On October 10th, 2010 I attended “The Beckoning of Lovely”:
The Beckoning of Lovely is an expanding film project involving hundreds of strangers from around the world. Amy Krouse Rosenthal initiated the project last fall by filming a spontaneous public gathering on 8/08/08 at “The Bean” in Millennium Park. The event was a beautiful testament to the power of community, cooperation, and hope amongst strangers in the name of all things lovely. The project has since evolved into the making of a full-length feature film.
What exactly the event would entail remained vague, but my girlfriend wanted to go, and it sounded like it could be cool. I watched the 08/08/08 video, and it seemed like it could be something akin to the mp3 experiment (except with more art, and no mp3). Here’s the 08/08/08 video:
Before the event started, people started singing “We’re here, because we’re here, because we’re here, because we’re hereeeeeee!” to the tune of Auld Lang Syne (as heard in the ’08 video). What seemed at first to be a mildly amusing tautology proved to be chillingly accurate.
As mentioned in the description above, the beckoning was created by Amy. Her invitation video asked everyone to wear a white shirt with their first name on the front, and “beckoning of lovely 10/10/10” on the back. I didn’t want to do it because 1) I don’t wear white, and 2) it made it seem a bit too cultish. But I figured maybe something interesting would be done with them (e.g., “go find someone with the same name as you!”). But the only thing that even remotely required them was when Amy told everyone to “turn to your neighbor and give them a high five while saying their name.” It seems the real reason for the shirts was simply to make the event seem more important and organized than it really was.
There was a guy “warming up” the crowd at the beginning, who later explained he had no idea he would be standing up there, he was just there for the event and somehow got picked to help out. At first that seemed kind of cool, like we’d all be participating in some way, but no, it really just showed the lack of planning that went into it. There was a funny moment when he asked the crowd, “How many people here came to the Beckoning last year?” (No one raised their hand.) “NO ONE?! Wow!” (I later found out there was no ’09 beckoning, just Amy by herself, but perhaps I should have taken that foreshadowing to heart.)
Finally Amy arrived, and explained that there would be “ten moments.” Amy talked about kindred spirits, and how the word “kindred” was what this event was all about. She had two people rip a sign in half, showing that kindred was also “KIND” and “RED.” Red was the theme, which allowed her to shoe-horn in all sorts of things for no other reason. There were also tons of needless puns, such as:
“Who has recently learned to tell time?” (a little girl comes up and Amy sits her on a stool) “This is your lookout tower, you have to watch and make sure everyone is having a good time.” (That was moment number 1. A girl sitting on a stool. That’s it. Nothing else happened.)
Then someone brought up a “red carpet” (which was actually just a red towel). Amy: “This is Matt. Thanks for the mat, Matt!” Clearly, he was chosen for his name only.
She brought up all the redheads for one of the moments, then had them sit back down. She released a red balloon into the sky for another. She read letters from people who had “red” in their last name.
But what really bothered me was how many of the moments were based on previous beckonings. In the ’08 video you saw someone give a flower to a stranger. Well she had him back, and had a bunch of people give him a flower.
In ’09 there was a guy who asked for a “moment of peace” and she played him a song on her ipod. This time she had the actual band there to play their song live. It would have been great, but the instruments weren’t miked, and the singer stood too far away from his mike to be heard even by us, and we were five feet from the speaker. After the song was over Amy asked if the volume was too low, and everyone (except the people right in front of her/them) shouted “YES!” Then she asked, “could you hear it?”, and we all shouted, “NO!” But the only people she could hear were the ones right in front of her, so she replied, “good!” without realizing that only about ten people could actually hear it.
Then she read a letter from a 14-year-old girl who couldn’t come. She had everyone say hi to her on camera, so that we could all be with her in spirit. While that’s all fine and good, Amy, there are hundreds of people here right now wanting to be involved in something! What happened to the “we’re going to make a bunch of stuff together” mentality from ’08? Why aren’t we doing something, anything? The whole event seemed less like a gathering to share a moment with strangers, and more of a platform for Amy to speak to a large audience about her art project.
There were a few cool moments. At one point she had everyone take out their cell phones, and hold them up (which is a wholly unoriginal idea, but it was still neat to see). Then there were two guys in old diving suits who slowly walked around (like they were underwater) handing stuff out. They had bubbles blowing out behind them. The best thing was when she had kids hand out tiny letters, which are simply adorable:
But aside from that, we were incredibly disappointed. My girlfriend (who is an artist) later described the event as “insultingly cliche” and “offensive.” I read that Amy did some other things as part of the beckoning (in book stores), and maybe those are nice. It seemed like this event was the final chapter, so it was her just wrapping up the story. However, that really wasn’t clear to all the people attending, and since nearly everyone was there for the first time, it didn’t make any sense.
Seeing clips of the event online will probably seem nice, and you may think I’m crazy to be writing such a negative review. The final film may be neat. People loved the ’08 video, and will probably love the ’10 video, but that just proves that with pretty music, slow motion, and soft narration, you can make almost anything seem more special than it really was.
 Edit: she clarifies “I didn’t mean anything about it was particularly offensive – just offended that she wasted my time.”