Film Friday: The Last Days of Disco

Disco music is such heavenlythe_last_days_of_disco ear candy. But it’s just not hip anymore—now only a parody genre, associated with ugly clothes, sleazy clubs, clear beer, and white powder. Its recent reputation is deserved but also undeserved, and The Last Days of Disco does what it can to reveal the strange silver lining behind all the nonsense. In this film, disco is important to trust-funders, book publishers, lawyers, ad-men, and everyone else who comes in contact with it, and seems to offer something like grace to all who can receive it.

A loose but clever story drifts behind the proceedings, following a yuppie group of friends, living in Manhattan after college. These characters bob in and out of frame, swaying to a sublime soundtrack of Carol Douglas, Blondie and Andrea True, each of them on screen only long enough to deliver their share of witty banter. They love the club: “It’s what I always dreamed of…cocktails, dancing, conversation, exchange of ideas and points of view…everyone’s here—everyone you know, and everyone you don’t know,” gushes Josh, budding defense attorney, to a pal. A real contrast to the banal churn of the workweek, indeed.

Most of them want to fall in love with each other, and some get halfway there, via the sexually liberated dance floor, and other inhibition lowering substances. But they don’t arrive at love, or they realize they aren’t set to arrive any time soon. “I’m beginning to think that maybe that old system of people getting married based on mutual respect and shared aspirations, and then slowly over time earning each other’s love and admiration…worked the best,” muses one character, Alice. “Well, we’ll never know!”, shrugs her friend in reply. Their aims are, on the whole, poor. But they do see the target. They all still believe in love.

They’re all staying alive—is that all? No. The club changes them too, and not entirely for the worse. There they experience all the world has to offer, and then the need for grace, at the end of the party, and for every other burnout. And, importantly, they never stop talking their way through the excellent script in front of them. Through toils and tears, their prattle often turns to wisdom, and they start to live that wisdom, even if they don’t much understand it. One hardly ever sees a film that displays such charity, and good faith in the possibility of living a life touched by grace. At the end of The Last Days of Disco, I found myself grinning forbearingly at the mad, crazy, dance party going on all around me.

– Zachary McNay

Check out Last Days of Disco at the Library – Call Number: PN1997.L378 1999 DVD

Books and Crannies: The Test-File Room

card_catalogThe test-file room sits in the bottom corner of the library, past a card-catalog cabinet of large proportions, under lock and key. Dominated by the hum of elevator shaft machinery, a ticking clock, and the smell of hospital floors & hot cardboard boxes, the room is a safe deposit for psychological tests and mental measurements and stores the library’s phonograph record collection. Do you have a record player and a desire to explore various popular, world, and classical musics? If so, avail yourself of this massive resource! Check out grooves from Iannis Xenakis, Jefferson Airplane, Eskimo folk traditions and way beyond. You can savor leafing through the card-catalog for titles, or browse this online list. Bring us the call numbers for records you’d like to try, and we’ll retrieve them from the room. There’s nothing like that warm vinyl sound…


Film Review: Red

Three Colours Red Films MoviesIn 1994, auteur director Krzyszstof Kieslowski completed his final film Red, the last entry in a trilogy of films based on the colors and values of the French flag: Blue for liberty, White for equality, and Red for fraternity. In Red, Kieslowski attempts to show us fraternity in all its variations: the relationships we share with friends and family members, the undiscovered bonds between ourselves and others, and even connections that don’t yet exist, but might be fated to occur.

Red is set in the city of Geneva, in Switzerland: cosmopolitan, charming, old-world, eerily austere.  On a drizzly night, a fashion model, Valentine Dusseau, is commuting home from a runway show. Tired and lonely, her boyfriend off somewhere in Poland for unknown reasons, her eyes not on the road, she hits a dog. This unfortunate run-in leads to the central fraternal pairing in the film: when Valentine returns the dog to her owner, she meets her foil, a bitter old Prospero, the retired judge Joseph Kern, who spies on his neighbors with high-tech radio equipment.

As Valentine and the judge are drawn together, we meet some of the people he spies on. One of them, a young man named Auguste Bruner, appears as a metaphysical shadow of the aged judge. Auguste too is studying to become a judge, and bears more than a passing resemblance to Joseph. In another parallel, Auguste is also betrayed by his girlfriend, just as Joseph had been forty years prior. Most importantly, Auguste is Valentine’s neighbor.  Somehow, strangely, they’ve never met, but we sense it is only a matter of time before they do. Like so many other things in Red, their meeting is left to fate. There is something portentous in the air–the characters sense it, catch a whiff, and aren’t quite able to describe what is going on, or what is drawing them together.

After completing Red, and vowing that it would be his last film, fate stepped in and disallowed Kiewslowski from changing his mind. He passed away in 1996 from complications following a sudden heart attack. It was a swift and cutting blow for all who had seen his films. Kieslowski’s death deprived the film world of one of its most insightful observers of the complexity of persons, and the bonds between them.

Kieslowski’s Red, White and Blue,  live on the main floor of the library, address PN1997 .T669 2001 DVD.

Lent in The Library

babette's feastAre you observing Lent this year? Lent is a forty-day period of reflection and preparation for Christians, as they wait for the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection on Good Friday and Easter. Many traditions are observed during Lent; in the next few weeks, you can learn about and participate in some of these traditions at the library.

On our monthly book display table, you will find items that can “cast a mood” for contemplation. Consider watching a film that has such a Lenten cast, such as Babette’s Feast, or Chocolat.  Or immerse yourself in our collection of sacred music. We’ve even dug selected vinyl LP’s out of our closed stacks, so take this opportunity to hear works of Tallis, Vivaldi, Pärt, Vaughan Williams and others.

The avenues of individual meditation during Lent are diverse, as some of the books on the table reveal. Jane Mossendew devotes each day in Lent to describing various garden plants and methods for cultivating them, in her “Thorn, Fire and Lily”. Paul Wesley Chilcote pays close attention to the songs of the church in his “The Song Forever New: Lent and Easter Meditations on Charles Wesley’s Hymns.” And Evelyn Underhill plumbs the depths of the heart, as always, in her meditations for Lent, edited by G.P. Bellshaw.

Finally, in our reading room, we have constructed a “prayer labyrinth” to allow you a few moments to center down, and reflect on the approach of Easter. Used by people of many faiths since ancient days, a labyrinth is a maze-like walking path used to aid one in contemplation and quiescence. Ours is constructed from green and white books laid out like dominoes, spiraling around in a looping switchback pattern. As you rush around squaring things at the beginning of term, take a turn in the labyrinth and recollect yourself.

seed labyrinth

Book Review: The Luminaries

                                       The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

luminIn 1866 Walter Moody arrives in the gold-mining town of Hokitika, New Zealand to seek his fortune and escape his tangled family-life at home in the UK. On the night of his arrival, he stumbles upon a group of 12 men meeting to discuss three seemingly unrelated crimes that have taken place on the same day: the disappearance of a wealthy prospector, the suicide attempt of a local opium-addicted prostitute, and the huge cache of gold found in the home of the now-deceased town drunk. At first glance, The Luminaries appears to be a historical murder mystery, but as the story unfolds, the reader quickly realizes that everything is interwoven and nothing, even the story itself, is what it seems.

Catton’s writing is exact, vivid and beautiful. She writes in the style and voice of Victorian authors with a bit of a modern twist; The Luminaries is almost a satire of 19th century mysteries but still earnest. The story is very intricately plotted and the book itself is uniquely structured.

The astrological chart is the basis for the ambitious, unique structure of the book. However, knowledge of astrology is not necessary to understand or enjoy the novel.  There are 12 parts to the novel, each part shorter than the last to reflect the waning moon in its lunar cycle. Each of the 12 men’s astrological signs directs their character and the part they play in the overall plot. Catton names them as the stellar characters and they truly orbit around the seven planetary characters:  Walter Moody and the individuals at the center of each crime.  The cyclical nature of both the lunar cycle and human history also plays a big role in fleshing out the plot and tying all the events and perspectives together.

The Luminaries will appeal to readers of literary fiction, Victorian literature, experimental literature, fans of Sherlock Holmes novels or the current BBC show, and fans of movies with non-linear plots such as Memento, The Usual Suspects or Mulholland Drive.

The Luminaries won the 2013 Man Booker Prize and is unique in two regards: at 823 pages it is the longest novel to win and at age 28 Eleanor Catton is the youngest author to win. While much longer than the average novel, the tightly plotted and fast-paced storytelling will keep readers engaged until the very end.

The Luminaries is available in the General Collection under the call number PR 9639.4 .C39 L86 2013

– Christina Nofziger, Access Services Specialist