At home in Aspen: What’s the best at-home entertainment you’ve experienced in the past six months?
COMING SOON TO YOUR HOME…Suzanne Vega livestream concert, Oct. 7 wheeleroperahouse.com
Wild & Scenic Film Festival, Oct. 8 aspennature.org
5Point Adventure Film Festival, Oct. 14-18 5pointfilm.org
Aspen Filmfest, Oct 15-21 aspenfilm.org
Aspen Brain Institute ‘Expert Series,’ Tuesdays aspenbraininstitute.org
You probably first heard the joke about “watching to the end of Netflix” a week or two into the springtime stay-home period. Maybe it was funny the first time. Soon it was not.
Mountain people are not inside people. Luckily we live in a place where we can safely go outside and still avoid crowds. But the novel coronavirus pandemic has still kept us indoors more than ever. After six months of nights at home — alone, with family or with our pods of friends — we could all use some new ideas for home entertainment so we don’t feel like we’ve seen it all.
Who knows? Tomorrow could bring into our life transformative new movies, music, books, video games, board games or crafts. So I went fishing for new ideas.
Asking around, I found many of us waxed nostalgic with Michael Jordan on “The Last Dance” and got creeped out by “Tiger King.” We dug into a rich new Bob Dylan album and leaned on The Weeknd and Fiona Apple to voice our pandemic frustrations in song. We formed opinions about Taylor Swift and Pop Smoke.
And we found ways to connect while staying home, too. Syncing up movies for remote viewing parties, convening book clubs on Zoom, collaborating to make playlists on Spotify.
Many reported watching shows they’ve never gotten around to — “Homeland,” “The Wire,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Sopranos.” I finished “The Deuce” — David Simon’s overlooked three-season gem about Times Square in the ’70s and ’80s.
For books, I’ve gravitated to stuff I knew I’d like, titles I’d long been looking forward to — novels by Ottessa Moshfegh and James Ellroy and Bret Easton Ellis and Mohsin Hamid, filmmaker Oliver Stone’s new memoir, Janet Malcolm’s narrative nonfiction classic “The Journalist and the Murderer.”
The best choice I made was to download an audiobook app for the first time, which led to eye-opening stay-home experiences with two very long books: the 66 hours of Robert Caro’s “The Power Broker” and the second volume of Karl Ove Knausgard’s “My Struggle.”
On the film front, I had a great run of following along with “The Rewatchables” normcore film criticism podcast, watching what they’re watching and then listening to their conversation about it.
Like many, I craved escape and indulged in some junk. When the HBO Max app launched in May, I drooled over the trove of classic and foreign titles now at my fingertips from its Turner Classic Movies and Janus Films archives — all that Ingmar Bergman, Robert Altman, Luis Bunuel. But then I didn’t watch any of them. Collapsing on the couch at midnight after a long day and making a choice about what to watch, it hasn’t been those artsy achievements (yet). Instead I did for the first time watch the “Fast and Furious” and “John Wick” movies — both series highly recommended for escapist viewing in these stressful times.
We’re lucky around here to have locally produced events that went online — the Aspen Music Festival summer season, especially its Sunday afternoon concerts were appointment viewing, the “5Point Unlocked” program in April was a soulful salve in the depths of lockdown, as was Aspen Shortsfest, Aspen Summer Words, the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Aspen Times chef and somm streams over the canceled Food & Wine weekend, the presentations by the Aspen Brain Institute, the steamed concerts from the JAS Café, virtual viewing rooms from Roaring Fork Valley galleries and museums.
5Point FiIm executive director Regna Jones recalled attending Willie Nelson’s virtual “Luck Reunion” in March, one of the first virtually adapted events, a revelation at the time. Singer-songwriter Jackson Emmer has been revisiting “The Office” with 2020 eyes. Aspen Fringe Fest founder David Ledingham has formed a two-man play-reading club with his college freshman son. Aspen Art Museum director Nicola Lees, a native Londoner, rewatched and recommended “The Prisoner” — arguably the most British thing ever committed to film — but also dug into her activism through the nonprofit Parole Preparation Project (the organization’s work in lockdown led to bringing Amiti Bey home after 40 years behind bars in New York).
Six months in, we could all use some new ideas. These are some good ones from a panel local experts from the arts community and from the Aspen Times Weekly team of columnists:
The most influential thing for me has been reading the book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” I completely transformed my surroundings at home and got extremely organized. Once I did one big sweep of organizing and decluttering, I haven’t had to do it since. I’ve never been this organized in my whole entire life and it is all because I read this book.
—Shannon Asher, Aspen Times Weekly “Asher on Aspen’ columnist
NPR continues to be a fierce supporter of original music in the COVID era. They’ve adapted their “Tiny Desk Concert” series to feature musicians performing at their own homes, which has only made the shows better, more intimate and fascinating. Moses Sumney, Courtney Marie Andrews, Billie Eilish and Jacob Collier have all turned in jaw dropping performances.
When the pandemic began, I signed up for a music production class with Berklee Online. The course absolutely blew my mind and introduced me to a world of new skills and technology within the field of recorded music. It was my first time taking an online class, and their presentation and format was top notch. I grew a lot, and would do it again.
—Jackson Emmer, musician
I should definitely say that working on our 2020 virtual season with so many wonderful artists and friends was the best thing!For a different take, Ron and I have been watching Julia Child and Jacques Pepin’s “Cooking at Home” show from the late ’90s. She and I had a wonderful mutual friend and I actually had lunch in her Cambridge, Massachusetts, kitchen a few years before the show was made — she and Jacques have such a rapport that the show is beautiful — and full of great advice!
—Alan Fletcher, president and CEO, Aspen Music Festival & School
I was able to attend an exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art called “Fantastic Women,” a huge collection of Surrealist women artists. This was probably my favorite cultural experience this year. It was amazing.
Reading Langston Hughes for ideas and inspiration as Black Lives Matter demonstrations were unfolding, also Tracy K. Smith’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection “Life on Mars.”
I’m loving MasterClass for online learning. And for podcasts: Tim Ferriss, “The Happiness Lab” and “Play Next” with Edith Bowman, who also does an excellent podcast called “Soundtracking.”
—Regna Jones, executive director, 5Point Film
Right when the pandemic shutdown hit, my Bluetooth radio bit the dust. Thanks, 2020.
Striking back, I splurged and bought the best-sounding internet radio I could. The first station I programmed was Catalunya Musica, a 24-hour classical station out of Barcelona. My wife loves to hear the announcers speaking her native Catalan, and imagining Barcelona’s taxi drivers listening along with us at 4 a.m. their time makes for an elegant mental trip across the ocean. But my best discovery has been FIP.FR. It’s a 24-hour station out of Paris that genre hops like nothing I’ve ever heard. From obscure (to me) ’70s soul to classical to Kurt Vile’s latest to jazz to Manu Chau to nouvelle chanson, it sounds schizophrenic when you hear it described, but it works perfectly. In an hour, you’ll hear songs in three or four languages, punctuated by a French-speaking DJ reminding you that the best playlists are still made by people, even if you have no idea what she’s saying.
—Michael Miracle, Aspen Skiing Co.
Watching Aspen Film’s Shortsfest in early April, virtually, in sync with two friends from our respective apartments. All week long it was our nightly routine after dinner. We paused after each segment to discuss, leading to some deep, introspective conversations. Less like a trip to the cinema, more like a COVID-era version of a slumber party.
—Amanda Rae, Food Matters columnist, Aspen Times Weekly
Two of my biggest joys in life are concerts and film festivals — both calendars (and industries) have taken quite the turn this year. Back in May, I wrote about Nugs.net swiftly adapting to life in quarantine and its free live streams gave my guy and I something to look forward to on weekends. We made every “One More Saturday Night” a special night with good food, weed and wine (ridiculous living room dancing included). And since fest life has turned into screen life, I caught a few films online from Tribeca and Cannes and am currently loving the New York Film Festival’s easy access. Don’t miss Colorado’s busy fall lineup, with digital editions from Aspen Filmfest, Crested Butte Film Festival, Denver Film Festival and more.
—Katie Shapiro, High Country columnist, Aspen Times Weekly
“Hamilton” on Disney+. Color-conscious casting in the midst of the ongoing BLM movement, messages about hope for our country when we are currently experiencing so much despair, so many fabulous voices, an important history lesson delivered in a package of catchy music and flashy staging. The historical accuracy may not be perfect, but then neither is our Democracy … even for those who despise musical theater, this is one cultural phenomenon NOT to miss.
—Corey Simpson, executive artistic director, Thunder River Theatre Company
One of the oddest after-effects of the “don’t leave your house or you might die” portion of quarantine was when sports ceased to exist. Year-round, for the duration of all our lifetimes, you could find something to watch, whether that was a Tuesday night baseball game in July or a lightsaber battle in the basement of some community center broadcast on The Ocho. Then, one day, there’s nothing to fill the void, just you alone with your thoughts and inner demons — if you’re lucky — or the incessant squawking of other household members if you have a family. God forbid the power goes out and you’ve read all the books.
When ESPN expedited the Michael Jordan documentary/advertisement “The Last Dance” in spring, we couldn’t wait to subject ourselves to two hours of basketball every Sunday for the next five weeks. Like “Oh, geez, I wonder if the Bulls are going to win this time.” As a kid I was obsessed with the Washington Wizards, the random team MJ was playing on during the early ‘00s, so many memories of this heroic figure came flooding back, for me and for many, as we recalled what it meant to compete — and the drive it took to be the very second-best ever.
Listening to Jordan tell old-school basketball stories, like retrieving Dennis Rodman in Las Vegas, while he sips from a glass of scotch was like hearing your big brother talk about life in the frat house. You almost feel a connection with someone again instead of tally-marking the days since your last hug. You find the humanity in these athletes you always envisioned as gods or machines.
The NBA returned in “the bubble” with a huge slate of games — as many as three contests per day in the playoffs. The sports wagering opportunities were exhausting; the entertainment endless. About a week in, I started to realize it: I don’t miss any of this.
The same commercials, melted into my impressionable brain over and over — at this point, the phrase I’ve probably heard most in my life is “safe drivers save 40 percent,” and somehow used as a proper noun.
Sports aren’t just wasting our time during the actual games — you also have to see the wrap-up shows and the talking heads. You have to watch “SportsCenter” and then “SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt,” which are two different shows but play the same highlights a dozen times with slightly different commentary. You have to stand in your living room making breakfast and watch analysts scream at each other every morning, because their opinions and pontifications definitely affect the outcome of whatever contest is that night, and it’s better than no stimuli whatsoever.
It’s OK to like sports, duh. It’s fun to be a big fan of your teams. But let the only respite we will ever have from this unyielding barrage of promotion disguised as athletics remind us that instead of worshipping and watching other adults fulfill their dreams, maybe some weekends we should chase our own.
—Benjamin Welch, Writing Switch columnist, Aspen Times Weekly
The Hulu series “Normal People” blew me away — it is based on an Irish novel by the same name, written by Sally Rooney. I had heard about this one from friends whose taste I trust implicitly and dove in. The story and the acting are sensational and surprising. We meet the two protagonists while they are in high school and follow them falling in and out of each other’s lives through post-college. There is such chemistry between the two leads yet here is so much that is unspoken between them that propels the story. I actually would go to bed or wake up thinking about these characters, wishing that they would better communicate. It is messy, sexy, heartbreaking, heartwarming, passionate, and very real. I watched this during the peak of the pandemic and it was quite cathartic — pure escape from the virus reality, and a good reason to cry and feel angsty.
The other series that sucked me in, breaks a lot of ground, and is like nothing I have ever experienced is HBO’s “I May Destroy You.“ Creator/star Michaela Coel is a powerhouse who breaks traditional boundaries with her bold and true messages. The structure of the series itself is groundbreaking with its very nonlinear fashion — the characters are bold and bodacious; it is fairly autobiographical and very in-your-face. Despite being comedic, the show takes a close look at abuse, being a victim, being a friend and handling #MeToo, all while holding a mirror up to social media and our recent, pre-COVID society. This show is set in the UK and is quite Euro/African-centric, which is refreshing in its own way.
—Susan Wrubel, executive and artistic director, Aspen Film
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Documentary The Dissident, from the Boulder-based Oscar-winning filmmaker Bryan Fogel, won the Aspen Filmfest’s Audience Award, the festival announced on Friday.