Monday, October 30, 2006

Urban Haute Basho

checked in tonight with "Metropolitan," a really wonderful movie by Whit Stillman. it's set in some ambiguous "not so distant" past that could actually be the present day but sometimes feels like the '20s or something due to the old-fashioned-ness of the characters. they're these twentysomething New York socialites/debutantes who attend parties and afterparties and dances and the like and bullshit about political theory and literature. it's very episodic--kind of a cousin to Noah Baumbach's "Kicking and Screaming"--just a collection of conversations, but many of them are absolutely hysterical (one of my favorites moments is when the main character says he never reads novels, only literary criticism). you kind of feel sorry for these people and find them ridiculous but their relationships are really affecting somehow.

the movie taps into all these fascinations that i have. i've always been really into New England preppy (or "UHB," i.e. "urban haute bourgeoisie," as one character in the film calls it) culture, maybe b/c i'm Jewish and Midwestern. i really like Salinger and Cheever and Fitzgerald and lately i've been reading Edith Wharton, who writes about the old New York society that was the precursor to what's depicted in "Metropolitan." i just find the whole thing really romantic and sad and funny and glamorous.

"Metropolitan" is definitely an autumn-in-New York movie and that probably has something to do with why it felt right to watch it tonight. it's just a wonderful mood piece--it feels really cozy and comforting even though some of the characters' attitudes are so backward and absurd.

was also thinking tonight about Robbie Basho, the late acoustic guitar mystic. am stretching here, but his music is also all about mood. got this compilation called "Bashovia" and the pieces on it sound very, very similar to the other compilation i have of his called "Guitar Soli," which is alright by me.

basically, Basho recorded for John Fahey's label Takoma and is generally associated with him, but Basho's a very different character. his pieces are like extended meditations that are less about discernable melodies than kind of a glowing haze of tone--very luminous and free-flowing, which makes sense since Basho was really into Indian ragas. the music can get old, but it can also really sweep you up. one amazing feature of Basho's music is this incredible swirling strum thing that he often gets into late in his pieces (they tend to be really long), where he plucks faster than i've ever heard anyone pluck--it's like a tornado on the strings and it's impossible for me to visualize how he might be doing it. there's some of this late in the second piece on "Bashovia," called "Lost Lagoon Suite-Vancouver, Canada."

that title tips you off to Basho's eccentricity. Fahey was having none of it; in his liner notes, he accuses Basho, who named himself after the 17th century Japanese poet, of being "drunk on the Oriental," a kind of charlatan mystic. he hedges though--and i think this wording is just brilliant: "The first sections of these notes are somewhat critical of Basho's personality but the conclusion is laudatory re his talent." Fahey does grudgingly admit to liking the LP "Basho Sings," but--and this is kind of weird--none of that record appears on this CD compilation, which Fahey apparently curated. Basho seems to really have hit a nerve with Fahey, maybe b/c Fahey's personality--verbally at least--was so cynical and sarcastic and Basho's is so hippyish and mumbo-jumbo-ful.

anyway, Fahey's evaluations should obviously be taken with salt b/c he of course disowned all of his OWN early work late in life. Basho is no Fahey, but when the mood is right--and i think chilly autumn is a good time for this--he will assist with providing metaphorical warmth.

[next day update: thinking about the setting of Metropolitan some more... maybe i actually mean that it feels like the '40s or '50s--but it has to actually be at least the '70s b/c "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" is mentioned. incidentally, that scene is hilarious b/c one character says he was looking forward to someone actually revealing the charms of the bourgeoisie and he's upset that the film was a critique. anyway, i think part of--or a lot of--the point is that you can't date the film based on the characters b/c they're so obsessed with old social modes.]

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