Throwback Thursday: The Ghost of Valentine’s Past

Oh man. Oh geez. It’s Valentine’s Eve. Either you forgot to get a significant other or you forgot to get something for your significant other. Plus midterms, and that bomb scare. It’s been a rough week. Uncork some wine, buy some overpriced chocolates, and listen/watch/read what a bunch of old dudes have said about love and other Hallmark’s card bullshit.

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Dinner and a Movie: Billy Wilder’s The Apartment 

by Matthew Libby

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“You know, I used to live like Robinson Crusoe. I mean, shipwrecked among 8 million people. And then one day I saw a footprint in the sand, and there you were. It’s a wonderful thing, dinner for two.”

Ah, my heart swoons every time. Billy Wilder sure had a way with words—effective without being sentimental, romantic without being cloying. This quote is not a big moment, not a huge character revelation. It’s just something to say, and said with perfect simplicity by the impeccable Jack Lemmon. The Apartment is, in many ways, a simple movie, about simple characters and their simple conversations. Yet somehow it feels complex. It hits hard as a drama, it delivers as a comedy, and, perhaps most pertinently to the context in which I am writing this, it is one of the great romances committed to screen.

So let’s throw it back to 1960, and talk about Billy Wilder’s The Apartment.

This movie was named by Best Picture of 1960 by the Academy—and this was the year when Psycho was released. It was the first black-and-white film to win in five years, and no film entirely without color has taken home the top prize since. (Schindler’s List and The Artist come close, but even they have their moments of garish kick.) The Apartment is, in many ways, an outlier—it is a small movie, wholly without spectacle, wholly without pretension. It reflects its main character in that regard—Bud, our hero, the average Joe who works late at his insurance job while he lets his superiors use his apartment as a destination point for dates with their extramarital affairs. Why? To get them to like him. To further his career. He’s balancing his aspirations with humanity, a conflict which leaves him alone in his apartment eating TV dinners at the end of the night.

Enter Fran. She is a snappy elevator girl that Bud takes a liking to, but who happens to be the mistress to Bud’s boss Sheldrake, who’s just made a deal with Bud to use his apartment exclusively in exchange for a promotion. Sheldrake is morally ambiguous and slick, and he’s growing more and more attached to Fran. Their relationship reaches a boiling point in the apartment, and Bud is left to pick up the pieces.

What seems to be the standard setup for a modern rom-com here has a very dark twist—The Apartment was widely seen as a comedy when it was released, but it has become more and more melancholy in the 50+ years since. It is a stark portrait of urban malaise, a really sticky morality tale, a time capsule of some vaguely misogynistic late-50s attitudes, and, above all else, an affecting romance of two lonely souls—Bud and Fran—realizing their feelings for one another.

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Love in The Apartment is not portrayed as light and fluffy and, well, Valentine’s Day-sy. It’s portrayed as flawed and selfish and imperfect, and it seems to argue accepting that might be the only way to make it work. It’s easy to look at The Apartment and see the formula at play—boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. However, this is to ignore that love inThe Apartment—and, let’s be real love in real life—is not that simple. The film does end with swelling music, and what appears to be a grand romantic gesture, but in reality it’s not grand or romantic at all. It is a game of cards, unspoken subtext, and the uplifting hope that this love will work out.

Am I suggesting this Valentine’s Day you bundle up with your loved one and watch this simple dramedy that challenges conventional cinema’s depictions of romance? Nah. But as we enter this season, The Apartment is continually a movie that comes to mind. Wilder understood the simple intimacies of human relationships better than everyone, and with The Apartment, he created a film way ahead of its time—a film that believes in love but doesn’t glorify it, a film that incites laughs and sympathy without having to try, a film that, more than grandiose saccharine moments, accepts and heralds that wonderfully simple thing, “dinner for two.” That is where it all begins, and Wilder understood that better than anyone.

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 Music and Lyrics and Static: My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless 

by Hanna Tyson

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To me, nothing screams Valentine’s Day like absurdly loud straight static, underlaced with British shoegaze and minimalist, romantic lyrics. If you’re a music buff of ‘91, then you are correct in following my logic.  If you’re not, let me clarify.  We are throwing back this Thursday to works of art that are known for themes of love. And what better way to spend your Valentine’s Day than reading this article on the album Loveless by My Bloody Valentine.

The name of the band really says it all.  The first time I listened to Loveless, it literally felt like someone was ripping an organ out of my body.  (And not in the good way.) So why write about it, right? I think that like most other good things (coffee, coding, and foreign accents), certain music can demand an acquired taste. In the spirit of love and other drugs, I listened to Loveless a second time at a slightly louder volume. Under the heavy-set static, were quiet drum loops, guitar strums, and buried vocals that I hadn’t heard the first time.

Lead guitarist/vocalist Kevin Shields used a tremolo bar to strum his guitars causing the strings to bend slightly in and out of tune and creating a noise that sounds a lot more like seven guitars than just one.  The raspy strums and overlayed static make the album what it is.  The production of Loveless took 2 years, 19 recording studios, and so much money that it almost bankrupted the record label.  The prolonged recording process and the lack of commercial success were the main reasons My Bloody Valentine stopped producing new music. Loveless was the last album they released in 22 years, up until last year.

So, why the static shoegaze for Valentine’s Day?  Besides the obvious connotation of the album title, the lyrics are surprisingly thoughtful.  My favorite track “When You Sleep” perfectly captures that feeling of ease, comfort, and exhaustion that can only be reached at two am, talking on the phone to someone you love, saying nothing in particular, but everything important.

When I look at you

Oh, I don’t know what’s real

Once in a while

And you make me laugh

And I’ll see you tomorrow

And it won’t be long

Coupled with Shields’ deep, subdued vocals and one of the faster drum loops of the album, this track becomes a great, thoughtful love song.  Somewhere amidst the static, you hear Shields cooing soft lyrics.  And…because it is Valentine’s Day, let’s go there…maybe the static mirrors that feeling we get when we listen to someone we care about—letting us just listen to their voice, blocking everything else out? Or maybe it mimics that overwhelming effect love has on us? ORmaybe Kevin Shields just really, really wanted to use static?

Regardless of why, I’m glad it’s there. I’m still not sure if the reason why I enjoyed the album so much the second time around was because I heard past the static, or that I was in love, or because I was just high. No matter the reason, I love the album now, and I think you will, too.  Enjoy your day of love and share Loveless with someone you care about.

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In Which Alec Arceneaux Reveals He’s A Big Softie At Heart: “Like Passionate Lips” by Hafiz 

by Alec Arceneaux

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I wanted to do a poem or book that came out on February 14th, for consistency and all, but two Google searches yielded nothing. I am not a rigorous journalist. I feel like a poem about love should count though. So I reached towards the closest poetry book (yeah, that’s right, I have multiple poetry books within arm’s reach, ladies). It’s a collection of Sufi poetry by Hafiz, (very liberally) translated by Daniel Ladinsky; a beautiful yellow-and-brown paperback with an embossed cover, filled with marginalia and center-aligned text. Most poems are no more than a page in length, with generous spacing. Warmth bleeds from not only the poems, but the book itself.

I was familiar with Rumi and other Sufi poets before, but I was introduced to Hafiz by one of the best people that I don’t know well enough. We were on the top floor of an Algerian coffeeshop in Harvard Square and we shared our favorite poems for maybe hours. Her personal preference talks about a God who knows only four words, “Come dance with me.” My conversations with her always felt fulfilling in such a simple but impossible-to-recreate way. I should clarify that it was never romantic on either end; purely platonic. But she had a kind of warm, positive air that I seldom felt with anyone else. It was like the feeling you get when you’re walking through a neighborhood and suddenly realize just how pleasant everything surrounding you is, and wonder if it hasn’t always been that way.

I later found a copy of the same edition that she had from a street vendor. I reach for it sometimes when I want the reassurance that there’s a God out there who made the world so we can all dance, and appreciate the music being played around us. The poem I picked for this article is entitled “Like Passionate Lips,” and it’s one of the more sensual poems in the collection. Fellas, read it to your ladies (or other fellas, no discrimination) and pretend you wrote it:

There are

So many positions of

Love:

 

Each curve on a branch,

 

The thousand different ways

Your eyes can embrace us,

 

The infinite shapes your

Mind can draw,

 

The spring

Orchestra of scents,

 

The currents of light combusting

Like passionate lips,

 

The revolution of Existence’s skirt

Whose folds contain other worlds,

 

Your every sigh that falls against

His inconceivable

Omnipresent
I’m a sucker for poems that combine spirituality and love. Not because I’m religious. But I’m comforted by the idea that an all-enveloping theism can create an atmosphere of love and reassurance rather than paranoia or guilt. I’ve had a lot of moments lately where I look up and see the moon’s penumbra through the thin diaphanous clouds, or watch the bats outside Margaret Jacks Hall make dizzying orbits around the columns, or marvel at the hundreds of perfectly spherical water droplets clinging to individual hairs on a friend’s head as she comes in from the rain. Maybe it’s the Valentine’s spirit making me all sentimental and stuff, but I like the reassurance of Hafiz that these little awe-filled moments, and the times I cherish with friends who worship a dancing god, are small but deliberate masterpieces courtesy of a loving Existence.

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Photo courtesy of a-la-recherche.tumblr.com.

 

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