In Venus Veritas

DVD: Venus — Some films stand out from the pack. Some actors transcend the rabble. Peter O’Toole is one of those actors ever since his burst onto the silver screen in Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. Nearly 45 years later he remains just as magnetic in the 2006 English movie about an aging actor in failing health who falls for a young woman barely out of her teens.

Yes, the role may be typecasting, but O’Toole brings both himself and his stunning craft to this touching, funny and ultimately evocative story. And to make the film even more resonant, he has the support of fellow British stage and screen veteran troupers Vanessa Redgrave and Leslie Phillips.

And as the object of his affections deft newcomer Jodie Whittaker, who is disarming in how she reveals that the love the old thespian has for what’s at first blush a crude and disaffected youth is deserved as her real heart and nature emerge. As much as the movie is suffused with the sorrow, regret and resignation that comes with being elderly with death in sight, the transformational power of love, even when socially unacceptable and physically unfulfilled, for both parties from opposing sides of a huge generation gap. Venus is one of those small movies with a big impact on the mind and soul, rich with humanity, believably real characters and sense of place, and telling nuance.

CD: I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive by Steve Earle — As guitar strumming troubadours in the American roots tradition go, Earle is as good as it gets. For my tastes, I’ve maybe liked him best when he amped up country in the 1980s and rocked country out since his mid-1990s descent into addiction and a stint behind bars. Yet some of his best albums have been those where he slips into a folk music mode like Train A Comin’, his first release following his dark passage, and his last masterful album, Townes, that paid wonderful homage to his late friend and mentor, fellow Texas singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt.

No, this album doesn’t include the Hank Williams song that is its title — as well as that of his upcoming first novel — but it does explore the implied notion of mortality. Produced by the ubiquitous T Bone Burnett, the current master of vital roots music records, the album explores many traditional music modes from country-blues to Celtic to Appalachian string band with occasional modernist touches.

Earle’s set of 11 songs is as deep and direct as anything he has written, and includes his Emmy-winning song for the TV show Treme (in which he also acts), “This City.” Sure, he sends a shiver down my spine when he rocks in concert, but this mesmeric and affecting disc summons up just as much power in a far more subtle mode. When we lose Bob Dylan, something I do not dare or care to consider, Earle is likely to take his crown of great real American singer and songwriter.

And this album shows his ascendance to elder musical statesman as much as anything he has done.

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2011


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