Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Add me to the distracted multitude

By the time you walk out of the Broadhurst Theatre, you will find yourself filing Jude Law, Hamlet As Played By, under Animal Grace, Unlikeliest Definitions Of. One of the joys of this Hamlet (besides being able to praise the man’s theatre chops) is being totally captivated by Law’s moment-to-moment physicality. He doesn’t just act the part, he dances it in incredibly fluid fashion, with a mind-body connection that’s inhumanly supple. This is no self-obsessed star turn; this is a generous actor who moves into a pose or a gesture which totally embodies the line he’s speaking and then smoothly swings into something completely different based on what he’s going to say next, and it’s all so effortless that you can’t tell whether the song is driving the dance or the dance driving the song.

Driving is not just a good word to describe Law’s performance (this is no melancholy Dane -- when Law’s Hamlet puts on an antic disposition, he doesn’t step into a different car, he just floors the gas in the car he’s already driving), it’s also a good word to describe the evening itself, at least while Law is on stage. The verse is treated like real speech, which means you get to hear famous lines as casual conversation, and there is a briskness about everything and nearly everyone that serves both the play and the production well.

But when Hamlet is off in England, and the scene-carrying duties fall on a negligible Ophelia and a whiny Claudius, you might as well be marking time till the Gravedigger scene. Seriously: during Ophelia’s mad scene? The bottom drops out from under the play faster than a broken elevator in the Empire State Building. Mostly because Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Ophelia isn’t so much bad as non-existent. She’s the acting equivalent of a green screen: the actors all face her and talk at her trusting that there will be an actual performance inserted later via the magic of CGI. And meanwhile every actress over 20 in the audience is thinking “I could mainline anti-freeze and still do the part better than this.”

O what a potentially great acting opportunity is here o'erthrown!

It’s such a nagging flaw that you could spend a couple of drinks at Smith’s bitching about it (like I did with DJ, Shannon and Taliesen) and forget the brilliant lighting design, the riveting quiet moments (best ever “Were you sent for?” scene between Hamlet, Rozencrantz and Guildenstern), and Matt Ryan’s solid Horatio, among other things.

Overall? This is right up there with seeing Geoffrey Rush in Exit The King: (a) you’ll get the same kick out of watching someone run a marathon when all you ever thought he could do was run wind sprints; (b) while there’s a lot of good work being done by most of the rest of the cast, there’s no question that the weight of the play falls on the shoulders of the lead actor; and (c) you’ll kick yourself if you miss it. So don't.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


500 Days of Summer began with a disclaimer saying that the story you’re about to see has nothing to do with anybody in real life, then named the woman who inspired it, followed by the word “Bitch.” The Informant! opens with a disclaimer saying that what you’re about to see is based on a true story, followed by the words “So there.” Thirty seconds later you’re watching a credit sequence in 70’s Made-For-TV typeface and listening to jaunty Marvin Hamlisch music. And as the story begins, and the main character's wife urges him to tell the truth, just tell the truth, you know you're going to be seeing a mildly comic version of that painfully earnest Al Pacino Russell Crowe cigarette company guy film, the one you can get for 7.99 at Wal Mart. You can relax, because you know exactly where you are, right?


"Open Channel D."

This is a movie that takes the Unreliable Narrator premise, flavors it with chemicals, and feeds it to you like it's a piece of natural-grown fruit. There is Austin Powers spy music that has nothing to do with what we’re seeing, there are weird internal monologues that get cumulatively weirder and more disturbing, and there’s a very straight line from the beginning of the movie, when you’re saying to yourself, “This is really weird,” to the middle of the movie, where you are suddenly saying to yourself, “This is REALLY weird.” And that straight line? It’s not horizontal, it’s vertical, because the bottom keeps dropping out from under you. And after a while you realize that this technique, this disconnect between what the main character does and what he’s thinking, isn’t just a way to tell the story -- it IS the story.

Is the movie funny? Yeah. But the laughs are nervous ones, and they all have a WTF edge to them. At no point is anything deliberately played for laughs, which is why the trailer does the movie a disservice by stringing all the goofy moments together -- it makes the film look like a Coen brothers farce, instead of the troubling weirdismo mindfuck that it really is. And it totally could be a Coen Brothers farce -- if there was somebody doing a John Goodman over-the-top scenery chomp, you could safely sit back and relax into it because you'd know what you were being fed. But not this movie. You not only have to keep testing what you're chewing to see what flavor it is, you have to chew over stuff you swallowed five minutes ago because what you just ate changed the entire meal. And that's a lot of work to ask of an audience. Which is why, by the end of the film, you will realize that the reason nobody from the director on down let you in on the joke is because there is no joke.

You can't even sit back and enjoy the great acting. Me, I happen to like Matt Damon, and in this movie he's likable as hell. Which makes it really awkward when you start to get to know the character he's playing, and realize what's really going on (I'm using the word "realize a lot in this review for a reason; it's what I found myself doing during half the movie -- saying to myself either "Oh, wait," "Oh, no," or "Oh, wow.") So if you do try to sit back and enjoy Damon, you'll get so totally suckered in by his likableness that when the fit starts hitting the shan, you're going to be scratching your head and saying "YeahBuWhaNow?" And I can tell you exactly where it'll happen -- it'll be during the jaw-dropping scene, where the lawyers and the Justice Department people lay it all out on the table and a character in the film just sits there with her jaw dropping for about a minute and a half. Like, y'know the entire audience. (That scene relates to an interesting issue in the movie that's glanced at, but never given prominence. If a man lies about one thing, does that mean he’s completely untrustworthy about everything? If a murder witness, say, could be proven to believe that the earth is flat, would that disallow his testimony that Defendant X shot Victim Y in cold blood? In our current legal system? Yup. Lie about anything and you’re branded as a liar. Steal once and you’re always a thief. Blow the whistle on the crimes of your company, and commit a crime yourself? God help you.)

So don't go to this expecting a laugh riot or even a fun fest. Go to it expecting to walk out with a headache. Why? Because the movie constantly requires to you to (a) figure out what you’re really seeing with (b) little or no guidance as to what you’re supposed to think. For that reason alone this is a great little movie. But it’s still more little than great.

So there.

My Brain Just Sploded

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

On Living: "Forward - into the past!"

Now where was I? Oh right:

Which brings us to the real question behind all this: if you know what you do to yourself, and what it does to you, then why do you keep doing it? Is it the way you’re wired? Or the way you re-wired yourself to patch over the crappy power cord you inherited from your parents?

As my friend Bernie points out, the way I phrase the final question there is a double cop-out. I'm blaming everything on either my inner electrician, or my parental electricians. "Not my fault; just the way I'm wired! There's nothing I can do about it." Which is like ordering prime rib in a restaurant and then saying, "Man, I really hate eating steak all the time. Why can't my mother cook something else?"

Now God knows I've been to therapy enough over the last few years to recognize my own line of bullshit when I start handing it out to myself. And yet, still, my unthinking, off-the-cuff response to the question, "Why do I do the things I do?" is to say the equivalent of, "Who, me?" and point somewhere else. This is tiresome, to say the least. Why do I do the things I do? Either because I like doing them, which means on some level I get pleasure out of the screw-ups, or because I do them without thinking, which means on some level I don't even think twice about doing them.

My output/input analogy in the last post falls into a combination of the two categories, I think. I have taught myself to do two things when I get involved in a creative project: I get obsessed with it, and when I'm working on it, my foot is always on the gas pedal, never the brake. The obsession is what happens when something goes from the back burner to the front burner, from simmer to broil, and like anything heated to that level, it will evaporate unless you keep putting more water into it. That's something I don't do, and I don't do it by choice. When you throw water in a boiling pot, it stops boiling. The process slows down. Me, I like to keep the process going at the same speed all the time, which is why I risk (and usually run up against) burn-out. So I do it because this is what I've taught myself to do, and it works for me in that it gets projects written and completed, even though it totally drains me afterwards. And I do it without thinking because it's become a habit, it's become like a set of muscles I know I can rely on, even though every time I use them, it's to run a marathon at a sprinter's pace. No way I can blame that one on my parents, or anybody else in my family. Hell, whenever I start talking about my writing to them? You could use the glaze that comes over their eyes to cook a twenty-pound Easter ham.

So instead of "is it the way I'm wired?" let's say "is it the way I like to do things?" Because that doesn't just make more sense, it also frames the question as a positive instead of a negative, which makes it easier for a habitual Negative Ned like me to to take responsibility for my actions.

It also makes the question rhetorical. Of course I'm doing it because I like to do it. Off the top of my head, I can think of only one thing I'm doing right now that I don't like.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Somewhere, Howard Zinn is grinning.

In case you missed it? 'Cause, y'know, I did, And it's potentially huge:

Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s newly installed Supreme Court Justice, has a few words for corporations seeking protection under law.

You’re not people.

During arguments in a recent campaign-finance case — that may upend campaign finance law to allow more spending by corporations — Sotomayor suggested that the core underpinning of protecting corporations’ rights was flawed.

The Wall Street Journal has the details:

During arguments in a campaign-finance case, the court's majority conservatives seemed persuaded that corporations have broad First Amendment rights and that recent precedents upholding limits on corporate political spending should be overruled.

But Justice Sotomayor suggested the majority might have it all wrong -- and that instead the court should reconsider the 19th century rulings that first afforded corporations the same rights flesh-and-blood people have.

Judges "created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons," she said. "There could be an argument made that that was the court's error to start with...[imbuing] a creature of state law with human characteristics."

The case she's referring to?

118 U.S. 394 (1886)

in which:

“Supreme Court Justice Morrison Remick Waite simply pronounced before the beginning of argument in the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company that:

“The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of opinion that it does.”

Thus it was that a two-sentence assertion by a single judge elevated corporations to the status of persons under the law.”

Whether or not anything comes of it, it would be nice to see this "assertion" becoming a subject for debate in our current coporatocracy.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Parsing David Brooks: Wanna Bet, David?

September 18, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
No, It’s Not About Race

(Original column in white; translation in red.)

You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I go running several times a week.

I'm trying to think of something that doesn't make me look like a Wall Street executive who wears pink shirts and fuchsia ties.

My favorite route, because it’s so flat, is from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol and back. I was there last Saturday and found myself plodding through tens of thousands of anti-government “tea party” protesters.

I saw a couple of hundred angry white anti-Obama demonstrators the other day.

They were carrying “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, “End the Fed” placards and signs condemning big government, Barack Obama, socialist health care and various elite institutions.

They were also carrying signs that said NEXT TIME WE'RE COMING WITH OUR GUNS, but I didn’t see a single one of them. Swear to God.

Then, as I got to where the Smithsonian museums start, I came across another rally, the Black Family Reunion Celebration. Several thousand people had gathered to celebrate African-American culture. I noticed that the mostly white tea party protesters were mingling in with the mostly black family reunion celebrants. The tea party people were buying lunch from the family reunion food stands.

This is because tea party whites all think Blacks are good for only one thing: serving them food.

They had joined the audience of a rap concert.

They wanted to be able to tell their children they actually heard rap once so they could say “I heard a rap concert once and it sucked!” just like I can now say “I saw white people at a rap concert once!”

Because sociology is more important than fitness, I stopped to watch the interaction.

I get paid a lot of money to make false generalizations about specific incidents.

These two groups were from opposite ends of the political and cultural spectrum. They’d both been energized by eloquent speakers. Yet I couldn’t discern any tension between them. It was just different groups of people milling about like at any park or sports arena.

Wow! People in public can be civil with each other!

And yet we live in a nation in which some people see every conflict through the prism of race.

Wow! People in public can be so uncivil with each other!

So over the past few days, many people, from Jimmy Carter on down, have argued that the hostility to President Obama is driven by racism.

Jimmy Carter is an asshole.

Some have argued that tea party slogans like “I Want My Country Back” are code words for white supremacy.

This is called the Straw Man Argument.

Others say incivility on Capitol Hill is magnified by Obama’s dark skin.

This is called the Maureen Dowd Argument.

Well, I don’t have a machine for peering into the souls of Obama’s critics, so I can’t measure how much racism is in there.

Oh snap, Maureen!

But my impression is that race is largely beside the point.

Because I’m white and privileged, racism is always beside the point.

There are other, equally important strains in American history that are far more germane to the current conflicts.

See, I wanted to type “stains” and "German" there, but you would have totally gotten the wrong idea.

For example, for generations schoolchildren studied the long debate between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians.

I am now going to compress 300 years of American history into a false analogy that will make my argument sound intelligent.

Hamiltonians stood for urbanism, industrialism and federal power. Jeffersonians were suspicious of urban elites and financial concentration and believed in small-town virtues and limited government.

It’s all about the rich versus the poor.

Jefferson advocated “a wise and frugal government” that will keep people from hurting each other, but will otherwise leave them free and “shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

The government has no right to take money from the rich and give it to the needy.

Jefferson’s philosophy inspired Andrew Jackson, who led a movement of plain people against the cosmopolitan elites.

Andrew Jackson was hot two years ago, and I like to keep up with the times.

Jackson dismantled the Second Bank of the United States because he feared the fusion of federal and financial power.

Did I mention that this was all about money?

This populist tendency continued through the centuries.

Heh. I just said that a President of the United States was actually an anti-governmental populist. How many of you noticed that?

Sometimes it took right-wing forms, sometimes left-wing ones.

This is where I pretend to be “balanced.”

Sometimes it was agrarian. Sometimes it was more union-oriented.

And we all know what unions are code for, right? (Cough) Gangsters. (Cough)

Often it was extreme, conspiratorial and rude.

That would be the left-wing populism.

The populist tendency has always used the same sort of rhetoric: for the ordinary people and against the fat cats and the educated class; for the small towns and against the financial centers.

You think it’s about the have-nots versus the haves, right?

And it has always had the same morality, which the historian Michael Kazin has called producerism.

Wrong! It’s about the rich having their money stolen by the government.

The idea is that free labor is the essence of Americanism. Hard-working ordinary people, who create wealth in material ways, are the moral backbone of the country.

Like all shills for corporate America, I believe that lazy, good-for-nothing unemployed people are an immoral cancer in our society.

In this free, capitalist nation, people should be held responsible for their own output.

It’s not about race; it’s about wage slavery.

Money should not be redistributed to those who do not work, and it should not be sucked off by condescending, manipulative elites.

East-Coast liberals love to give handouts to the unemployed, and throw money at problems in order to solve them.

Barack Obama leads a government of the highly educated.

This makes him a condescending, manipulative elite.

His movement includes urban politicians, academics, Hollywood donors and information-age professionals.

I will now (a) use "movement" to describe the Democrats, like it's a religious cult, and (b) list four types of people who don’t live in Kansas.

In his first few months, he has fused federal power with Wall Street, the auto industry, the health care industries and the energy sector.

I will now pretend that Obama has socialized the country out of nowhere, instead of as a corrective response to the last 8 years of Bush/Cheney.

Given all of this, it was guaranteed that he would spark a populist backlash, regardless of his skin color.

None of the people demonizing Obama will admit that it was Bush who got us into this mess in the first place.

And it was guaranteed that this backlash would be ill mannered, conspiratorial and over the top — since these movements always are, whether they were led by Huey Long, Father Coughlin or anybody else.

When my people are ill-mannered, conspiratorial, and over-the-top, it’s just politics as usual, so deal with it.

What we’re seeing is the latest iteration of that populist tendency and the militant progressive reaction to it.

I am now going to call a bunch of right-wing reactionaries “progressive”, and you are going to buy it.

We now have a populist news media that exaggerates the importance of the Van Jones and Acorn stories to prove the elites are decadent and un-American, and we have a progressive news media that exaggerates stories like the Joe Wilson shout and the opposition to the Obama schools speech to show that small-town folks are dumb wackos.

This is me laughing my ass off, because I am now using the word "populist" to describe Fox News and the word “progressive” to mean Socialist, Commie-symp liberals.

“One could argue that this country is on the verge of a crisis of legitimacy,” the economic blogger Arnold Kling writes. “The progressive elite is starting to dismiss rural white America as illegitimate, and vice versa.”

It’s actually the Left’s fault for starting this mud fight. So of course we have to stoop to their level. And by the way, I have just used the word “progressive” three times to mean three completely different things.

It’s not race.

It’s not just about race.

It’s another type of conflict, equally deep and old.

It’s about welfare queens.

Parsing Maureen Dowd: Oh, Girl

September 13, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
Boy, Oh, Boy

(original column in white; translation in red)

The normally nonchalant Barack Obama looked nonplussed, as Nancy Pelosi glowered behind.

The woman knew it was a racist remark even if the black guy didn’t.

Surrounded by middle-aged white guys — a sepia snapshot of the days when such pols ran Washington like their own men’s club — Joe Wilson yelled “You lie!” at a president who didn’t.

Memo to fact-checkers: don’t. This is an opinion column.

But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!

Everything anybody says from South Carolina is racial.

The outburst was unexpected from a milquetoast Republican backbencher from South Carolina who had attracted little media attention.

This guy is a loser.

Now it has made him an overnight right-wing hero, inspiring “You lie!” bumper stickers and T-shirts.

This guy is now a loser with a following of other losers.

The congressman, we learned, belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, led a 2000 campaign to keep the Confederate flag waving above South Carolina’s state Capitol and denounced as a “smear” the true claim of a black woman that she was the daughter of Strom Thurmond, the ’48 segregationist candidate for president.

He’s also a fucking bigot.

Wilson clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber.

And even worse, he’s ignorant and rude.

I’ve been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer — the frantic efforts to paint our first black president as the Other, a foreigner, socialist, fascist, Marxist, racist, Commie, Nazi; a cad who would snuff old people; a snake who would indoctrinate kids — had much to do with race.

This is me trying to be balanced and objective.

I tended to agree with some Obama advisers that Democratic presidents typically have provoked a frothing response from paranoids — from Father Coughlin against F.D.R. to Joe McCarthy against Truman to the John Birchers against J.F.K. and the vast right-wing conspiracy against Bill Clinton.

The Republican party has been a pack of demagogues for the last 60 years.

But Wilson’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president — no Democrat ever shouted “liar” at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq — convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.

Did I mention he’s a fucking bigot?

“A lot of these outbursts have to do with delegitimizing him as a president,” said Congressman Jim Clyburn, a senior member of the South Carolina delegation. Clyburn, the man who called out Bill Clinton on his racially tinged attacks on Obama in the primary, pushed Pelosi to pursue a formal resolution chastising Wilson.

I will now use one of his own colleagues to nail this guy to the wall.

“In South Carolina politics, I learned that the olive branch works very seldom,” he said. “You have to come at these things from a position of strength. My father used to say, ‘Son, always remember that silence gives consent.’”

I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Barry Obama of the post-’60s Hawaiian ’hood did not live through the major racial struggles in American history.

Heh. I just called the President “Barry”.

Maybe he had a problem relating to his white basketball coach or catching a cab in New York, but he never got beaten up for being black.

‘Cause I know what it’s like to get beaten up for being black.

Now he’s at the center of a period of racial turbulence sparked by his ascension.

It’s all about race.

Even if he and the coterie of white male advisers around him don’t choose to openly acknowledge it, this president is the ultimate civil rights figure — a black man whose legitimacy is constantly challenged by a loco fringe.

This is the South’s worst nightmare.

For two centuries, the South has feared a takeover by blacks or the feds. In Obama, they have both.

Look out, white women – it’s Nat Turner, President of the United States!

The state that fired the first shot of the Civil War has now given us this: Senator Jim DeMint exhorted conservatives to “break” the president by upending his health care plan.

Wait – that’s not hot-button enough. Let me think of another example.

Rusty DePass, a G.O.P. activist, said that a gorilla that escaped from a zoo was “just one of Michelle’s ancestors.”

Mu-u-u-u-uch better.

Lovelorn Mark Sanford tried to refuse the president’s stimulus money.

I have no idea what I’m talking about.

And now Joe Wilson.

His real first name is Addison, by the way. But he calls himself Joe because he wants to be thought of as just folks.

“A good many people in South Carolina really reject the notion that we’re part of the union,” said Don Fowler, the former Democratic Party chief who teaches politics at the University of South Carolina.

In South Carolina, “just folks” means “plantation owners who are still fighting the Civil War.”

He observed that when slavery was destroyed by outside forces and segregation was undone by civil rights leaders and Congress, it bred xenophobia.

They really really hate blacks down there.

“We have a lot of people who really think that the world’s against us,” Fowler said, “so when things don’t happen the way we like them to, we blame outsiders.”

You know those Southerners – if they’re not blaming it on the blacks, they’re blaming it on the Jews.

He said a state legislator not long ago tried to pass a bill to nullify any federal legislation with which South Carolinians didn’t agree. Shades of John C. Calhoun!

What did I tell you? Still fighting the Civil War.

It may be President Obama’s very air of elegance and erudition that raises hackles in some.

Obama has more manners and brains than the entire middle of the country.

“My father used to say to me, ‘Boy, don’t get above your raising,’ ” Fowler said. “Some people are prejudiced anyway, and then they look at his education and mannerisms and get more angry at him.”

And they really really REALLY hate uppity blacks down there.

Clyburn had a warning for Obama advisers who want to forgive Wilson, ignore the ignorant outbursts and move on: “They’re going to have to develop ways in this White House to deal with things and not let them fester out there. Otherwise, they’ll see numbers moving in the wrong direction.”

I know, I know – it’s a lame ending, but I couldn’t think of a way to tie everything together. I mean it’s not like I’m a writer or anything. I just come up with an idea for a column and then I type till I get to 250 words. Besides, nobody’s going to quote the close. They’re going to quote the part where I say it’s all about race. I suppose I should have said that at the end in some clever way, maybe by saying “To some people in this country, it’s not just numbers that are moving in the wrong direction.” But if I did that, I’d be admitting that the Republicans have a valid political beef against Obama, instead of an invalid racial one. I mean, if I thought about it for a while, I might come up with something clever. But I have to stop now - I have a Marc Jacobs Fashion Week show to get to.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Celebrity Death Pool: It sure beats Rikers!

I was heading to the Dedham Mall with Cheryl Peyton Rooke back when she was Cheryl Peyton one Saturday or Sunday in the late spring/early summer of 1980; we were going to lunch later but she had picked out a new couch for her apartment and she wanted me to take a look at it, partly because I'm the guy women take with them when they go shopping for stuff and partly because Cheryl knew that the more we did friend stuff together, the less I'd feel attracted to her. (God I was so in love with her.) She she's driving and we're talking and listening to WBCN and in the the middle of our conversation we hear the DJ announce a new song and then four L-O-U-D guitar chords reach out of the car radio and punch us both in the chest, after which this coked-out punk rocker chants a litany of all his friends who DIED! DIED! And the two of us look at each other and say, "What the hell?" because it's 30 years ago and nobody said "What the fuck?" like they do now, and as the song keeps playing (and playing) and never loses a beat (and never actually hits a note, it's an all-shouting song), the two of us start laughing like little kids, especially when we hear "These are friends who DI-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-IED!!!!"

"Oh my God," Cheryl said. "Who IS this?" "Whoever he is, he's on a lot of drugs," I said. And for the next month, all either one of us had to do was say "Died. Died." and both of us would start laughing like like crazy people.

Almost 30 years later and that song's been on every dance tape I ever mixed. Best memory: at Tommy's birthday bash, when that song came on and we started pogoing and shouting out the lyrics, and the friends who weren't part of the Norwood Ave crowd looked at us like they were Quakers and we had just become possessed by Satan. By the end of the song they were all driving back to relieve their babysitters, and maybe listen to some Nat King Cole to clear their musical palate. Which was too bad. They totally missed out on "I Wanna Be Sedated."

So thanks, Jim. And Cheryl? If you're out there? Died. Died.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dream Diary: 09/16/09

Dreamed I was Anne Hathaway’s date for her secret unannounced cabaret show, the one she performed in a Catskills dining room with all of us eating dinner in the background. I am in a tux. (This is how I know I’m dreaming.) Anne is wearing a strapless red gown with a cinch waist and a floor-length skirt that’s slit on one side, so you get a flash of leg whenever she moves. (This is how I know I'm REALLY dreaming.) She’s wearing bright red 50’s lipstick and her hair is curled and bunched up around her shoulders like (because this is me dreaming) Ava Gardner circa 1952. And every song she sings, she aims at me. (This is how I know I'm still wonked out on the cold pills I've been taking since Tuesday.) As she cracks everybody up with her monologue and croons her standards (a lot of Lorenz and Hart, a couple of Cole Porters), people whip out small digital cameras and take pictures of her. Whenever that happens, even if she’s in mid-verse, Anne whips out a small digital camera and takes pictures of the people taking pictures of her. This happens so much during “Down In The Depths Of The 90th Floor” that it’s like watching a fireworks display.

Sorta like this without the straps.

Liebestod: Dutch Courage

I trekked to Film Forum on Monday after work to catch a movie I vaguely remember from my childhood, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. Why? Because of this woman:


What I remembered about the film were a couple of vague images of James Mason and Ava Gardner hugging each other -- something which happens only twice in the film and for about a minute each time. Just goes to show you where my adolescent brain was when I saw this as a kid. (Hugging! Awesome!)

What I saw Monday was a luridly vivid flashback doomfest with the corniest narration ever written with a straight face for actors to say with even straighter faces. About once every five minutes, Nigel Patrick frowns on-screen and we hear his voice-over say: "I had a deep sense of potential tragedy" or "I had a deep feeling of dread and despair." By the tenth time he did it, I was finishing his sentences from the audience.

NIGEL PATRICK: [for the tenth time] I had a deep feeling of --
ME: Foreboding!
NIGEL PATRICK: -- impending doom.
ME: Shit!
OLD GUY SITTING NEXT TO ME: I would have said foreboding too.

The plot is listed as the tenth definition of the word "ludicrous" in Webster's Collegiate Dictionary for 1950. A British antiquarian in a Spanish seaport in 1930 gets his hands on the purported handwritten diary of the legendary Flying Dutchman just as said Dutchman's crewless yacht anchors offshore for his once-every-seven-years "I have six months to live on land and find a woman who loves me enough to die for me or else I will be doomed to live forever" curse. And if that isn't enough of a coinkydink for you, the Dutchman's long-dead wife is the spitting image of Pandora (Ava Gardner) Roberts, who happens to be vacationing at the fishing village, said vacation involving watching goo-goo eyed British alcoholic poets kill themselves for love of her and obsessed matadors commit murder for her. (Which is pretty much what Ava did in real life, if the tabloids are even half correct.)

Overall? Outside of the first 30 minutes, the film makes grand opera look like a Chekhov play. But those first 30 minutes? Surprisingly good. Ava is a total ice goddess, not caring who dies around her, not feeling anything for anybody, getting her kicks out of fast cars and pushing people to their limits. "If you want me to marry you? Push your racing car into the sea," she says to the other goo-goo-eyed Brit, the world-record-holding racecar driver who doesn't kill himself but drives fast enough to make you wonder. And of course he pushes his metallic baby (named Pandora of course) into the briny, during which there is a fantastic deep-focus shot of Ava looking down from the cliff to the widening splash, and then turning to face the sky and the stars with a "Here I am, take me!" smile on her face, the kind of lush Technicolor look that made every guy in the Film Forum run outside onto West Houston Street to find a cliff they could push a Ford over. (You should have heard the car alarms.) So Ava sets the wedding date six months from now, then she lets Racing Boy retrieve his car if he wants to; and when he does, he's the only one in the world who figures this marriage is still on. We know it isn't, that's for sure. But then we've seen Ava swim nude out to that crewless yacht and meet James Mason for the first time.

They lock eyes at about the 30 minute mark, and from then on it's a triangle that (a) really only has two sides (cuz, y'know, it's Ava Gardner and James Mason; there's no way they're NOT going to end up together) and (b) turns into a quadrangle once the matador shows up, which amps up the foreboding and dread meter to 12. There are a lot of moments where Ava is staring darkly at Mason or looking around with doom-laden anticipation to see where he is. There's a bullfight rehearsal as well as a real bullfight. There's a murder and a lot of "Please feel this now" narration from our resident antiquarian. (The narration in this movie is the verbal equivalent of a silent movie with more titles than actual scenes.) There's an extended flashback-within-a-flashback where the Dutchman tells his dark and dreadful history, and you wonder what the hell kind of curse dooms a guy to immortality for killing his adulterous wife who's not really adulterous.

GOD: Because you killed an innocent woman, you will be punished accordingly!
GOD: You will live forever until some other innocent woman loves you enough to die for you.
DUTCHMAN: Say what now?
GOD: You will live forever until a woman loves you enough to die for you!
DUTCHMAN: You mean hates me enough to kill me in revenge, right?
GOD: No! Foolish mortal! She has to love you enough to die for you!
DUTCHMAN: So I committed murder, and my punishment is that I never age or die until some woman commits suicide over me?
GOD: Exactly.
DUTCHMAN: Great; where do I sign up?


As I mentioned, there's a bullfight, which means there's also a matador -- which, if you know anything about Ava Gardner, is a hoot and a half, because if Larry, Moe and Curly Joe ever dressed up as matadors, Gardner would have slept with all three of them at once. (One of the best Hollywood in-jokes ever is in Tony Rome, when Frank Sinatra says: "Yeah, I used to know a broad who collected bullfighters." When Gardner saw the film, they say you could have heard her spit take in Antarctica.) Needless to say (but here I am, saying it anyway) Ava had an affair with the bullfighter who plays the bullfighter in this movie (Mario Cabre, above). He's obviously in love with her. As is the director, the cameraman, the hairdresser, the makeup guy, the lighting guy, the costume designer, the extras playing the toreadors, and every dentally-challenged fisherman in the Spanish town where they did principal photography. There's no way you can't be in love with this woman. She is that gorgeous in this movie. She has to be, because the plot makes no sense unless you actually believe that an ice goddess would take one look at a complete stranger and be willing to die for him. And the only way you're going to believe that is if you wind up falling in love with the ice goddess yourself. Which is pretty easy when she looks like this:

Male fantasy, anybody? Because I can't for the life of me imagine what a woman would think of this movie. It's not like Gardner's Pandora grows a heart or anything, even though she does go from bitchy to tender when she's dealing with her only female rival in this movie, who (to make the dark lady/fair lady Ivanhoe comparison) plays dried-up Joan Fontaine to Ava's juicy Elizabeth Taylor. No, it's more like Pandora finally finds the proper channel for her inability to care about anything. It's not the Dutchman she's in love with, it's Death. She's the bride of death. Which is a quintessentially male corner of the romantic garden, the corner where Tristan and Iseolte are buried beside Romeo and Juliet. To make the obvious generality: only men love to imagine that a woman is willing to die for them. Women are made of stronger stuff; they love to imagine men who are willing to live for them. And as Oscar Wilde would say, both are disappointed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On Writing: Output ≥ Input

Tonstant Weader writes:

Hey, Horvendile?  WTF, dude?  You’re blogging
like an EmEff and then suddenly nothing.
Break your fingers at the day job?
(Hah! I wish! If I did that, I might actually get to live off an insurance check for the rest of my life.)

Actually, TW? It’s not that I’ve stopped writing, as those of you who have been getting rewrites (and rewrites) (and rewrites) of Countrie Matters in your in-boxes can attest to. No, it’s that I’ve been doing so much of a certain kind of writing that there isn’t enough gas left in the tank to take any side trips. It’s destination ho. And by the time I get there, I’m usually driving on fumes. Why? Because Output is always greater than or equal to Input.

If I can quote one of my favorite exchanges written by George Bernard Shaw (it’s from Heartbreak House):

Ellie: A soul is a very expensive thing to keep: much more so than a motor car.

Captain Shotover: Really? How much does your soul eat?

Ellie: Oh, a lot. It eats music and pictures and books and mountains and lakes and beautiful things to wear and nice people to be with. In this country you can't have them without lots of money: that is why our souls are so horribly starved.

Every piece of soul food Ellie describes is what I think of as input. Reading books, seeing movies, having conversations with other people instead of the voice in my head –- anything that gets me out of myself and turns my attention to something different –- is like a combination of filling up the gas tank, exercising a flabby muscle, and recharging a battery. Only when I’m full, fit and energized do I have enough inside me to put the foot to the creative pedal and make tire tracks on an empty piece of paper (or a blank word processing screen). Which does not happen when I’m starving, flabby and drained (the 8th, 9th and 10th dwarfs).

And sometimes I need a particular kind of input, just like sometimes my body craves protein instead of junk food. Which, sadly, describes a lot of what’s out there creatively these days. I haven’t seen a movie in a theatre in over three weeks (which is like a starvation diet), I haven’t been able to read more than 20 or 30 pages of any book I pick up (my brain can literally feel the words sliding away against its grasp, like melted M&M’s), and when I’m socializing I’m nodding and saying “Uh huh, uh huh” a lot, rather than actually contributing.

This is what I call a funk, or The Blahs, or The Machine’s Revenge, or Dain Bread (which is Spoonerism for Brain Dead). It usually happens when I’ve pushed my body past its limits and dipped into so much saved-up energy to pay for all the creative output that I’m draining everything and living off the credit card. Which means three things: I need to (a) stop spending, (b) start saving, and (c) take a lot of Zantac, ‘cause I’m probably going to wind up getting sick. Which (cough) (sniffle) (sneeze) happened yesterday, like kucking flockwork. (There's that Spoonerism again. God, what a come ducking funt I am.)

Isn’t it nice to know how your body works? When it breaks down, you always know exactly what you did wrong. Not like you can ever prevent yourself from doing that wrong thing in the first place. Or at least I can’t.

Which brings us to the real question behind all this: if you know what you do to yourself, and what it does to you, then why do you keep doing it? Is it the way you’re wired? Or the way you re-wired yourself to patch over the crappy power cord you inherited from your parents?

Or, uhm, both?

Food for thought: next time.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

So now that Disney has bought Marvel . . .

. . . you have to ask yourself: what are the Disney pit bulls lawyers going to do about this?

(from Comic Mix).

On the one hand: ew!

On the other hand: if someone really was bitten by a radioactive spider? That's exactly how his webs would be created.