Cool Hand Luke

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By Tim Barlow

Drinking it up here, boss.  Typing it up here, boss.  There’s a world we’ve created here, full of empires and rules.  It’s a small little work camp in the middle of nowhere.  There are bosses and a blind judge to keep us in line.  And in this work camp we’ve created ourselves a little ecosystem of sorts.  We got traditions and nicknames and places where I can tell another person, “that’s my spot”, and he’ll move, because he’ll know deep down that I’m right.  It’s our place.  We work hard during the day on the roads and in the ditches.  If it’s hot, I’ll say “Taking it off here, boss” and I can take my shirt off.  And if my brow sweats, I’ll say “Wiping it off here, boss.”  Last week a hawk was darting and flying high up in the sky.  The judge with no eyes signaled to Squirrel to fetch his gun, and wouldn’t you know it, he plucked that hawk right out of the air, mid-swoop; man o’ man, that boss with no eyes can shoot.

When Luke came into our work camp, he got the usual run-down on rules from the bosses and all the ways you could end up earning yourself a night in the box.  Being late.  Not working hard enough.  Not eatin’ all your dinner.  And then Luke comes into the bunk and heard us telling the new fish about our own rules, and he heard us giving out nicknames, and you know, I don’t think he thought too much of our having more rules of our own when we was already in a work camp.  And he scoffed at the nubes all scrambling to fit in an’ earn a spot.  I don’t think Luke saw much point in the ways we managed through our little prison way of life.  He’d say give to the boss, what’s the boss’s, but with a grin, like he didn’t think the boss had anything worth havin’ in the first place.

Some men are like magnets and people just can’t but help themselves but wanna be near them, and Luke was one of those magnet types.  He ate with us, and worked with us, he joked and fought with us, and we all grew to like him quite a lot.  But it was the eggs that sealed it; most amazing thing I ever saw.  No man can eat 50 eggs, but Luke did.  50 eggs in one hour.  Finished at the last second, and we all thought it must’ve been some kind of miracle.  It was then that we all probably would’ve followed him most anywhere.  Even Dragline who pretty well ran things inside for us inmates, a rock of a man, was as happy as a lit’l kid following Luke around like a lost sheep.

Time was good, but it was a little while after then that Luke set himself to escapin’.  Some of the guys thought it was cause his mama had passed, and he wanted to pay’s respect.  But I think he just wanted to show us that these fences and bosses and rules weren’t much to worry ourselves over.  And so he’d escape, and then shortly thereafter, get himself caught.  He’d be gone awhile, but get picked up some place, out West, and brought back.  And at first Luke seemed to be having himself a time with it all, but the bosses don’t take kindly to men who won’t stay put in this here prison, and so they started to the beatings and to making him work long after the day was done, having him dig holes in the yard and then asking why he’d gone an’ dug holes in the yard and start to hitting him again.  Luke fought through much as anyone could, but he wasn’t just another inmate to us, and so when the bosses finally broke him and laid him out before us, well I’m shamed to say it, but we left him.  He was supposed to be different.  We all thought of him as the real warden of this prison, but instead he got himself broken.

We never should’ve doubted.  Luke stayed broken and buried awhile, laid low, even so the bosses dropped their guard and started treating him no different than a pet dog. But it was then, when the bosses thought he was finally beat for good, that he played his Ace from down inside his hole, rising on up to escape again.  And though this one turned fatal and Luke’s gone, us still on the inside still talk fondly about how ol’ Luke kept grinning till the very end, never lettin’ this work camp of a life fully turn him.

Reaction to Home for the Holidays

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By Tim Barlow

My dad’s birthday was this week; it snuck up on me.  I still need to send a card and a gift.  He actually has really good taste in music, and by that, I mean that we like a lot of the same music, so he’s much easier to shop for than my mom.  But they always sneak up on me: my Dad’s birthday, Mom’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, I don’t even know my parents Anniversary, like not the day, the month, or what year they’re on; ugh, I suck.  It’s not that we’re not close, I mean, yes, I do not live close to home anymore, but we still talk pretty regularly.  Mostly it’s with my Mom, though occasionally my Dad says a few words here and there, but we talk.

Kind of a busy week; in addition to it being my Dad’s birthday, I also learned a new word.  It came up in something I was reading, and I had to look it up: Solipsism.  Its definition felt close to me, I knew this idea it conveyed.  I had used the word Myopic before or Selfish, but those weren’t right, at least not as right as Solipsistic – mine wasn’t a narrow view or focusing too much on myself, it was only me. Solipsism is like a little kid, my brain has only developed enough to see others as characters within my life’s narrative.

Watching Home for the Holidays, I was at first dismissive to most of the characters because there wasn’t that immediate connection; none were exactly like me, or like I wanted to see myself, and so I didnt immediately relate, Claudia was acting like a doormat, and Tommy was pretty over the top and needy, and Steve Guttenberg was acting like a weiner, and hang on, what relation does Dylan McDermott’s character have here, again?  He’s acting a little familiar for just meeting everyone for the first time.  But then as the movie went on, it did something that all good stories do, it brought me into another’s mindset.  It moved me first away from being solipsistic, and then from egocentric, and then selfish, on a path that would ultimately lead to compassion and empathy.  By the end, as we see one sister leveling coldly, but honestly with another, providing some (real world) context to their relationship’s dynamic, as Tommy calls his husband and asks how his (real) family is doing, as a father alludes to the toll that choosing his family has taken on all the other possible paths his life and career could have taken, I began to feel that connection.

As a kid, your understanding of your parents is that they are there to be your parents.  They don’t have dreams or wishes or desires beyond you.  They don’t have anniversaries or birthdays, because, wait, why isn’t it my birthday!?  And sometimes moving beyond that is tough, and relating to your parents as fellow adults doesn’t feel possible.  You’ll always be the kid, the one who needs to be raised, the one whose behaviors are questionable, the one who makes mistakes – everyone can’t be a parent, can they?

I get, or at least I think I get why Craig likes this movie, and a lot of the “dysfunctional” family movies on our list.  Because what these movies often reveal is laying wait, behind this readily apparent brokenness, there’s a close bond, a deeper connection, an acknowledgment that  figuring out that all families are damaged, is the easy part.  These movies try to highlight the honesty and effort and time that goes into moving beyond a broad dysfunction and into a relationship where there is real dialogue, where there is acknowledgment of the other’s story, where everyone isn’t just trying to get through the conversation, or the holiday, or the vacation.  What’s great about these movies is the way that everyone (eventually) accepts the fact that all of the individual pieces in their family are broken, but further, how that understanding actually helps it all fit together all the better.

Home for the Holidays

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By Craig Joseph

I’ve seen Home for the Holidays at least ten times, and yet, this Thanksgiving-dinner-with-the-family-gone awry still makes me wince.  It’s hard to watch because it’s so real; rarely have characters been this raw, blemished and authentic on screen – and that’s why I love it (and them).

Sure, the movie is rife with outlandish comic moments: Aunt Glady’s flatulence and drunkenness, Tommy’s Polaroid violations and poor Joanne’s encounter with the turkey.  But almost every time it inspires laughter, the movie turns on a dime, quickly eliciting gasps, heart pangs and knots in the throat.

This happens in large part because, despite all of their flaws, the Larsons are a truthful bunch.  There’s very little sugar coating as they call things like they see them.

A tense exchange between two sisters:

“You don’t know the first thing about me.”

“Likewise, I’m sure. If I just met you on the street… if you gave me your phone number… I’d throw it away.”

“Well, we don’t have to like each other, Jo. We’re family.”

A mother, sad that her son has hidden his gay marriage from her, is silenced:

“Enough, Ma! You’re a pain in my ass. You have bad hair. But I like you a lot.”

“Well, you know me. I can’t change.”

“Believe me, neither can I, Ma.”

“Even as a little boy, you didn’t want us too close.”

The more we become acquainted with the family, the more we’re inclined to agree with their assertions about one another.  Joanne and Claudia probably never will be friends.  Tommy does use humor to avoid painful encounters in life.  Adele is a nag from hell, but her hurt is real and legitimate.  And over the course of two hours, others truths become apparent: Mother’s beauty is fading.  Dad’s wondering if he wasted his life.  The unloved spinster aunt has been treasuring an ancient memory in her heart.  The oldest sister, desperate after being fired, acted crazily.  And so on.  I know these people.  I am these people.

But what also rings true – as evidenced in the film’s final montage – is that these folks who struggle and contend with one another have also managed to preserve – somewhere – moments of love and affection.  They’ve all created “family” a little differently – some within the confines of their biological relatives and some moving outside that circle.  But they have experienced that connection somehow – even fleetingly.

I’ve certainly had seasons where my family of origin – as with Tommy – felt like the place where I was least known and understood.  And I constructed a new support system accordingly.  Like Joanne, I, at times, have practiced a slavish devotion to my family that resulted in bitterness and resentment.  At my best moments, I’ve been able – like Claudia – to love my family in toto – flaws and messiness included – and to appreciate that – for better or worse – we love each other as best we can.

But I’ve been wondering lately what my family will look like.  Yes, I understand that actually going on some dates will be involved, and my non-committal self is working up to that, but I’ve thought about it.  How will my spouse and I love one another?  What will thrill us about each other, and how will we drive each other crazy?  How will we love our kids individually – in the way that each of them needs to be loved?  Will they care for one another?  When we age, will they care for us, and will we die confident that they’ll then stay connected to one another?

I actually think these things as I lay awake in bed at night.  And, you know what?  If Mrs. Robinson can pull it off, so can I.

Reaction to Breaking Away

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By Craig Joseph

My immediate thought after watching Breaking Away for the first time was, “I wonder how far Tim and I have come on this movie-watching journey we’ve started?”  It’s not that the film didn’t engage me, but a little OCD part of me that’s always counting, calculating and tabulating – the part that figures probabilities, watching the odometer and clock on road trips – wondered if we were far enough along to start making some general observations.  After all, one of the purposes behind watching each other’s favorite movies was to perhaps gain some insight into a long-distance friend.

So I can say this, right?  “Coming of age movies sure loom large on Timothy’s list.”

Which is interesting, on one hand, because I know he hates transition, and all his favorite heroes (Dave, Largeman, Luke Skywalker, even the former addict-turned-goalie) are smack dab in the middle of it.  One of the ironies of our friendship is that Tim’s cool, calm, collected exterior belies a psyche more tightly wound than a yoyo on crack where change is concerned.  Meanwhile, I – with my hyper-scheduled, anal-retentive, overly-organized life – thrive, nonetheless, on new experiences.  It’s nothing for me to quit a job, dump a friend, move to a new city, wear a new hair-do; I jones for novelty.  Too much.

So why these flicks, Barlow?  Maybe they’re instructive.  Perhaps watching someone navigate a sea of change emboldens you to walk on shifting sands in real life.  Could it be nostalgia?  The post-college years seem to have been formative ones for you; do these movies remind you that you got through transition then and convince you that you can now?  Or maybe it’s a “misery loves company” proposition: a character’s ennui legitimates your own.

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I’m dangerously close to psychoanalysis here, so let me come to a point.  What I enjoyed about the film was the way it captured the importance of place – for the transitionphobe and change addict alike.  From Cyril’s early exclamation that a rock overlooking the quarry is precisely “where [he] lost all interest in life,” we’re clued into the fact that specific locales – that Bloomington itself – has formed these guys.  The town gives Dave and his pals their dubious identity as townies and sons of rock cutters.  It’s at least part of what has Mike feeling trapped in life, and probably has cocooned Cyril into a state of perpetual adolescence.  On the flip side, though, it provides Moocher – in Nancy – with a compatriot in moving forward and doing something with his life.  And it’s easy to argue that limpid small town mentalities and mores actually propel Dave’s flights of imagination toward all things Italian and bicycling.  So far, in fact, that his dreams carry him past his father’s own obstinance, his failure with the girl, personal injury, and even disillusionment with the Italian cyclists.  One could argue that Bloomington is the fifth member – the most influential one – of this little gang.

It seems that when confronted with the question of “where am I going?” we’d do well to also ask “where have I been?” and “where am I now?” because, whether we’re aware or not, our physical geography asserts an influence – maybe malign, maybe benevolent – and is, I think, at least partially responsible for how we respond to change that comes our way.

And for the record, where we’re at is 24 movies into the 60 on our list.

And yes, someone can point out that I’m obsessed with dysfunctional family films.  Have at it.  Home for the Holidays is coming up.

 

Guest Post – Breaking Away

Editors Note: we’re thrilled to have a post from the talented David Blake Fischer on the blog.  If you like it, you can check out more of his writing at his blog, here.

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By David Blake Fischer

Dear Dave, (Mike, Cyril, and Moocher)

Look, I know how you feel. I know what it’s like to lack direction, to feel unmotivated and not know what do with your life. You’ve got a father who doesn’t understand, who forgets your name and refuses to acknowledge your overseas accent. And you live in Indiana—Bloomington, a post-industrial-has-been. Trust me. I know. In Flint, Michigan we too once made things. Great things. And now what’s left? Just abandoned, vacant lots and concrete slabs—gravestones like your cliffs and cavernous holes. So, yeah, believe me, I’ve walked that trail that leads to Clear Creek, out among the hardwoods, high above Empire quarry.

            “Hey, come on in, Dave.”

            “Nah, I read where this Italian coach said its no good to go swimmin’ right after a race.”

            “Who’s swimmin’? I’m takin’ a leak.”

We could talk about your parents, about I.U., and dick guys like Rod. We could talk about sports, Italian cycling and the Little 500. But the thing I want to mention, the thing I want to go back to, is that hole. You know, some of the world’s best stone was cut from that quarry. It built the Empire State Building, the Washington National Cathedral, the Pentagon, and 35 of 50 state capital buildings. Back then quarrying was an art form. Your father was an artist.

            “I was proud of my work. And the buildings went up. When they were finished the damnedest thing happened. It was like the buildings were too good for us. Nobody told us that. It just felt uncomfortable, that’s all.”

Glass and metal were cheaper. The stone companies left and RCA moved in. It came to Bloomington for the cheap labor—for your parents, for you. Then, twenty years later, by 1962, by the time of the movie, by the time you’re nineteen, everyone’s working at RCA. They’re building the SelectaVision, a vinyl record that brings color video to your television. That carries the past to the present. And but what of the future?

            “Doesn’t look that bad to me… “ [Looking at Dave’s beat up bike]

            “That’s cause you don’t have to ride it!”

            “Well, you know, you don’t have to ride it either, Dave. We’re not gonna beg you.”

            “We may plead, but we would never beg!”

You might have fifteen years, Dave. Twenty if you’re lucky. You’ll fall asleep in your clothes one night, wake up, and be 35. But already SelectaVision will be dead because, even at its inception, superior technology was emerging—VCRs and home videotape. But the suits will turn a blind eye to it. They’ll double down on SelectaVision. RCA will lose $600 million. And Bloomington will be left with another hole.

            “You know what?

            “No, what?”

            “I’m leaving home, that’s what.”

            “What? Where are you going?”

            “About 5 blocks south.”

 General Electric, Thompson Electronics—all of them will leave. You’ll stick around. And the city, the Limestone capital of the world, the color TV capital of the world, the pride of the people of Bloomington will become what?

            “A cartoon of some kind. You know, like when they get hit in the head with a frying pan or something, and their head looks like the frying pan, with the handle and everything? They just go BOING! But then their head comes back to normal? Wouldn’t that be great?

Your job will move to Juarez. And RCA will give you a gift. A commemorative CED called Memories of the VideoDisc. A few years will pass. And then, one evening you’ll sit in your father’s old chair and watch it, but no one else will, because nobody bought a SelectaVision.

You’ll feel restless that evening. You’ll feel 35 and 19 and 50. You’ll leave the house and walk that path among the hardwoods, back to Empire Quarry. That time of night, no one will be out there. You’ll take off your badly worn shoes, your thin shirt, and pants. You’ll curl your toes over that limestone edge and stare down those sheer walls into the aperture. And, standing there, peering beneath those diaphanous waters, you’ll see it: the old machinery, the abandoned cars and quarry equipment, the concentric layers of rocks and rusted rail, the bending reflection of your father and his father’s face. You’ll stand there for a while, thinking of this, and other things, and nothing. And then, when you’re good and ready, you’ll jump, lurching into that hole like only the locals do—arms out, eyes open, feet first to break your fall.

 

Breaking Away

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By Tim Barlow

During the autumn of my discontent, around the same time I saw Garden State by myself in the theater (see here), that fall after I had graduated and moved back home instead of heading back to school for the first time in 16yrs, I decided to go and visit my alma mater.  I drove up on a beautiful early September morning.  The roads were clear, the sun was rising, and I was filled with the sense that in a few hours I would be back in a safe environment that made sense.  The younger classman would recognize me from last year and think it was pretty cool that I came back to check in on them.  Maybe the guys would give me a high five, while the women admitted their crushes – there’s nothing quite like a college campus on a beautiful fall morning.  But my excitement faded as I walked around trying desperately to recapture it all, I realized this place didn’t know me anymore, I wasn’t welcome here. There was someone else sitting in my usual seat, and the worst part was not that they were there, but that they had no idea that I used to be.  I had felt okay up until that point with my lack of a job or plan for the future because I thought I still had something better waiting for me here, but this campus had moved on.

I love the scene in Breaking Away, where Mike and friends have driven onto Indiana’s campus and are watching the football team practice; he laments:

Here I am, I gotta live in this stinkin’ town, and I gotta read in the papers about some hotshot kid, new star of the college team, and every year it’s gonna be a new one, and every year it’s never gonna be me.  I’m just gonna be Mike, twenty year old, Mike, thirty year old, Mike, old mean old man, Mike.  These college kids are never gonna get old, or outta shape, cause new ones come along every year.

Mike, Dave, Moocher, and Cyril, have graduated from high school but not gone on to college, opting instead (or feeling they didn’t have another choice) to stay in town.  And now, as they sit and watch others who belong, those who are still on “the track”, they all begin to process their situation.  You can fight it like Mike, you can escape (mentally) like Dave, you can basically just float on / give up like Cyril, or you can settle on moving forward with your new path like Moocher.

I admire Dave and his Italian infatuation, his ability to completely lose himself in the new and better world he’s creating around him.  I admire Dave, but instead see a lot of Mike’s character in myself.  Someone who has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future, into change.  I recognized his frustration and doubling-down on the status quo, to think that everyone else is the one with the problem.

Since my little post-college, quarter-life crisis there have been new moments of wondering what’s next and feeling a little lost in the inbetween.  Getting married, career changes, first homes, deciding whether to have children, life has continued to happen, and every time, my inner-Mike comes along to protest the change. The trick I’ve come to realize is to surround yourself with friends, family, a spouse who can be those other responses to change.  My wife Ash is a little more like Dave, an idealist, a dreamer.  She encourages me to break away from my status quo, to see that there is nothing to be afraid of, and to embrace change.  I don’t always like this, but deep down, I know it’s good for me.

Breaking Away may be a lot of things including a sports movie and a coming of age story, but first and foremost, it’s a lesson on the true role and importance of your closest relationships.

Guest post – The Godfather: Part II

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By Melissa Brobeck

5 Life Lesson Learned from Kay Corleone

Warning: This post contains spoilers. If you’re old enough to vote and still haven’t seen The Godfather Part I & II (and Part III, only if you have time), go fix that right now because you’re missing about half of all pop culture references. You’re welcome.

The last two times I tried to watch The Godfather Part II I missed it. The first time I was making a lasagna for the recent Godfather marathon I had with Craig and my husband, Brian, and then I totally fell asleep before Vito even got to America the second time because I had to wait until my children went to bed. Oops. This is how I do now that I have kids. So here’s to the mothers of the Corleone family, especially to Kay Corleone, played by the ever-fabulous Diane Keaton. Kay has taught me a lot about life, and I’d like to share a few lessons I’ve learned with you.

1. Never believe anyone’s five-year plan. Your husband tells you that the family business will be completely legit in five years – it’s been seven. Oh, girl, you’re so pretty. Come on now, you’ve got to know that there is no way he’s giving up this gig. No. Way. So, if someone tells you his five-year plan, smile, nod, and accept that it might just be total BS.

2.  Don’t forget to close the drapes before getting in bed. Not only is this a good way to keep nosy neighbors from sneaking a peek of you in your jammies, it’s a good way to keep those pesky enemies from shooting you up while you’re sleeping. Also, in the event of a shoot out, remember to stop, drop, and roll. Your man got you out of this one. Next time, you may not be so lucky. (Bulletproof vest optional.)

3. A hat is always a good idea. All the attention is on your husband at his Senate hearing, but you can draw a few eyes your way with a hat, especially a super small pillbox hat. It says, “I’m a supportive wife, but I’m not afraid to take risks.” This pairs nicely with your anachronistic 1970s hairstyle. Yes, Jackie O. did little hats first, but you’re kind of a big deal too, so go for it.

4. Go big or go home. Sometimes you try to leave your mafia boss husband, and he says no. You try to get him to listen to the words that are coming out of your mouth, but he just won’t. This is the time to play your trump card. Take note of Kay’s balls-to-the-wall approach and make it a good one.

5. Make friends with your sister-in-law, no matter how crazy she is. After your husband declares you dead to him, making nice with your sister-in-law is the only way you’ll ever get a chance to see your children. This is sad, but true. Sisters before misters, girls.

Thanks again, Kay. You’re fierce.