One of my favorite go-to genres is autobiographies and memoirs. These days there are tons—is it just me, or does everyone seem to write a book about their life?
Snoopy is busy writing his memoirs. Click through for source.
What’s the correct term for this popular genre? Autobiography or memoir? I’ve heard both used interchangeably, but further research shows that there are slight differences between the two. Autobiographies usually chronicle someone’s entire life, from childhood until present day while memoirs focus on a specific time period or event (and often jump around in time). Autobiographies also usually include a lot of facts. Memoirs care more about the story and are less concerned with fact-checking and getting every detail right.
Another difference between autobiography and memoir is when the book happened to be written. Autobiographies were once the preferred style, written by celebrities or politicians. Now memoirs dominate with an intimate, conversational style and more room for embellishment or “stretching the truth” of personal history. Because of their more approachable style, anyone can write a memoir (and they do!).
I’ve already read quite a few autobiographies/memoirs this year; I’ve tried to classify them below!
This one is pretty straightforward. The word “autobiography” is actually in the title! Told to Alex Haley, Malcolm X recounts his life chronologically starting with his childhood and Haley finishes the story with Malcom’s untimely death.
Strayed writes about a specific time in her life—hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Flashing back and forth in time from the trail to memories of her mother, Strayed’s struggle to hike the PCT mirrors her quest to move on after her mother’s death. Focused on her experience, not facts, this book clearly falls into the memoir category.
Less straightforward to categorize is Anne Frank’s account of her time spent in hiding during WWII. While her diary mainly focuses on a specific time period, you can’t get a more accurate account than a diary. Readers get to experience Frank’s thoughts, emotions, and observations day-by-day, which is why I’ve chosen to label this book an autobiography.
I really struggled to categorize this one, especially since it was recently published and probably branded by publishers as a memoir. Following the criteria I laid out previously, Steinem’s book falls closer to autobiographies in a couple ways. Steinem begins the book in her childhood and (for the most part) continues chronologically through her life. Even though her theme is “my life on the road,” there isn’t one event or time that she emphasizes more than others. People, places, dates and other facts are also important to the story taking place.
This book combines text, illustrations, and comic strips into a truly unique story of a teenager growing up in San Francisco during the 1970s. Though the author will not directly say how closely the book follows her own life, she highly implies most of the story is based in truth. This book’s focus on Minnie’s teenage years and its questionable veracity leads me to label this book as a memoir.
Disagree with my classifications? Any good autobiographies/memoirs you’ve read recently? Let us know in the comments below!
Art courtesy Marcel L. Walker. Click through for his website.
Around 2011 I was dating a girl who lovedPrince. She often talked about how she’d been to a few of his concerts when she was younger. When we got back from the bars, she’d often put his albums on. We spent many nights dancing around her kitchen until the early hours of the morning, frightening her cats and annoying her downstairs neighbors as we sang along loudly and badly with Prince, particularly the Purple Rain soundtrack. It was during these sleepless hours that I was introduced to “Let’s Go Crazy.” That song will always be an anthemic battle cry for me.
Later I was looking up clips on YouTube and found the video below. Watch as Prince reaches heretofore unmatched levels of face-melting as he shreds his way through the solo of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” proving unequivocally that Prince was a supremely talented performer. I know I’ll miss him.
I would not be exaggerating if I said Prince was involved in two of the best nights of my life.
Picture this: New Year’s Eve, 1991. I’m at an under-21 dance club called Club Nitro. I’m 14 years old and no doubt I was wearing what I considered “dress up” clothes: black bodysuit, jeans that were far too big for me and Doc Martens. I didn’t have big hair, but it was most certainly curled by the Caruso Molecular Steam Hairsetter. The song at midnight was “Diamonds and Pearls“.
One by one, my friends were asked to dance, until it was just me leaning against a wall. And then a boy that I had crushed on for months asked me to dance. I had assumed he was unaware of my existence. I got to dance to Prince on New Year’s Eve with my crush. He even kissed me at the end of the song.*
It’s really hard for me to remember a time that I wasn’t singing Prince songs. His music was everything I wanted to be a part of – dancing, freedom of expression, being yourself, sexuality, fast cars and motorcycles, and on and on. He was an icon of my generation. Not just a rock star or superstar, but a certifiable icon (I run on at the mouth about the book which will convince you of that fact in this post from a couple of years ago. I STILL recommend this book on a regular basis.). Prince’s death has made me put him into a category that I certainly never wanted him to be in – artists I wanted to see perform live, but never got the chance to. It pains me that he’s now in that “box”. I always thought there’d be more time. But don’t you always think that? Going crazy is going to be a little harder for me now.
One of my greatest parental accomplishments is providing my kids with a well-rounded musical education. Her One Direction fanaticism notwithstanding, my 14-year-old daughter proudly shares that she is the only person among her friends who can name all four Beatles. She’s heartbroken that Janet Jackson postponed her tour because, “It’s the closest I’ll ever get to The King of Pop himself.” She’s not a child of the ‘80s, but an offspring of two of them, her knowledge of these artists acquired from us having their music on heavy rotation.
But whether it was the suggestiveness of his lyrics or something else, somehow I’d failed to introduce my girl to the power of Prince.
“He’s a good singer and all, but I don’t quite get why everyone is so sad about him dying,” she tells me.
Dig if you will, then, the picture of us watching Purple Rain, its R-rating be damned. She’s laughing at the outfits, the Aqua-Netted hair. I start speaking in fragments about how the ‘80s were such a confusing and sad decade — not only for me, but for all of us who were finding love and ourselves in an era of being scared to death that falling in love could kill us. And then came Prince, singing and celebrating these feelings that were so powerful, so intoxicating and so dangerous enough to be slapped with a Parental Advisory sticker from Tipper Gore.
My nostalgia isn’t quite enough for my girl — she’s been down similar Memory Lanes of mine before — so I go for backup. Like me, my high school friend Leah also is watching Purple Rain while trying to explain her sadness to her own daughter.
“I told her Prince was my generation’s Justin Bieber and One Direction and Taylor Swift and Jay Z and Beyoncé all rolled into one,” Leah says, via Facebook. “I think she understood that but what I didn’t say was Prince was also our coming of age, our first dances and first dates and first loves. He was the end of our childhood and the soundtrack of our youth and our young adulthood. I’m mourning Prince but I’m also remembering the way I felt back then and realizing that I won’t ever feel that way again, but when I’m watching and listening and singing, I can almost get there.”
The purple-tinged audience is waving their hands (“we had lighters back then, not cell phones,” I explain). I turn the volume up louder, as one does in homage to Prince. The guitar soars through the TV, through the house, through our souls. And watching my girl, enraptured now, I begin to connect with something I’d long forgotten.
When I found out this past Thursday that Prince died I was stunned. It’s still weird for me to talk about him in the past tense. This may be odd to say, but I’ve heard a lot of people these past couple of days say the same thing: I never imagined him dying. I thought that he would be 90 years old still doing concerts singing “Purple Rain.” It’s sad, crazy and strange to think of a world without him, but alas we have to.
His passing didn’t just affect me. It affected my family because my mom is a huge fan of his and she got me into him. She’s loved him since he first came out and she had a poster on her wall of him with a big Afro from Right On! magazine. When my aunt & uncle first met each other, they broke the ice by talking about their common love of Prince. This is a monumental loss. I’ll end this by naming my top three favorite songs of his: “When Doves Cry,” “The Beautiful Ones” and “Adore.”
The summer of 1984, I was home from my freshman year of college. In school, I had been a DJ heavily into prog rock, and worked at the music library where I was introduced to classical and world music. My boyfriend was a guitarist in a hardcore punk rock band that frequently played at CBGB’s and the like. I also happen to be very light-skinned, and my boyfriend, very dark-skinned. This was still fairly rare in the mid-80s, even in New York. We would turn heads walking down the street. Light- and dark-skinned people alike would give us the hairy eyeball.
Our whole group of friends were quite snobbish when it came to pop music. We collectively derided the MTV phenomenon, and all of pop culture as a rule. When Purple Rain came out, my boyfriend and I wanted to see it, but we didn’t want any of our friends to know. We snuck away, even coming up with a cover story of what we were doing instead. It was the first time either of us saw mixed-race couples depicted anywhere. The aspect of one’s race was a non-issue. We were also completely mesmerized by Prince himself. We laughed at ourselves for liking the movie so much. We went to see it again the next day.
In the Spring of 1986 Prince’s “Kiss” was released. At the time, my family didn’t have cable TV, and the whole music video generation was quickly passing me by. But, you know who DID have cable, and MTV? My Grandpap. We would go out to his place on the weekends, visit with him and help him with stuff around the house. Right after that song came out we were over there. I had heard it on the radio, but lacking MTV, had never seen the video. For whatever reason, I was the only one in the living room, as everyone else was in the kitchen, or out in the yard. I turned on MTV and watched some videos. That’s when I saw the video for “Kiss.”
As a 10-year-old boy, growing up in a white, working class, Catholic home, this video opened my eyes in some remarkable ways. I remember thinking “OK…so HE’s wearing high heels … and SHE’s playing the guitar … that’s not … what I expected.” I feel like seeing Wendy Melvoin playing the guitar did a number on me. It let me in on a whole new world of what was possible, and opened up doors of who could do what.
It wasn’t at all what I expected, and I loved it. Billy Bragg and Morrissey (two of my musical heroes) have talked eloquently about how seeing Bowie at an impressionable age really impacted them. I feel that this song and video did something similar for me. The stripped-down funk sounds, vocals still loud and screamy enough to anger a parent, and the gender bending clothes and sexualized dancing was pretty intense, and it hooked me.
The impact of Prince’s music was felt far and wide, not least by me in a fantastic way that I’m fairly certain I never could have expected.
As a child of the eighties and nineties, my life consisted of the following:
A warm breakfast before school, preferably sausage and pancakes with a mountain of syrup.
A snack after school, preferably the sugary kind.
Rollerblading down the hill in front of our apartment.
Trips to my great-grandparents house on visits to Kentucky.
As a child of the eighties and nineties I assumed that others like myself were enjoying a similar childhood. Perhaps my neighbors weren’t making trips to see their great-grandparents in Kentucky, perhaps they weren’t playing Skip-It, or rollerblading down hills, but without a doubt they were experiencing a childhood. In the bubble of my mind and the shelter of my childhood, this experience was being had by all. It was not.
While I was watching cartoons and eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch on Saturday mornings, children seven thousand miles away in Sudan were experiencing a childhood that I, at 8, could never have fathomed.
While I was playing Aladdin on my Sega Genesis, there were children being pulled from their homes during the day or night, fleeing for their lives from men with guns and men with machetes and men with machinery. These children wondered and worried about their brother or sister or cousin or aunt or uncle or mother or father. They worried and wondered about family they might or might not see again. They wondered and worried about life and death and not if, but when they would be next.
While I enjoyed the comfort of light up sneakers, these kids walked for hundreds of miles, barefoot against scorching hot land.
Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
Reading stories about children who managed a strength to survive that I can’t even fathom has begun to put life into perspective for myself. Not everything and not everyone begins with a warm breakfast or Nickelodeon or roller blades. Not everyone’s reality is coming home to a warm bed, or coming home at all. The Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005) consumed the lives of two million people. Children were not immune to the chaos that this war and strife brought.
The Red Pencil, written by Andrea Davis Pinkney, tells the story of Amira, a 12 year old Sudanese girl living a normal life until the Janjaweed arrive. Torn from her village, she not only loses the person she is closest to, she also loses her voice, until a woman arrives with the gift of a red pencil.
A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story, written by Linda Sue Park, alternates between the two stories of eleven year old Nya and eleven year old Salva. Although they are experiencing life decades apart, their stories intersect when the life changing force of water brings them together.
I read an article a couple of weeks ago announcing that an adult coloring book based on the Throne of Glass series would be released. It will be released on September 6th, the same day as Empire of Storms, the latest book in the series. I started reading Throne of Glass months ago, but put it down to read other things. The article made me wanna go back to it.
I’m glad that I did, because the book was so great! Throne of Glass follows Celaena Sardothien, an assassin from a land called Terrasen. She was brought to the land of Adarlan by the Crown Prince, Dorian Havilliard, to compete in a contest to become the King’s Champion. Before that, Celaena was a slave in the mines of Endovier. For the sake of the competition, only a few people know Celaena’s real identity, and they are Crown Prince Dorian; the king; and Chaol Westfall, Captain of the Guard.
Celaena is underestimated throughout the competition by just about everyone because she’s a girl. Chaol is mistrustful of her throughout most of the book because of who she really is. Meanwhile, Dorian finds himself falling for her and she likes him too, even though she doesn’t want to admit it at first. As the competition goes on, contestants start to die. Celaena begins to look into why it’s happening, and she becomes skeptical of the people around her. Although Celaena finds that most people either don’t like her or are intimidated by her skills, she makes a friend in Nehemia, a princess who is visiting from Eyllwe.
Celaena is a strong, multi-dimensional female character that you can root for. I’m excited to continue on with this series. Throne of Glass is available in print, audio and e-book format in our catalog.
Have you read Throne of Glass? If so, what did you think of it? Read anything similar to it? Let us know in the comments below!
The main appeal of religion, philosophy and self-help is that, as disciplines, they promise to lay out a framework for how to live a good and meaningful life. The fact that there’s no consensus between–or even within–fields as to what “good” and “meaningful” actually are is mostly delightful, and occasionally frustrating. As you pursue each path, though, a funny thing happens: searching for the answer becomes more important than finding the answer, and before you know it, boom! A life well-lived.
Sharon Dolin’s Manual for Living holds a triple boom between its covers, three sets of poems inspired by philosophy, art and religion. Each set imposes meaning on life using a different set of standards and poetic techniques, offering the reader a choose-your-own-adventure series of poems to compare, contrast, mull over and memorize.
Cross-section of the cover of Manual for Living. Spotted at University of Pittsburgh Press. Click through for source page.
The first section, “Manual for Living,” especially lends itself to memorization and reading aloud; it’s musically clever, with consonance and assonance for days, as in “Desire Demands its Own Attachment”:
Daunted by disastrous consequences?
Don’t be. Everyone–even you–
delights in devil-scape. Do you
rue more than revel? (11).
The poems’ titles are direct quotes from the stoic philosopher Epictetus, one of the original “suck it up and deal” guys, whose main piece of advice, in contemporary terms, best translates to “Dude, chill.” Dolin has a lot of fun restating the original epigrams in clever, musical phrases designed to stick in your memory:
Great that he gamed you. Grand
she’s gone gloomy, gorged on hemlock.
Colossal you’ve got no guy, no gig, no granita.
Greet each gravity with gratitude like a cavity
(“Everything Happens for a Good Reason”, 11).
Dolin’s framework for section two, “Black Paintings,” is a series of artworks created by Francisco Goya near the end of his life. If you’re not familiar with the works, it can be useful to click back and forth between the poems and the paintings as you read, to get the full effect. Even if you are familiar with the paintings, though, you’ll benefit from consulting them together, as the somber, introspective tone Dolin uses in this set of works mirrors the darker colors and themes Goya explores.
Calling them meditations on death is, and is not, an oversimplification. Consider “Atropos, or The Three Fates”:
O you in the back with your mantic
mirror, how do you know
how long to spill my skein–
black blood of me when I shall
no longer be? (48).
There’s a big difference between accepting fate and questioning it; the chirpy stoicism of section one has been replaced by a moody, almost resentful, challenge to the powers that be.
This challenge is resolved in section three, “Of Hours,” which is modeled after a popular form of medieval prayer book. As the name suggests, there’s a prayer-poem for each hour of the day, and each poem addresses a specific spiritual concern expressed through the beauty of the natural world observed at the given time. The speaker’s day begins at dark-thirty with a request for guidance:
…I am thrumming
your praises as the only way to hear
with the soul’s inner ear.
Tell me what you desire of me
(“Psalm of the Flying Shell (4:30 a.m.)”, 53).
As the day progresses, the style becomes more and more experimental, mirroring how a day can begin in order and gradually succumb to chaos. The prayers are what keep the speaker–and the reader–anchored to the world. Consider the dreamy images and style of “Moon Lilies (5:30 p.m.)”:
In the suffering hour >>
pages gone dark
Sabbath will be starlit
(Help me find you in time) (83).
Just as there is no one answer in life, there’s no one “right” way to craft poems in Dolin’s work. It’s obvious she takes great pleasure in playing with sounds and forms, not so much concerned with truth as with the search for it, and the many ways one can search. If you consider yourself a spirited or philosophical person, or if you like playful explorations of thought and language, you really should read the Manual.
You can do that quite easily by clicking here to make a reservation in the catalog, and having these poetic devotions sent to the library location of your choice. How do you make sense of everyday living? What forms of consolation, poetic or otherwise, have helped you grapple with the many challenges of adulting? Leave us a comment and share your wisdom.
Today isthe 200th birthday of Charlotte Brontë. Her groundbreaking novel Jane Eyre is a book that I often go back to when I need a little comforting; I am not sure what it is about Brontë’s title character, but Jane has been a part of my life for so long that re-reading it feels like visiting an old friend. I have a tattered copy under my bed that I still reach for at times.
Honestly, it is a bit embarrassing; it feels a little stereotypical for a female librarian to be obsessed with what some would argue is a dated classic. But the truth is that Jane Eyre was groundbreaking in its day for featuring a heroic female lead who took charge of her own fate. It caused quite a stir, and Charlotte even addressed some of her critics in the forward of the second printing. It also helps my pride that my favorite literary classic is beloved by many others and has inspired a number of spin-offs.
One of the most recent spin offs out there is Jane Steele: A Confession by Lyndsay Faye. This re-telling gives us a female lead aptly named Jane Steele, who happens to be a contemporary fan of Brontë’s novel. This new Jane is inspired by the biographical similarities she shares with Jane Eyre (the character) to pen her own autobiographical confession.
You see, Jane Steele faced similar circumstances to Jane Eyre early in her life, but unlike the mousy future-governess sitting in the window seat behind the curtains, Jane Steele faces her enemies head on and becomes a heroic serial killer. Her first murder, that of her older cousin, is truly an accident perpetrated in self defense, but Jane believes that her actions have uncovered her true nature. When she is sent to boarding school her ability to lie and steal keep her safe for a time but can’t save her from the evil intentions of the headmaster. And so it goes for Jane Steele, time and time again she is presented with ill-intentioned people and dire situations common to women of her period, but this Jane is a fighter and meets these challenges head-on.
Despite a climbing body count, Jane Steele isn’t completely at peace with her actions and does believe her immortal soul to be damned, and when she finds herself in the company of people who truly care for her she begins to fear that the truth will destroy her chance at happiness. I began this book excited at the idea of a Jane with an edge, a Jane who stands up for herself. So many times I have wondered what a Jane Eyre unhampered by the conventions of her day would have accomplished, and Jane Steele gives readers a glimpse of what could have been.
I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover…but that is pretty rad cover art.
Initially, I wasn’t in love with Lyndsay Faye’s writing style; it was a little heavy in my opinion, and I felt like we were taking a great deal of time and descriptive language to get on with it. I found myself skipping several of her more wordy passages, but by the time Jane makes her way to boarding school the pace picked up and I found myself rooting for this new, homicidal Jane just as fervently as I had my old beloved one.
Faye’s new take on the novel also introduced a more globally rich history of Jane Eyre’s world. When Jane Steele arrives at Highgate House, her own personal version of Thornfield Hall, she becomes tangled in the past of Mr. Charles Thornfield. This sardonic, yet gentle, man grew up in India and doesn’t take much stock in the rules of society that seem to dictate the lives of Englishmen. He has surrounded himself with servants from his home country who seem more than dedicated to him and his young charge Sahjara and hires Jane because of the inconsistencies she presents rather than inspite of them.
Of course, all is not as it seems in this household and when an agent of the East India Trading Company makes an unexpected visit he is met with weaponry from almost every member of the immediate household. Jane feels at home for the first time in a long time among this band of warrior misfits and sets out to solve the mystery plaguing her new friends. The story follows the general path set out by Brontë but takes unexpected turns, keeping Jane on her feet. This was an enjoyable take on Jane Eyre, just different enough to feel new, but retaining many of the familiar emotions of the original. If you are a fan of crime drama, dark humor or just an ardent fan of the original Jane, then try this new take. I think you’ll like it.
Today’s post is from Deanna, a volunteer in the Music, Film and Audio Department.
Teaching at the Carnegie Museums is fun. I enjoy taking students through the museums and teaching in the classrooms hidden beneath the Museum of Natural History. Giving them a learning experience they cannot normally receive in their regular, school classroom is a rewarding adventure. When we travel through the Jurassic Period of dinosaurs in the museum, many students notice that there are glass panels with books behind them. Regular patrons of the library know that from the book side of the glass, you can look down into the museums and see the Diplodocus (right) and Apatosaurus (left). These are the two main dinosaurs that trigger the question: “Do the dinosaurs come alive at night?” I say that they will have to ask security because I am not at the museum at night.
I tell students about how special it is to have a public library as vast and impressive as the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Depending on the age of the students, I receive various responses to this. Some students want to tell me about their library at school. Others want to know how many books are in the library (Ed. note: There are more than a million items in the collection at Main!). Once in a while, however, I get a student who says something to the effect of, “So what?” One student asked, “Why have a library when I can just go to the bookstore and buy the book?”
I smile at this, knowing that I used to be like this kid. When you’re ten years old, what is the difference between a library and a bookstore? They both have books, right? One has books that you take home to read and never worry about again because you’ve already paid for it. The other has books that you take home to read but you must take care of the book and you bring it back or else you pay a fine. To a ten-year-old, this seems like a common perspective.
The parents and teachers participating in my museum learning experiences smile too, but not for the same reason. Many of these adults love to learn and they want to instill that love into their children, hence why they are in the museums in the first place. They also know what anyone who pays bills or student loans knows: These books are free! When that ten-year-old asked what is so great about a library, his parent immediately piped up, “Don’t you see? Someone else bought those books for you so that you don’t have to! Instead of worrying about a fine, you just need to remember to bring it back!” The student said, “Oh,” in the way young people do when they understand what you mean but haven’t really changed their minds.
Lately, I answer these types of questions about the library in a slightly different manner. I ask the student what their favorite books or TV show is or their favorite movie. I get a lot of the same answers: Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Hunger Games, and a range of DC and Marvel comics and their movies. Then, no matter what the student answers, I tell them that they can probably find that comic book or movie or book in the Library.
Students are smarter than me though. “What if it isn’t in there?” they ask. I respond, “They can ask another library to borrow it.” Again, students are smarter. “What if they don’t have it?” “Then,” I say, “they will buy it for you to keep in their collection, and all you need to do is show them your library card.”
By now, it starts to dawn on them: Libraries are cool. All those books for free, and when they hear that they can also check out DVDs and CDs, their eyes light up in a way that all educators live for. Sometimes, I mention dinosaur books and books on mummies. That generates excitement and a nice transition for us to return to the class topic.
After class, I stay to answer questions from the adults. They ask more challenging questions regarding the museum and the class I taught, but they also have library questions. They want to know where they can pick up a library card and often, when I’m leaving the museum or volunteering for the Carnegie Library, I see them pick up a library card and take their child to a place in the library with materials that interest them both.
Remember that ten-year-old? The one that didn’t think libraries are cool? While leaving with his new dinosaur book that he had to return in a few weeks, he muttered a thank you to his dad, who was holding Pink Floyd’sDark Side of the Moon, before saying: “Okaaayyyy, I guess libraries are cool.”
Time for a graphic novel, friends. The charge is to find a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years and here are a few that fit the bill just fine…
InLady Killer, written by Jamie S. Rich and illustrated by Joelle Jones, Josie is the picture perfect ’60s housewife. Or is she? The strain of caring for her husband and daughters while balancing her career as a trained assassin is starting to take a toll on her life. Can this lady really have it all?
Sydney Padua’s The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbageis a fun bit of speculative fiction – Charles Babbage, inventor and machinist, was essentially the inventor of the computer; Ada, Countess of Lovelace, was a proto-programmer, who translated and added on to Babbage’s notes. Neither completed their work, but Padua wonders what if they had…
Jane, the Fox & Mewas written by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, and translated from French by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou. Hélène is a lonely outcast at her school, with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre as her only consolation. After a brief encounter with a fox on a school camping trip, she begins to come out of her shell to embrace life.
Written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by her cousin Jillian Tamaki,This One Summeris a coming of age story about Rose and Windy, neighbors at a summer rental community. Rose is trying to navigate her mother’s depression and her interest in the boys who hang out at the small store where they rent horror movies. Windy, a few years younger, is still a bit silly but understands more about adults than she lets on.
Victoria ponders her fate. Image from andsoitbeginsfilms.com. Click through for source.
We open on a young woman, possibly alone, dancing in a nightclub with strobe lights ominously flashing around her. On the way out of the club she runs into four cheeky German men. The men talk and goof around with our female protagonist, and then ask her to come hang out with them, to which she concedes. This happens in about the first 10 minutes of the movie, but everything that happens afterward is a direct consequence of that one impulsive late night decision.
At this point in the film we learn that the titular character, Victoria, is from Spain and has been temporarily living in Berlin. Her German isn’t very good, but her English is passable. She shares some drinks with her new friends, and strikes up a flirtation with one of them. But what starts out as light-hearted hijinks at 4:30 am eventually swerves into darker and more dangerous territory, as Victoria is coerced into participating in her German companions’ dangerous plans.
While the plot may sound like your standard issue crime drama — with an innocent finding herself in the wrong place/time with the wrong people — Victoria turns out to be something a little different. This is largely due to the thrilling and unusual way it was filmed, with everything we see on screen being captured in a single shot. That’s right, no cuts. Films such as Birdman and Rope are lauded for being shot in long takes that are then cut together to feel like everything is happening in one take, but very few movies are actually shot using one long take (a couple that come to mind are Russian Arkand Timecode).
In interviews the director has talked about his process, and the challenges of filming a 2-hour-plus movie (it clocks in at 138 minutes) in over 20 different locations throughout the city of Berlin; because there are no cuts, and no edits, the director and actors must have constantly felt like they were walking on a tightrope, just hoping that some random person on the streets of Berlin didn’t mess up a scene. In the end, Victoria was filmed three times (after much rehearsing) and then the best take was chosen as the eventual film. The “one take” filming process could be viewed as a stunt, but in this case, I think it really works to serve the story. The tension built from the tightrope walk of the actors and filming crew adds to the ratcheting tension of the story line, as Victoria is drawn into more and more dangerous situations.
Still, even with the tense story line, my favorite thing about this movie has to be the performances — especially the astounding lead performance from relative newcomer Laia Costa. She won the Best Actress award at last year’s German Film Awards, and boy did she earn it. There is not a single scene in Victoria where she is not present, and the movie would simply not work without her performance.
If you’re a fan of foreign or independent cinema, you should absolutely see this movie. Or, even if you’re not and you just want to experience something a little different, I recommend giving Victoria a try.
What about you, dear readers? Have you watched anything good recently? What do you recommend?