Sometimes it’s good to take a break from columns where people say this or that, events are promoted or various facts reported. Thus, Sunday’s column, in which I write about belatedly setting aside an afternoon for “Avengers: Endgame.”
As a music buff, and one who still buys CDs, I like to pick my favorite new releases of the year. I pulled all my 2018 CDs, played them, ranked them, photographed them on Jan. 1…and promptly forgot the whole thing. Hey, it was a holiday. Then I saw my photo on my camera roll the other day, thought “yikes” and am now writing this post a bit belatedly.
I am not up on pop currents and at my age have no need to be. Features in the LA Times on their critics’ Top 10 picks left me bemused as I had not heard any of the songs or albums. Ditto for the Coachella lineup; I recognize only three or four of the names and don’t know ANY of the music. I don’t think that’s ever been the case before.
So I don’t know that this list of mine is going to prove useful to anyone, containing as it does some indie rock, world music, folk, country, Bob Dylan covers (No. 3) and tributes to English music hall (No. 2) and the co-leader of the Fugs (No. 1). Nevertheless, I persisted.
10. Wussy: “What Heaven is Like”
9. Ry Cooder: “The Prodigal Son”
8. Bombino: “Deran”
7. Ellen Harper: “Light Has a Life of Its Own”
6. Rolling Blackouts CF: “Hope Downs”
5. Willie Nelson: “Last Man Standing”
4. Parquet Courts: “Wide Awaaaaake!”
3. Bettye Lavette: “Things Have Changed”
2. Linda Thompson and various: “Linda Thompson Presents: My Mother Doesn’t Know I’m on the Stage”
1. Jeffrey Lewis and the Deposit Returners: “Works by Tuli Kupferberg”
Look that up in your Funk & Wagnall’s. If by chance you liked any 2018 music yourself, feel free to comment.
Critics are saying 2018 was the best year for film in years, maybe even in this century. That may well be true. They get paid to see a lot of films. As a private citizen with a busy life that included turning out a book, I saw fewer films than ever.
Also, a few of them stunk.
“Ocean’s 8” gave me a sinking feeling, ha ha.
I made a point of seeing “Let the Sunshine In” after strong reviews and a fizzy trailer. I disliked it and its confused and annoying lead character, and was in disbelief when in the final few minutes 1) Gerard Depardieu showed up out of nowhere and 2) the scene just kept going, with the credits on one side of the screen and more yakking taking place on the other. (The SF Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle put this movie in his Top 10. Even the great are allowed to falter.)
As if this hadn’t put me off enough from spending two hours in a theater, I came back from a vacation to find the well-reviewed, right-up-my-alley “Hearts Bead Loud” already on its way out of theaters. I drove to Brea to catch a matinee. What a disappointment. Somehow the main character was selling vinyl records in hipster Brooklyn — and failing? But he was. In all the scenes in the shop, there was rarely even one customer, which may have said more about the low budget for extras than about record selling.
This sourness is what happens when you feel pressed for time and see a dud: It’s harder to take it in stride. It puts you off the whole enterprise of moviegoing. Still, “Green Book” cheered me at Thanksgiving, and I rallied for three strong movies in the waning days of 2018.
This is all to say that this year’s Favorite Films list is a bit wan and underdeveloped. But here it is. Take a look and then tell me in the comments what you saw and liked, or hated.
Incidentally, and for posterity, I wish I’d seen the October 2017 release “Faces, Places” in time to include it on my 2017 list. It would have been No. 1. It may have been the best movie I saw in 2018, but I don’t list it below since I can’t credibly call it a 2018 movie.
10. Black Panther
9. Death of Stalin
8. The Post
5. Green Book
4. Leave No Trace
2. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
“The Phantom of the Opera” and “Nosferatu,” both from the 1920s, will screen at local churches in Claremont and Pomona, respectively, with live organ accompaniment in the days before Halloween. I preview those in Friday’s column, as well as update my list of book tour stops (come see me!), present a bunch of Culture Corner items and offer up a Valley Vignette.
I attended an unusual concert last Friday at Claremont’s Little Bridges, an experimental music event involving a minimal John Cage score and contributions by former Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore. I write about it in Wednesday’s column.
For a little backstory, I had not initially planned to write about the show, only attend for fun (although I did bring a notepad and took notes, just in case).
But then I was told the LA Times was covering the event. That got my competitive instincts going. While it wasn’t like I was going to out-write or out-think the LAT’s classical music critic, it seemed a shame to have a Claremont piece in the Times and yet ignore the event myself.
Monday afternoon, I decided to try writing a blog post about the show. After a few paragraphs, I thought, this is getting kind of long; let me cut and paste this into our article software and see HOW long. Well, it was around 500 words, which is verging on the length of a short column. Huh. Seemed like a waste to just post it here, so instead I decided to give myself a break and turn it into a column.
Possibly of interest, my blog style and my column style are slightly different, and so I adjusted the writing a bit and added a few paragraphs, with the finished result coming in at around 750 words, shorter than usual but long enough — especially for a column about a rather arcane musical happening.
The great Greil Marcus was at Pomona College on Thursday night for a talk about failure, and I was there. (Thus probably accentuating the failure.) Needing a topper to some items for Sunday, I was hoping for the best, and was rewarded. Read that — plus a few items — in Sunday’s column.
A Claremont-based theatrical group for children, Alliance for the Performing Arts, must vacate its 6,000-square-foot storage space in Pomona by May 1 — but has nowhere to take its vast numbers of costumes, props and set pieces. I don’t know if a column will help, but it can’t hurt. I write about it for Wednesday’s column.
Painter Millard Sheets was also the designer of the classic Home Savings thrift branches, a career that is explored in a new book, “Banking on Beauty.” I write about that book and that work in Friday’s column. Above, the former Home Savings at Second and Garey in downtown Pomona, now owned by Western University of Health Sciences with Chase Bank on the lower level.
Ophelia’s Jump has gambled on presenting the sorts of modern, edgy plays common in LA and uncommon out here, and found success. Now they have a permanent space after bouncing among venues the past six years. I profile the couple behind the group and catch a dress rehearsal of “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)” for Wednesday’s column.
Saturday afternoon I attended not one but two art openings. The first was at the Ontario Museum of History and Art, which is focusing on the latter for “Diversity and Inclusion.” Over four rooms, it’s got paintings, collages, drawings, sculpture, embroidery and probably something I forgot, all offering a look at the African-American experience.
It was well-attended, and at times the galleries were actually crowded. Probably half the attendees were black, a nice sight in Ontario and at a local art event. That and the strong turnout should be encouragement to do more such shows. Besides, most of the art was really strong.
After that, I headed for Cal Poly Pomona for “Positively 4th Street,” an ode in paintings, drawings, assemblages and text to LA’s 4th Street viaduct. It’s a small show, but likewise evocative. Below is Richard Willson’s “The Approach.” He and Roderick Smith did the art and D.J. Waldie provided text and an essay on the bridge’s history. I introduced myself to Waldie and got his autograph in my copy of “Holy Land.”
Find the exhibit on the 4th floor of the University Library through April 12.
All in all, a pleasant, visually stimulating afternoon across two counties.