Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
WEEK 3: JAN. 15-21
Due to an overwhelmingly busy week ahead of me, I will not be reading for the book club this week, but rather performing in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night here at Oxford, so if you'd like some thing to read, you may read Twelfth Night.
Last week I read Landskipping by Anna Pavord. It was a lovely way to get back into a British mindset, as Pavord writes about British landscape and how we relate to it in a deeply insightful way. Last summer, I went on a Stanford seminar entitled Language, Landscape, and Identity and traipsed all through the English and Welsh countryside and towns drawing connections between the land, language, and identity of the Anglo-Saxons. Now, I feel I am on my own journey of realising that I am profoundly moved and deeply drawn to the the English landscape, and am eager to explore more of it this ter
This upcoming week, I'll be reading Landskipping by Anna Pavord and invite you to join me in doing so. View the newsletter here and subscribe by filling out the form to the right.
Last week, I read You Can Do Anything George Anders. I’m en route back to the University of Oxford as I write this, so it is only fitting that I highlight a few of the takeaways from Anders’ book. First of all, there is no shame in being a humanities major. I know that many people out there are humanities majors (myself included), but I always feel like I have to defend myself at Stanford (a hub for techies and a university populated largely with engineering, computer science, and social sciences majors). However, being a minority at Stanford as an English major, I get dug in. I get defensive. I feel a rebel with a cause. I feel it is my duty to argue for the value of a liberal arts education. And while Anders validates and explicates the importance of a liberal arts degree, he also breaks down the so-called barrier between the arts and sciences and encourages his readers to look at where their humanities degrees and the tech sector intersect. He called me out for my stubborn, dead-set ways and inspired me to begin looking for opportunities where my critical thinking skills, eagerness to learn, versatility and adaptability, and story-telling skills might be in needed in fields other than publishing and entertainment. He encourages humanities majors to tell their stories. I giggled when I read that and thought to myself, “Hm, I can do that. It’s sorta what I do.” I made a note in the margins at one point. The note read: “Be an intellectual, and be an opportunity-seeking dare-devil.” I like that. What are we waiting for? Let’s go for it this year. Dream big, fail hard, and never give up. We are the humanists, the people that thrive “where feelings matter” (p. 5). [A nice follow-up read might be anything by Brene Brown, a fabulous author, researcher, and champion of doing hard things and supporting the importance of feelings.]
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My goal for the year is to read, read, read, and write, write, write. If you're looking for a resolution that doesn't involve dieting or selling your soul to Soul Cycle or dropping everything and taking to the great outdoors in full Cheryl Strayed and Chris McCandless fashion, perhaps you'd like to join me in reading what is certain to be an odd, interesting, and intellectually stimulating collection of books. My resolution is to read one book for fun every week (although longer books will be allowed two week reading schedules). Subscribe to the newsletter to the right, and welcome to The Daily Hayley.
WEEK 1: JAN. 1-7TH
You Can Do Anything by George Anders
This is the perfect book to set the stage for a year of bettering yourself and embracing the importance of the non-digital pass-time of reading. In an age of technology, the humanities are more important than ever before, so join me in reading a book designed to soothe the anxieties of every ambitious, but discouraged humanities major... written by a Stanford graduate, of course.
Looking for a New Years resolution that doesn't involve gargantuan quantities of kale juice or giving up coffee (which is utter madness, in my opinion)? If so, then you're in luck because my New Years resolution is to READ more and WRITE more, so I'm starting a book club! Well, I guess it is pretty much a book and film review newsletter, but I would like to invite you all to read long with me so that we can make 2018 great! Join me in my epic quest to arrive at 2019 well-read and full of knowledge across many disciplines, as my curatorial interests range from backyard gardening and medieval astrology to couture fashion and modern theology.
I don't know about you, but for me, 2017 was a wild ride. This year, in an effort to force myself to read more (and have a place to ramble about all the movies I watch), I'm giving myself a new platform to share my thoughts and motivate me to commit to something. My plan is to send out an email every Monday with a recommended book, film, some book/film reviews, and other literary/cultural odds and ends. Each week's newsletter will discuss the book from the week before briefly because we are all busy and don't need more noise added to our already cluttered lives. I've curated a reading list for the first five weeks so that you can start gathering books, if you wish. And if you don't wish to read along with me, feel free to use the newsletter as an eclectic booklist to work your way through as you please. So, here's to 2018. May we arrive at 2019 smarter, more sensitive, and well-read.
Week 1 (Jan. 1-7): You Can Do Anything by George Anders
Week 2 (Jan. 8-14): Landskipping by Anna Pavord
Week 3 (Jan. 15-21): The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Walter Benjamin
Week 4 (Jan. 22-28): The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
Week 5 (Jan.29-Feb. 4): The Reason for God by Timothy Keller
I spent Monday through Thursday this week in Provo, Utah at a place called CognitiveFx. I felt the need to blog about my experience for two reasons: first, it was a really neat and helpful experience, and secondly, because this blog is the reason I found CognitiveFx (well, they found me via this blog) in the first place. CognitiveFx. It's rad. Check it out. www.cognitivefxusa.com/
My internal monologue during treatment went something like this:
Day 1. “Okay, this seems doable and like it might help a bit.”
Day 2. “Apart from the headaches and the fact that this is an exhausting treatment schedule, it at least won’t be detrimental to my brain health. Lots of good mental exercises.”
Day 3. “HOLY CRAP, WHAT ARE THEY DOING TO ME? THIS BETTER BE WORTH IT. EVERYTHING HURTS AND MY HEAD FEELS LIKES IT'S GOING TO EXPLODE. Maybe this means the treatment is working? Clearly something is going on with my brain because OUCH!!!”
Day 4. “WOAH. I never thought that pain would end and now I’m reacting and processing faster and more accurately on all the brain games and cognitive exercises. Could this wizardry have worked? I think they might have rebooted my brain.”
And 24 Hours after the end of my CognitiveFx treatment, I feel the difference big time...
I woke up without a groan. I’ve been composing poetry in my sleep. I did three face masks this morning because #selfcare. I forgot to finish my coffee because I was already alert and on to the next thing. I started doing crafts after breakfast. I made a to-do list. My hands are not shaky. I'm not dizzy for the first time in ages. I have 85 tabs open on my computer (summer job hunting is not a streamlined process for We the Humanities Majors) and I’m not even frazzled by it in the slightest. I am finding my words faster. The world looks brighter and clearer (literally, although probably metaphorically, too). I completed my to-do list.
Leaving CognitiveFx yesterday afternoon was like leaving camp. The staff and other patients had become sort of like family in the span of just four days. For the first time in two years I left a doctor without feeling like I’d had to prove to them that 1) yes, you could get a concussion in volleyball, and 2) that I was not okay. For the first time in two years I met with a psychologist who GOT IT, who looked at me and didn’t try to define me as a psychological basket case and prescribe hundreds of hours (and thousands of dollars) of psychotherapy, but instead offered her support, counsel, and advice to help me through the remainder of my battle with TBI-induced depression and anxiety (TBI=Traumatic Brain Injury). She did not undermine my PTSD, she did not tell me that all my problems were due to some genetic emotional instability, and she articulated that the root of my psychological issues was the neurological disturbance that resulted from blunt-force trauma to the brain, a truth that few psychologists understand. During dynamic vision exercises my brain went a little wild and when I giggled uncontrollably with tears streaming down my face I was not looked at like a crazy person or given the loathsome gentle shoulder pat. Instead, I was seen, I was heard, and when I told the cognitive therapist that my weird emotional reactions to benign stimuli used to scare me a lot but now I’m used to it, he smiled and we both decided just to laugh through the bizarre brain moment. I spent four days in a world of people like me, and by like me, I mean those who understand and have experienced traumatic brain injuries. We all came from different walks of life, got our concussions in a variety of ways, but had all somehow found CognitiveFx. There’s an incredible short-hand between people who have lost their worlds and have found the means and strength to journey on regardless. It’s beautiful to see determination and love be the products of seasons of adversity. Don't underestimate the healing power that empathy and camaraderie can have.
It’s essential to have a support system and recognise someone’s pain even if it manifests differently than what you had ever imagined possible. Our culture is improving in recognising and supporting those struggling with mental health. There are incredible cancer support groups, Alzheimer’s research fundraisers, etc, etc. But we are way behind in supporting people with traumatic brain injuries, regardless of degree of injury. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. The brain controls the whole body and when even a little thing is off up there, the chain reaction of repercussions can and do wreak havoc on sufferers’ lives. The science is progressing quickly. The evidence is becoming more clear-cut. But, we have got to insert TBI into our vocabulary. We have to understand that the word concussion is a term with connotations that do concussion-victims a major disservice. There's no such thing as a 'minor’ concussion. Concussions are cumulative. EVERY. HIT. COUNTS. You cannot undue brain damage; it happens at a cellular level. And, no one ever even uses the word brain in sports when we get concussions (at least, that hasn’t been my experience). We’re asked about symptoms, our heads, our vision, balance, and are told we are concussed (sometimes they even fail to tell us that much), but no one calls it brain damage or brain injury. I think we’d all be a hell of a lot more careful if we got pulled off of a court or a field and were told, “Hey, you just got hit pretty hard. We’re going to pull you out now because you just damaged your brain.” Sub-concussive blows to the head cause injury, too. I’ve been hit hundreds of times. I’ve been diagnosed officially with three concussions. I can guarantee I've had two more and have had many other hits that may have come close.
At CognitiveFx, for the first time, I was treated by a doctor who understood all of this, offered a non-invasive and non-medicated treatment plan to help me and my brain get functionality back. It’s not a magic wand that makes it all go away. Once that damage is done, it’s there, but thanks to neuroplasticity and cutting-edge research and resources, there are now ways that make it possible for those of us who suffer from TBIs to find new brain pathways to perform the tasks we once did effortlessly.
“But, Hayley,” you might say, “You seem fine.” Well, today, for the first time in two years, I would probably respond, “You know what, today I am fine.” But that has not been the case. “Seeming fine” took every ounce of energy I had and a strong reliance on my childhood theatre training to pull off. And I'm still working towards feeling not just fine, but good. When you have an invisible injury, you don’t get pity. Often, you are accused--oddly enough--of doing something wrong or failing to excel or of being weak. Brain injury is an internal battle. It’s your brain gone haywire, it’s pain that can’t be seen, it’s frustration you can’t even articulate because your ability to articulate has been reduced. It’s being exhausted and drained, but not being able to sleep. It’s trying to exercise because everyone in the world loves telling you that exercise is good for the brain, but every time you do, you end up with a debilitating migraine or tension headache or are so tired you can’t move for the rest of the day and it’s not because you’re out of shape. I’m rambling now (mainly because my brain is working so much more sharply after four days in brain boot camp that I’m too excited and can’t stop writing), but the point is that we need to change the way we think about, talk about, and treat Traumatic Brain Injuries. And no, I’m not exaggerating or trying to scare you (although if I do, that might be good). This is science, and although I’m not a scientist, I am a Humanist, and since I am much better at writing than neurology, this is my take on what living with and recovering from a TBI has been like. CognitiveFx treatment has rebooted my brain and laid a foundation for an upward spiral (shout out to Brené Brown for that term) towards better cognition, reduced pain, and a fuller life.
Bottom line, this is my HUGE thank you to the team at CognitiveFx. Thank you to Anna at CFX for tracking me down and Porter for making me smile even when I was nauseous and having a moment and to Aimee for ‘getting me’ and to all the neuromuscular therapists who eradicated my neck pain, and to the cognitive and occupational therapists who forced my brain to re-wire itself even when both it and I didn’t want to do the work, and to the MRI technicians and Dr. Fong for presenting me with images and charts that helped me understand where my brain was at, where and how it could improve, and celebrating with me when it did. You guys rock!
Love thy noggin.
P.S.This blog has led three people to CognitiveFx treatment…you could be next.
**Disclaimer: This is not an ad, just the musings of an excited girl in the process of healing from a traumatic brain injury.
"There would be a strong argument for saying that much of the most powerful preaching of our time is the preaching of the poets, playwrights, novelists [and film writers/directors] because it is often they better than the rest of us who speak with awful honesty about the absence of God in the world, and about the storm of his absence, both without and within, which, because it is unendurable, unlivable, drives us to look to the eye of the storm. "
by Frederick Buechner in Telling the Truth
My one and only grandfather passed away last weekend. Below, is the eulogy I gave at his funeral today. He was an incredible man....
In Memory of Bill "Cotton" Dunn a.k.a. Par-Par/Parpy; November 9th, 1937-October 7th, 2017
"We grandkids called him Par-Par. We should have called him Eagle. And this morning, I just wanted to hear Parpy’s voice. So, I pulled out my phone and listened to voicemails he’d left for me. He was the kind of man that when he thought of you, he’d give you a call. He wanted you to know when he was thinking of you.
He was funny and kind and generous. I will always remember his voice, his jokes, his love for Diet Coke and ice cream, the way he’d tell me that the raisins in my oatmeal were bugs. But most of all, I remember how much he loved his family and how much he cherished life. I was his first-born grandchild, his only granddaughter, and the first baby he got to see born. He never forgot that day, and he never let me forget it either. He may have been built like a Viking but he adored babies. He would go out of his way just to say ‘hi’ and ask to hold any newborn he set his eyes on. With children, he was as gentle as a dove.
As a little girl, there was nothing I loved more than visiting Parpy in Dallas. We were two peas in a pod. Not only did I have his white hair and blue eyes, but also his athleticism and strong will. He was stubborn as an ox. I think that’s why we got along so well.
I was an early riser much to the chagrin of my poor parents, but in Dallas, I had a morning companion. As a golf pro, Parpy was accustomed to waking up early. He would get up around five and before anyone else had woken up, the two of us would have gotten dressed, gotten donuts (we shared a love for apple fritters), hit a bucket of balls, and driven all over the neighborhood in the golf cart.
I went everywhere he went and quite literally wanted nothing more than to fill his shoes someday. It was my favorite thing to slip my feet into his size 16 golf shoes and waddle around. He inspired me. He was a talented and hard-working man and it was my goal to make him proud. He was my hero.
Parpy had such a fabulous sense of humor. I was the only granddaughter and was often forced into many games of Power Rangers, Pokemon, and Nerf Gun wars with my cousins, but Parpy was my ally. When I would get sick of “boy” games, I’d go find him. One time, I pulled out face paint and painted Parpy to look like an Indian chief. He was a good sport. Parpy had a knack for always finding a great parking spot, so in our family we called a great parking spot a “Cotton Spot.” He taught me to say yes ma’m and no ma’m and how to behave at a country club. He taught me that there was a proper way to ask to be excused from the table. If you finished your meal and said “I’m done” he’d look at you with a straight face and a twinkle in his eye and say, “No, I’m Dunn.” He was right. I was a Hodson.
When I was eleven years old, I got to go on a trip to Israel with Annie and Parpy. I’d sit next to Parpy on the bus as we drove between different sites and I think it was about that time that he started telling me, “Hayley Bop, don’t forget, I saw you first.” He had been there the day I was born, and it was his way of telling me, I love you more than you could ever know.
On that trip, we were offered the chance to get baptized in the Jordan River where Jesus had been baptized. I hadn’t been baptized yet and I’m not sure Parpy ever had been either, and so side by side, in the catfish infested water of the Jordan River, we were baptized together. He had been there when I was born, and I got to be there when he was re-born. Every year, he’d call me on the anniversary of our baptism to wish me happy birthday.
When Parpy cared about something or someone, there was no holding back. He had come from nothing, had not one advantage in life, but if all the people in this room aren't a testament to how far he’d come I don’t know what is. Over the past week, his home has been filled with food and friends that have come to celebrate his wonderful life. He was someone people loved and respected. He never wanted anyone else to suffer, and yet, he himself suffered so much. He was a fighter with an unparalleled will to live and love. For twenty years, he’d been battling congestive heart failure, and even towards the end, he wanted more than anything to live life to the fullest.
I wish I could hear him say “I saw you first” one last time. I wish I could hold his giant hands one last time. But, he had given everything he had to give and today we celebrate his legacy. At last, he’s no longer in pain. He gets to live in freedom and fullness now. If he could say something here today he’d want us all to know that he might be Dunn, but he’s just barely getting started.
Parpy, you saw me first. Thank you for being the best grandfather a girl could have."
by Hayley Hodson
After a whirlwind month that included making my first short film, long nights in the edit room, a run in with a stomach bug, and a flight from Oakland to London, I have arrived in Oxford and hit the ground running. I arrived on Monday afternoon to the Stanford House in Oxford and have been busy ever since. At last, I am able to sit down and begin to write. We’re on a long train ride to Glasgow, Scotland at the moment, and as I hurtle toward my seventeenth country, I am trying to process the excitement and exhaustion of my last thirty days.
First, I am brimming with thoughts concerning the Stanford House and Oxford itself. I’ll be brief, as I will have months to elaborate more deeply. However, it is as if I’ve entered a fairytale. Within a one mile radius from my bedroom the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Oscar Wilde, T.S. Eliot, and Lewis Carrol studied and taught and drank and wrote. The architecture inspired the sets of Harry Potter, Narnia, and many other stories. The University is also twice as old as the United States of America. The history and accomplishments of Oxford are palpable as you walk down its cobbled streets.
The Stanford House is historical, complicated, and magical. Renovated from six old Oxford houses into one labyrinthine dormitory, it is easy to feel that you might make a wrong turn and end up in Narnia, or swear that a staircase has shifted since you last walked up it, or wonder if there is a potion room behind one of those locked doors, or find the garden to actually be the Secret Garden, or find that when you bump your head on a low doorway you feel quite like Gandalf in a Hobbit Hole, or wonder if you’re actually Alice in Wonderland and if you’ve grown too, too tall and that’s why everything around you seems so small. I do feel as though I’m living in a half-reality, a world where fantasy and fact mix… hm, Wizards vs. Muggles, Narnia vs. England, The Shire vs. Middle Earth, Wonderland vs. England—I sense a pattern here. What is it about Oxford that is so unbelievable yet so real? I’ll be studying C.S. Lewis and Tolkien in depth this term, so I’ll keep you all updated on my musings and findings of the magical city I’ve stepped in to. I would not be surprised to find a white rabbit with a pocket watch just around the corner or Mr. Tumnus waiting for me at the Lamppost just down the block. Pure imagination and stressed out students. Ah, yes, Oxford is wonderful indeed.
Now, concerning America. I spent the last three weeks at Stanford in an intensive film class. It was an introduction to film production and screen writing, although a trial-by-fire crash course is probably a better description. From basic camera operation to cinematography, sound design, dialogue crafting, to on-set directing, we learned and did it all. We had ten days at the end of the course to create a 3-minute short narrative film. The days were long, our resources limited, crews shorthanded, and yet, we all had an amazing time and not only learned so much but saw a film through from beginning to end. My co-director and I wrote a film about a naïve girl named Marie who had moved to LA to pursue a modelling career. Upon being rejected and told she wasn’t special, Marie digs within to find her voice and embrace the things that make her unique. It perhaps fell short of accomplishing exactly the vision we’d had, but nevertheless turned out to be visually interesting and emotionally resonant. Due to our lack of music rights, I cannot post the film, but if I know you personally and you are interested in watching, feel free to comment or fill out a contact form to request a link and password to the film. My big take away? I’m not half-bad at acting, I love deadlines, making things happen, and writing/producing/directing.
So, back to England. We visited Buckingham Palace on Wednesday, which was lovely. I also picked up my Student Delegate Pass for the London Film Festival and watched a screening of a strange Argentinian thriller that spent two hours setting up an intriguing and exciting political thriller with compelling elements of suspense just to end abruptly, everything unresolved. It didn’t even leave me wondering how the story ended but rather if perhaps their budget had run out. It was weird. I forget the name of the film. Anyhow, if anyone knows of cheap, safe accommodation in London, I am looking for somewhere to stay the next two weekends so that I can pack in watching as many films as possible without having to commute excessively from Oxford.
I’m still a bit jetlagged, but while dozing off on the train I had a thought I’d like to share:
No one can ever know themselves to be good. Goodness, in all its facets, is something determined by God and by others, not by oneself. However, greatness is different. Greatness is something one knows from within. Greatness, or what I call excellence, is internal and disregards the opinions, approval, and judgement of others. Excellence is radical—it can be radically good or radically bad—but excellence is not something another can take away from you. So, in all you do, pursue excellence. I encourage, of course, a humble and noble pursuit of righteousness in this pursuit of excellence, but I have convinced myself that it matters not if you think yourself good or bad. You won’t ever know if you are because it’s not for you to decide, but you can know you have achieved greatness, even if you appear to be failing miserably, based on your own knowing of you heart and soul and body and mind. Feel free to disagree, but the hazy in-between on transportation and fatigue can often induce some rather philosophical conclusions in me. The point? Be bold. Be a fool. Don’t settle for good. Good is safe. Great is terrifying. Do that.
To anyone who is actually reading this blog, I apologize for the very delayed final post concerning the Telluride Film Festival. I've been busy back on campus at Stanford taking a three week Write and Shoot Narrative Film Intensive class. Telluride prefaced the course wonderfully and it has been a blast getting to learn the technical side of cameras, sound, lighting, etc. in addition to honing story crafting skills and screenwriting technique. Anyhow, I did want to review our final day at Telluride (it was Sunday, Sept. 3rd for us as I had to leave on Monday to get back to Stanford).
We saw four movies on our last day. First, we piled into the Nugget Theater at 9:30am for a beautiful Finnish film about a Syrian refugee who crosses paths with a declining Finnish business man who leaves his wife and buys a restaurant. Oddly whimsical for a film about a rather somber topic, The Other Side of Hope revealed the various faces of human hardship, the universal beauty of goodness and kindness, and charmed the audience with its cynical and humorous tone. It did not disrespect or downplay the gravity of being a refugee or of losing your family, but nor did it discount the mundane bleakness that so often categorizes the later years of one's life. It was a film filled with joy and one I'd highly recommend seeing.
Next, we saw Angelina Jolie's new film, First They Killed My Father. Jolie has long been touched by the Cambodian people. She worked closely with her friend Loung Ung to adapt Ung's memoir for the screen. She sought permission from the Cambodian government to tell the story of the Khmer Rouge regime that devastated the Cambodian people not too long ago. It's a dark part of their history that many remember, yet few talk about. Jolie's film is long and still, cinematically beautiful and wonderfully human. She showcases the tragedy of the Cambodian genocide yet avoids politicizing it, instead telling the story in a way that is respectful and helpful to the Cambodian nation. While the film was at times slow and the dialogue sparse at best, it's young child star is remarkable and the story is quite moving. Jolie has brought Cambodia's modern history to the big screen, recognizing and uplifting a nation that has suffered unspeakable horrors in rather recent times. I must say, I was very impressed by Angelina Jolie.
Next, we saw Battle of the Sexes. As an admirer of Emma Stone, she did not disappoint. Steve Carell was fabulous, too. For those that were alive at the time of Billie Jean King's face-off with Bobby Riggs, the story is nothing new. And even for those who were not alive then, most know of Billie Jean King's powerful influence on women's rights and her demands for equal pay for female tennis players. She was a trailblazer and a great woman to whom we owe a lot. The bottom line is that the acting is good and I think it is important for all of us to revisit the roots of the women's lib movement. It's important to study our recent American history and recognize how much has changed and how much hasn't. Billie Jean King was fair and kind and tenacious in her demands for equality, balancing poise and strength in a way we should all take notes from today. That being said, I found the filmmaking itself a bit lackluster. Of course, the story is great and the actors are fabulous, but the film rang shallow as if it were trying to incorporate too many aspects of King's personal life and career and in effect, detracted from the stakes of the Battle of the Sexes, the setting of her time, and even the depth of her womanhood. In my opinion, the filmmaking and script missed the mark and regurgitated a story that many knew. It lacked the gusto and inspiration I'd expected.
Lastly, we decided to cap off our Telluride experience with a Werner Herzog film from 1970. It was called Even Dwarves Started Small. There is no denying that Werner Herzog is an iconic, versatile, dedicated, and talented filmmaker, however, his films run the gamut of genres and Even Dwarves Started Small may belong to a category of its own. One of the most horrifically discomforting, morbidly funny, tragically wrong, and absurdly uncomfortable films ever made, this film was visually scarring, thematically terrifying, and potentially quite inhumane. I'm still unsure as to what the story was about. It was more of an experimental display of Herzog's twisted nightmare, but in it's most simple form, it's a film about midgets that are kept at an institution for little people. A band of them revolt, wreak havoc, and cause mayhem on the institution's grounds. They smash things, set things on fire, abuse their peers, and display the most barbaric and eerily childlike mob mentality. This group of clearly oppressed (or disturbed) midgets destruct with reckless abandon at the stark institution in the middle of a barren, rocky dessert. If you want to enter a special level of hell, do watch the film. It will make you squirm in your seat and coat you with a level of shame you did not know was possible. It's appalling to watch fellow humans endure lead tortuous lives and commit such heinous acts, even if it is supposedly a fictional film. That poor camel!
My first Telluride Film Festival experience was magical. We had a Cinephile pass which, while limiting the selection of films we could see, steered us clear of the blockbusters and sent us to films with extraordinary artistry and powerful storytelling. On Day 2, we saw three films and a Q&A panel with some extraordinary women. We began the day at Hostages, a Georgian film about the Georgian hostage crisis in 1983 during the demise of the Soviet Union. It was a beautiful film and we had the honor of getting to stop and talk with the director (Rezo Gigineishvili) and the lead actor (Irakli Kvirikadze) not only about the making of the film, but about the power and importance of the story. We talked to them about what freedom means and about the parallels between Soviet times and the current political climate. It was one of those moments where film was a catalyst for coming together and discussing things that matter.
Next, we headed to the outdoor theater along Telluride's Main Street. We, along with seemingly every person in Telluride, gathered to attend a Q&A with Natalie Portman, BILLIE JEAN KING (!!!), Angelina Jolie, and Alice Waters. They talked about America, sustainability, femininity, humanity, artistry, and kindness. It was an insightful and exciting hour of listening to real life Wonder Women talk about their mindsets, values, and goals. Next, we headed up the gondola to the Chuck Jones Theater to see First Reformed. Out of respect for its immensely talented writer-directer Paul Schrader and fabulous lead actors (Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried), all I can say is that the opening shot is beautiful and the rest of the movie is, well, quite confusing and disturbing. Proceed at your own risk, but First Reformed is a disorienting cross between the delirium of Birdman, the pace of Silence, and the despair of the apocalypse, perhaps.
The last film we saw on Saturday was a welcome surprise. We were planning on seeing Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, but we got impatient and spontaneously decided to see if we could get into the 10pm showing of The Rider right around the corner from where we were biding our time with coffee. It turns out that our late night impatience was divinely ordained. It has taken me three days now to even begin to put to words my take on The Rider. The opening shot alone took my breath away. It's a story of America's heartland in some ways, a story of hope, a story of loss, hardship, and passion, a story of South Dakota cowboys told by a female filmmaker from Beijing, and its a documentary-ish film in which the characters are played by non-actors. It's full of contradictions and yet, it's those contradictions that make the film so compelling. Director Chloe Zhao fell in love with these Native American cowboys, their compassion, love of horses and rodeos, their hardship, their spirituality, their raw way of life, their connection to nature. For four years, she earned the trust of this tiny South Dakotan community and ended up creating a film that not only pushes genres but challenges the audience to feel in ways they perhaps haven't before. It's moving. It's grand. It's tender. I cried. A lot. The lead character (Brady), played by a real life cowboy named Brady upon which this story is based, is a top rodeo rider who suffers a severe head injury. I had no idea what kind of film I'd sat down for, and there I was, a girl in the audience who was able to go to Telluride because of a brain injury that had ended my volleyball career and left me with a free Labor Day weekend. It was fate. Brady struggles with identity and loss, disability and family dysfunction. His disabled sister is one of the most beautiful characters I've ever seen represented on film and even as Brady fights his own battles, he makes room in his life to tend to his little sister and his best friend, Lane, who is severely disabled in body and mind from a bull-riding accident. I'm not a country girl, but I am a girl who loved to play volleyball, who loved to jump and compete, who slowly watched my dream of being the best in the game slip away and my life change forever. Brady's story resonated with me. From the story, to the story of how the film was made, to the artistry of the film itself, The Rider is a must see. Prepare to cry.
The Book Club Reading List