Friday, February 12, 2010


Here's a hilarious short video from the BBC's Charlie Brooker, on "How to Report the News." Nicely pops the bubble of the local news, with its inane prefab format. Just plug in a few specifics of whatever issue is being covered, and you've got yourself a news story. 

This also reminds me of Andy Schocken's early 2000s film "Live at Five," a half-hour "newscast" -- really a brilliantly edited assemblage of local news footage from stations around the country. Every clip is totally familiar: the mindless patter of the anchors, news reporters standing in front of unlit buildings to provide "on the scene" coverage, weather reporters out in the snow to tell us it's snowing, and -- most of all -- the relentless and disproportionate focus on cute animals, fires, car accidents, and the weather. How I wish that film were online! 

Monday, February 8, 2010


"Tet charge," I just learned, is a Haitian Creole expression for "a lot of problems in your head," as Renald Raphael puts it. Perhaps "overload" would be another way of translating it. Raphael works with Twa Zanmi (Three Friends), a community health program for Haitians in the Boston area. And "tet charge" is how he says (in this video) many Haitian immigrants explain away their depression and anxiety. "People will continue to work, do their business, it is a way of life." In other words, it's just "tet charge" -- as if that were a normal state of affairs. And since mental health is such a taboo issue among Haitians, says Raphael, few will discuss it. That's why his group is producing a telenovela, or soap opera, to get in under the radar of viewers. It's harder to protest when you're being entertained, rather than lectured to or evaluated. (The work-in-progress doesn't seem to have quite the high-pitched drama of, say, General Hospital; but then, what do I know? I don't speak the language, and there are no subtitles. Besides, I don't think General Hospital has a psych ward.)

Twa Zanmi is one of eight groups around the country that comprise "New Routes to Community Health," an initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Benton Foundation that brings together immigrant, media, and other community-based organizations to improve immigrants' health. They work on everything from domestic violence, to gang activity, to mental health, to STDs and other questions -- among Latino youth, or elderly Vietnamese, or Somalis of any age.  Depends on the project. Another effort is "Project Salud," a group of Latino youth in Chicago who create these funky telenovelas of their own, as the video above details. The young actors seem to relish jumping into these thoroughly soapy circumstances and into the characters they are given to play. I can't blame 'em. Being somebody else for a little bit might just do the trick to dispel tet charge. Or more.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


To my mind, one of the enduring mysteries from movie-dom is this: What happens after the ending of the film "Groundhog Day"? 

On the surface of things, the answer is pretty obvious. TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) and his producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) fall in love and live happily ever after. But the falling in love is a little lopsided, and I wonder if Phil ever tells Rita why.  

Here's the scoop. For the fourth year in a row, Phil is assigned to cover the Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania. He hates the gig, hates the town, and wants to split right after the festivities are over. Problem is, a blizzard comes in and traps Phil, along with Rita and cameraman Larry (Chris Elliot) in town. Phil wakes up the next day, and it's Groundhog Day all over again. Same thing the next day and the day after that, as Phil finds himself caught in a time-loop, repeating Groundhog Day, February 2, over and over -- always waking up to the same horrible song ("I Got You Babe" by Sonny and Cher) on the clock radio. Everybody else is experiencing it for the first time, only for Phil is the day stuck on repeat. 

At first Phil is confused, then exhilarated by being able to act without consequences, then is driven to despair by his being unable to seduce Rita, much less make her fall in love with him, in one day's time. (The mordantly funny clip above is from Phil's worst moment of dejection.) Finally, after untold repetitions of Groundhog Day, he changes his bitter, selfish ways and uses the repetions to his advantage -- to learn French, to learn piano, to learn about everyone in town, and -- cue the cheesy soundtrack music -- how to love. His generosity and warmth and talents finally impress Rita, but in the meantime, Phil has learned that the point is not to "get" her but to live in the moment. This being a happily-ever-after movie, however, Phil not only gets to become a Zen master, but also escapes the time loop he's been trapped in and, presumably, wins Rita's heart as well. 

Now, Phil has learned about and fallen in love with Rita over the course of countless repetitions of the same day. Rita, however, is not stuck endlessly reliving a single day (or maybe she is, it's just in Phil's world), and has had only 24 hours to learn anything about Phil. She is impressed and happy, but is not the type to fall in love so quickly as all that.

So, the big question -- no doubt equal to the grand existential puzzles like "Why are we here?" -- is this: Does Phil tell Rita what happened, namely that he's been stuck repeating Groundhog Day for so long

Up until now, I've been torn mightily about this question. On the one hand, it seems obvious that of course he would tell her -- if they're going to live happily ever after, then "forever" is a pretty long time to keep that kind of important information secret. And then, does she believe him? Or would the revelation spoil the mystery of their love? Besides, Phil could make a mint off of a bestselling novelization of his life. 

On the other hand, how do you begin to say something like that? And if Phil doesn't tell her, what is she to think of the fact that Phil fell in love with her in what appears (to Rita) to be about as much time as it takes to do your grocery shopping and get your emissions checked? What kind of co-dependent fool becomes smitten so easily, and can you trust his feelings? 

Well, stop the presses: after seeing the film about a half-dozen times, I have come to the conclusion that Phil does tell Rita what happened. He gives a clue near the end of the film, when various townspeople thank Phil for one or another favor he's done for them that day (why not? he knows so much about everything going on, he might as well help a few folks out), Rita asks him what's going on. He says, "Would you like the long version, or the short one?" Before he can tell her, they are interrupted. That, in my professional opinion, is enough of a sign that he'll tell her in time.

Why take such pains over a seemingly small question like this? Well, clearly the indication is that Phil and Rita will live happily ever after -- but the clear blue sky of that happiness is clouded by the lopsidedness in their relationship and the question about how it got there. In any story, what happens before and after and around the contours of any story is a mystery -- and viewers (and readers) are left to wonder what lays outside. Except for now. About this movie. With just the one question. Take that, people who love ambiguous endings!

I sincerely hope I haven't killed the pleasant mystery by providing what I consider is the answer to film's greatest mystery. This is like Rosebud, only more so. Oh hey, one last thing. As you may have read, Punxsutawney Phil (the real life groundhog) has predicted 6 more weeks of winter. He has got to be stopped! (Phil Connors agrees, in the clip above.)