Listen to This: Christmas 2017

It’s that time of year again: the time of year I take a moment away from movies (and just a moment, there are a lot of movies this time of year) and put some of my attention into music. Specifically, holiday music. A genre I love only slightly less than show tunes.

I’m proud of each playlist I’ve made over the years, but I really like this one. It took me a few weeks of exploring new releases and digging for lesser-known classics, but I was eventually able to craft together twenty festive songs I hope will help get you in the spirit of the season.

Per usual, the playlist includes a broad spectrum of artists and styles. This year, you’ll find the likes of Hanson (yes, that Hanson) next to LCD Soundsystem (still kicking myself that I didn’t go to that show this month); there’s an ABBA song in there that sounds depressing at first pass but really, it’s not; and you’ll find a touch of soul with holiday favorites by The Temptations and Stevie Wonder. You won’t find anything from Gwen Stefani’s new holiday album (it’s not good), but you will find a gem from one Francesca Battistelli, a lovely new discovery of mine.

It’s going to be a crazy month, friends. The holidays always seem to add a layer of intensity to even the simplest plans. Hopefully somewhere in the frenzy you’ve got some time to queue up this playlist, pour yourself a mug of hot chocolate and take a few deep breaths.

Oh, and if you’ve made it this far, I thought I’d share some bonus links (all will open in Spotify):

Here is a link to my Christmas SuperCut – every playlist from the last six years (!) in one long, wonderful mega-playlist.

And here are links to 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012. I was making annual playlists before that, but they only exist on actual CDs I burned and sent off to friends and family as presents. Lucky them!

Life in the Gig Economy

This week was crazy busy. Like, crazy. Cray, as the kids say these days.

I had a meeting and a work shift (more on that later) yesterday, and it wasn’t until 6p.m. that I realized my sweater had been on backwards. The whole day. Not only did I not notice, but apparently no one I was with did, either. Which…silver lining, I guess? Anyways, that’s how crazy busy my week has been. I can go a whole day with clothes on the wrong way and don’t notice.

But I digress.

The crazy busy week sort of came out of nowhere, and lest you start to think this is a lament about said crazy, let me assure you it is not. I love crazy busy. I thrive on crazy busy. I get things done when there’s a little crazy in the mix (not the dishes or my laundry, but you know, the stuff that matters).

I like to know there’s a light at the end of the crazy busy tunnel, but generally speaking, crazy busy and I do well together. As my very first boss always said, “Busy people get things done.”

And it’s a welcome state of affairs for someone who’s constantly on the hustle to make a living. I adore working for myself in many, many ways. The schedule flexibility; the limitless income potential (I can earn as much as I’m willing to work for, no salary cap in sight); the boss is pretty great, too. (See what I did there?)

After the Chicago International Film Festival last month, which kept me crazy busy with four films on my slate, I hit early November with a screeching halt. I’d spent so much time working on the projects at hand for the Festival that I hadn’t really been working on cultivating whatever might come next. Needless to say, I’m still getting the hang of this whole gig economy approach to making a living.

The respite was a welcome one, and I did a lot of sleeping and generally catching up on the life I’d neglected during the Festival. And then I looked at my bank account. Nothing lights a fire under a self-employed butt like an empty bank account!

I spent the next couple of weeks hitting the hustle hard, circling back to potential projects and interested contacts that I hadn’t been in touch with for a bit. I got back into coffee meetings and phone calls and part-time job searching (thank you for your magic, Chicago Artists Resource job board).

Fast forward to this week and…gulp. Remember all those million things you gamely told clients and contacts you could do for them? Yeah, they need all that done like, now. And all those side-hustles you looked into “just in case”? Yeah, those are all ready for you now, too. Remember that proposal you sent out in August? They’re ready to engage now! Remember those referrals you asked professional contacts to send your way? Boy, are they ever!

You get the idea.

What for a moment looked like a quiet end of the year has quickly ramped up to a whole slew of projects and planning and part-time gigs. I was recently brought on at Neighborly, a boutique just a few blocks from my place, for a few Sundays through the holidays that will earn me enough to pay a health insurance premium. I started doing script coverage for a studio a friend connected me to, earning some fun money for each screenplay I read and offer feedback on. I secured a client on a 90-day retainer with all kinds of digital marketing objectives between now and January. I’m submitting a proposal to rep a local Oscars fundraising event, and I’m waiting to hear from a filmmaker friend looking for some extra help on his small theatrical release in early 2018.

I have no idea how this hodge-podge of work will look on a tax return, but right now I don’t really care. Right now, I’m stoked to be able to keep as busy as I am. I’m encouraged by the response to the services I’m offering. I’m jazzed that I get to wake up every day and, for the most part, do work I want to be doing. I’m impressed with myself that that work is also able to pay my rent and bills. I’m determined to keep the momentum going and see where all this crazy busy can take me.


Review: Faces Places

Full disclosure: this is a cross-post with Third Coast Review, where my review also appears.

If you’re a film nerd like me, you follow the various film festivals during the first half of the year (Sundance, Berlin, Tribeca, Cannes) with one ear to the cinematic ground, just waiting to hear what everyone’s going to be talking about come awards season.

If you’re a film nerd like me, you heard all kinds of buzz out of Cannes about something called Faces Places (Visages Villages), by someone named Agnès (said: Ahn-yes) Varda, an octogenarian filmmaker well known by everyone who knows anything about international cinema.

If you’re a (lacking) film nerd like me and you’d never heard of this Agnès Varda (!) but were immediately intrigued, you set off for your local library and spent the summer with this grande dame of French New Wave cinema, taking in Daguerréotypes from 1976, Mur Murs from 1981 and anything else you could get your hands on.

No? Just me?

No matter. Whether you’ve seen none of her 50+ directing efforts or all of them, get thee to the cinema to see Faces Places. Thank me later.

Agnès Varda and JR. Image courtesy of Cohen Media Group

For over fifty years, Varda has made an art form of discovering the stories around her, setting up her camera on the street where she lives or around the city she’s working in and capturing life as it goes by. Her knack for authenticity has been evident from her films since day one, and with Faces Places, where she teams up with the installation artist known as JR, that knack is jubilantly, joyously on display in a film that gracefully and lovingly crosses that most clichéd of all bridges: restoring one’s faith in humanity.

With not one but two generations between them, Varda (now nearly 90) and JR (a spring chicken in his early 30s) form a bond that immediately resonates with their respective artistic indulgences. Together, they set off on a road trip through rural France in JR’s mobile photo booth, seeking who knows what but very much looking forward to finding it. Between small towns, they sing along to American pop songs on the radio and chat about JR’s grandmother, Varda’s friendship with Jean-Luc Godard.

And when they find themselves in what might be an interesting spot, they stop to see what happens. They’re on a journey of discovery, but for what is anyone’s guess. Which, of course, is more than half the fun. What’s possible when you open yourself up to anything? What stories might you uncover, what friendships might you forge?

In a nearly-abandoned mining town, they connect with the last woman living in a row of otherwise crumbling company houses. She recalls waiting for her dad to return from the mines, bringing with him leftover bread from his packed lunch, now dusted with soot. Soon, other locals gather, sharing their own stories of the once-bustling community, and it’s here where the magic happens. As the community gets comfortable with these well-meaning interlopers, JR gets to work creating massive black-and-white photos meant for the walls of the empty houses. On our friend the last resident’s house, he installs a haunting, searching photo of the woman herself.

And on they go, to an independent farm where they plaster the farmer larger than life on his own barn; to a picturesque small village where they turn an unsuspecting shop girl into international art; to a factory where the shift workers never cross paths until their group photos show up on the industrial walls. Just to name a few.

JR and Agnès Varda. Image courtesy of Cohen Media Group

The wonder of Faces Places is, indeed, in the people Varda and JR meet as much as it is in the art they create together. But it’s also in the connection this odd couple forges over time, too. Certain moments of the quick 89-minute documentary, on which Varda and JR share director credit, are surely manufactured for the narrative. They share croissants over Varda’s cozy kitchen table, chatting about what they’d like to do next for their film. She gives him a hard time over and over again about the dark glasses he insists on wearing. He agrees to introduce her to his actual grandmother, who’s so proud of her grandson it practically emanates from her. But none of it is ever disingenuous, as that type of set-up can sometimes be. Instead, it fits in seamlessly with the rest of the film and the true discoveries of new landscapes, charming people and interesting stories.

I had a writing professor once who made the class keep journals especially for documenting what she called “extraordinary ordinary moments.” Every week, we were expected to notice the mundane and find the transcendent in it, and I reveled in it. I adored the idea of picking up on the exceptional of the everyday, and over time I found it connected me more to the world around me. I’ve long since stopped keeping that journal, but I still find myself aware of often otherwise unremarkable minutiae.

And that’s the closest I can come to expressing what Faces Places feels like: a real-life journey into the ordinary to find the extraordinary that connects us. Even in its brief melancholy moments—and there are a few of those, as Varda confronts the inevitable passing of time—it remains an entirely poignant exploration of life and love and whatever it is inside each of us that connects all of us.