Movies are like little shared multi-million dollar dreams that we get to experience on demand. While they aren't reality, they reflect little slices of the real world like a kaleidoscope or a fun house mirror. What these movies say about the real world is distorted, more fun and a little larger than life. With this in mind there are a whole bunch of famous (maybe infamous) films which take place in part or in whole in our little valley which can give us a little glimpse into how people around the world think about what’s goin on here. Of course everyone knows that Colorado is where the secret world government consisting of the five richest people in the world including The Queen, Colonel Sanders and the Pope meet every year, but did you know that there is much, much more to see here than just our beloved shadow government?
Of course the most realistic of all the films ever made about Aspen Colorado is Battlefield Earth. L. Ron Hubbard's saga of the year 3000 is also the greatest science fiction film ever made. Forget Star Wars. Battlefield Earth realistically portrays Aspen in one thousand glorious years, after the earth has been stripped entirely of its shiny gold and turned over to a race of 8 foot tall John Travoltas. Aspen is depicted as it is in the year 3000, a luxury resort ravine full of feral humans on the run from a giant Vinnie Barbarino. As the most historically accurate movie about the future ever made watching Battlefield Earth is quite shocking, but to quote James Joyce "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."
For people just getting to the valley this summer there are two films which will give you a little taste of what Aspen is supposed to be and what it really is. Both of these films are set in the early 90's or late 1980's and have virtually identical plots. Two friends take off from their small towns looking for the good life where someone can plug them into the social pipeline. Eeking their way through life these characters are sick and tired of being nobodies, but most of all they are tired of having nobody. These blue collar characters leave their worm farms behind and move to Aspen only to lose everything, becoming bodies crushed in the gears of this luxury resort. And that's just Aspen Extreme.
Aspen Extreme is probably the greatest 1980's Ski Movie ever made and the only movie filmed entirely in Aspen, about Aspen for Aspen. I had never heard of this film before coming here, but it is extremely important- a cultural linchpin that holds this valley together. Aspen Extreme is the story of Dexter and some other guy who come to Aspen as ski instructors and live in what looks like a derelict box car in a river. They live their dreams skiing, writing, and dating Finola Hughes the star of the 1983 sequel to Saturday Night Fever, "Staying Alive," (who is sort of on the run from Vinnie Barbarino if you think about it). They get addicted to drugs and one of them dies while skiing in the yearly Powder 8 Competition. This competition seems to be kind of "Rite of Spring" held annually to thin out the ski instructor ranks and ensure that the gods of ski and powder are sated with fresh blood. The lesson of Aspen Extreme is that while half of the people who just up and move here will die because of avalanches or drugs, the other half will certainly fall in love with a soap opera star and become celebrated writers like local heroes Hunter S. Thompson, Walter Issacson, and Emzy Veazy III.
Dumb and Dumber is a far more famous film which depicts two working class heroes on an adventure which would make Joseph Campbell blush with joy. Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne live hum drum lives in New Jersey, where they have no food, no jobs and their pet's heads are falling off. One day they find a briefcase, owned by a beautiful woman named Samsonite who is on her way to Aspen- where the beer flows like wine. Driven by a sense of duty and love of which troubadours will one day sing- Lloyd and Harry set out on an odyssey to return the briefcase, which happens to be full of cash. Once in Aspen they find out that their quest for love entails spending all of that cash on cars, fancy hotels and saving endangered wildlife in pastel tuxedos. Once they are exposed as blue collar idiots, Lloyd and Harry are expelled from Aspen thrown into the wilderness, presumably walking back to New Jersey.
Both Aspen Extreme and Dumb and Dumber have valuable lessons interspersed throughout. We find out that you can't trust John Denver, that the Monkeys were a huge influence on the Beatles and that in life skiing is the easy part. There are some fantastic and unbelievable moments in both. Dumb and Dumber is clearly filmed at the Estes Park Hotel, 200 miles away and is totally devoid of local landmarks. Equally as ridiculous Aspen Extreme has a number of scenes that take place in a regular old greasy spoon diner, nary a Michelin star to be seen. If they were eating at the Gucci Store it would be more accurate. If you just moved here or have lived here for years any of these films are absolutely worth watching. These films offer us a glimpse into our near past and the far future and are a reflection of this place, however distorted.
I was born a fool, don't want to stay that way.
Folk, a bewitching debut novel from Zoe Gilbert, 2014 winner of the UK’s revered Costa Short Story Award.
When I was twelve, I sought out the kind of fiction that led me down magical paths, places where powerful incantations held sway in mysterious other-worldly planes. In recent years, I’ve gravitated toward the kind of writing that teaches me something new or challenges my sense of what literature should be. Fantasy fiction hasn’t been my go-to. Yet, I was easily caught in the dark net cast by Zoe Gilbert, a PhD student of mentor Alison MacLeod in South-East London, and 2014 winner of UK’s revered Costa Short Story Award.
This unique award is judged anonymously, with the names of the competing authors withheld throughout the process. Gilbert’s short story Fishskin, Hareskin received the highest number of public votes and is now one of the separate yet interconnected stories contained in her bewitching debut novel, Folk.
Zoe Gilbert has conjured an eerily beautiful world, an un-happily ever after place, drawn from old tales from the Isle of Man, where “moonlight reaches down between branches” and kites strain and wood quivers. The briny air is rich with the scent of sodden thatch, salt sea-fog and cobnut shells. A fiddle mourns for lost loves where wild enchanted characters inhabit a land tethered to sub-pagan ritual.
At times this book languishes in a way that detracts from its narrative. However, Gilbert triumphs with some simply infatuating prose. She spins ancient myth like a true Solomon, recounting a world, unreal yet more real than our own.
And while the pursuit of supernatural storytelling is to create a universe far far away, these constructed worlds cannot help but reflect a kind of hyper-reality, shining light on our own existence, how are we the same, what are we missing? Take the story of Verlyn, a character born with a wing for an arm and sadly defined by that peculiarity. Verlyn’s tale illustrates our misunderstanding of difference and the resultant fear that blinds our ability both to understand and to love.
In Prick Song, ancient ritual prescribes village girls to fire ribboned arrows into a thick gorse maze which young suitors compete to retrieve. Bloody scratch marks earn the boys kisses on their stinging lips, but the proceedings turn grim when a battle ravaged victor is burned alive.
In Water Bull Bride, Gilbert conceives a water bull as Minotaur, who disguises himself as a man so to capture and seduce a bride. Underwater he elicits a sexual appetite in her that cannot be quenched by mortals.
A new mother who is preoccupied by hares wraps her strange offspring in the skins of childhood pets. A young boy named Hark lives behind a waterfall and uses his ox-voice to answer villager’s questions. Each of their stories can stand alone; together they hint at the passage of time, culminating in a deep and strangely beautiful sense of place.
When I finished Folk, I found myself sadly staring at the cover, then out the window, wishing I could return to Gilbert’s mythical land called Neverness, that my bare feet touched a verdant forest floor or that I might shake hands with a less (more?) human being. There’s something incredibly appealing about erasing the sharp angles of contemporary existence, and there’s a sense of loss in the return to hard boiled reality.
This is not a title that will be to everyone’s taste, but lovers of fantasy fiction will admire Gilbert’s work, and I imagine that some soon to be fans will like it too.
This review originally appeared in the Aspen Daily News on April 12, 2018
The Hainish Cycle series by Ursula K. Le Guin
Burning Your Boats: the collected short stories by Angela Carter
A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel
Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
Unlike other dystopian novelists, Zumas plots no dramatic martial law. Her characters simply wake to a president they didn’t vote for and then later to the legislation that decides how their bodies are used. In an Oregon fishing town, four characters swallow what it now means to be a woman. One wishes she could escape her children, one surrenders a child for adoption, one seeks abortion and one desperately wants to be a mother.
The story centers on Ro, “The Biographer,” a depressed, single, high school history teacher, whose father lives in a Florida retirement home, whose brother died of a heroin overdose, and whose last chance to have a child is through artificial insemination. Ro visits a fertility specialist’s office, described as “a room for women whose bodies are broken,” where she tries to rationalize her urgent impulse to motherhood.
Susan, “The Wife,” lives in the house she grew up in with an aloof husband who teaches at the same school as “The Biographer.” Susan begs him to attend couples therapy while trying not to resent their two toddlers who annoy and fatigue her stay-at-home life. Susan envies Ro’s childlessness but offers only condescension, both women burdened by societal expectations.
Adopted Mattie, “The Daughter,” loses her virginity to her careless boyfriend. The promising but pregnant 15-year-old in the Biographer’s class, she pursues abortion in a world that now views her as criminal.
Gin, “The Mender,” a defiant healer, shares forest herbs to help end pregnancies for women without money or insurance. Arrested in a modern-day witch hunt, her narrative unites the other women, who work to get Gin acquitted.
And Eivør, a 19th-century, Faroese polar explorer and the compelling subject of Ro’s biography, disrupts each chapter with fragments of her brutal determined life, serving as a compass for women who persist.
Zumas fluently speaks their truths, from the Daughter’s fear and earnestness, to the Mother’s conflicted emotions and the Mender’s earthy intuition. Her prose will suddenly quicken in a flood of anxiety, sarcasm and rationality.
“She doesn't want to skip the Math Academy.
(She kicks Nouri’s gothsickle ass at calculus.)
Or to push it out.
She doesn't want to wonder; and she would.
The kid too—Why wasn’t I kept?
Was his mother too young? Too old? Too hot? Too cold?
She doesn’t want him wondering, or herself wondering.
Are you mine?
And she doesn’t want to worry she’ll be found.
But she has a self. Why not use it?”
Thrilled by her mercurial style, I bookmarked a dozen pages in Zumas’ "Red Clocks," a story that cleverly reveals the underpinnings of a current socio-political wrangle yet maintains hope for personal transformation. Leni Zumas is one to watch.
This review originally appeared in the Aspen Daily News on March 1, 2018
There are many important and essential items which populate the shelves of the library. Some are so necessary to the operation of this institution that we could hardly open without them. Webster’s Dictionary, War and Peace, Tom Sawyer or The Bell Jar are irreplaceable parts of our collection. The 1974 film Zardoz is not one of these essential items. Zardoz was due back a full three weeks ago and almost every time I wander by the Z section of our DVDs I wonder, will it ever return? There are only 6 other films in that section, Zoolander, Zoolander 2, Zombieland, Zulu, Zelarny and Zorba the Greek, its not like I wouldn't notice that someone had absconded with Zardoz.
Please bring our copy of Zardoz back.
There are a few things about Zardoz which immediately stick out. Its a movie about Sean Connery where he isn't James Bond, someone like James Bond, or an immortal Scottish warrior. Whoever did the set and costume design for this film is either a genius or recovering from a concussion. Academy Award nominated director John Boorman doesn't do himself any favors either. Though he had only the year before directed the Citizen Kane of hillbilly boat rides, Deliverance, Zardoz is a 180 degree departure his previous work. Deliverance left an indelible mark on American culture. Tens of thousands of river rafting trips have been ruined by John Boorman.
Zardoz lacks rednecks that want you to squeal for them (like a piggy) but it makes up for that in the first ten minutes by first introducing the film with a floating head, following that floating head up with a larger floating head that vomits firearms, and introducing Sean Connery with a pony tail in a red diaper. The story is something about bored immortals who lust for death and SPOILER ALERT have taught Sean to read the Wizard of Oz to maybe kill them? Your guess is as good as mine and I have seen this film like 3 times.
My real point here is that there is NO reason that you shouldnt have already returned Zardoz. Please bring Zardoz back. You watch this movie two times in a week, tops. If you did check Zardoz out I hope it was to study its set and costume design and ultimately turn these elements into a theme restaurant. Zardoz the restaurant would be amazing, wait staff dressed in diaphanous robes and red diapers, mirrors on everything and a huge stone head which vomits out your appetizer. Watch out Casa Bonita.
Adult News & reviews
Library news, info about upcoming events, reviews of books and films, and a look at the topics that affect us as a library.