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Culture
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Film

It’s OK, in Fact Encouraged, to Escape to Other Worlds Right Now

Mine consists of Fran Lebowitz, legwarmers and giant wooden boats. What’s yours like?

Dorothy Woodend 15 Jan 2021 | TheTyee.ca

Dorothy Woodend is culture editor of The Tyee. Reach her here.

After weeks of constant doomscrolling, I hit my saturation point the other day. Instead of screaming at Twitter, I went looking for anything that had nothing to do with the daily news cycle. Thankfully, there are options out there: gentle, pastoral, bucolic reminders that not all humans are bad news. In fact, many are downright pleasant.

When the jackbooted march of current events becomes too much, places of refuge and respite are necessary for the maintenance of sanity. If that’s what you’re seeking, I have recommendations. A little R&R, if you will. And if you have your own suggestions, I’m happy to hear them in the comment thread below.

Rebuilding with the Tally Ho crew

When you really need escape, how do you get there? A sailboat is one answer, even if it’s currently stuck on dry land. In Sequim, Wash., a young Englishman named Leo Goolden decided to resurrect a 1909 sailing yacht called the Tally Ho.

After languishing in an Oregon port for many years, the Tally Ho was purchased by Goolden for the grand sum of £1. Goolden set about rebuilding the vessel from the keel up and lo, an epic adventure began.

The project is winding its way steadily forward. To say it is a process is putting it mildly. Making anything by hand, with little money and a team of volunteers, requires the patience of Job.

But every week or so a video of the progress thus far makes its way to the internet. A growing audience is able to witness the slow coming together of the hull, the planking, the handmade rivets and other sundry details and challenges.

Meet the wooden boat-building team! Video via the Sampson Boat Co.

As much as the video diaries are a document of the restoration process, they’re also a portrait of a community. A group of mostly young men and women who’ve chosen to freely offer their labour and commitment to the Tally Ho. It’s these folks — funny, hardworking, generous and good-natured — that make the project so compelling.

A few years ago, Goolden gave an extensive interview to WoodenBoat magazine about his history with the wonderful world of sailing boats. It’s an excellent summary not only of the curious allure of boating, but also the power and pleasure of making things by hand, even if it’s long, hard and slow work.

“It’s strange to me, as it is to you, I guess, because this is just our lives, really, is wooden boats, and it’s a nice life, and it’s hard work and it’s very satisfying, and it’s beautiful product, and a quite romantic lifestyle in a way, and we’ve come to see that as normal, maybe,” he says. “But I think a lot of people don’t get a glimpse into that world at all. A lot of people have been watching them who have no idea about the boat-building world at all. It’s opened up a new world for them....”

It’s a world where people get along and help each other, where life is slow and sweet and steady. Watching the videos offers another kind of rebuilding, to the idea of a more co-operative, communal and ultimately humane place.

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The Tally Ho, undergoing its makeover. Photo via the Sampson Boat Co.

Snuffling with 'The Truffle Hunters'

In another corner of the world, a community of oddballs and eccentrics are going about the business of truffle hunting. The Piedmont region of Italy is home to some of the most highly sought-after fungi in the world.

They don’t look like much — dun-coloured, lumpen and nestled in the dirt — but the taste and the fragrance of the alba white truffle is otherworldly in its deliciousness. Good specimens fetch upwards of $300 per ounce.

Truffles grow wild in the local forests, in damp soil, amongst tree roots. The humans who seek them used to use pigs to sniff them out, but they switched to dogs after one too many porcine battles over the fungi. Turns out that pigs like truffles even more than humans.

Nothing big happens in the film. The elderly truffle hunters and their dogs tromp through the woods, exchanging pleasantries with each other on occasion. There are truffle auctions, a few back alley assignations between buyers and sellers, as well as the business of cooking and eating.

Watch the trailer above for The Truffle Hunters.

Mostly it’s the age-old human problems of men and women, work and freedom, and the care and maintenance of dogs that takes up the majority of the action. As a place to while away a couple of hours, far from the madding buzz of Twitter, this film could not be more perfect. The film was supposed to open in January, but stay tuned for forthcoming dates.

Laughing with 'Pretend It’s a City'

Another place to escape is the raunchy world of old New York, with the one and only Fran Lebowitz. The new Netflix series, inspired in part by director Martin Scorsese’s 2010 documentary Public Speaking about the writer, spans the gamut of Lebowitz’s work and life.

From growing up in the 1950s to her short-lived career cab driving in the mean streets of Manhattan, the woman holds forth on a dizzying array of subjects. Everything from the perils of plane travel to the joys of smoking, as well as money, apartments, the subway and why sports are dumb.

Lebowitz can talk. A natural born raconteur, she is a one-person library of information and opinion, all of it offered with a dry wit and the occasional smoker’s cough. One of the keenest pleasures of the series is the opportunity to revisit the New York of old, back when it was dirty, dangerous and altogether harder and more fun to live there.

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A perverse pride runs through the Netflix series Pretend It’s a City.

Accompanied throughout by Scorsese, who is an excellent interlocutor (when he stops laughing long enough to ask some actual questions), episodes move backwards and forwards in time. The conversations are intercut with film clips, interviews and rambles on the street.

But beneath the anecdotes and funny observations is something more, namely: What does it mean to be a city dweller? How does a place like NYC, with its density, not to mention general level of aggressiveness, keep its citizenry together?

A perverse pride runs throughout, a strength and nimbleness of humour and philosophizing that are a true embodiment of the very best in the American character.

Or take the guiltiest of pleasures

For some people, admitting they partake of certain cultural offerings can bring on sheepish feelings. But everyone has a guilty pleasure, whether it’s makeup tutorials, ASMR videos, dressing up one’s cats in period costume or even stepping outside and going for a walk (you weirdos).

Sometimes a body needs calming, soothing things that won’t tax the brain, strain the nerves or cause undue excitement. Other times just the opposite is required — the kind of stuff that brings on a mad dervish descent into primal territory.

I’m not here to judge. I have my own secret vices. So, come on out and admit your most mortifying delectations. I’ll go first.

I have a thing for bad dance movies — not the kind that are purposely cornball, but the films that aimed for greatness but tripped and fell flat on their little faces instead. There is a bevy to choose from. Practically every era of filmmaking has some stellar examples, from Powell and Pressburger, to hip-hop showdowns.

Personally, I prefer films where everyone is wearing giant headbands and leg warmers. Yes, my friends, in some corner of the universe the 1980s still reign.

A particularly fine example of a terrible dance film from an era, which was overstuffed with them, is Staying Alive. Released in 1983, the film was a sequel to Saturday Night Fever and featured a reprise of the character of Tony Manero (John Travolta at his sweaty meathead best).

Directed by Sylvester Stallone, the film is a convergence of every bad dance cliché imaginable, including striving young hoofers, a Machiavellian choreographer in jodhpurs, a mink coat and an ice queen bunhead.

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Yup. This is what takes me away.

It ends in a flaming cheeseball of glory with the climatic finale of a Broadway show entitled, fittingly enough, Satan’s Alley. This might give you visions of a devilish colonoscopy, and you wouldn’t be far wrong.

Satan’s Alley is screamingly terrible, ergo hilarious. Horrendous costumes, an incomprehensible story and enough flailing limbs, undulating torsos, smoke bombs and pyrotechnics to convince a person that another world war just started. Every time I stumble across the film on some late-night corner of the television, I am so filled with a wild and giddy joy that I gotta dance!

Whatever you need to remind yourself there are other worlds than the one we’re currently mired in is OK. Just enjoy.  [Tyee]

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