Sunday, June 25, 2006

There's No Place Like Home


One of my favorite films at Sundance in 2005 was Rebecca Miller's The Ballad of Jack and Rose. Amidst all the celeb trash and pimp nonsense (it was the year of Hustle and Flow), this film stood out as the real reason people flock to Park City in the dead of winter. Tanner and I watched this film last night and it was just as colorful, magical, mysterious, dark and dream-like as I remembered.

I am guessing that Rebecca Miller (daughter of writer, Arthur Miller and wife of Daniel Day-Lewis, some girls have ALL the luck!) has, like many of us, some issues with her father and his high and mighty intellectual ideals. But unlike the rest of us, she has crafted a beautiful and romantic tale about these complicated familial issues.

My parents left Manhatten in the 60s for a ramshackle house in the middle of nowhere in Upstate New York. Ginsburg was down the road and for as far as the eye could stretch, there were rolling hills, farmland, overgrown meadows, big skies and desolation.

Although they weren't your average pot smoking variety of hippies, my parents were hard working, well read musician bohemian types and they wanted to do this "back to the land" thing that was sweeping their boho circles and driving the intellectuals into the sticks.

My father planted trees and my mother planted a garden. They renovated the old barn across the dirt road from our house and made it into an apartment. They organized a flute festival and had all their city friends up to play. They dug a pond behind the house and planted a willow that dipped into it.

My father used to take us on meandering walks up the hill behind the house to his studio which was smack dab in the middle of nowhere. It had a little stove and a bed and not much else. He was supposed to be composing in his cozy little one room studio up on the hill but he never managed to get much work done. Sometimes silence and isolation can be distracting.

Dad started to spend more and more time in the city and it was mainly just my mother, sister and I who remained in the old house in Cherry Valley, alone atop a large hill. When it snowed we had to sled down the icy hill to the bus if we wanted to make it to school. A mile or so up the dirt road was a guy whose house was packed full of junk. Down at the bottom of the hill was a lady who never left her house and made fancy toilet paper dolls.

We were all alone on top of that hill but we didn't feel alone because we had each other. Eventually, my parents got a divorce and my father remarried a young, blond violinist. All of us moved back to Manhatten, the utopian country experiment had been a failure.

But we still spent summers at the house in Cherry Valley, only we lived in the barn and rented out the house. The barn had a ladder in the master bedroom which led down to the kitchen. Baby mice were often found cuddling up in the linen drawers, snakes roamed the bathrooms and our patio had fossile remains imprinted on the stones.

In the summer, a wall of purple thistles sprouted up in the backyard and it was almost impossible to walk past their terrifying prickers without getting stung. The bedroom I shared with my sister was divided by a large bookshelf and at night the sound of silence was deafening.

My parents utopian venture did not work out in the end. We all ended up back in the city and my parents ended up divorced. But I am glad they tried to go back to the land and I can't help but have the same impulse to live simply out in the country and make my own jams. The Ballad of Jack and Rose delves into similar themes. Can you ever really build that perfect community, separate from all the ills of society? Or will the flaws of humanity fell us all in the end? Sticky stuff.

Needless to say, Daniel Day-Lewis is spectacular as usual and the entire cast (Catherine Keener, Camilla Belle, Jena Malone, Ryan McDonald, Paul Dano) transforms this from a possibly awkward tale to a refreshing fable. Additionally, the rich landscapes and colorful outdoor shots of the East Coast island which they call home are startlingly beautiful - deep blues, greens and sudden bursts of red, orange and purple - it is like taking a vacation to a far off land and you can almost taste the salt water and smell the flowers.

Their desolate island commune reminds me of our house at Cherry Valley. They say that your first environment imprints itself on you and you spend your whole life searching for it.

They also say that you can never go home again. Both of these things are true for me. When I have visited Cherry Valley as an adult, alarm bells go off all over my body as if to say,"This is it, you've finally found it, you are home!" It feels so good and so right, and the landscape just fits me in every possible way.

But I also know I can never go back there, especially because the family who bought the land from us are too smart to ever sell it. I don't know if I will ever be able to build my own Cherry Valley, or if I will ever be able to commander a happier, longer lasting outcome once I am there. But you can't blame a girl for trying, some things are just imprinted on your soul.

The heart may freeze or it can burn
The pain will ease if I can learn
There is no future, there is no past
I live this moment as my last
There's only us, there's only this
Forget regret, or life is yours to miss
No other road, no other way
No day but today
Lyrics from Rent's "Another Day"

Humans are a funny beast. We spend our whole lives searching, never quite sure what it is we are looking for. We fail and we fail and we bumble things up and then we try yet again to get it right. But what is right and where is right? Every road is different and no one is born with a map. And even with the very best of intentions, it seems like we never quite manage to get the kinks out and often, our homing devices have fuzzy reception and lead us in circles. Nonetheless, we keep on trying and we keep on living, resilient in the hope that one day we will make it home and life will be good and feel as it should be.

This is a montage I made for my birthday (a present to me from me!) years ago. It has lots of childhood pictures of my sister and I as dirty hippy kids and our wild wonderland of a home in Cherry Valley. The music is a blend of PJ Harvey's cover of "Is That All There Is?" and Rent's "Another Day."



Below are some pieces of music that my Dad composed around this time period. He is playing the flute and his buddy Charles Wourinen is playing the piano (Fred Sherry on cello). Dad and Charles started this group called The Group for Contemporary Music which my mom also played flute in (it is still going strong today!). I couldn't upload the piece she played on because it is 17 minutes long (!) but it is nice to imagine them drinking lots of coffee, staying up late and playing their flutes together while my Dad wrote this whacked out dissonant music.

Harvey Sollberger, Divertimento for Flute, Cello & Piano (1970)
Piece 1
Piece 2

Also, for a taste of his more modern music, check out these recent pieces which were inspired by Dvork's piece, "Spillville," also known as"American Quartette," written in Iowa in 1893.

Harvey Sollberger, Spillville (2006)
Piece 1
Piece 2
Piece 3

8 comments:

The Le Duo said...

Your childhood seems like it could be a movie itself! hippie flute playing back to the earth livin- blockbuster! did you ever meet Allen Ginsberg? that would be cool- just got two Ginzie books, 'Spontaneous Minds' selective interviews, and 'Howl 50 years later' essays etc. about How Howl changed America- even a John Cage piece-

I really liked 'The Ballad of Jack and Rose'...Katherine Keener has been my movie girlfriend for some time now (i know she's almost as old as my Mom but whatever) also, Jenna Malone is great in anything (except Step-Mom, although that may be good, too-never seen it) Plus DDL is god.

JB

Eva the Deadbeat said...

hmmm, i wonder about that, it could be called, Boho Wonderland! and it would be a very dull, wharhol-esque movie because no one would talk to each other, they would all be alone in different rooms doing their own things (as with alison bechdel's artistic family in her awesome new book "fun home"). but if we did some voice overs with inner dialogue, now that might be cool!

and don't you be knockin the old ladies! catherine keener is the patron saint of old ladies as no one is hotter. she can even play trashy stepmom bitchs with high waisted pants well. jenna is a catherine in the making and i love love love the boys in this movie. they are just so darn perfect. rose felt a little fake to me at times (tanner, however, was ready to jump her bones!) but it is hard to measure up to GOD-LIKE DDL! he needs to rule the world. damn, what a fine man.

The Le Duo said...

I'm with Tanner- Rose was a little hottie.

are you secretly Alison Bechdel? I've heard you mention her book like 100 times! man!
jb

Eva the Deadbeat said...

dude, you got me, i am secretly a lesbian comic book artist holding down three jobs at once - man, I WISH! but seriously, you should read Fun Home, it is just one of those books that sticks with you! And it really resonated with me since my family is a lot like hers, artistic and vaguely autistic...read it!

Tmoore said...

yeah fun home was great - i havn't read a book in one sitting like that in years... usually it takes me 2 months to read a menu. Definatly one of the best non-super hero comics in a long time.

DDL would get the first humpin' then, Cathrine Keener, then rose, then... oh what the hell, the chubby brother he was such a cutie wasn't he?

The Le Duo said...

then the snake, then Jason Lee...

Tmoore said...

oooh yeah, jason lee... as a nice flower man, what a great choice! totally washed away the kevin smith smarm, though i thought for a moment in the greenhouse when she wanted him to "teach her" i saw a flicker in his eye that betrayed his character... or maybe that's just me projecting.

Eva the Deadbeat said...

man, you guys are totally neglecting the uber hot brother thaddius who has that hot scuzzy quality that the girls love so well - and let us not forget the uber hotness of miss jena malone playing the slutty punker? yum! a movie full of hotties! i would do the landscape first, call me crazy but that shit is lush!