Friday, June 24, 2016

Free State of Jones

This week I was sent by Grace Hill Media to an advanced screening of Free State of Jones starring Matthew McConaughey and written and directed by Gary Ross
Free State of Jones tells the true story (with some Hollywood embellishments) of Newton Knight (McConaughey), a Mississippi farmer who, during the Civil War, deserted from the Confederate army and led a rebellion against them.  It’s a fascinating story - especially since I was raised in the South and can trace many of my ancestors to the Confederate army (and a few to the Union - we were a family divided).  The movie prompted me to do my own research into Newt Knight, his story and his legacy.

I love pockets of history.  The wide, sweeping stories of huge battles and the politics that cause them don’t really catch my attention and usually leave me empty.  But tell me the story of one person and how history affected them and their family - and continues to affect their descendants - and I’m all in.  The has a very interesting article on Knight’s story as seen in Mississippi during present day.  It will come as no surprise to any person who keeps up with current events that racism is alive and well today - especially in the deep South.  Jones County is still deeply divided in its opinions of Knight, his life and his beliefs.   

 As for the film depicting the man in question, be warned - it is a rough.  The opening scene is incredibly hard to watch.  I would compare it to Saving Private Ryan’s D-Day opening - it just drops you in the middle of horrifying battle and doesn’t pull any punches.  You see faces blown off, you see limbs ending in stumps, you hear weak moans and anguished screams.  You can almost smell the gunpower, the blood and the filth.  The brutality never stops happening to the people of Jones County, but director Gary Ross starts to pull back in exactly what he shows of any of the subsequent instances of violence - often leaving the viewer to fill in the blanks themselves, showing just enough to inform, but not enough to make you leave the theater.  (This is MILES away from Quentin Tarantino who may have single handedly kept the fake blood industry in business with Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight!)  

The cast is superb and, under Ross’ direction, communicates many layers of their story through their silences.  I was especially touched by Rachel's (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) reaction to being offered her own bedroom with a feather bed.        

Technically, the film was outstanding.  Stand back and let the Oscar race begin because the art direction, the costumes and the make-up were fantastic.  I could feel the stickiness of the swamp, not only through the cinematography, but through the grime on the men’s faces, the oiliness of their hair, the way their shirts hung and sometimes stuck to them.  Of course, they did film in Louisiana, so they had a lot to work with anyway, but all the artists worked together to really convey the actual FEEL of the swamp.

Another nod to the technical artistry that was in play to bring this film to life - I noticed the dirt and grime and filth all over everything.  Almost everyone looked as if they needed a long soak in a hot bath.  Two things that stuck out - the dirt under and around all fingernails, and the condition of everyone's teeth.  Newt in particular had some serious dental grossness going on.  I love that attention to detail.  However, in the aforementioned scene where Rachel strokes the feather bed, her hands were beautiful.  They were clean and they looked soft.  That small detail - that she was free, she was clean, she was starting fresh - was beautiful. 

I highly recommend this film.  However, this film is disturbing.  It's disturbing because it is true.  There are fictionalized elements (in my research, I found that Moses - played with great depth by Mahershala Ali - was not a real person, but an amalgam of different people from that time), but all of the brutality is is real.  Those things happened to real people of flesh and blood.  And they were perpetrated by other real people of flesh and blood.  And the sentiments behind those actions are still alive and well today.  Knowing that makes my stomach turn and my blood boil.  But knowing that also makes me want to ensure that things like that don't happen again.  And that is why people should see it.  

(On a side note, my husband is from Michigan - a Yankee!  He said that he had no idea some of the things this film shows about the post-war South went on.  That surprised me.  He's well read and loves history, but there's a lot that we as a nation have buried.  Yet another reason that this film is important.)

Friday, February 19, 2016

Catching Up . . . A Little

I have not been posting my thoughts on the 40 Things To Give Up For Lent as they have come to my inbox.  I have been reading them and ruminating on them, though. 

Right now is a very busy time for me.  Just about everything that I've said "yes" to is culminating in an event NEXT WEEK.  No, not just one event - three events in successive days.  Busy may be an understatement.  I'm having a good time, learning a lot, and (hopefully) making a difference, so I do not begrudge the time I'm spending.  I just wish that I had had all the dates in front of me when I said yes!

The events are on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  Sunday will find me in my pajamas on the couch watching the Oscars.  A perfect end for a busy and arts-filled weekend!

So the aspects of the list that I was presented with the past few days are:

People Pleasing - I'm better at giving this up than I used to be.  With age maturity comes at least SOME perks!  I'm blessed to have a family that is pretty happy and easy going so this is not an issue on the personal front.  It's been more of a challenge in the professional front.  I think the key thing I learned here is to fulfill my obligations.  If I do what I need to do with integrity and with a good attitude, I have done what I need to do.  A supervisor (or even a student) still might not be a happy person, but my job is done.  I have done what was expected (sometimes more) and that's all I need to do.  I have more to say about this because I have run into this during a school year, but I can't spend that kind of time on a post right now.  But oh, yes, I have a lot to say.

Comparison - This can be difficult in the performing arts.  Every time I go for an audition, I have to compare myself to the others in the room.  I pick apart their abilities, their looks, the way they walk . . . everything!  And I do the same to myself.  I try to convince myself that I am what the director wants for that role.  I list all the ways that I can bring that role to life.  And then, as the dice rolls, when I don't get the role . . . well, again, age maturity has its perks. 

Yes, I am still disappointed when I don't get a particular role.  But I have been around long enough now - and been on both sides of the casting process - to know that it's (almost) never personal.  There are things at work that are seriously beyond my control - height, age, vocal range, etc.  And the roles that I've lost in the last couple of years since I've been back in the game . . . well, they weren't for me anyway.  The person who got the role did a much better job than I could have.  I fulfilled my obligation in the role in which I was cast and had an utter blast doing it!  I would not have had it any other way. 

Again, I have more to say about comparison in relation to parenting, but I can't spend that kind of time on a post right now.  But oh, yes, I have a lot to say.

Blame - A lot of times blame is my go-to.  Well, I could have had this done if "x" hadn't happened.  Or I wouldn't have been late if "y" had gone well.  It's SO hard to take ownership of my own shortcomings.  As one of Negan's henchmen said last week on The Walking Dead "Bite, chew, swallow, repeat."  Yep.

I have more to say about blame in relation to parenting, but I can't spend that kind of time on a post right now.  But oh, yes, I have a lot to say.

Guilt - I'll just leave you with this: "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."  2 Corinthians 5:17  That's what sustains me when that condemning voice starts in my head.  I messed up in the past.  A LOT.  I mess up every day.  A LOT.  But I keep coming back to Christ.  His forgiveness and grace is big enough for my old and new mistakes.  And they are big enough for everything that I will do in the future. 

So . . . those are my quick responses to the past few days.

I notice in the list that tomorrow's aspect is Giving Up Overcommitment.  Hmmm.  Timely.  Well played, Lord.  Well played.