Aug 09

“Maudie”: How Her Folk Art Bloomed from Within

 ...(A) story of art rising from adversity. Kate Taylor, Globe and Mail, about Maudie

Director Aisling Walsh‘s Maudie was inspired by the true story of Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis (1903-1970), who lived with a form of progressively debilitating arthritis and struggled to find love, independence, and inner peace.

A few brief descriptions of the portrayal of Maudie:

Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times: “Sally Hawkins turns a crumpled misfit into an affecting figure of fortitude and optimism…”

David Sims, The Atlantic: “Hawkins plays her as always possessing a kind of coy, rueful smile, but it’s one that betrays a hardscrabble life marked by trauma and abuse.”

Thelma Adams, New York Observer: “…an obscure figure who couldn’t stop her arthritic fingers from painting the world around her in vibrant colors on whatever surface she could access, from walls and windows to boards and post cards.”

Early in the film’s timeline we learn that Maudie has lost both her parents to death and has been abandoned by her only sibling. When she abruptly leaves the home of her unwelcoming aunt, Maudie is in dire need of a job and place to live. She applies to be a live-in maid to Everett (Ethan Hawke), the “crabby, orphanage-raised, antisocial misfit who makes what passes for a living peddling fish and chopped wood” (Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter).

For various reasons, their challenging coexistence quickly evolves into a marriage; their challenging marriage gradually evolves, over the course of many years, into a deeper, though awkward, love.

Watch the trailer below:

Maudie and Everett

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: “Despite his meager circumstances, grumpy Everett makes it clear Maud rates only third in importance in the household, after his dogs and chickens.”

David Sims, The Atlantic: “Maud and Everett Lewis’s relationship can be tough to watch—he’s at times plainly abusive (physically and emotionally), and at other times hurtful and dismissive.”

Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times:

Between Everett’s blunt insistence on traditional gender roles and Maud’s patient long-game to blur those lines and fill the space with who she is — literally too, since their painted house is now on display at an art gallery in Halifax — ‘Maudie’ is like a charmingly cracked domestic play about waiting the other person out. As she blossoms — just enough, not too much — he grunts and softens, just enough, not too much. Unlike the thick directness in Maud’s work, the movie about her is almost pointillist in detailing the tiny steps that make up an enduring marriage.

Selected Reviews

David Sims, The Atlantic: “This is neither a forgettable biopic nor a piece of shameless Oscar-bait; it’s a film that feels no need to make easy judgments about its subject, or any vague assumptions about the origins and meaning of her work.”

Manohla Dargis, New York Times:

How much of it is true…remains unclear; certainly the movie deviates sharply in sweep and detail from some accounts…
Like many screen biographies, ‘Maudie’ vacillates unsteadily between the brute realities of a difficult existence and its palatable imagery. The movie doesn’t erase the hard edges of Lewis’s life. Instead, it attenuates them — a brutal slap across the face, you suspect, stands in for more instances of physical abuse — and casts many of Maud and Everett’s difficulties as personal ordeals, playing down the institutional forces, like an orphanage, that discreetly hover in the background. There’s an argument to be made against such softening, though, as Lewis’s work suggests, there’s something necessary about the fantasies we make of our lives as we spin beauty and hope from despair.

Thelma Adams, New York Observer:

Maudie celebrates the capacity to appreciate the world that lies framed within a window, to see the cruel beauty of the everyday and transform it into art. This wedding of craft and imagination also describes Walsh’s textured filmmaking, connecting frame after frame of gorgeous vistas to an emotionally rich female-driven narrative about art’s healing power and the potential for redemption in everyday acts of grace.

Jan 20

“The Wild Truth” Of One Family’s “Secrets and Lies”

The elder McCandless [Chris] perished in 1992, but his sister fills in holes where Into the Wild author Jon Krakauer could not, specifically centering on the family history of abuse and deception that drove her brother to sever ties in the first place. It has been a long time coming: ‘I felt like I was doing a disservice not just to Chris and his memory but a disservice to all of the people who seek inspiration from [him],’ McCandless recently told me in an interview. The Wild Truth is a moving narrative of domestic abuse, grief and survival, and for the perspective and revelations it contains, an essential addition to the Into the Wild story. Zach Schonfeld‘s review of The Wild Truth in Newsweek

If you never read the book you may have seen the film Into the Wild (2007), about Chris McCandless, who in his early 20’s died alone in an abandoned bus in Alaska about two years after leaving everyone and just about everything behind to start a cross-country journey.

And maybe you’ve wondered what possessed Chris to go out on his own in the first place.

Last year Chris’s sister Carine McCandless finally clued us in with her book The Wild Truth.

ABC News: Chris’s “expedition was not just about his love of nature and his adventurous spirit, but also reflected his intent to sever ties with his parents after what [Carine] calls a traumatic childhood.” Letters he’d written to Carine indicated, in fact, his desire to divorce his parents forever.

Part of Carine’s decision to write the story lay in her frustration with their parents’ skewed version of events, a common dynamic in many families with big secrets. As Jane Isay says in Secrets and Lies (2014), If you need to keep a big secret, here’s a tip: Invent an alternate story to tell, and tell it so often that you believe it yourself (cited by Minnesota Public Radio).

Psychiatrist Susan C. Vaughan on Isay’s book:

Whether we are Finders or Keepers of secrets (or both), Jane Isay vividly shows how secrets and lies render the very fabric of our lives shot through with a corrupting thread of untruth. To move ahead, she argues, we must unravel these tangled threads and rework the tapestry of our inner worlds and intimate relationships that dishonesty and dissembling has distorted…

Family therapist Ron Taffel (author of Childhood Unbound):

…(I)f you or someone you know needs to be encouraged to take that bravest of steps toward the truth, get this page-turning book. Jane Isay is a gifted story teller with the soul of a poet and the wisdom of a master teacher. Secrets and Lies is not only about betrayal, it is about courage, the kind all of us need to negotiate the hidden currents and sudden riptides of life.

Nov 09

“She Used to Be Mine”: Seeking a Lost Self in “Waitress”

The powerful She Used To Be Mine is the first single from Sara Bareilles‘s new album, What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress. Next April “Waitress,” an adaptation of the 2007 non-musical movie of the same name, debuts on Broadway.

Some Important Background: The Movie in Brief

In the dramedy/romance Waitress Keri Russell plays Jenna, a young diner employee who’s unhappily married to an abusive husband. She also happens to be a marvel at making pies and often names them after her bad moods and worries; making them helps raise her spirits. Examples: I Hate My Husband Pie and Earl Murders Me Because I’m Having An Affair Pie.

The screenplay was written by Adrienne Shelly, who never got to know of its success. At the age of 40, before Waitress even made it to the Sundance Film Festival and then to theaters, she was murdered. A construction worker in her building, to whom she’d complained about bothersome noise, was found responsible. He’d hurt her in an altercation, then staged what at first seemed to be a suicide by hanging.

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “Shelly was not just someone who happened to make a likable little movie. Like the film itself, she was seriously good, and her tragic and almost unthinkably sad murder was an incalculable loss.”

Notably, Shelly plays one of Jenna’s waitress friends in the film. The trailer:

The Musical Adaptation

The newest “Waitress” debuted this past summer at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Bareilles performed its songs in the studio for the album that was released last week.

At the point at which “She Used to Be Mine” is sung by the lead character she still has the abusive spouse and now is pregnant. That “she” is actually her. Basically, How did she (I) get so disconnected from who she (I) used to be? 

The Lyrics of “She Used to Be Mine” (Genius.com)

It’s not simple to say
That most days I don’t recognize me
That these shoes and this apron, that place and its patrons
Have taken more than I gave them
It’s not easy to know
I’m not anything like I used be, although it’s true
I was never attention’s sweet center
I still remember that girl

She’s imperfect, but she tries
She is good, but she lies
She is hard on herself
She is broken and won’t ask for help
She is messy, but she’s kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone, but she used to be mine

It’s not what I asked for
Sometimes life just slips in through a back door
And carves out a person and makes you believe it’s all true
And now I’ve got you
And you’re not what I asked for
If I’m honest, I know I would give it all back
For a chance to start over and rewrite an ending or two
For the girl that I knew

Who’ll be reckless, just enough
Who’ll get hurt, but who learns how to toughen up
When she’s bruised and gets used by a man who can’t love
And then she’ll get stuck
And be scared of the life that’s inside her
Growing stronger each day ’til it finally reminds her
To fight just a little, to bring back the fire in her eyes
That’s been gone, but used to be mine
Used to be mine

She is messy, but she’s kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone, but she used to be mine

Listen to the Song:

Jul 06

“Trauma and Recovery”: Getting Up to Date With Judith Herman’s Classic

Originally published in 1992, psychiatrist Judith Herman‘s Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror has been viewed as a seminal work in the area of trauma and PTSD. The latest edition, out tomorrow, has a new afterword in which the author “chronicles the incredible response the book has elicited and explains how the issues surrounding the topic have shifted within the clinical community and the culture at large.

SELECTED QUOTES FROM THE ORIGINAL TEXT

Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom. But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life.
The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy, and initiative. She approaches the task of early adulthood――establishing independence and intimacy――burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition and in memory, in identity, and in the capacity to form stable relationships.
She is still a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma.

The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.

The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable.
Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried.

In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no one listens.

When the truth is finally recognized, survivors can begin their recovery. But far too often secrecy prevails, and the story of the traumatic event surfaces not as a verbal narrative but as a symptom.

The dialectic of trauma gives rise to complicated, sometimes uncanny alterations of consciousness, which George Orwell, one of the committed truth-tellers of our century, called “doublethink,” and which mental health professionals, searching for calm, precise language, call “dissociation.”

The guarantee of safety in a battering relationship can never be based upon a promise from the perpetrator, no matter how heartfelt. Rather, it must be based upon the self-protective capability of the victim. Until the victim has developed a detailed and realistic contingency plan and has demonstrated her ability to carry it out, she remains in danger of repeated abuse.

After a traumatic experience, the human system of self-preservation seems to go onto permanent alert, as if the danger might return at any moment.

By developing a contaminated, stigmatized identity, the child victim takes the evil of the abuser into herself and thereby preserves her primary attachments to her parents. Because the inner sense of badness preserves a relationship, it is not readily given up even after the abuse has stopped; rather, it becomes a stable part of the child’s personality structure.

The mental health system is filled with survivors of prolonged, repeated childhood trauma. This is true even though most people who have been abused in childhood never come to psychiatric attention. To the extent that these people recover, they do so on their own. While only a small minority of survivors, usually those with the most severe abuse histories, eventually become psychiatric patients, many or even most psychiatric patients are survivors of childhood abuse. The data on this point are beyond contention. On careful questioning, 50-60 percent of psychiatric inpatients and 40-60 percent of outpatients report childhood histories of physical or sexual abuse or both. In one study of psychiatric emergency room patients, 70 percent had abuse histories. Thus abuse in childhood appears to be one of the main factors that lead a person to seek psychiatric treatment as an adult.

Oct 31

“Dolores Claiborne”: A Different Kind of Horror Film

This is a horror story, all right, but not a supernatural one; all of the elements come out of such everyday horrors as alcoholism, wife beating, child abuse and the sin of pride. Roger Ebert, reviewing Dolores Claiborne

Generally classified as either a psychological thriller or crime fiction or suspense or mystery, the 1995 film Dolores Claiborne, which was based on the bestselling book by Stephen King, is often considered underrated and undernoticed.

I saw it way back when, liked it, but now don’t have enough recall to be able to describe it adequately. Interestingly, a search for reviews/summaries found that almost all were of the male-written variety. Although many of the critiques were favorable, I have to wonder if this female-powered process-oriented movie with themes of mistreatment by men would have fared better had it gotten more press by women.

Oh well. At least Dolores lives on—not only can it still be seen in the comfort of your home but King’s book has recently been adapted for the opera stage in San Francisco.

Another interesting fact? King wrote the book with Misery maven Kathy Bates in mind as the lead character. And Bates did, in fact, wind up playing her in the movie. Brian Lowry, Variety, summarizes the plot and lead characters/actors:

Accused of murdering the old woman for whom she’s cared the past 22 years, Dolores is forced to confront her estranged daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and the mysterious death two decades earlier of her abusive husband, deemed an accident at the time despite the suspicions of the detective involved (Christopher Plummer).

Leigh’s Selena is a high-strung magazine writer who still blames her mother for the death of her father (David Strathairn), who, through a series of flashbacks, is shown to be a truly despicable character.

James BerardinelliReel Views, recaps more of the film’s essence:

The main characters, mother and daughter, are well-written and effectively portrayed. Dolores is a sad, lonely survivor who has, perhaps unjustly, endured a lifetime of misery. Secrets can be an oppressive burden, and Dolores has been worn down by them. Selena, on the other hand, has become an alcoholic and drug-abuser as the result of what she has repressed. Bates and Leigh, two accomplished and versatile actors, are in peak form as they settle into the lonely isolation of their characters — two very different people whose individual pain is entwined.

You can watch the trailer here:

Another source, jtonzelli.com, addresses why Dolores Claiborne belongs in the realm of horror:

While Dolores Claiborne is not a traditional horror film per se, horrific themes are definitely at play here. There is an unrelenting darkness, along with several disturbing scenes that lend itself to our genre. While it may not be about horrific creatures that hide in the dark, it is very much about horrific human beings and what they are capable of doing to people they claim to love. It is about the horror of memory, time, betrayal, and so many other weaknesses that make humanity just as flawed as we are intriguing.

If you prefer your horror to be of the more realistic type, then, Dolores Claiborne just could be your cup of poison tea.