and put together different kinds of stories on that theme. As simple as that. This week I downloaded episode 462., entitled Own Worst Enemy, which featured “stories about people who can’t seem to stop getting in their own way.” Do yourself a favour – download it today. I guarentee it’ll be one of the best hours of entertainment you’ll have this week. It’s difficult to pick out a highlight of this show, but if I had to, it’d be Jonathan Mitchell’s radio drama “Tape Delay”. Created especially for the show by The Truth (an exciting New York based project and one of the top rated podcasts on iTunes at the moment), the story focuses on a man who discovers what he sounds like to others after accidently recording a phone call with a girl who calls to say she’s running late for their date. The wordplay and performances were so engrossing and chillingly awkward, I literally came to a standstill while doing the dishes. I can’t wait to get my next weekly fix.
Radio: Chris Douridas on KCRW An oasis in the desert that was South African television back in the late-90s, the syndicated PBS show Sessions at West 54th raised the bar for music performance programmes thanks to their eclectic mix and thoughtful interviews with new and established artists. At the start of each programme, the host, Chris Douridas, would shamelessly plug his own radio show “Morning Becomes Eclectic” and the station that broadcast it, KCRW. I recorded and rewatched my favourite Sessions (Zap Mama, Ani DiFranco, Joshua Redman, Patti Smith, and Bobby McFerrin, to name a few), mesmerised by the breathtaking performances and insightful musical conversations, the gentle sound of Chris’ voice, and DA Pennebaker’s gorgeous interview footage. Years later, some time after Chris had left as KCRW Music Director and Host of Morning Becomes Eclectic, I started to stream KCRW shows over the internet. Soon I branched out to discover new DJs (Nic Harcourt, Tom Schnabel, Gary Calamar, Garth Trinidad, Aaron Bird and Jason Bentley) and over the years each of them have shaped my musical tastes and introduced me to many of my favourite artists. KCRW has been my source for discovering new music ever since, and it’s good to know that Chris Douridas is still in the game, regularly breaking new artists on his show.