Saturday, September 01, 2007

First of September (aka the blog returns)

Delicious and relaxing brunch with J. and W. at the Parish Diner, a five-month-old place near the Italian part of Graham Avenue, on the other side of the BQE from Greenpoint. The place used to be a garage, but it's near a church and has a lot of decor elements that make you think it might've been a church, despite the overall shape of the place. I liked the coffee-cup candelabras and the wrought-iron decorative gates. I also liked the pastry basket, bellini and frosted-flake french toast with caramelized bananas. They offered me a ride back to wherever, but it was such a gorgeous day, I decided to walk around and peek in at the hodgepodge that is the housing stock around that area.

Took the L back to 8th Ave. Got a ginger ale from the Chelsea Market and sprawled out on the astroturf of the Hudson River pier by the triad of Meier palaces. Strolled around the West Village, marveling, imagining, salivating a little bit, assuring myself that if I'd ever be able to afford living there, I'd soon take it for granted. Scouted single tables at sidewalk cafes. Mostly came up empty.

Ended up settling for a just-OK, nothing-great Italian place facing St. Vincent's: ArtePasta. The food -- an Italian wine and chicken penne with vodka sauce -- was good, but I was seated next to an annoying pair who went on and on about their jobs and then their exercise routines. They weren't that awful, I guess, just kind of grating. One was working on the Fashion Rocks concert for Conde Nast; the other was moving back to L.A. and breaking the news to her tearful co-workers. Sometimes you sit down next to people and can tell within a few minutes that they're not the type of people you'd enjoy chatting with.

As the sun set, I sat down to watch the ultra-indie Quiet City at the IFC Center. My first time there. It's one of these new movies that they wrote about in the Times recently, under the banner of "mumblecore." I saw Funny Ha Ha a while back and really liked it, despite myself. Then I saw Mutual Appreciation, another one by Andrew Bujalski, and liked it a little less. I guess my ambivalence about the genre comes down to the fact that I don't really hang out with people like the ones depicted in the films. They annoy me. And yet I'm strangely drawn to depictions of them. Perhaps because it provides a window onto a part of my generation that I know exists, or am told exists, but don't really interact with. I'm not saying that I have it all figured out or am always coherent or always know what to say in awkward situations. I sometimes just want to scream: Do something!

That said, there were things I enjoyed about the latest one, directed by Aaron Katz and shot entirely in Brooklyn. I liked the way it evoked the emptiness of certain parts of the city at certain times. One of the leads, Erin Fisher, has a nice screen presence, even if she's not a trained actress. The camera likes her, and tight shots of her face make up, oh, a good third of the film, which is just under an hour and a half. The movie manages to stay just ahead of the tedium curve. Just when I've had enough of one moment, something new appears, or a new topic comes up in the conversation and keeps your attention. Then about three-fifths of the way through, we get the benefit of a real belly laugh and release when the male lead and a guy at a party are sitting on a couch and they basically admit to each other that they don't really have jobs at the moment and aren't really doing much. I forget the exact lines, but it comes as one of those this-is-what-the-audience-was-thinking-most-of-the-time admissions. So I had to respect the filmmakers for having a sense of humor about their characters, who aren't the most interesting people when it comes down to it. There was another scene I really liked: The two leads and two friends of theirs are dancing under a loft bed in a cramped apartment. The music they are dancing to isn't the music that we're hearing on the soundtrack, but it could be. And you know what? They look happy. They look like they're actually having a good time and aren't embarrassed by their dancing or what each other might say or think. That wordless scene made me care about them just enough to recommend the film.

The director, actors and producers were on hand for the screening, and thankfully, they were slightly more articulate than the characters on screen. I asked how much was improvised, and Erin said about 90 percent. Which was funny to hear after the director was going on and on about his script a moment earlier. Turns out the two leads didn't know each other very well before hand, so the awkwardness was real. Even though it wasn't an out-and-out depressing movie, I rode the A home feeling rather melancholy, with too many songs on my iPod bringing up pangs of sadness.

(I don't really mind being sad once in a while. I like it. It balances out the optimism I seek to carry with me as a rule. Also, I have to note that "Quiet City" is also the name of an orchestral piece by Aaron Copland and the Times reviewer compares parts of the film I saw to a series of Edward Hopper paintings. I have a warm place in my heart for both of those artists, and certain works by both Hopper and Copland evoke the kind of melancholy I often feel. So I guess it all comes together.)

No comments: