I got a bit ahead of my book group reading today (I finished The Subtle Knife and will read The Amber Spyglass tomorrow), so Kris and I decided to head into Portland to catch a movie. We actually managed to catch two movies and to try a new restaurant.
This film, from the creators of Microcosmos (a similar film about insects), features some stunning camera work. For four years the cinematographers filmed birds in their natural habitats, in their day-to-day lives, and on their yearly migrations. There's no plot to the film, just ninety minutes of documentary footage (some of which is astounding). There's very little narration (maybe twenty lines in the entire film), and even the music is understated.
Though I wanted to be amazed by Winged Migration, I left with mixed feelings. I was most interested in the footage of the daily life of birds: birds at play, birds eating, birds dying, etc. I was less interested in the footage of the birds in flight. In small doses this stuff is great, yes, but when you've watched it for more than an hour it loses some of its impact. The film bored Kris.
Between films we tried Dragonfish, an Asian café next to the theater. We've walked by it for months without trying it, but tonight I finally convinced Kris to try it. I shouldn't have bothered.
Kris ordered sesame ahi and green tea. I ordered a Korean skirt steak.
The tuna arrived even less done than I had expected. One side had been grilled for maybe thirty seconds and then coated with sesame seeds; the other side was raw. Kris was not pleased. Ultimately, I ate most of the tuna, and actually found it not bad, especially when eaten with the mandarin oranges and the ginger and the onions.
The steak came ten minutes later (this restaurant serves each dish as it is ready, not every dish at once). It was flavorful, but very tough. I'd ordered it medium and this was beyond well done. Kris wasn't keen on it, either, and so dinner left her unsatisfied. I wasn't impressed, either, though, especially after receiving the check. I don't need to return.
Just before we left a man and a woman sat near us. He looked very familiar. I must have looked familiar to him, too, because after a few minutes he leaned over and said, "Hi, guy. How's the food?" It was only then that I realized that this was Doctor Black, the man who'd performed my knee surgery! Though I've been seeing him every few weeks, it was difficult to place him outside of an examination room. Fortunately, I remembered who he was in time to greet him. (He didn't remember my name, of course — I'm one of scores of patients he sees every month.)
Our evening had been something of a bummer until this point, but the second film salvaged the entire night.
Spellbound is a documentary about eight kids and their quest to win the 1999 National Spelling Bee. (I remember watching the National Spelling Bee live on ESPN 1997 — that was the one with euonym! Euonym! Euonym!)
During the first half of the film, each kid is introduced and shown at home and at school. Each of them is goofy. They're strange kids, but strange in a good way. They're hyper-intelligent. They don't fit in. They remind me of my friends from junior high school. (Hi Dave! Hi Andrew!)
The second half of the film features the National Spelling Bee itself. We watch as 249 contestants (eight of whom we've come to know) are whittled to a single champion. It ought not be compelling, but it is.
Spellbound is both hilarious and poignant. The filmmakers have a deft touch, and they are able to poke fun at these strange people without showing disrespect. They treasure the quirkiness their subjects without mocking them.
After the film was over, I wanted to see it again. How's that for a recommendation?
Spellbound is outstanding. See it.
(Bowling For Columbine beat Spellbound for Best Documentary at this year's Academy Awards. I haven't seen Bowling For Columbine yet, but it's got to be damned good to have won the prize over Spellbound. Also: the Internet Movie Database keeps a list of the top 250 films of all time as voted by its users. Based on its rating, Bowling For Columbine ought to be third or fourth on the list, and Spellbound ought to be around twentieth. Why don't they qualify? And, again, why isn't Pride and Prejudice listed as number one? Enquiring minds want to know.)
On this day at foldedspace.org
2005 — The Birds and the Bees In which I photograph more birds and flowers.