Six Damn Fine Degrees #51: Elvis Costello’s I Want You (1986)

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

I want to say that Elvis Costello’s 1986 song I Want You is a love song, but it’s like saying a volcanic eruption is about elevated temperatures. It’s so much a misnomer it is almost a lie. Let’s say that the first few seconds, oh my baby, baby, are some sort of spectacularly failed attempt at a love song, and then the egg shell breaks from the inside, and all the pathos, all the jealousy and obsession of a relationship gone south, burst out, red-hot and seething. Please excuse my French, but that song is a fucking hand-grenade of self-pity.

It’s taken from Blood & Chocolate, one of Costello’s best albums if you ask me, but it’s telling that his band, the Attractions, would not make another album with Costello for the next eight years. It’s not just because of this song, but relationships in the band had soured before that. I don’t know how much of those internal problems have found their way into recording I Want You, but creative adversity might have added to the atmosphere of something having come to a painful close. If you listen to the song on your stereo, Costello’s voice, sometimes jarring, sometimes painfully intimate, sounds like it will spill out of the loudspeakers and make small puddles of poisoned honey on your living-room floor.

Since I Want You is not a duet, we only have the male I’s point of view, and none of the woman’s. According to him, she has betrayed him, which, in a heterosexual context, means that she has slept with another man. Is he just jealous that she has found another guy after their breakup, or has she cheated on him? To some men (lesser men at that), this is the same thing, oh no, my darling, not with that clown, because the other guy, in some men’s self-estimation, is always the worse choice, no-one who wants you could want you more. Yeah, I’m the guy for you, can’t you see? But if the song would not be from the I’s point of view, it would not be nearly as good, or as revealing. It’s a six and a half minute whopper of a song; no wonder Michael Winterbottom could make a whole movie out of it.

Costello does not mince words here, but if you have ever read or watched any of his interviews, it cannot come as a surprise to you that Mr McManus does say exactly what he means – even if he means it only in the moment he is saying it. But it is exactly that quality that the song needs: It’s the thought of you undressing him, or you undressing. Apart from the fact that we can only guess what happened between the two, he must lie awake, gnashing his teeth, or smoking and drinking, trying in vain to delete the images of what he thinks has happened – and what he thinks has happened is always stronger of what has really happened. His guesses are probably all wrong (it’s knowing that he knows you now after only guessing), but how would that help? The images cannot be unseen, or uncreated. Oh boy, oh boy, us males are so good at feeding our inferiority complexes while maintaining that we are actually caring, considerate and tender when we are not.

I’ll say this for the song: it does not spare the male I any more than it does spare the departed female lover, but since the self-revelation on the side of the male I is so much more telling, it says much more about him than it says about the woman he is addressing, since his view of her is skewered and biased and uttered with the pain of departure at best and vitriolic hatred at worst. Talk about toxic masculinity. Musically, the song stays with you, because it is so slow and contains an absolute joke of a guitar solo while putting all its sensuality in its melody. The music already knows that all is over, while the lyrics still cling to the last vestiges of a relationship that is so over.

Family Anatomy: Kajillionaire (2020)

There is always a moment for me, early in any movie rather than late, where I ask myself if the storytelling is going to be good (or memorable, or quippy, or smart). Sometimes I am fooled into believing that it’s going to be great, as in The United States vs. Billie Holliday, where the movie starts out fine, gets bad and worse the longer I am sitting there, watching it crumble despite Andra Day’s fabulous performance. With Miranda July’s Kajillionaire, I knew that the story it was about to tell me was going to be a keeper, and I was not wrong. If you see Richard Jenkins standing at a downtown L.A. bus station, how can you not think of the pilot of Six Feet Under? The movie could easily be based on a graphic novel along the lines of Ghost World, and three streets along, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia might be unfolding.

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Kuessipan means ‘my turn now’

Myriam Verreault’s Kuessipan (2019) is one of the best films about friendship in a long time. Mikuan and Shaniss grow up on the Innu reservation in Québec, and while the movie could easily showcase all kinds of social problems of the indigenous population, it contains refreshingly few scenes of actual violence. It has the good sense of letting us know that even between the two young girls, things are very different: while Mikuan grows up in a relatively stable family, Shaniss finds her mother dead drunk and unconscious on the kitchen floor, and when Shaniss is placed in a care home, it’s Mikuan who walks all those miles along the coast to see her bestie.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #40: Pale Rider by Laura Spinney

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

Welcome to some sort of grim hat-trick. This entry might well be a part of our sadly ever-expanding series called Corona Diaries; it is also a revisit of what I once wrote for The Rear-View Mirror about Laura Spinney’s book Pale Rider; and the concept of six degrees carries a very cynical note when thinking about contagion, way back in 1918 when the Spanish Flu hit, and again today, for glaringly obvious reasons.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #37: Elmore Leonard

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

I don’t care how many movies you own, if your bookshelf doesn’t contain at least one single Elmore Leonard novel, there is a gap in your collection. There are very few novelists whose prose is already so close to a screenplay; in fact, if you, like me, imagine something very much alike to a movie scenes while reading a novel, you have it easy with Leonard, because his writing is, in the best sense of the word, graphic.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #33: Donnie Brasco

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

It has been a little forgotten, hasn’t it, that little gangster flick called Donnie Brasco (1997)? It hasn’t anything as iconic to offer as The Godfather‘s ascent to power or The Godfather: Part II‘s empty shell of a mob boss, although it does have Al Pacino at its center, too. It’s not a Scorsese-style hellride that could make us like or at least weirdly admire the hard men of organized crime we are supposed to condemn outside of a movie theater.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #28: Bill Camp

I admit I am probably slightly more name-driven when it comes to picking my movies. Plus, if there is a face popping up in several different genres, I might get hooked. Bill Camp seems to pop up in very diverse movies; it is really rather ironic that, for all the various genres, he often plays an unlikable character, or at least one with an impossible task or a hidden agenda. I have never consciously seen him cheerful or happy or anywhere near exuberant. It is to his credit that I never thought of him as anywhere near typecast. Speaks to the quality of his acting.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #17: The Hunger Games (2012)

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

You can dismiss it as juvenile dross, and you would not be entirely wrong, but The Hunger Games (2012) gets one thing admirably right: it is very able to balance its theme of mass media voyeurism showcasing a random group of soon-to-die game show contestants with the fact that we, the audience, are watching their imminent demise alongside the anonymous masses in the film. We are made to be voyeurs, too, not entirely against our will, and yet we are asked to side with the contestants – or victims, let’s call them, for that is what they are. And since we are not heartless, we empathize with them.

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