Monday, March 31, 2008

Weekend Update

As Neil Gaiman says, "Oh Good." Remember those guys who created Superman? They never legally owned any rights to the character. Until now.

You can go here for the ruling, which includes a full color reproduction of the very first Superman story. For the view from Hollywood? Nikki Finke, of course.

Grupo Corpo: Benguelê and Breu, BAM.

One program was thrilling and fun, the other was thrilling and dark. If you go to dance looking for dazzling athleticism and dizzying routines, you'll be very happy. If you go looking for drama and story, you'll feel cheated, except for a couple of duets in Breu that are borderline domestic violence. To me, the "seen it all before" quality to the choreography is balanced by "don't see enough of stuff like this," and the beautiful symmetry of a lot of Benguelê is just as stunning as the beautiful chaos in Breu. And yeah, Breu could have been darker and more chaotic, but I have enough of that going on in my life to want to pay for seeing it in somebody else's. (And yes, I have now officially turned into my mother.)

"Mommy mommy, why is my hand shaped like a claw?" "Shut up, son, and keep writing." On the train back and forth from Boston, I scribbled out a total of 30 handwritten pages for the Roman novel. I have no desire to type any of that up until I see a movie, and no ability to type it all up until I soak my right hand for half a day like an overworked relief pitcher.

Her nibs.
More details later today; I'm still trying to get my head around the intro to With God On Our Side: "I learned this next song in 1962. From the author. At a party."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

l'heure bleue

The Burden of Dreams, or, Some Thoughts on Ed Brubaker's Captain America Run

I’ve re-read the entire Brubaker run from 1 to 36, and it truly is a novel, folks. You can see the whole story spinning out from that first issue’s offhand remark from Cap to the effect that “I don’t even know if I CAN die.” Everything that comes after that is just one long Miled Davis riff on death and resurrection, first with Bucky Barnes/the Winter Soldier, and then Cap himself.

(Two high points in the run for me: the Christmas special, starring Bucky, and (oddly enough) the House of M crossover, which takes its cue from another of Cap’s throwaway lines about missing the Moon Landing: “It’s what I was created for.” There's no better evidence than this issue of how a smart writer can use an imprint-wide crossover to create something touching, resonant and true with an iconic character like Steve Rogers.)

I’ve already gone into what I think Brubaker is doing plotwise. As of issue 36, elements of my prediction are starting to take shape. And yes, I’m a little nervous because Brubaker has vowed that there are no clones involved, so I may be heading for another Oscar Prediction Hell. But I still like my odds, and judging from the cover of issue 39 above, I won’t have long to wait to see how wrong right I was.

So what is Brubaker doing thematically? He’s facing head-on the question that’s been dogging the character since Steranko did his post-Kirby reboot: who is Captain America? The question got a pass while Kirby was in the driver's seat because, well, it was Kirby on Captain America, and who questions a Formula One winner like that? But once other creators and artists came into the mix (and as World War II became four, then five, then six decades distant), the questions started getting bigger and the character, paradoxically, smaller: is he a symbol of the country or the country’s values? Is he the flag or what the flag stands for? Is he (gulp) Marvel’s answer to Superman?

I’d say yes to the last question if the version of Superman we’re talking about is Grant Morrison’s All-Star version, which is (in my Batman-fan-forever opinion) the gold standard for Kal-El. The problem is, so far? With one exception (see below), the various pre-Brubaker versions of Steve Rogers haven’t come anywhere near gold, and that includes Steranko’s run (way too short) and the Marvel Knights volume (which I loved but seemingly nobody else bought or -- more importantly -- bought into).

I think Brubaker is aware of this, and he’s doing two things in order to define the character for the 21st century. He’s removed Cap from the Marvel playing field, which like Jimmy Stewart's nightmare descent into Potterville has become a horrifying vision of what Cap's friends, his allies, and his country are now, without their shield-carrying George Bailey saving them from Nazis like the Red Skull. And he’s defining the character by showing what happens when somebody tries to fill Cap’s flag-covered tunic, and how much more than just fisticuffs is required to, in a sense, bear the burden of the dream. You can see it in the current issue where Bucky tries to quell a riot and nobody believes he’s Cap. By showing you the dimensions of the hole, Brubaker is defining the size and characteristics of the missing monument. He's not crowding the field with four replacement versions; he's showing you what happens when the kid sidekick tries to take on the mantle of his adult mentor, and how impossibly hard it is to do. If there's a better way of making the statement "There is only one Captain America," I can't think of one. And what makes it work is character, specifically the character of resurrected Bucky. It sure adds a lot when the guy playing Robin to Cap’s Batman is the single most intriguing reboot to come out of either major comic company since Moore's Swamp Thing, Morrison's Doom Patrol and, well, the Stern/Byrne re-imagining of Cap from 1980 (and how in the world could I have forgotten that one? Prior to Brubaker, the best post-Kirby Cap run ever).

Part and parcel of all this: the debate about Bucky carrying a gun as Cap.2, which is really a debate about whether Captain America The Icon should be carrying and using a gun. The writer in me wants to think that Brubaker planned for this –- that he anticipated the terms of the debate and how the back and forth would in essence ask the question he’s been asking since issue #1: who is this guy? And even if it wasn't deliberate, it's evidence that Brubaker is asking the right things subconsciously, because the situations he's setting up have the deep resonance of the best drama, which is always more concerned with hard questions instead of easy answers.

If I had to guess (and you know I’m going to), the question at the heart of Cap’s identity as a man and as a symbol is going to get answered only (a) when Bucky tries to be Cap and fails, possibly at the expense of someone’s life (in a sense, we're going to watch this Cap suffer the loss of his own personal Bucky) and (b) when Cap comes back from being offstage for so long, and like a Shakespearean tragic hero shows us how his absence has changed him for the better. (Think Hamlet disappearing for all of Act IV, or post-storm Lear awakening to see his daughter. Bucky as Cordelia, anyone?)

I still think that Cap is going to come back under the direct mind control of the Red Skull. And Bucky is going to be the only one who sees it. Everyone else is going to see the monument, but Bucky will see the man. And there will definitely be a battle between them -- an all-or-nothing showdown which will mirror Cap’s fight with the Winter Soldier in issue #14, except that the roles will be reversed: Bucky will help Cap defeat the Skull's mind control and return to reality by echoing the words Cap used to him in that issue: "Remember who you are." Call that one my latest prediction.

One last question: will Bucky help Cap remember who he is by dying again, at the hands of the Red Skull? Or sacrificing himself and killing the Skull at the same time? That would make dramatic sense, wouldn’t it? (Bucky as Cordelia, anyone?) Because isn’t that who Cap is -- the one who survived when Bucky didn’t?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"So do you mind if I ask -- what are you writing?"

I get asked that a lot when I write at a bar. Usually I say "I'm working on a play" or "I'm working on a novel" and then describe it in bare bones terms, but occasionally, I'll slide over my notebook so whoever's asking me can see what's in it. If they can read my increasingly illegible handwriting, that is.

Here's a sample of what I wrote in my notebook Monday night:

We dream beside the lies that help us sleep
We kiss the lies that tell us we're the best
We hug the lies our own lies want to keep
We chase exciting lies and ditch the rest

New York City is like a club where the bouncer says "You have to leave your heart at the door, but you can pick it up when you leave."

Molly Wander: character name, play title.

The great story of the 21st century will be the dissolution of the community experience. Music is listened to via earphones, movies are watched on portable laptops, bookstores are closing because people would rather buy online than browse (which is what happened to music stores), and theatre and concerts will become, like opera, expensive and calcified productions aimed at reassuring those who attend that their community is still vital, when in fact it's just a dead body which only moves because it's being zapped now and then by a hunchback flicking an electrical relay. The only communities will be religious, and they will all be insular and protective.

He knows the iron by the way it rusts
And anger is the only love he trusts

How did Vestal Virgins get around? And how many of them were there? (Six, I think.) So if there's a seventh one running around loose in ancient Rome, how obvious would it be?

Poetry: expressing a commonplace in the language of revelation.

"Man is meant to suffer, never more than when he goes out to enjoy himself." -- Monica de la Torre

The world will never run out of ways to let us down.

How do you find out if someone is guilty? Accuse them of something you know they didn't do, and watch how they react.

THREE DEAD SLAVES: So instead of the body of the third dead slave showing up out of the blue, like the first two did, what if Quintus [our hero] decides in true Abbie Hoffman style that there is more truth in confusion than in order? He knows there are people out there who murdered a slave and then buried the body; he knows that there is someone else out there who dug up the dead body and then dumped it where it could be found. And he happens to know where there's a dead body that nobody knows is dead. So what if he takes that dead body, covers it with dirt like the first dead body, dresses it up so that it's wearing the same kind of peplum as the first dead body, and then dumps it in front of the house of someone he suspects of being the killer? Just to see what happens -- just to see who goes nuts about it. And everyone goes nuts about it, from Caesar on down.

I like it. Except that I now have to figure out another way for the third slave to die. And I have to go back and rewrite the last 100 pages.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Weekend Update

Weird science. One of the quickest ways to creep people out about history is to remind them that George Armstrong Custer's widow lived to see Adolf Hitler become Chancellor of Germany. To me it seems impossible that Libby Custer and Hitler were alive at the same time; if they ever actually met, that would put Hitler one degree of separation away from Abraham Lincoln, which to me is mind-blowing. On the same level of blow? Who knew that Arthur C. Clarke and George Bernard Shaw traded letters about interplanetary exploration?

A monologue for Saturday. You think doing nothing is easy? When every impulse in your body says act, speak, commit? Doing nothing is hard. You feel the impulse to speak and act, but something inside you drops his shield and shoves the impulse back. It’s an odd sensation -- the movement of time slows to a halt, just as it does in battle when you face your first enemy soldier, and he runs at you screaming with anger or with fear, his sword raised, his shield up; and then time stops, and he stops, but for some reason your awareness doesn’t -- trapped inside your time-frozen body, which heeds none of your commands to strike out or duck or move to the side, your mind is well aware that if you had the gift of speed, you could range across the battlefield like a god in a pause like this, killing all these frozen soldiers between one moment and the next. In just such a moment, you can do anything. Say anything. Every muscle inside you is ready to spring into action. But you hold back. You say nothing. Do nothing. You know how hard that is? That first moment of inaction? It’s excruciating. It’s as hard as grabbing onto empty air to pull your off-balance body back from a ledge. The second moment is even harder. It always is when you don’t act immediately; you feel an urge to second-guess your original decision, to question the feeling that kept you silent in the first place. If you can survive that, the third moment is when it all becomes so easy that it seems natural to be silent and do nothing. You’ve done it for two heartbeats already. And now three. And now four. See how easy it is? Each heartbeat is a step backwards away from that ledge, away from the point where words would have jumped from your tongue; each step is easier than the one before, until you have taken so many of them that you cannot even see where that ledge was. So you turn your back on it and walk away, and if you’re lucky you will forget that there was ever a time when you could have said something that would have changed the direction of your life. If you're lucky.

Barcade birthday. Sarah turns 30; Maddy drinks gin with a candle.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pascal's Gambol

Bar conversation topics last night at the Cornelia Street Café:

Is every New York politician cheating on his wife? No wonder I have no sex life –- I’m not an elected official. To which the immediate response is “Well, Matthew, that’s ONE reason . . .”

Going to bed with someone is far less intimate than sleeping through the night with them, or even in some cases kissing them.

When a woman leaves on her own after a sexual encounter without even bothering to ask to stay for the night, most guys get so weirded out, they pull the emotional equivalent of "You can't quit--I have to fire you!"

When you give money to a homeless person, even if that person is trying to scam it off you, the fact that you're doing something generous adds a coin to the positive side of the world's scales; it's the intention behind the act which counts, no matter what happens after. We're here to add to the positive, in any way we can. Especially when we’re faced with potential tragedy and loss.

This is where I came up with the idea of Pascal's Gambol, which is the secular version of Pascal's Wager. I didn’t actually say this out loud last night. (Definition of a pulled muscle: Matthew holding himself back from throwing the words "Pascal's wager" into a casual bar conversation.)

Pascal's Wager basically says that we might as well believe in God because it's the gambling equivalent of putting money down on a number that has a chance of winning, as opposed to putting it down on a number which has no chance of winning at all. Pascal's Gambol (thank you, Ester, for the pun) says that we might as well be positive and upbeat, because thinking about or expecting the negative is like grabbing onto an anchor to stop yourself from sinking.

Expect the positive. Strive for lightness. Lightness like grabbing onto a cloud. And you will discover that you have wings.

“Learn to wish that everything should come to pass exactly as it does.” -- Epictetus

"We are here and it is now. Further than that all human knowledge is moonshine." -- H.L. Mencken

"Nothing puts complaining about your problems in perspective better than someone with bigger problems who is not complaining about them." -- Barking Matthew

Barking Matthew

Barking Matthew is the guy who sends the sarcastic e-mail reply instead of waiting ten minutes and sending the professional e-mail reply. Barking Matthew is the guy who gets totally irked by the fact that “professional” means “putting up with morons and a-holes.” Barking Matthew is the guy who blows his top when people at work ask the same question three times in a row, even though he’s already sent them the answer twice already. Barking Matthew is the guy who goes postal because the corporate definition of Teamwork reads, “Teamwork, n. Where the same three people plan the play, carry the ball, take the hit, recover the fumble, score the touchdown, edit the mistakes out of the touchdown, and watch on the sidelines when all the other players congratulate themselves.” Barking Matthew is the head-down shoulder-hunched embryo-Scrooge who stomps through Manhattan talking to himself about a job that doesn’t matter and an agent who doesn’t get him. Barking Matthew is me a lot more than I’d like to admit these days.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Why Plays and Drama Are Two Different Things

How do you dramatize a forgone conclusion?

I saw a production of Iphegenia at Aulis on Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn*, and it got me to thinking. Euripides spends four-fifths of the play doing everything he can to make the inevitable seem impossible, and then in the end he has his title character, who ten minutes ago was pleading to live even the worst of lives under the sun rather than die, suddenly embrace her destiny as a victim and willingly go off to be sacrificed. End of argument, end of play. It's like he looked at his sundial and said whoops, I only have five minutes left, so Iph has to become her own deus ex machina. Which means she turns into a totally different character. For whatever reason, Euripides decided on this resolution, rather than say having the goddess Artemis appear and directly order the girl to be slain, because the last thing in the world he wanted was for the audience to think that Iphigenia was nothing but a victim waiting to be sacrificed. He wanted drama. He wanted the space to ask questions about war, sacrifice, duty, and obedience to the gods, which would be totally impossible if his title character walks onstage as a potential victim, and all we're doing for two hours is waiting for the inevitable to happen. Y'know, like in the opening of the Simon Russell Beale Othello, where Desdemona walks onstage wearing a red nightgown and everybody in the audience thinks "Oh yeah--she dies." End of argument; end of play.

Thanks to synchronicity, I was already thinking about this (problem? issue? thing?) when I walked into the theatre, because on Friday I picked up a half-price copy at the Strand of Conversations in Tusculum (which is playing at the Public right now), a Richard Nelson play about Brutus, Cassius and Cicero trying to figure out what they're going to do about Caesar. They're going to kill him obviously, or at least Brutus and Cassius are--they deliberately didn't tell Cicero what they were planning because they didn't want him to take all the credit for it, which is a pretty astute reading of the man's character. If Cicero thought he could get away with it, he would have taken credit for the sun rising; and then he would have accused his enemies of making it set, and executed them without trial.

My Cicero-is-a-blowhard bias aside? The point is, Caesar's dead before the play begins. There isn't even a real choice. Everything Caesar does in the play has EVIL written all over it. None of his reported speeches or actions say anything else. So when a man hangs a sign on himself that says KILL ME, where’s the tension? When so-called characters take two hours to come to a forgone conclusion, where’s the drama? Silly audience — there isn’t any. Which is the current state of theatre today. Tons of plays, none of them dramatic.

Which brings me to my distinction between plays and drama. Plays are when actors perform a script and you know exactly what's going to happen, because you know the story; drama is when actors perform a script and you forget what's going to happen, even if you know the story backwards. Plays reassure -- they reflect the biases and preconceptions of the times, they bend over backwards to make the audience feel good about themselves, and they simplify everything in the cause of reassuring the audience that everything not only is okay, but it always was and always will be. Every dish is a two-act meal of the customary with a side order of the usual.

Reading a script like Conversations in Tusculum is like riding on a freeway where every twenty yards you see a sign telling you how far away your exit is. The only thing you have to worry about is the traffic. Everything else reassures you; everything else is an answer. Caesar is a tyrant, so let’s kill him in the name of freedom. Never mind that the word “freedom” sounds ridiculous coming out of the mouths of privileged oligarchs who think that free grain distribution, land for soldiers, and debt relief for the poor threatens their power base. But even without an anti-populist theory of Caesar’s assassination, can we get a little irony about how the vaunted Roman Republic was ruled by a small group of Clintons and Bushes who kept getting elected to high office? Nope, not even that pothole is allowed to interfere with our smooth ride from Lights Up On Brutus to Fade Out On Assassin.

Drama, on the other hand, ask questions. The questions can be sublimated or shouted, but they always outnumber the answers. Instead of a freeway with road signs, you end up on a back road with no lights and only the barest signs of civilization. You may end up on that freeway again, with the comforting signs and the well-paved exit; but they will look different now because of that back road. That’s the main difference between a drama and a play. In a play there’s only one road. In a drama, there’s always more than one; and when you try to add them up or envision a world that can contain both, you begin to see something at which a play not only doesn’t hint, but doesn’t even want to hint.

Imagine a theatre piece in which Caesar was not an obvious villain, or Brutus an obvious hero. In other words, imagine something like Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. There's a reason why that keeps getting done. It's the same reason why Conversations in Tusculum won't last 30 years. Because one is drama and the other is just a play. Because one asks questions and the other supplies answers. Because one says "This was always inevitable, so take comfort," and the other says "This could have been different, so beware."

Karl Kraus said it best: "A writer is a man who can make a riddle out of an answer." By that definition, there are precious few writers around today, and damn few working in theatre.

*It was pretty good; the choruses were sung and danced, the translation/adaptation was close to the way real people speak as opposed to the usual Tragedy Orating, and I only started to fall asleep once, during the Achilles scene. Acting: the women were uniformly good; the men were boys trying to be men, so they shouted and posed a lot. You can make a case for this as a deliberate comment on male character, except that I don't think it was deliberate. Plus there was a lot of dialogue where both speakers delivered lines straight at the audience instead of each other, which is not easy to make workable in the best of productions.

Weekend Update

Brain. Hurts. Can't. Think. Thanks to an all-day headache on Saturday, I didn't see the movie I wanted to see, or write the pages I wanted to complete, or go to the birthday party I wanted to attend. Which is why I spent Sunday trying to do twice as much and barely getting any of it done. And all that undone stuff is giving me another headache.

Duh. You think we're not in the middle of a recession when crap like this happens? My God--$270 million is only a little bit more than the price of an apartment on the Upper East Side.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Parsing Spitzer (sounds dirty, doesn't it?)

So, with all the brouhaha about Eliot Spitzer getting his end wet in a swimming pool of call girls, I have yet to see anybody translate his two statements from Lying Weasel into Everyday English. Which is why I dragged out my New Collegiate Lying Weasel and Everyday English Dictionary and did it for you.

The first speech (translation in red):

"Today I want to briefly address a private matter.”

This has nothing to do with me being the Governor of New York.

“I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and violates my, or any, sense of right and wrong.”

I did not do anything wrong; I just did something that might possibly be construed as violating somebody’s sense of right and wrong.

“I apologize first and most importantly to my family.”

Since I didn’t so anything wrong, I have nothing to apologize for.

“I apologize to the public, whom I promised better.”

Nothing at all to apologize for.

"I do not believe that politics in the long run is about individuals.”

I believe that politics, in the short run, is about survival.

“It is about ideas, the public good, and doing what is best for the state of New York.”

And the best thing for the state of New York right now? Keeping me on as Governor.

“But I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself.”

I didn’t break any laws, I just failed to live up to a standard.

“I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family.”

My wife is going to kill me.

"I will not be taking questions.”

-- Because then I might actually have to admit something.

“Thank you very much. I will report back to you in short order. Thank you very much."

I’m going to go home now and hope this all blows over. No pun intended.

And the resignation speech:

"In the past few days I've begun to atone for my private failings with my wife, Silda, my children and my entire family."

Nobody in my family is talking to me.

"The remorse I feel will always be with me."

This should be punishment enough.

“Words cannot describe how grateful I am for the love and compassion they have shown me.”

I wish the fucking press had as much compassion.

"From those to whom much is given, much is expected."

And when you give someone 4 grand for sex, you expect to get royally fucked. And here I am.

"I have been given much — the love of my family, the faith and trust of the people of New York, and the chance to lead this state."

And I threw it all away for a blow job while listening to classical music.

"I am deeply sorry I did not live up to what was expected of me."

It’s all Silda’s fault for expecting me to be a faithful husband.

"To every New Yorker, and to all those who believed in what I tried to stand for, I sincerely apologize."

You can’t beat me! I’m Charles Foster Kane!!!

"I look at my time as governor with a sense of what might have been, but I also know that as a public servant, I and the remarkable people with whom I worked have accomplished a great deal."

Blah blah blah legacy.

"There is much more to be done and I cannot allow my private failings to disrupt the people's work."

Since you fucking people won’t stop talking about this, you give me no fucking choice.

"Over the course of my public life I have insisted, I believe correctly, that people, regardless of their position or power, take responsibility for their conduct."

I am a total fucking hypocrite.

"I can and will ask no less of myself."

A total fucking sado-masochistic hypocrite.

"For this reason I am resigning from the office of governor, and at Lt. Gov. David Paterson's request, the resignation will be effective on Monday, March 17, a date that he believes will permit an orderly transition."

Are you happy now, Bruno?

"I go forward with the belief, as others have said, that as human beings our greatest glory consists not in never falling but in rising every time we fall."

Charles Foster KA-A-A-A-A-ANE!!!!!!!!

"As I leave public life, I will first do what I need to do to help and heal myself and my family, then I will try once again, outside of politics, to serve the common good and to move toward the ideals and solutions which I believe can build a future of hope and opportunity for us and for our children."

Once my wife divorces me, I’m joining a law firm.

"I hope all of New York will join my prayers for my friend, David Paterson, as he embarks on his new mission and I thank the public once again for the privilege of service."

Since I’ve totally tarnished the Democratic Party for the next 20 years, David Paterson doesn't have a fucking prayer.

"Thank you very much."

This is all your fault.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Calendar of Hollidays: John Sturges in Tombstone, Part Two

The Voice of Conscience. Jason Robards Jr., Hour of the Gun (1967).

Ten years later, Sturges made a sequel of sorts to OK Corral starring James Garner and Jason Robards, Jr. It starts off with the gunfight and purports to tell the true story of what happened afterwards (the murder trial, Virgil getting shot, Morgan getting killed playing pool, Wyatt getting revenge) but its just as fictional in its own way as the previous film. Virgil is older than Wyatt, not younger; Ike Clanton never holed up in Mexico and Earp didn't kill him; and the faux-spaghetti-western coldness of Garner's Earp owes more to Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name than history. In fact, that's what this movie feels like: an attempt at a spaghetti western, only without any of the sauce, so all you end up with is a plate full of cold pasta.

I am the only nutritious part of this meal.

All bones and no meat except for Robards, who seems to stand off to the side of the action, which is straight out of the "hunt down a killer/kill him/repeat till everyone is dead" school of revenge movies. It's hard not to compare this to another movie from the same school, a movie that was taking geometry when Hour of the Gun was taking algebra: Hang 'Em High, made just one year later, which has that operatic, over-the-top quality that Gun is missing. (It also has Inger Stevens, which a lot of other movies in the 60's were missing.)

I can't wait to start filming Once Upon A Time In The West

Robards is about ten years too old to play Doc, but given that guys in their 30's in the 19th Century looked 45 to 50, the look fits. He coughs a lot more Kirk Douglas, but he never really looks ill. Just tired and fed up. And after trying to talk sense into Garner's Wyatt Earp for two hours, who wouldn't be? In this movie, Earp is the bad guy, telling innocent bystanders "You have a lot more to fear from me than Ike Clanton" while Holliday looks on from the side. It's a logical extension from OK Corral; in this movie, Earp's rectitude has hardened into the God-given right to kill anybody in the name of revenge.

I'm going to sit here and watch you hurt people.

The film is ostensibly about law and order, which is why there's the same three-part structure to all the confrontations: Earp works within the law to seek justice, the law fails, and Earp has to choose whether to go outside the law to get justice. Which would only be a real choice if there was a struggle involved, but there's no struggle at all. Just distance and irony.

The Big Irony: once Morgan's shot and Virgil's wounded, there's a reward for the arrest and conviction of those involved--not dead or alive, arrest and conviction. So naturally Holliday is in it for the money, as is the rest of the posse, and just as naturally, Earp kills everybody they could have arrested, which is Thematic (No Reward For Violence) and undramatic. If there was an ongoing battle between Earp the Lawman and Earp the Killer? That would create tension. But Robards watching Garner kill people and then chewing him out afterwards? That's two parts enabling and three parts nagging.

I stood by and watched you kill a man.
Now I'm going to chew you out for it. [Cough!]

The first time I saw Bettie Page . . .

. . . was when I read the Rocketeer by Dave Stevens, who used Bettie Page as the visual model for his main character's girlfriend. So I knew what she looked like before I knew who she was, thanks (once again) to comic books. And Dave Stevens, who died of leukemia this past week, at the way-too-young age of 52.

Stevens was one of those rare pencillers who put the art in artwork; when the first issue of Rocketeer came out, I had no idea what it was about, so I opened it up to see whether the art was any good. (This has always been my routine. I'm a sucker for good drawing; I'll buy a crappily written comic any day if it's visually appealing. What makes it visually appealing? Style, mostly.) So imagine my delight when I opened up Rocketeer and saw pages like this:

Look! It's Lamont Cranston!

And the story lived up to the art. Uncredited appearances by The Shadow and Doc Savage; Bettie Page as the heroine. How could I not love it?

And Rondo Hatton as the thug.

The one good thing about the 1991 movie (besides Timothy Dalton's Errol-Flynn-as-Nazi-spy part)? They got Jennifer Connelly to play Jenny.

RIP, Dave.

Monday, March 10, 2008

And proud of it

So there's this website called Gender Guesser. You plug in 300+ words of text and it tells you what gender you are. I plugged in three blog entries, and based on the below results, I am a weak male:

The Gunfight at the OK Corral entry:

The Scottish Play review:

The Oscar Prediction entry:

Weekend Update

Don't try this at home.

Twelve things you should never do on the night you turn the clocks ahead for daylight savings time.

1. Don’t head out to Williamsburg via the L Train from 14th when there are no trains running for 90 minutes between 9 PM and 10:30.

2. Don’t bring only one six-pack of Bass Ale. It’ll disappear in ten minutes, leaving you to drink Bud for the rest of the night.

3. Don’t stare at the cute brunette. She is not thinking of you.

4. Don’t stay up with host and hostess after everyone has left and watch them turn the kitchen clock from 3:30 to 4:30 AM.

5. Don’t start Google Chatting with Ava in Australia when you get home at 6:30 AM.

6. Don’t take a shower at 8 and then try to take a nap. You'll just lie there with back pain for 30 minutes.

7. Don’t go out and coffee shop write from 9 to 11.

8. Don’t eat lunch. If you eat lunch, your stomach will say: "I'm shutting everything else down to digest this. See you in three hours." Instead of lunch, drink two Pepsis.

9. Don’t download party pictures from 12 to 2 while you type up what you wrote from 9 to 11.

10. Don’t watch Hour of the Gun, it’ll put you to sleep.

11. Don’t go out for a burger at Stand and have two porters.

12 Don’t go to bed at 10 and get 7 hours sleep (4 uninterrupted, 3 waking up every 25 minutes).

Friday, March 7, 2008

waiting for the encore

Echo Lake

Brothers doing the boy thing.
Dreaming of drowning, dreaming of flying.

Angels doing the watching thing.
Reliving the future, brooding over the past.

Twining and turning like twins in the womb.
Playing and fighting; teasing, competing.

Nothing is certain, everything’s sure.
Word builds to silence, silence to word.

The show is running till March 16th at the Arclight Theatre at 152 West 71st Street. Go see it.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Calendar of Hollidays: John Sturges in Tombstone, Part 1

The Suicidal Drunk. Kirk Douglas, Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957).

You could have your eyes closed at the start of this movie and know it was made in the 50's, thanks to the hoofbeat-driven Frankie Laine title song, which reappears almost every time there's an outdoor shot. Since most of this movie takes place in bars and hotel rooms (and if you look closely, it's the same bar and hotel room, only redecorated), the song doesn't become too annoying, which is like saying that sometimes nagging tooth pain doesn't lead to a root canal.

I've never done the actual math, but Gunfight feels as if it's 60/40 on the Holliday/Earp scale. Whatever it started out to be, it's much more interested in Doc than Wyatt, not the least because Kirk Douglas is much more interesting than the unusually low-key stick-up-his-butt Burt Lancaster. You stare at him and think "Wait--this is the same guy who did Crimson Pirate? NFW." I mean, when you think of all the other film sets which bear his gigantic teeth marks, you have to wonder if Lancaster was bored, drugged or just picking up a paycheck, because that's how he comes across. Douglas might as well be in the movie by himself.

The game is solitaire.

Lancaster may be as stiff as a stiff, but Douglas is a volcano waiting to erupt. He spends most of the movie with a deck of cards in his hand instead of a gun (memorable moment: on the road to Tombstone, Lancaster asks "Where's your kit?" and Douglas reaches into his jacket to pull out a poker deck), but he doesn't need a gun. His self-lacerating scenes with Jo Van Fleet as Kate Fisher look like warm-ups for his Van Gogh; you half expect him to cut off his ear and throw it in a shot glass. This is the relationship that's at the heart of the film, not Holliday's with Earp; and while there's a parallel relationship between Earp and a female gambler called Laura Denbow (played with red hair by Rhonda Fleming), it feels like a sublimation of what the movie should have been about: the romantic triangle of Doc, Kate and Wyatt.

I could be in Arles! But no--you wanted to go to Tombstone!!!

Historically, the movie gets some things right--Doc's a dentist, he's from Georgia--and some things wrong--Wyatt's been chasing Clanton from before the movie starts; one of his kid brothers is killed before the Corral fight. There's also a subplot where Earp tries to save young Billy Clanton, played by young Dennis Hopper (who celebrated his 19th birthday on the set). But because Lancaster has that big old stick up his butt, you don't really care, and you can't blame Billy for siding with his own family against Earp (and his family). Any more than you can blame yourself for thinking that the movie is a collection of subplots that never really combine, like ingredients for a cake that results in a pan full of soupy crap after you take it out of the oven.

Visually the movie is, well, odd. Since most of the film takes place in saloons and hotel rooms, the elongated VistaVision screen shows you acres of furniture and walls instead of landscape and mountains. It does work in one sequence though. Going by the theory that certain shots in a film are there solely to illustrate the theme, there's a giant close-up of Douglas' clenched fists over a gun he's refusing to pick up when he's being goaded by John Ireland's Ringo. There's an entire movie you could spin out of this shot; but because OK Corral is all moons and no planet, it's not this movie.

Only in Hollywood: gunfighters who refuse to fight.

Oh and by the way: OK? It stands for Old Kinderhook.