Browsing Tag

Colm Toibin


January 25, 2016

Dear Reader,

In Coolidge Corner, at the little art-deco theatre, there is a small room with a small screen. There are perhaps fifteen or twenty cozy seats and although I’ve seen it filled to the brim, there is always the wonderful risk that you will be nearly alone. There is something immediately intimate about Brooklyn, both film and book, and seeing it with four strangers on a Monday afternoon at 4:50 is simply right.Brooklyn- TPIATEilis (Saoirse Ronan) is a young Irish woman who immigrates to America in the 1950s and successively becomes seasick, homesick, and lovesick. Ronan’s luminous face is soft and sharp with wit; her Eilis brooks no silliness and turns away from no hardship. She is a good girl and she is a loving girl and never once is that boring or trite. Very like the book that it comes from, Brooklyn has very little in the way of action. Eilis is an Irish immigrant living in Brooklyn. She is smart, she attends night classes. She is sweet, she attends Saturday dances. She falls in love, she dances cheek to cheek with an equally sweet Italian boy named Tony (Emory Cohen). For most of the film, these things make up the entire story.Brooklyn- TPIATThe movie’s entire governing body had the wit to keep their cameras close on Ronan’s beautifully expressive face. That face and its often inscrutable calm are the center of the film and of most of its frames. In the book Colm Toibin often writes Eilis’ thoughts more as whispers that you only catch bits and pieces of. She is remote from you, yet she is also so very wonderful that you want to understand her. Here, Toibin and the film both use the lightest of touches to bring you into Eilis’ thoughts only once she has straightened them out for herself. In the film this is carried off by fixating on Ronan’s glowing face.Brooklyn- TPIATNeither the film nor the book ever tell you overtly what Eilis is thinking or why she has decided to go one way or the other. Everything is graceful, soft, subtext. This is incredibly difficult to achieve in both mediums. In the film, you can read Ronan’s emotions throughout as they pass through her. She spends so much of the film physically close to the other characters, embracing them, dancing with them, crying with them. Ronan makes her Eilis physically express herself in ways she can’t through words alone. The script is as sparse as the book, perhaps even more so. A few key bits of the book are left out of the movie, something that readers may have mixed feelings about. However, I believe the spirit and the magic of the book are preserved in translation.Brooklyn- TPIATIn the last act, the action quickens and Eilis finds herself on a boat home to visit her family. Here the most active part of the movie unfolds itself. Eilis returns to Ireland different, more glamorous, more sure of herself. From there it is like the end of every bildungsroman; Eilis must make difficult decisions and grow into the person she chooses to be.  Brooklyn- TPIATI walked out of the theatre wanting to be more like Eilis Lacey. It is easy to thrash around these days and exhale great sighs both of exhaustion and of grief. But Eilis is quiet, and Eilis is faithful and Eilis is virtuous. She reminds me of Louise Gluck, a poet who also expresses huge emotions with uncommon simplicity and quiet strength.

“It had occurred to me that all human beings are divided

into those who wish to move forward

and those who wish to go back.

Or you could say, those who wish to keep moving

and those who want to be stopped in their tracks

as by the blazing sword.”

Leap Before You Look at the ICA

January 18, 2016

Dear Reader,

You have one final week in which to experience the wonderful exhibition about Black Mountain College at the ICA. ONE FINAL WEEK. One week to see de Koonings and Klines and Albers’ oh my! I finally made it down on a quiet Tuesday afternoon.Leap Before You Look at the ICA-TPIAT

The exhibition charts the course of Black Mountain College- an arts school in the Appalachians that cultivated and produced some of the best artists of the mid-twentieth century. Willem and Elaine de Kooning participated, as did Franz Kline, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, Kenneth Noland… etc etc etc.

The school operated on the principles of American pragmatist John Dewey, so I dutifully turned to him for study.Leap Before You Look at the ICA-TPIATAlong with some cheesecake, to aid in cognition. Dewey believed that experimental intelligence was key to innovation and that any art object was inextricably connected to the culture and society that surround it. The college operated as a collective artistic community in which experimentation was encouraged and one’s peers and teachers were there to aid in innovation and interdisciplinary learning. Leap Before You Look at the ICA-TPIAT Many of the really notable pieces produced at the school are included in this exhibition, including Willem de Kooning’s Asheville, a piece on loan from the Phillips Collection in D.C. (a really wonderful little museum that holds a special place in my heart- absolutely go if you are in the Dupont Circle area). 
Leap Before You Look at the ICA-TPIAT

Leap Before You Look at the ICA-TPIAT

Leap Before You Look at the ICA-TPIAT

Leap Before You Look at the ICA-TPIAT

The exhibition is well done and will make you totally art geek out if you like modern art. You can see ballet performances of some of the dances created there, read and listen to some of the poetry written there, and immerse yourself totally in this remarkable experiment. I recommend you go on a snowy afternoon, wander through, get a coffee at The Thinking Cup, and read Brooklyn (and go see the film after as well). Leap Before You Look at the ICA-TPIATThat was the recipe for my perfect Tuesday.