Wednesday, October 22, 2008
This American Life on Showtime. Season One now on DVD. Ira Glass comes to Calvin on November 15th, a Saturday night.
I'm a big fan of This American Life, the radio show that's been on NPR since the mid- 90s. I even pitched a story idea to Ira which he at least had the courtesy to critique in his rejection email. As a window into a series of American's lives, it is a cumulative archive of the real world that would be a good place for aliens studying our species to start. Well, maybe after Planet of the Apes but before The Bible. Ira Glass, the host who comes to the Calvin Theatre on Saturday, November 15th, has turned the world onto people like David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, and Sandra Tsing Lo, to name a few. The beauty of the show aside from the content, filled with uncontrived humor and profundity, has always been that it's on the radio. It reminds me of listening to E.G. Marshall host Mystery Theatre with a radio under my pillow as a kid. It's a "theatre of the mind" experience. Puttering around the house on a Sunday with This American Life on always makes me feel like I'm not wasting my time. I'm more "in" my life listening to other people talk about theirs. So when Showtime and Ira decided to take the show onto TV I was as wary as I was excited. I just rented Season One (1 disc) includes 6 1/2 hour shows from Pleasant Street Theatre Video (where you can enter to win tickets). And it works. It's not just as good or better, but it adds a dimension, or subtracts one (your mind's eye) depending on your preferences. It's pretty much exactly what you'd expect, reminiscent of the earlier Errol Morris documentaries like Vernon, Florida and Gates of Heaven. In one episode about a fake movie camera craze at an elementary school, the core subject matter that reverberates in any documentary situation plays out. How does a camera, or a microphone, change a situation? Glass and his loyal crew seem charmed in their ability to capture without corrupting, to pluck the pearl from the footage and frame it up into scenes that are profound in their simplicity. I laughed. I cried. I expect nothing less when WFCR and IHEG present Ira Glass, Radio Stories and Other Stories at the Calvin Theatre on Saturday, November 15th at 8PM. Sarah Vowell visits the Calvin in February. -Jim