On the importance of building community

Surprisingly, although I have repeatedly written about community in my blog, I have never dedicated a full post to it. Well, here you are:

It used to be that when you were born you had automatic community for life. Even if you lived in a big city, your neighborhood was your community, you would go to the same grocers, church, cafés, etc. Now, especially in the increasingly hyper-capitalist suburban individualist world, the concept of community has pretty much vanished.

Maybe because of the importance of community and the lack thereof, the US is obsessed with the concept of community. Sadly, for all the talk, community is another word they cannot spell.

With the different buttresses that community offered mostly gone, the only one that continues (mostly) standing is work. So, work has become -in many cases- our only community touchstone. Gone are the neighbors, the churches, the meeting points. We just drive from our isolated house to work and back. Of course, many folks have strong communities built around church and clubs and different associations, but even these are discrete and rarely connected, which means that you have your church friends, your work friends, your café friends -if you are lucky- and so on, but not the network, the rich tapestry that used to define community.

I have been keenly aware of this problem since I moved back to suburban US in 2005. It would eventually become one of the factors that led me to depression. Since then, I try to build strong communities wherever I go. My efforts other than work, fall on volunteering, church, and of course Film Club! Yes, I chat to some people at the gym, at yoga class, and at my café, but those venues have not surprisingly given any tangible results.

Like pretty much everything else in life, you have to actively work at building your community, it is not going to magically fall on your lap one day, a wonderful support network where you can express yourself and get any sort of help from moving a sofa to a comforting chat. Nope, you have to work for it. But more importantly than working to form your own little support group, your real community will flourish when you build community for others.

Notice that I did not mention family, which is of course the cornerstone of community. But when you move away from home, that most important foundation is only available on the phone or during visits -if you are lucky enough to visit.

The result of the erosion of community systems is that folks are increasingly lonely, alienated, and sadly, eventually depressed. So go work genuinely and honestly on your community, the results will be worth it!

August: Osage County, a 21st C. Bernarda Alba

August: Osage County British poster

I recently wrote about Federico García Lorca’s La casa de Bernarda Alba (you can read about it here). But since I had not written about film, or Film Club since March, here is an update.

This month for Film Club, we chose to do a deep dive on Meryl Streep. This is the first time we try this format as we normally pick a theme or genre, but it worked out well, I think. We saw (in chronological order) Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie’s Choice, Julie and Julia, and August: Osage County.

Warning, only minor spoilers. In August, Streep plays Violet, a recently widowed, pill popping matriarch and mother of three women (played by Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, and Juliette Lewis who all do phenomenal jobs!). When the family arrive for the father’s funeral the drama unfolds, just like it does in Bernarda Alba… the hidden truths come out, old stories float up to the surface, rivalries are woken, and so on.

Just like with Bernarda, the action takes place mostly in the house, and in Summer. Both these factors add to the tension in both works. August deals with a larger cast which does an amazing job, but the brunt of the work falls on Streep and Roberts; to see both these heavyweights in the same frame is powerful and dramatic.

Of course one has to keep in mind that these works are almost a century apart, but the human drama, emotions, and feelings are the same.

The film is Tracy Lett’s adaptation of her own play and is intense, well crafted, and poetic.

If you want to see outstanding performances, specially from Streep and Roberts, this film is highly, highly recommended.

With my niece pre-show

Happy birthday Film Club!

The (mostly) honorable members of Film Club

Time flies when you are having fun! Our first year of Film Club has indeed flown by.

I have mentioned Film Club before (here), and it obviously merits a birthday post.

The club was started by one of my old students who then recruited three other guys: a genius film savant in Australia, another old student and exquisitely insightful film critic, and myself. The main component I bring to the table is my old age, which brings a lot of these films to life for these guys. Keep in mind that this is a totally amateur club, so while the guys are brilliant, none of us has formal training other than maybe a college course in film. So our approach is fairly naïf, even when we might do some homework researching the films we have seen.

The mechanics of the Club are fairly straightforward: we decide on a theme or genre for the month, the films are uploaded to our Discord platform and then we have an Internet meeting and talk about the films.

We have watched a total of forty-eight films, some have blown my mind like The Proposition and La Grande Bellezza which both merited their own blog posts. Many I have already seen, but I do not mind re-visiting. Some have been hilarious like The Castle, and some I frankly did not care for like Mr. Nobody, or Upstream Color, and that is ok, there is something wrong if you like every film you watch.

Here is the list. What do you think of these films? What themes of genres do you recommend we watch? Let me know your thoughts below!

Non-Linear Narratives

  1. Citizen Kane (1941)
  2. Annie Hall (1977)
  3. Mr. Nobody (2009)
  4. Biutiful (2010)
  5. Enemy (2013)

Light & Color

  • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
  • Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
  • Volver (2006)
  • Midsommar (2019)

Film Noir

  1. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  2. Chinatown (1974)
  3. LA Confidential (1997)
  4. Nightcrawler (2014)

Western

  1. Fort Apache (1948)
  2. The Wild Bunch (1969)
  3. The Proposition (2005)
  4. 3:10 to Yuma (2007)

The city as protagonist

  1. Wings of Desire (1987)
  2. Do the Right Thing (1989)
  3. City of God (2002)
  4. La Grande Bellezza (2013)

Scandinavian +

  • Tangerines (2013)
  • The Square (2017)
  • Another Round (2020)

Family

  • Tokyo Story (1953)
  • Belle Époque (1992)
  • The Squid and the Whale (2005)
  • Farewell Amor (2020)

Horror

  • The Birds (1963)
  • The Witch (2015)
  • Under the Shadow (2016)
  • Get Out (2017)

Light-Hearted

  • Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
  • Cinema Paradiso (1988)
  • The Castle (1997)
  • The Dinner Game (1998)

Christmas Time

  • Day of the Beast (1995)
  • Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
  • In Bruges (2008)
  • Carol (2015)

Sound Design

  • Eraserhead (1977)
  • No Country for Old Men (2007)
  • Upstream Color (2013)
  • Sound of Metal (2021)

Is there a film canon?

  • Duck Soup (1933)
  • Casablanca (1942)
  • 8 1/2 (1963)
  • Taxi Driver (1976)

À propos, next month we are going to explore war in film…

La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) 2013

La Grande Belleza

Thanks to Film Club, I am seeing many more films now than I have in years . Having said that, I really do not want to make antonioyrocinante into a film blog, there are enough of those already.

But I just saw La Grande Bellezza, (yes it is a 2013 film, I am a bit slow) and I have to tell you about it – beware, there might be spoilers.

This is an exquisite film, as beautiful as Rome, the city where it is filmed: exuberant, colorful, rich, fun… but there is a gaping void in it, a melancholy, sad void represented by protagonist Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardella.

You see, all the beauty in the world is sterile, meaningless without love, without a deep spiritual connection. Director Sorrentino is not subtle about this: The film opens with a quote from Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night

Traveling is very useful: it makes your imagination work. Everything else is just disappointment and trouble. Our journey is entirely imaginary, which is its strength.

To drive home that point, the opening scene combines ethereal views of Rome combined with David Lang’s otherworldly song I lie. The fact that the song is in Yiddish should lead you to the great spiritual journeys of Israel, of Job. Life is nothing if not a spiritual journey to yourself, to the divine in you, to your Grande Belleza, Namaste.

Let’s stop there. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, or go see the film and then let me know.

The Proposition

I’ve been in Film Club for a few months and I love it! I have re-visited some oldies, seen some interesting new (for me) films, and a couple of films I did not particularly care for. But last month I saw a film I must write about.

The theme for June was Westerns: Fort Apache (1948), The Wild Bunch (1969), The Proposition (2005), and the remake of 3:10 to Yuma (2007). Ignorant of me, I did not know there was such a genre as Australian Westerns like The Proposition. As the opening credits ran and I saw it was written by Nick Cave, I mentioned it to my dear friend Theo who knows Cave and his work well. His comment: “It’s a grim tale.”

Grim indeed, but at the same time deeply mesmerizing. The photography is married to the soundtrack in a way I have not noticed in most films. Another of the Film Club member’s opinion was “hypnotic”. Yes, there was one scene I could not bare watch, but the overall work is masterful, intelligent, and beautiful despite the violence.

Without spoilers, the plot weaves family, colonization and the Aborigines, morality (the key element I found in the films I saw) and the concept of justice.

The brilliant cast includes Guy Pierce, John Hurt with a stellar performance (and the only hilarious stingers of the film) and a spiritual death, and a perfectly cast Emily Watson who knocks it out of the park as an English rose.

So, if you have not seen this jewel and do not mind some (ok, a lot of) violence, make this movie the next one you see. You are welcome.

Arthur Burns: Love. Love is the key. Love and family. For what are night and day, the sun, the moon, the stars without love, and those you love around you? What could be more hollow than to die alone, unloved?

Film Club

One of the more rewarding aspects of being a teacher is the lasting relationships one makes with the students. Nowadays, thanks to social media this is really easy. I learned to cultivate these relationships from some of my old teachers, specially Prof. Aaron Nurick, who has been a friend and a mentor since I graduated from Bentley college in 1987!!

It is important not to be “friends” with the students during their studies, but once they graduate, then I will allow Facebook and Instagram connection.

At any rate, one such old student has invited me to a Film Club he has made with some other old students and friends. I am honored to be a part of this!!

We have an agreed on theme for the month, and about 4 films to view on that theme and then we meet on Discord, originally a gamer’s platform, but now a very complete meeting and group site! I prepare a bit of a charcuterie board and some vino and I join the meeting!

Members are as far away as Australia!

It is a pleasure revisiting old classics like Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, or Almodovar’s Volver, but I also get a chance to see films that I would not otherwise see such as Mr. Nobody or Midsommar.

At this point we have done our first meeting on films with non-linear narratives, we are now exploring the use of color and by contrast our next theme is “noir”. I love this group and the club, maybe it should get a name…