Thursday, August 11, 2005

Saturday Night at the Movies

My two favorite movies of the year so far are only vaguely music-related, but that won't stop me from writing about them here.

1. THE ARISTOCRATS is the documentary you may have heard about in which several dozen standup comics from Phyllis Diller to Carrot Top to Drew Carey alternately tell and/or reflect on the deeper meanings of a single filthy joke. In addition to being incredibly funny, it's one of the best reflections I've ever seen on the art of live performance. Central to the premise of the film is the notion that standup is like jazz, that certain jokes are equivalent to pop music standards, open to reinterpretation by the people who tell them.

The film itself is structured like a particularly elegant musical composition, too. For a good 20 minutes or so you wonder whether you're ever going to hear the actual joke or simply hear about it. Eventually you do, in a flat, affectless way that makes you wonder what all the fuss is about and how anyone could get a feature film out of it. Then you get one retelling after another, followed by postmodern variations that make no sense at all unless you're really familiar with the main version, and then there's one that lifts the whole thing into a different realm. (As the credits end, you're even invited to submit your own version for possible inclusion on the DVD, an offer I've never seen before, unless you count a Moby single from 10 or more years ago which included a deconstructed version of a song and a contest for listeners to remix it for the next single.)

2. ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW is the first feature by Miranda July, a multi-talented musician/performance artist/fiction writer/media artist/etc. who has somehow made the leap from exhibiting at venues like this and (on a parallel planet) record labels like this to writing and directing a film shown at my local suburban multiplex where it might conceivably be seen by all sorts of people who have never heard of such venues and labels.

That would be impressive enough, I guess, given how few artists make that journey in our culture, but the movie itself is fantastic: a tiny little epic about a half dozen characters whose beautifully crafted stories crisscross in various ways. The writing is great, the performances are astounding (I'll be surprised if this doesn't turn out to be one of those Diner-like films where several of the unknowns in the cast go on to far greater acclaim in the years to come), and every little detail is revealing. Oh, and the soundtrack by Michael Andrews is a delight, too.

FYI and BTW, July is currently keeping a very entertaining blog documenting the aftermath of the film and its effects on her daily life. See the movie first, then check out the rest of her work.

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