Blueberries and Brandi

Blueberries and Brandi

My Blueberry Nights, by Wong Kar-wai. 2007.

Several things blended together for me today like ice cream and warm pie. And Brandi. And Day for Night. And a call from North Carolina about a trip to Italy.

In the bright sunshine, thinking again about the night scenes in My Blueberry Nights. At night, thinking about the bright sunshine in the Thelma and Louise section of Wong Kar-wai’s film, while I listened to Brandi Carlile’s The Story and wondered if he knew anything about her. Because her music fit much of that, and her own persona fit Natalie Portman’s character, somewhat. There is something uniquely American about a tomboyish girl with a guitar, singing lonesome songs, throwing in a yodel or two for the desert, hoping for more than echoes. Brandi Carlile sings about friendship, about offering friendship and support, powerfully, but from a deep and lonely place. The kind of friendship and loyalty only the lonely can really touch.

Not the queen of the prom. Not the head cheerleader. Perhaps just the guardian of the highway.

Her song, “Happy”, strikes me as most in tune with My Blueberry Nights. Elizabeth (Norah Jones) sends her postcards back east to Jeremy (Jude Law). Brandi Carlile sends a musical postcard back home as well. And the tone, the way she sings it, add depth and contradictions to the lyrics:

I’m happy
Can’t you see
I’m alright
But I miss you Amber Lee

My Blueberry Nights was ultimately about that. Intimate moments between strangers who lack happy, giggling hordes of friends. Single people clinging to other single people, alone in the midst of cities and deserts. Losing them sometimes. Not wanting to let go. It’s harder to let go of one person when no one else is left. Easier to let go when life pulsates all around you and you actually fit in with that pulsating life.

But Art can give dignity to all of that. To be alone together. And music tells the story and lifts that story above the banal, the everyday, and then grounds it deep within the earth. Yes, Brandi Carlile is earthy. And that’s a good thing. A very good thing. As good as it gets, in fact. And, like the earth, she sings of pain and misery and overcoming that and how she is dying to be closer to her lover and her friend. I find myself rooting hard for her, hoping she’ll find her way back home again, so she can sing about that instead, about homecomings. The look in her lover’s eyes when she weaves her nostalgia into sweet acoustic notes. From a better place, an ending worthy of Hollywood or Hong Kong.

But starting from that happy place, where everyone is popular and satisfied is . . . boring. Not sure why, but you have to go through the muck and the dust and the loss and the loneliness to actually savor connections between people . . . to respect those connections . . . to cherish them. Contrast and context are everything.

Day for Night. That was another part of my Blueberry Monday. The great Francois Truffaut film. Perhaps the best film ever made about filmmaking. Aside from the obvious meta-aspects of a movie about a movie, it also dealt with loneliness and the way we humans too often expect far more of one another than makes much sense, given our propensity for bumbling and selfishness. And chaos. Selfish, chaotic bumbling. And masks. Which is natural in a film about actors, starring actors. With many faces. We can’t see through them to the other side, usually. But we can count on seeing replacements. New faces on old faces and so on.

The title itself comes from a technique used to save a buck or two in the process. Filming night scenes during the daytime, using filters and other mechanisms. The audience sees one thing while the filmmakers see another. Of course, the entire process is like that. Sleight of hand writ large. All the while one of the leads, Alphonse, played by Jean-Pierre Leaud, runs around the film set asking if women are magic. Everyone’s magic, of course, in the movies.

On the film set of the film within the film, a soap opera rages, with new couplings and broken hearts, and everyone seems to want to leave for someplace else. It’s amazing the film ever gets made. Especially when tragedy befalls one of the leads. The Play’s the Thing. The show must go on, and all of that.

Contrasts: Truffaut is a master, and Day for Night is one of his best films. But I found myself comparing the visuals — the colors, the textures, the composition of each frame — with Wong Kar-wai’s work and found it wanting. Obviously, both directors have a different aesthetic and concentrate on different things. And the director from China made his film more than thirty years after Truffaut made his, and had all the advantages of new production techniques because of that. Still . . . from a purely artistic point of view, I prefer WKW. Luckily, I don’t have to choose between the two.

I also found myself wondering how Brandi Carlile would react to that crazy crew and the fast pace of life in Day for Night. My guess is she would grab her guitar and hit the highway, head west into the sunset.

 

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