THE VOICE OF ENERGY VOL. 047
Coming to you live from the back bedroom of my parents’ house in Ilwaco, WA, it’s The Voice of Energy. I’m currently and pleasantly having a gentle Twitter disagreement about the cost of a ticket to a live show that I don’t even want to attend. Which, even with my disinterest, is a lovely thing to consider… Live music is on the horizon. Chances of me getting weepy at the first show I go to: 100%.
For this week’s newsletter, I’ve written three film reviews. Two new features out in the world and one remastered edition of a lovely and prescient documentary about the W.P.A. I hope you enjoy reading them.
Plan B (2021, dir. Natalie Morales)
As the Supreme Court is set to hear a case that could make abortion illegal in the U.S., you could say that the timing for the release of Plan B - a sweet-natured and pleasantly bawdy comedy about a teen in the Midwest seeking the morning after pill - is perfect. But considering the efforts of conservative politicians and activists to strip away women’s rights in this country… there probably would never be a bad time to shepard this movie along. Even with that as a backdrop, director Natalie Morales (perhaps best known for her acting work in TV fare like The Grinder and Parks & Recreation) and screenwriters Prathi Srinivasan and Joshua Levy only gently politicize this coming-of-age film, hoping that the struggles of straitlaced teen Sunny (Kuhoo Verna) to obtain a plan b pill after an awkward drunken hook up are enough to get the point across. She and best friend Lupe (Victoria Moroles) first come up against a pharamacist who invokes a “conscience clause” that allows him to refuse to sell her the drug, and then go on a roadtrip to the nearest Planned Parenthood, which is still six hours from their home. The misadventures that ensue play off the girls’ desperation and the misogyny baked into our society, with laughs that sting a little as they arrive. It’s plenty funny to watch Sunny as she steels up the courage to go down on a drug dealer to pay for what she hopes is the morning after pill (it might be speed), but it hurts to realize the lengths that some women have to go to get what they deserve. (streaming on Hulu)
Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm (2020 Abraborama, dir. Hannah Berryman)
Whether you were aware or not, Rockfield Studios, a recording space built within a working farm in Wales, is responsible for the sound of the last four decades of British rock music. It’s where Black Sabbath rehearsed prior to recording their first two albums, Robert Plant began his solo career, and the flames were fanned on the Britpop movement of the ’90s with groups like Oasis, the Charlatans, and the Boo Radleys using the remote location and cloistered conditions conducive to their creative pursuits. This speedily paced documentary does a fantastic job laying out the history of how the studio came to be and, using talking head interviews with a ton of folks (nearly all of them men, as the female studio manager points out with some measure of disappointment) who made some or all of their classic albums there. The joy for this music fan was seeing all the home video footage shot by the bands that director Hannah Berryman nabbed and folded into the mix. Sadly that didn’t include any shots of Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher sitting on the stone wall outside of the studio to record the acoustic guitar part for “Wonderwall,” but that oversight was easy to ignore after hearing the band’s other guitarist Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs talk about using an RC car to screw up the recording process. (available to rent on demand)
New Deal For Artists (1981, dir. Wieland Schulz-Keil)
The 1981 documentary New Deal For Artists opens with writer Studs Terkel lamenting that people had already forgotten about the impact that FDR’s New Deal Program had on American society, particularly with regards to the arts. Fast forward four decades later, and that ignorance has only grown even in the wake of our politicians fighting over the support of the arts and artists during a global pandemic. The release of a remastered edition of New Deal For Artists, Wieland Schulz-Keil’s documentary that originally aired on PBS might go some ways toward bringing this idea that funding artists of all stripes - and asking them to help document an awful period of our collective history - has a net benefit for all American citizens. Narrated by one of the beneficiaries of this federal program, Orson Welles, the film is a remarkable document that includes interviews with some of the members of FDR’s adminstration who laid out the blueprint for the W.P.A. along with conversations with many of the artists that were supported by the program. The film also doesn’t shy away from highlighting the Republican backlash to the W.P.A. via the House Un-American Activities Committee, which started a war on culture that sounds entirely too familiar to current arguments over the support of struggling Americans during our modern crisis. (available to rent on demand)
That’s all for now. Back next week with more, including, I hope, an interview for you.
Artwork for this week’s newsletter is by Lucina Samer Ahmed whose work is on display at Bab idDeir Gallery in Bethlehem, Palestine through May 26