Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Dream Teller: Why Brian Wilson Might Be Our George Gershwin

Brian Wilson, 1966, the fragile reason why The Beach Boys matter.

Brian fought hard against the industry attitude that if it works, run it into the ground. Music meant much more to him than that. He was trying to do something so much bigger with his teenage symphonies to God. In the process, he really rocked the boat and changed the world.
– Lindsey Buckingham (ex-Fleetwood Mac, and hugely influenced by Wilson)
And that, my friends, as Lindsey Buckingham so eloquently described it, is exactly why The Beach Boys matter, and why I’m delighted to find a valid excuse, in the form of Tom Smucker’s concise new book on their cultural role (Why The Beach Boys Matter, from University of Texas Press), to wax rhapsodic on their true stature as serious artists concealed under the shiny veneer of pop music transience. Let me be even more blunt right upfront: The Beach Boys matter because of their founder and resident singer-songwriting genius Brian Wilson, and Brian Wilson matters because he is Brian Wilson, and he has also survived being Brian Wilson.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Neglected Gem: Enchanted April (1992)

Josie Lawrence and Joan Plowright in Enchanted April.

During World War I, two middle-aged women, fed up with their dreary marriages, answer an ad to rent a castle in the Italian countryside for a month; their lives – as well as the lives of two strangers who agree to share the rent – are magically altered. That’s the premise of Enchanted April. There have now been enough comedies of this forest-of-Arden variety to call it a genre – I Know Where I’m Going and Local Hero and High Season and, in a way, May Fools and Where the Heart Is (where the magic setting is a fantastical vision of New York). I’m not sure why, but this is one sort of movie that almost always seems to work: I loved all of those earlier pictures, and Enchanted April is a charmer. (The exception, ironically, is the 1935 movie version of the same material, a 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim). Part of the charm lies in the fact that it’s as different from the other movies as they are from each other. The screenwriter, English playwright Peter Barnes, has a quirky turn of phrase, and he keeps throwing in twists and devices (like voice-overs transcribing the characters’ thoughts) that you didn’t anticipate – and often, as in the case of the voice-overs, that you would likely have predicted, wrongly, wouldn’t work. The film isn’t fluid or polished; it skips around a bit, as if the director, Mike Newell, were feeling his way through it. This tentativeness enhances a viewer’s enjoyment; you experience the movie as a series of delightful small discoveries.