Francesca Lia Block's Elementals
What It Is: A novel about Ariel Silverman who goes off to college and is obsessed with finding her best friend. The best friend, Jeni, went missing at the same college a year before. Her mother is sick with cancer and she is facing a lot of change all at once. Her search leads her to an interesting group of people, which is where the book enters the realm of fantasy that readers have come to cherish from Francesca Lia Block.
Why It Is Awesome : It's no secret that I wear the squeepants for Francesca Lia Block's work. The tone of Elementals is slightly different from some of her other work at the beginning; the narrative takes a while longer rooted in realism before fantastical elements become apparent. But here's what's cool: the sensual writing she is known for is present on every single page, proving that she doesn't necessarily need magic to reach the heights of prose she so gracefully delivers. One of the things she manages to accomplish in everything she has written is to keep the reader firmly grounded in the emotional landscapes of her characters. These emotional landscapes are artfully woven in with the tactile details about the world her characters live in. Relationships are what drive everything, no matter how fantastical a turn her tales might take. I LOVE THIS ABOUT HER BOOKS. She makes myth real in ways that would make Joseph Campbell blush.
(more about Francesca Lia Block here)
Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's Howl
What It Is: A movie released in 2010, a biopic about the poet Allen Ginsberg. Howl the poem is presented with animation, James Franco plays Ginsberg in interview situations and the infamous obscenity trial of Howl is dramatized.
Why It Is Awesome: This one has been on my list for a very long time. I should have watched it sooner. Lucky for me it showed up in my "Suggestions For You" thingy on Netflix. I will be honest, I was not sure how to take the animation when I first started watching this film because of my familiarity with the poem. At a certain point I made the decision to shut off whatever expectations I had about that and let it wash over me. Once I did that, the film worked. Franco as Ginsberg turns out to be an inspired casting choice. His performance felt organic and natural, which I have to imagine was challenging work. How do you inhabit a cultural and literary giant like Ginsberg without being terrified or dragged down by the weight? Franco is effervescent. Dude gets some major props from me.
The film feels like a piece of jazz music, almost improvised. I mean this in a good way. When musical improvisation fails it is painful, but when it works it can be gorgeous, affecting and magical. The latter sense of improvisation is what I mean, here.
Like events in Ginsberg's life and like the poem for which the film is named, the movie leads you to explore your own thoughts on what it might mean to live in American as part of a marginalized group, what constitutes artistic merit and form, and what your stance is on censorship. One other theme that emerges in the screen telling is that even in the midst of pain, oppression and judgment, we all in one way or another seek love, and we all have the potential to find it.
As friend, poet and activist Dora McQuaid once said, "Love in the face of oppression IS the revolution."
(more about Allen Ginsberg here)