At this time last weekend I was flying back from Puerto Rico, where I had attended the annual American Studies Association conference (and had squeezed in some beachside tennis as well). It was a great few days for a lot of reasons, but most especially because of a surprise with which my conference time ended—I learned, upon consulting the full program when I arrived, that John Sayles was screening his most recent film, Amigo (2010), as well as holding a Q&A afterward and then singing copies of his newest novel, A Moment in the Sun (2011). Needless to say, it was an amazing event, and reinforced for me many of the reasons why I’m thankful for Sayles. Here are three:
1) His complex, character-driven movies: I know Amigo has gotten mixed reviews, and that many critics (and some colleagues I talked to at ASA) feel that it’s a bit too on-the-nose in the parallels between its Filipino American War setting and later American conflicts (Vietnam, the second Iraq War). There were a couple moments that perhaps went there, but honestly I couldn’t disagree more—I think the film did a great job focusing on the lives and identities and perspectives of, and the evolving and nuanced relatioships between, its specific characters, in and around a small Filipino village in the second year of the US occupation and the guerrilla rebellion against it. And the main character, the village’s “head man” (played by an apparently legendary Filipino actor), is one of my all-time favorite Sayles characters—which is saying something.
2) His huge (in every sense) novels: I haven’t read more than a chapter or two of Moment yet, but I can definitely already testify to one sense of huge—the nearly 1000-page novel made my suitcase a lot heavier on the way back than it was going down to PR! But having talked a bit with Sayles about the novel while he was signing it for me, I can also say that it’s huge in a more important sense as well—its ability to engage with a wide and important range of turn of the 20th century histories and stories. Including, I’m very excited to report, one of the under-known American histories to which I’m most attached, the Wilmington coup and massacre. Can’t wait to read the whole thing, although, yeah, it might take a while.
3) His voice: Much has been written and said about Sayles as one of the most iconic and inspiration independent filmmakers, and I wouldn’t disagree with any of it. But when you see the man in person, as I have on two occasions now—and even more when you get to talk to him one-on-one, as I’ve been fortunate enough to do for a few minutes in both cases—he’s also just a perfect combination of intelligent and inquisitive, confident and open to other perspectives and ideas, grounded and philosophical, political and artistic. It’s not necessarily common that the more you learn about someone, including in person, the more you admire and even idolize them. But that’s the case with Sayles for sure.
Lots to be thankful for there! Hope you had a great holiday weekend, and the next series starts next week,
PS. Who are you thankful for?
11/25 Memory Day nominee: Ben Lindsey, the jurist and social reformer who helped originate the idea of juvenile court and was a lifelong advocate for progressive ideas about children, family, and society.
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