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Desiderata: January

Cheston Knapp (Managing Editor):  I saw a lot of movies in January. Was charmed by Silver Linings and delighted by Django. Holy Motors harrowed me, had me up late,  intrigued and perplexed by its uncanny architecture. I even endured Spielberg’s strokes of historical onanism, clapped my back after as I saw everyone else doing. (During the movie, did anyone else catch a glimpse, just off screen, of your typical Academy Award voter who has it as Best Picture?) With each trip to the theater I more or less knew what I was getting myself into. I’d seen previews, read reviews. I nurtured expectations. But the movie I probably enjoyed most this month was one I knew nothing about before I saw it. It’s called Sister and it’s heartbreaking. It’s closely observed and rich and is all those other cliches critics deploy when a film succeeds at capturing the grit and texture and emotional complexity of its world. But it’s also a movie I don’t want to say too much about, for fear of fucking up your viewing experience. My terse encomium: see it.



Lance Cleland (Workshop Director): Charley Varrick. Deep in a Netflix induced K-Hole, I cam across this Walter Matthau crime gem from 1973. Like most Don Segal films (Dirty Harry, Coogan’s Bluff), Varrick is a cruel, hard piece of cinema, concerned more with the ramifications of actions rather than the motives behind them. A crop-duster-turned-bank robber, Matthau’s Varrick gets burned when his team unknowingly rips off the Mafia in a classic job-gone-wrong plot setup. The rest of the film’s ingredients: A bruising enforcer sent to track down the money, an unhinged accomplice, Mustang Ranch!, is all classic stock. The real enjoyment here comes from Matthau, whose furrowed brow and Bug Bunny drawl are used to perfect effect. Varrick is man who can kill a loved one and crack a joke with equal detachment. The actor playing him, for the first time in his career, was able to display those same talents. This film is well worth a late night viewing.




Meg Storey (Editor, Tin House Books) It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. I spent the month of January “reading” the work of Vivian Maier, a nanny who spent her free time wandering among and photographing the streets and people of 1950s and ’60s Chicago (and, before that, Europe and New York City). Maier died in 2009, poor and unknown. Shortly before her death, thousands of her prints and negatives (many undeveloped) were sold at auction because she could no longer pay her storage unit fee. Luckily, the buyer recognized the caliber of Maier’s work, and there have since been several exhibits and two books published. From all accounts, it seems Maier was fiercely independent, opinionated, and private, and I suspect that had she lived to see it, she would have disdained all the attention her work is now receiving. But the great irony of Maier’s photographs being brought to light is that her work is an important reminder that we should do the things we love not out of a desire for acknowledgment or fame but out of instinct and impulse, that what drives us is often difficult to articulate, and that a picture is worth an innumerable amount of words.



Masie Cochran (Associate Editor, Tin House Books): I’ve been watching a lot of movies in the theatre this month, giving special attention to those nominated for Oscars. I’ve seen LincolnArgo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty and Wreck-It Ralph. I’ve eaten a lot of popcorn and a sickening amount of Sour Patch Kids. To finish out January, last night I took a break from Oscar nominated films and went to see 56 Up directed by Michael Apted. I’m a big fan of the Up Series—documentaries following the lives of fourteen British children since 1964, beginning at age seven. I’ve seen 7 Up!, 14 Up, 28 Up, and 42 Up. I almost quit at 42—most lives were falling apart. Characters were ending marriages, falling ill (both mentally and physically), losing their jobs, their hair, and their figures. I wanted to look away from the crystal ball. But, like some of the more reluctant characters of the series, I returned. 56 Up was wonderful. With a few exceptions, most of the main players were back on their feet—holding down  jobs, repairing marriages, taking care of grandchildren, and planning for retirement.





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