My thoughts on Boyhood, the 12 year film project by Richard Linklater

Last night, I went with Thomas Weigelt to see Boyhood at Kino International. Boyhood was directed by Richard Linklater, who also made Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), and Before Midnight (2013) starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke (NB: I've never actually seen this movies, but I keep hearing about them and I really want to).

The first thing about the movie to pique my interest was reading that it was filmed over the course of 12 years with the same actors, in particular the main protagonist Mason, who is played through the entire film by Ellar Coltrane. It's an impressive long-term project, considering how everything in media feels like it's moving faster and faster, with shorter lead times and quicker production. It's a totally different category, but I had a similar feeling of temporal disconnect when watching Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom, which premiered in June 2012, dealing with real events which took place a little over two years before the airing date.

The Verge did a good job going over all of the neat twists and turns that came about from filming over 12 years, if you want to find out more. 

The song in the trailer is beautiful and fits the feeling of the movie perfectly. I've been listening to it on repeat for hours every couple weeks, and somehow I still haven't gotten tired of it. It's Hero by Family of the Year, and here's the original video:

The last bit that I was really curious about is to see what the movie had to say about growing up, about adolescence, and being a boy in America today. I think masculinity and manhood are underexplored topics in mainstream US discourse, and I really wanted to see what this film had to say about it.

In that respect, it was a disappointing film, but that's why I shouldn't make movies. By avoiding shining the spotlight directly on the socialization and education of boys into men, Boyhood is a better piece of art. There were no big turning points in the story, no huge decisions that altered the course of Mason's life. Without being overly preachy or having a pat message about the meaning of him growing up, Linklater put together a compelling, beautiful, yet strikingly normal story of a boy from age 5 to 18. There were funny parts, a few scary and sad parts where I was really worried about what was going to happen to the family, but no crazy reveals or plot twists to keep me on the edge of my seat like your normal summer blockboster. In fact, it's a testament to the acting and the storytelling of what a non-story that I got so into the lives of a fictional family that I couldn't bring myself to go to the bathroom at any point in the 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Patricia Arquette plays Mason's mother, and she is an amazing character and actress whose presence underpins the entire movie. Olivia ("Liv") is strong, weak, loving, confused, and terribly human. She does the best job she can raising Mason and his sister Samantha, making hard choices and doing her best to provide a good home and pursue her own dreams at the same time. While her evolution from single mom to twice-divorced college professor is only peripheral to the focus on Mason's life, it's the one I admired and sympathized with the most. Ethan Hawke who plays Mason's father has his own interesting development over the course of the movie, but it's not nearly as fraught or compelling as hers.

I definitely recommend going to go see Boyhood. It's long, but it's worth the time. There are no huge plot twists or anything really to spoil -- it's not that kind of story. It's meant to be enjoyed, and it left me with a lot to think about what it means to grow up and be responsible for creating your own life.

Final note: Kino International is a really interesting and beautiful theater. It was designed to be the place where film premieres were held in the former East Germany, so it only has one screen and it has some 50s/60s fancy decor inside. They yelled at me for taking pictures, so this is the only one you'll ever get to see:

Today I realized, I take an awful lot of pictures of reflections

My friend Mark is on a northern European vacation, and he came down to Berlin with his mom for a day trip. Of course, they wanted to see all the main sites of the city like Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall (don't worry, we also went to Gendarmenmarkt, Potsdamer Platz, and the Holocaust Memorial). To keep it interesting for myself, we ended up taking a different route, which took us past the [de] Trabi Museum (iconic East German car), the building formerly known as [de] Markthalle III, and the Topography of Terror documentation center.

At that last place, I caught myself taking this picture, which while pretty, has no redeeming qualities except that you can see the clouds and the gravel at the same time.

When my friend Melissa visited two weekends ago, we went up to the dome on top of the Reichstag building which houses the German parliament. I'd recommend to any Berlin visitors with the time, but it's easiest if you register for free visitor tickets or make reservations at the restaurant in advance. It's a great place for amazing views of central Berlin, also full of glass and mirrors... lots of fun reflections.
I dug a little deeper in my photo archives, and found several more from this year.

Visiting the Leftist Book Fair in Berlin

This past weekend I dropped in on some talks at the Leftist Book Fair in Berlin (Linke Buchtage Berlin). It was multi-day event where many of the progressive and left-leaning publishers and authors in Germany came to share their new publications at Mehringhof in Kreuzberg. 

There were a whole bunch of events I was interested in, but I ended up only making it to two of them:

CrimethInc.: "Work  –  capitalism . economics . resistance”

I hadn’t heard of the "CrimethInc ex-workers collective" before, but I am curious about works in translation, and in particular how a “translation collective” worked on taking this collection of essays on work and capitalism and translated it into German. The readings that the member of the translation collective read piqued my curiosity, and I’m hoping I’ll find time to read the whole book (in English) in the near future.

Between Migration and Work. Worker Centers and the organizing of precariously and informally employed in the USA

(My loose translation of the German title).
The other talk I made it was for this book by Martina Benz, who researched worker centers in LA and New York. I had not heard before about worker centers before I went to the talk, having not even read the Wikipedia article — but they seem to help address the needs of workers who aren’t or can’t be organized into traditional labor unions, and create room for them to organize and advocate for themselves. In general, a really fascinating topic, and one I hadn’t known much about. It was also particularly neat to hear about US labor organizing from a German researcher, whose perspective and grounding in a German/European labor movement naturally highlights different issues and struggles than say, a US researcher would have.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? Meet the new residents of my balcony.

After asking for advice on the very first day I arrived, I finally got around to started growing some plants on my balcony in Berlin.

Over the years I've tried to grow little things, but I haven't had much luck, living in city apartments without much sun... which is why having a balcony is so exciting. My mother's the green thumb in the family, who can somehow even coax the pit of an avocado into a really healthy plant.

I got five little tomato plants from a woman named Anna on the Reflect-Info mailing list. This email list, in addition to posting calls to action for protests and counter-protests (against neo-Nazi and right-wing groups), sublets, and lefty event announcements, also has people giving away and looking for random things like moving boxes, refrigerators, and bicycles. Anna told me grew the plants from seeds that she collected from a tomato plant growing in the Tempelhof park, which the residents of Berlin just voted a little over a week ago to keep as public open space (instead of a somewhat vaguely formulated plan by the city government to sell the land to developers for market-rate and possibly some undetermined amount of below-market-rate housing).

The bigger plant in the middle is Strauchbasilikum, which is some sort of basil... though I can't seem to figure out what the English name would be. I bought it at the nursery just off of Mauerpark where I also got some potting soil. The tag says it's good for fish and meat, though the recipe for marinade on there is a little vague: "Marinate meat overnight in a mixture of oil, garlic, and some herbs." But let's not get ahead of ourselves, it needs to grow first!