The Sunday Magazine: Contact

When I am flipping channels late at night I almost always hear Bruce Springsteen’s “57 Channels and Nothing’s On”. My problem is I eventually reach the movie channels and there always seems to be something on. More often than not it is after 11PM on a work night and I end up staying awake too late. One of my recent re-discoveries was the 1997 film “Contact” based on the book by astronomer Carl Sagan and directed by Robert Zemeckis.


Contact tells the story of humanity’s first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. What sets Contact apart is that it is not a story of alien invasion but a meditation on the co-existence of spirituality and science. I saw the movie when it came out in the theatre and I remember sensing the disappointment of my fellow moviegoers that there had been no explosions or bug-eyed aliens. Mr. Zemeckis wanted something less sensational and more emotional. Jodie Foster plays Ellie Arroway who is the scientist who discovers the signal. She is the voice of science who doesn’t believe in God because she hasn’t seen evidence He exists. I had forgotten Matthew McConaughey plays the voice of the spiritual, lay preacher Palmer Joss. He is the spokesman of faith over empirical evidence. The themes are approached from many vectors throughout the movie and I think Mr. Sagan’s story and Mr Zemeckis’ direction allow the movie to explore all sides of this.

An example of how they do this is a conversation between Ellie and Palmer about halfway through the movie. Ellie uses the principle known as Occam’s Razor which says the simplest explanation is most often the right one and she has seen no proof of God. Palmer responds with a question for Ellie, “Did you love your father?” when she answers yes he tells her to prove it. It is such an elegant way to describe matters of logic and faith.

Contact was the first movie Mr. Zemeckis did after winning the Oscar for Best Picture in 1994 for Forest Gump. Like that movie he used real footage of the current President, Bill Clinton, and inserted the actors into the video. It gave Contact a real feel of faux-authenticity that surprisingly held up when I watched it recently.

As a scientist who also has faith Contact is one of those rare movies which treats both sides with respect and allows one to think. So if you’re hearing Bruce Springsteen in your head and you see Contact showing on your channel guide press select. I promise you in this case something’s on.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: HBO’s True Detective

I have often said we are living in a Golden Age of Perfumery because of the sheer breadth of artists working on making fragrance. When there are over 1300 new releases a year the chance for true artistry to exist within that large number is high. I also think we are living in a Golden Age of Television Drama for many of the same reasons. With 500 channels, and counting, to fill up with content; not including the streaming services like Netflix the chance for true artistry and vision to exist is high. Just before sitting down to write this I looked at my DVR to see the list of shows I record currently: The Walking Dead, The Good Wife, Masters of Sex, Homeland, Mad Men, Sherlock, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, The Americans, not to mention the recently completed Breaking Bad. Even with all of that I haven’t caught up to others which have been highly praised like Orange is the New Black and Boardwalk Empire. It feels just like the effort I have to make to keep up with new perfume releases, there just isn’t enough time to catch it all. If you are a fan of the great television currently going on I want to alert you to a fantastic new series on HBO called True Detective, it is among the best acting, writing, and directing on television I have ever seen.


Woddy Harrelson as Marty Hart (l.) and Matthew Mcconaughey as Rust Cohle in 1995

True Detective is meant to be a seasonal anthology series like American Horror Story with each season containing one complete story. For this first season writer and creator Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Joji Fukunaga have created a story of two very different men and how the ritual murder of a woman affects them individually and as a team. The two actors at the heart of True Detective are giving stellar performances. Woody Harrelson as family man Marty Hart is about as far from his dim but lovable bartender on “Cheers” as can be. Matthew McConaughey is man with a past Rust Cohle newly assigned as Hart’s partner which is about as far from his happy stoner in “Dazed and Confused” as can be. Both actors have turned in memorable dramatic performances in the past but together in True Detective they are truly stepping it up to new heights.

nic pizzolatto

Nic Pizzolatto (Photo: Luis Sinco)

The story goes back and forth from Louisiana in 1995 as Hart and Cohle investigate the ritual murder of a young woman and 2012 where two new detectives interview them separately about the case. In 1995 both men are trying to find that common ground necessary to work together and having difficulty doing that. Hart is almost the clichéd family man detective having an affair but Mr. Pizzolatto has more to say about that as we see more of the underlying needs that make Hart tick. The reason that we see that is because Cohle unsettles him on multiple levels. He is smarter, is a better detective, and the only thing Hart has that Cohle doesn’t is a family.


Mr. McConaughey as Cohle in 2012

The physical differences in Cohle as a younger man and older man are striking. As the 1995 Cohle Mr. McConaughey is gaunt and unrecognizable as the 2005 People Magazine Sexiest Man Alive. The 2012 version is a bit of Dazed and Confused Danny Wooderson, if viewed through a dark prism. The physical changes signal something different in the two time periods for Cohle. Woody Harrelson is physically unchanged but psychologically as different as Cohle looks physically. Mr. Harrelson lets that show in a wonderfully nuanced performance especially in the 2012 interview scenes.

Director Cary Fukunaga arrives at "Celebrate Sundance Institute" the Sundance Institute's inaugural benefit in Beverly Hills, California

Cary Joji Fukunaga (Photo: Reuters/ Gus Ruelas)

Halfway through the eight episodes True Detective has the atmosphere of the movie “Se7en” if it was seen as a Southern Gothic thriller. Mr. Fukunaga has used his framing to make some things uncomfortably close and other times the atmospherics seem as much a character as the protagonists. At the end of the fourth episode there is a six minute single take shot, called a tracking shot, of Cohle escaping a shootout that is as technically difficult to achieve as it sounds. One mistake and you have to go right back to the beginning; only the most skilled and confident attempt such a thing.

This group of four amazing artists are creating something memorable in this halcyon era of fantastic television. If you love great acting, writing, and directing add True Detective to your DVR or Netflix queue this is as good as it gets.

Mark Behnke

Providence Perfume Moss Gown Ad

Editor’s Note: I have been wearing a dab of Charna Ethier’s Providence Perfume Company Moss Gown to give me a bit of an olfactory soundtrack to go with the visual.