Monday, January 4, 2016

Reflections On Twenty Years and 'Youth'


Time flies! This week marks my 20th anniversary of moving to Atlanta.

Though the exact date of arrival eludes me, it was the first few days of January 1996 when I packed the Volkswaggen Jetta in St. Louis and hauled a carload of belongings to Georgia for the first time.

Some details are still with me. A cassette of "Medusa" by Annie Lennox played on that drive into the Olympic city, and upon arriving at my initial Atlanta address -- a 1920's brownstone apartment at 198 Ponce de Leon Ave. in Midtown -- my apartment was not ready so upon my late evening arrival the panicked owners (City Councilman Vern McCarty and his business partner Ray) put me in to an occupied unit of a vacationing tenant for the first night (!!!).

Many meals at Mary Mac's Tea Room followed (the only restaurant in town that accepted checks -- in those days I had no ATM card), and the youth hostel on the corner became the social hub where I watched the news (no cable nor TV at my place) and met longtime friend Nippy Feldhake, a fellow transplant arriving for Olympic work from Arizona.

Another vivid memory: After four years of frigid Januaries in Mankato, Minn., I could hardly wait to brag to college classmates that Atlanta was a balmy 50+ degrees for the first week of the year.

Man, was it frustrating to wake up after only a couple of days in the city to find an ice storm hit Georgia, and The Weather Channel reported of warmer in Minnesota that week (Oh, the humanity!).

Not long after settling in, my unit finally opened to me in February (that first month I enjoyed a spacious, vacant two-bedroom flat), I started my grown up life at my first real job with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. Not a bad start to the second half of my life, and though there were a couple of brushes with potential moves Out West or to Milwaukee, I remain proud and pleasantly at ease calling Atlanta home.

Reflecting on this milestone and the transition to the new Olympic year brought to mind several memories and as many thoughts for future possibilities. I'm really optimistic for 2016 and beyond, and so far things are going well.

This positive outlook was reinforced tonight while viewing the outstanding film "Youth" starring Oscar winners and nominees Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz and Jane Fonda. This film also features another award-worthy performance by Paul Dano, fresh from his amazing acting in "Love & Mercy."

"Youth" first piqued my interest when National Public Radio aired an "All Things Considered" feature on the original music composed by David Lang, who I learned has both a Grammy Award and Pulitzer Prize.

Lang's work previously made it into my CD collection via the jarring, haunting string quartet notes he composed for the "Requiem For A Dream" soundtrack.

Lang's trophy case is likely to expand soon to accommodate a Golden Globe and Oscar for "Simple Song No. 3" composed for "Youth." It is gorgeous!

Not much can be written on "Youth" without big spoilers.

Fortunately, the official trailers don't reveal major plot points, but one actress in this trailer leaves nothing to the imagination (in "Youth" there is a bit of all ages nudity with the screen flashing everything from twenty-something to septuagenarian skin).

Caine and Keitel play aging artists (a composer and filmmaker, respectively) on holiday at a famous Swiss spa and hotel. Caine is invited to perform for Queen Elizabeth II, who wishes to surprise Prince Philip with a concert of the composer's most famous work, which he has long-since stopped performing "for personal reasons."

Biggest surprises (no spoilers, I promise):

-- Amazing mud bath monologue when Weisz, cast as Caine's daughter and manager, unfurls 30 years of pent-up angst in a tearful, dizzying single take. Best mud bath scene since "The Player."

-- Spectacular vistas of the Swiss Alps; like the Scandinavian hotel in "Ex Machina," the Swiss spa setting for "Youth" has me dreaming of a European vacation.

-- Writer/director Paolo Sorrentino crafted some excellent, quotable dialogue that brought to mind the great writing in another Italian classic that gets audiences misty about age: "Cinema Paradiso."

-- Dano turns in an amazing supporting role, especially when he dons full makeup of a moustached dictator; I also learned a thing or two about futbol star Diego Maradona.

-- Four young film assistants aiding Keitel's character share repeating debates as they attempt to write the final scene to their big project. Their conversations are brilliant and sharp while building toward one of the biggest reveals in "Youth" (a fine example of filmmakers discussing film making in a film about a film maker).

Not surprisingly, Jane Fonda nailed it as Keitel's aging actress/muse-turned-financier. Keitel is excellent and delivered another thought provoking performance (for this writer and fan, his best work since "The Piano" -- glad to see him get more screen time, this time without full-frontal views).

Keitel's character actually reminded me a bit of my dad in his 70's, at times wistful for days gone by though unafraid to suggest big ideas for down the road. The actor's NPR interview reinforced this POV.

Michael Caine, of course, is on his A-game and his character's comments about his wife brought lumps to the throat a couple of times (as friends and family see this film they'll learn how a few key scenes hit close to home).

The last 10 minutes of the film brought to mind visions of attending an opera at The Met or Royal Albert Hall. Breathtaking! The last time I heard such great singing may be when Pavarotti performed at the Torino 2006 Olympic Opening Ceremony (Turin, by the way, is noted in the credits for "Youth" for some production work in the city famous for its "birthplace of Italian cinema" connections).

Whether you're in a reminiscing mood or looking to the future, you'll be doing yourself a favor when you make time to see "Youth."

Photos via Fox Searchlight



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