Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Drunkard's Prayer

Bless me, Father, for I am full of booze.
I know--it’s not exactly breaking news
To see me weaving like a wind-blown kite
And slurring all my words--it’s just tonight.
Please let me keep my big stupid mouth shut.
After three pints, I talk out of my butt,
Lecturing everyone like they’re a dope
And I’m one half professor, one half Pope--
Laying the law down in a monologue
With more Thou Shalt Not’s than the Decalogue.
Forgive me for that silly incident
That turned into a drunken argument
Where all I did was pound the bar and shout.
I can’t remember what it was about.
I do recall, at some point, someone threw
A pint of Guinness and a punch or two
When I called him a product of inbreeding.
(I guess that’s why my forehead is still bleeding.)

Bless me, Father, for I got truly faced
Not letting shots of whiskey go to waste.
The ones I drank tonight could fill two steins
(That’s why my head is full of cactus spines).
Forgive me for the 2AM drunk text
I sent to You Know Who, on the pretext
That all was well between the two of us
And not foul, toxic, sad and hideous.
I only saw the text this afternoon
In my SENT folder, and thought: “You baboon--
What did you do that for? You must be nuts
To have her on your cell--she hates your guts.
Delete her number. Now. Don’t even think.”
“Okay,” I said, “I will. After this drink.”
And one glass led to four which led to ten,
And there I was, texting the girl again
As if our past had been a party room
And not a mine field set to go KABOOM.
Forgive me for my years of married life.
That too was alcohol. As for my wife,
I didn’t know, because I was so drunk,
She thought the perfect marriage bed was bunk.
It’s not her fault God never made her kind,
So let her next love be a little blind,
And let me run into her now and then,
So I can back up and hit her again.

Bless me, Father, my jokes are all obscene
And half the time I act like I’m nineteen.
That’s still the age I think I am inside,
And since, as we all know, booze will un-hide
The secrets in our souls, it just seems right
When it brings all my teenage flaws to light:
Thinking that I can kick the ass of death,
Or run a mile without one struggling breath,
Or think my future’s still ahead of me
Instead of being ancient history.
Forgive me for the drunken pass I made
At whatsername, hoping that I’d get laid--
Like that could ever happen. Sex is iffy
When you’re too smashed to get a decent stiffy.
Liquored up? I’m a failure at coition:
The best that I can do in my condition
Is hug and kiss and (when I stick my ass out)
Try not to do a face plant when I pass out.

Oh Lord, save me from excess hypertension
And those who think I need an intervention.
Save me from blondes, both real and from the bottle.
Save me from brunettes that I want to throttle.
Save me from redheads with their scarlet bangs--
The only sane ones are orangutangs.
Save me from hitting on Jane, Jill or Jenny
Whenever I’ve had ten or twelve too many,
And let me not remember what I said
To try to get their asses into bed
Or all the needy depths I did descend to--
And if I can’t forget, let me pretend to.
Oh Lord, let me get buybacks everywhere,
And let me make a style out of despair.
Let my salvation never quite find me
And dessication be my destiny.
Let me be laughed with when I’m not laughed at
And never wear a lampshade for a hat.
I don’t care if the world thinks I’m a joke--
Just let my liver work until I croak.

Copyright 2010 Matthew J Wells (Hic!)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Terry & Jeannie

Most men have a dream girl—an ideal they push before them like a ball, always out of reach. As the years pass, this phantom either fades in the face of reality or becomes refined in the imagination, accommodating attributes, known or wished. By the time I reached twenty-five, the woman of my dreams had become so exquisite, I’d acknowledged that, bar making a pact with Beelzebub himself, she wasn’t about to enter my life. Then she did, albeit through the media.

. . . here was Vogue, regularly featuring a creature who made the other fashion plates look just that. Her cover shots were pinned to the underside of prefects’ desks and bedsit walls across the country. None of us knew her by name; for months she was ‘that girl with the big eyes and the legs.’ Of course, it didn’t take Condé Nast too long to cotton on to the fact that they had given birth to a substantial commercial entity. They broke a cardinal rule and personalized the first of their models: Jean Shrimpton, alias the Shrimp.

“Stamp,” she said. “There is something I want to tell you.”
I couldn’t think of anything I’d done to give offence.
“Do I need to sit down?” I joked, trying to lighten the atmosphere which was curling the hair on my neck.
“You may, if you please,” she said, like a teacher of English grammar.
I hunched into the matching armchair by the big fireplace. . . . Silence. I realized she was waiting for my attention.
“I know you’re bad with girls. Into one night stands and that. I just want you to know. I don’t care.” She looked down. “I like you, that’s all.”

I kissed her. It could have been my first kiss. I felt as though I'd reached home.

“Stamp. There is something.”
“Don’t commit yourself.”
“Almost anything.”

I could say I was dazzled by wealth, success and fame, but, actually, it was one of those occasions when I knew full well what I wanted to do, while simultaneously doing the opposite, as though my so-called free will was being overrid.

I kept enquiring every few minutes whether she was all right. Jean, exasperated, finally drew attention to it.
“Please don’t keep asking me. I’ve said I am.”

“Are you all right?” I’d asked. Am I all right is what I’d meant.

Unable to contemplate life without her, I pushed her away.

Sometimes driving aimlessly, even asleep in dream, I find myself taking the turn off Sunset Boulevard heading south on San Diego freeway, towards LA Airport, on my way to meet the flight that brought her to me. With a start, I realize it’s only a play of shadows falling on the mind, and ashes of memory dry my mouth. I feel the chasm open in my chest. It is there, the heart concealed within the heart, an emptiness inside me that mourns, that seeps darkness into my daily existence. I grope towards the ache I’ve buried alive which constantly smoulders, in the hope of sealing up the ancient state, but it won’t forget the moment it glowed and longs to be rekindled. To be warm. To come home.

All quotes from Double Feature, copyright © Terence Stamp 1989

Monday, August 23, 2010

Who Am Us Anyway?

What do the following lines have in common?

"Why he's no fun, he fell right over."
"But it's really great shit, Mrs. Kresge."
"The department of redundancy department."
"Let's bend a couple in the Doo-Dah Room."
"You must mean the Old Same Place."
"What's all this brou-ha-ha?"
"May I take your hat and goat?"
"I don't care about your private life or what his name is."
"What's the bird's-eye low-down on this caper? Whatever that means."
"I ought to beat your brain out!"
"Rocky Rococo at your cervix."

1. They are all Firesign Theatre lines
2. which I can hear either myself or my friend Tom saying over and over again
3. because they are engraved in my cortex (and his too).

As part of my century-long project to encode every CD I own into mp3 format, I dragged my Firesign CD's out of storage and, which usually happens whenever I haven't listened in a long time to something I used to know by heart, I played them all. Meaning I talked along with them. And then encoded them.

But the one I played most is the one below. It always puts me through so many changes, as I wonder where Ruth is.

The Further Adventures of Nick Danger

And for a transcript? Go here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

“It’s a boy’s world.” “Let’s keep it that way."

For the blissfully ungeek among you, the title of this post is a take-off on the final panel of Planetary #1 by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday:

And it refers to this movie:

My outer boy had a ton o' fun watching this movie. It’s snappy, clever, and original, like Napoleon Dynamite with kung fu. And there’s a whole conversation to be had about the wonderfulness of the direction, just how annoying Michael Cera’s shtick is becoming, the absolutely stupid way the film was marketed, the pros and cons of form over substance, the arcade game in-jokes, how love means dumping and dealing with baggage, and the relentless unlikeability of the main character for most of the movie.

Not this unlikeable, but close.

There’s an even bigger conversation about what you could call the Fred and Ginger Law (“That which cannot be said must be danced”), and how in this film the dances are fight scenes, which means all the emotional involvement is between Our Hero and his latest Rival, rather than Our Hero and Our Heroine. But the conversation I want to have now--okay, okay: the monologue--is the one I have been having with my inner adult for the last two days, and it all centers around the following statement, which gets repeated over and over again underneath the plot of this movie like a sub-vocal bass note:

I’m not saying it’s an overt message--the film is candy-surface delightful, and my inner adult didn’t begin to nag me until long after the credits rolled--and you can totally watch it without once ever thinking about how almost every female in this flick is defined by who she’s seeing or who she used to see (including the female drummer of the band). What I’m saying is, if you're looking for a review of Scott Pilgrim vs The World,then stop reading now, because in my characteristic way, I am taking the film as Square One and hopping like a knight all over the board. And the name of that board is Girls As Objects Of Desire, and there's a square for everything from Helen of Troy to 500 Days of Summer. Also--to be clear: this is not about the 6-volume Scott Pilgrim comic book. Just the movie.

MY INNER ADULT: And what a movie! Another film where the main female character gets fought over, and the main male character becomes worthy of her. It's Ivanhoe meets Donkey Kong. There's even two rival women--one dark and foreign, one blonde and bland.
ME: Ramona Flowers is not blonde!
MY INNER ADULT: Blonde, blue, green, fuschia--I don't care how hard she tries to look like Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind--like every other woman in this flick, she's only there to walk off in the sunset with a man, or bitch about not having one.
ME: That is so totally not true sometimes!
MY INNER ADULT: Oh yeah? Look at the women in this movie.

Here are the women in this movie: Kim Pine, drummer of Sex Bob Omb, who is Scott’s ex-girlfriend; Knives Chau, who is Scott’s current girlfriend; Ramona Flowers, who is Scott’s wannabe girlfriend; Envy Adams, who is Scott’s most recent ex-girlfriend; Stacey Pilgrim, Scott’s sister; and Julie Powers, foul-mouthed on-again off-again girlfriend of the band’s lead singer. Not counting the sister, all but one of the movie’s female characters have or will have Scott history--and frankly, the way Julie calls Scott out on his bullshit, you get the distinct feeling that he hooked up with her as well, or at least went through her friends like the Black Plague went through Europe.

ME: Jeez--I hate to admit it, but you're right.

On the plus side, all these characters DO something: Kim plays drums in a band, Knives goes to high school (she’s 17), Ramona delivers for Amazon on roller skates, Julie and Stacey work at a coffee shop, and Envy is the lead singer in a hot band. On the minus side, what they do is not who they are--who they are is what they do because of Scott: Kim makes sarcastic deadpan remarks about everything and glares at Scott like she’s owed an apology for something he did to her in second grade; Knives is all gushy when Scott wants her and all vengeful when he doesn’t; the way Envy keeps twisting the I’m Famous And You’re Not knife into Scott, it’s like her success is nothing more than a hate fuck; and Ramona?

Ah, Ramona. Ramona is my big problem with this movie. As Scott’s Baggage-Packing Object Of Desire, Ramona is like Andromeda to Scott’s Perseus, except that instead of having to rescue her from one monster, he has to fight seven.

Don't you wish you were a record producer so you could say, "Release The Kraken?"

And what does Ramona do while all this is happening? With two exceptions, one where she fights Knives and one where she fights Her Lesbian Ex, Ramona does nothing but watch--or in other words, when she’s not fighting a girl, she gets fought over by guys. And now and then deliver pieces of her backstory, which in this film is a chronicle of yet another failed relationship. That’s her character: the people she’s dated. She’s like a gigantic baggage compartment; every time Scott pulls down one suitcase, six more take its place. And if he gets rid of all of them? If he actually clears out the baggage compartment, like Hercules cleaning the Augean Stables? Then she’s his. Which makes me want to ask: girl, do you have a mind of your own or what? Except that the movie answers that for me by saying “Hell no.” I mean cripes, there’s even a scene where we find out she’s actually being mentally controlled by The Big Bad Ex.

RAMONA: He has a way of getting into my head. [Exposing glowing chip at the base of her brain] No, really--he has a way of getting into my head.

Granted, it makes for a great gag, but under the laughter, we’re left with yet another mysterious chick who can only think what a guy wants her to think. And what is the heart of her mystery? She’s The Hot Girl (see the first line of that poster above). She is The Girl Every Guy Desires Because She Is Desirable, a geek-approved version of Bella in Twilight who exists to do nothing but be fought over.

Coming in 2012: Scott Pilgrim vs Team Edward!

Does Ramona have any say in who she ends up with? Sure doesn’t feel like it. The entire movie plays like one long video-game entitled Winner Gets The Girl, where the boy kicks ass with the swords of Love and Self-Respect and the girl is first prize. Cuz, y’know, nothing says self-respect more than kicking some other guy’s ass over a girl. I've got an idea. How about a definition of self-respect that includes not treating women like treasures in a video game?

WESTERN CULTURE: I give up; how about that?

In the end, it’s the classic story of a boy’s journey to manhood, and the girl who gets to walk him home to her place because he’s been kicked out by his gay roommate. And like I keep saying, it’s a ton of fun. Believe me when I tell you, there is no better movie about love as an arcade game. Which is why after every screening there will always be that rarity of rarities, a mile-long line at the Men’s Room. But I am so tired of the Boy's Journey To Manhood, especially when the BJTM equates a woman with the destination. What about a girl's journey now and then?

WESTERN CULTURE: You mean where the man is the destination?
MY INNER GIRL: Oh eat me.

So yeah--a fun movie, nowhere near as stupidly violent or chaotic as the commercials make it out to be. But there’s also the hint of another movie here--a movie under this one, a Ramona-centered movie that would start off with the same exact premise and then go somewhere totally different. Where? Well, in all Ramona’s stories about her exes, she’s the one who walks away. She’s the dumper, not the dumpee, and it makes you wonder if she’s someone who can’t commit, or can’t deal. It makes you say, “Of course she walks away. What else is a woman of intelligence and spirit supposed to do when she’s treated like an arcade game version of Sleeping Beauty BUT walk away? Except maybe run away.” It makes you imagine a story where the prize not only gets to say who wins her but how much she’s really worth. A story where the baggage-saddled heroine deals with her own crap instead of asking a guy to deal with it for her. A story where the girls are defined by what they do, and how well they do it, and not what guy they end up with. A story like this:

A movie that will never come to a theatre near you. Why?

That's why.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mortality Sonnets - 5

The only prayer that is always answered

Oh Lord, I pray that I will suffer dearly,
See all my plans for glory overthrown,
Have judgment, sight and health impaired severely,
Lose everything I love, and die alone.
Oh Lord, I pray that I will be forgotten,
Or else remembered wrong deliberately --
My good deeds buried with me, and the rotten
Become my surname to posterity.
Oh Lord, let all the dreams I dreamed be lost.
Let all the day job work I do continue
Without me, like the world does, and exhaust
All my replacements, brain and heart and sinew.
Oh Lord, let me live hopefully but vexed,
And die between one moment and the next.

Copyright 2010 Matthew J Wells

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sonnet Writing & Autobiography

More than once in the past couple of months, as I have churned out fourteen-line poems, one or two friends have asked me “Did that really happen?” or “That one was about [you know who], wasn’t it?” Which makes me wonder whether Shakespeare went through the same thing when Thomas Thorpe published his sonnets.

MICHAEL DRAYTON: Dude, those Bath sonnets, are they really about syphilis?
SHAKESPEARE: If by the word “really” you mean “in my imagination,” then yes.

ANNE SHAKESPEARE: You son of a bitch. Those Dark Lady sonnets are all about Emilia Lanier, aren’t they?
SHAKESPEARE: If by the word “about” you mean “inspired by as opposed to describing,” then yes.

I am, of course, putting my own words into Shakespeare’s mouth. But I do this as an unacknowledged expert on Shakespeare, an expertise I believe I can rightly claim because Will and I have five very important things in common.

1. I write sonnets.

2. I am a sucker for small, dark, and unavailable. (Or, as an old friend once put it, “Jewish girls who say no.”)

3. I never went to university.

4. When I die, people will say that somebody else wrote my plays -- in my case, probably Tom Stoppard.

5. I act every now and then, usually in my own stuff.

I have always believed that these similarities qualify me as more of an expert on Shakespeare than, say, Harold Bloom, author of the best-sellers, “Shakespeare Was Not A Working Actor,” “If Shakespeare Was An Actor, He Was A Lousy One,” and “I Don’t Care What The Cast List Of Every Man In His Humour Says, Shakespeare Was Not A Fucking Actor, Okay?”

And when it comes to Shakespeare’s Sonnets, I can only paraphrase Oscar Wilde and say that a man would have to have a heart of stone to read the Sonnets as autobiography without laughing.

SHAKESPEARE: If by the word “autobiography” you mean “an actual record of my daily life,” then no. But if you mean, “using the experiences of my daily life as fodder for poetry,” then yes.

This is the thing--well, one of the things--people don’t understand about Shakespeare*. He was a tuning fork. He didn’t create from inside so much as echo from outside, or better yet transmute from outside. That’s why his characters have their own voices, and not just variations of his voice. (Unlike, for instance, me. Or Marlowe. Anybody who thinks Marlowe wrote Shakespeare’s plays, or even could have written Shakespeare’s plays, is totally ignoring the fact that there is no internal evidence in anything Marlowe wrote that he ever met a real live human being in his entire life.)

And whether you think of Shakespeare as a poet who occasionally acted, or an actor who wrote on the side (hint hint), the one thing you can say with total assurance about the writer Shakespeare is that he was a dramatist. So by his very nature, he conceived of The Narrator Of The Sonnets as a character, just like every other character for whom he wrote first-person speeches. Don’t think for a second that he didn’t treat it like a star part, even if it was a part written with himself in mind. Don’t think for a second that he didn’t get lost in wordplay, or imagine a scene from a single incident, or build a tree from the branches in rather than the roots up, or combine what happened last week with what might happen tomorrow to make something that looked like it happened last night.

So here are some things I’ve noticed about my own writing which, since I am one solipsistic son of a bitch, are therefore true for not only Shakespeare but all writers everywhere.

1. Writing about someone you don’t have feelings for is easier than writing about someone you love.

SHAKESPEARE: Do you honestly believe that?
SHAKESPEARE: This is what we in theatre call a “character revelation.”

As an example here’s something alone the lines of “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” which I wrote with my friend Sarah in mind. Sarah has a lot of tattoos, so this is more along the lines of “My friend's body decorations are nothing like a biker’s.” Mind you, the actual Sarah disappears after the first complete sentence, when (like pretty much everything I write that rhymes) it becomes All About Me.

If you were here with me, I would embrace
The tattoos on your body as if they
Were roadmaps to your heart. My hands would trace
Each artful artery winding its way
Down arm, up back, down breast, like painted Braille --
Hearing you speak in every curlicue,
With every word a clue to where your Grail
Is guarded by an armored ingénue.
With lines from Zen and signs from horoscope,
You etch your body like a diarist,
Stabbing it with dark pentacles of hope –-
This is the only way you can be kissed:
With lips like pens to pierce your heart and free it
And write a name where only you can see it.

Does this mean I actually want to trace Sarah’s tattoos using my lips like a pen? Of course it does. I mean, (a) I have a Y chromosome, so tracing tattoos with my lips is hard-wired into me genetically as a dating strategy; and (b) seriously, what guy wouldn’t want to go up to a pretty girl with a lot of writing on her body and say, “Nice tats?”

Ah--but does this mean I really think Sarah uses these tattoos as either charms or armor? In real life, no; but for the purposes of the poem, you bet. Because poetry is about metaphor and rhyming, and by rhyming I mean not just abab cdcd, but connecting something personal with something universal, like tattoos with armor, and then envisioning what kind of person would do that. Which is the point where all traces of Real Sarah disappear, and we’re left with Matthew’s Idea Of Sarah That Serves The Poem. Hopefully Real Sarah will find all this authorial speculation flattering and not insulting, but since she’s sharper than shark teeth, her reaction is probably going to be something along the lines of, “Nice poem.”**

DARK LADY: “The expense of spirit in a waste of shame.” Nice poem.

2. Dark Lady sonnets are easier to write than love sonnets.

DARK LADY: That’s because bad girls are more fun than nice girls.
MATTHEW: But don’t all nice girls have a bad girl inside them?
DARK LADY: This is what we in romance call “wishful thinking.”

Here’s a Dark Lady sonnet which perfectly illustrates not only how some women act like they just nailed an audition for the female lead in Out Of The Past, but how everything (everything) in a well-made sonnet is designed to set up a killer last line:

Your kiss tastes like expensive Cabernet.
The way you touch me says there’s more in store.
I rub your shoulders and you sigh and say,
“We have the kind of soul-to-soul rapport
I look for in a man. Not like that jerk,”
You add, pointing to where my roommate struts,
His arm around a pretty girl from work.
“That kind of guy is lucky to get sluts.”
I don’t tell you I know him; I just smile
And make my play; but you say, “No can do.
We’re both too drunk, my dear. That’s not my style.”
So I go home alone and dream of you
Until, when I get up at half-past four,
I see your purse outside my roommate’s door.

Typical response:

AVA: Matthew, this may not be a sensitive reaction, but "Bwahahahaha..." But seriously... that sonnet wasn't true, was it?
MATTHEW: Seriously? It's a combination of two events. The conversation happened about two weeks ago, where the woman went off with the guy she slagged in front of me. The backrub and the roommate? That was Thursday night. I'm putting an ad in Craig's List: have Matthew rub your back, and “Bwahahahaha!”
AVA: Yeah, what is it with women who go off with men they bad-mouth in front of other men?
MATTHEW: It’s genetic. A woman is the only creature on earth who can enter a room full of nice guys and yell, “Where are all the nice guys?” Put her in a room full of nice guys and an ex-con? She’ll leave with the ex-con.
AVA: Hey--guys are just as bad.
MATTHEW: Yer preachin’ to the choir, girl. Guys are the only creatures on earth who will break up with you after three years because they can’t commit, and then elope two weeks later with some chick they met in a laundromat.

For the record: the only non-imaginary dialogue in the above sonnet is the sluts line. Take it from me: you don’t hear a pretty woman say a line like that, and then watch her walk off with the guy about whom she said it, and not have it etched on your brain like a tattoo.

3. Personal opens the door; universal furnishes the room. Or in other words, you can get an idea for a poem out of something you either observed or something that happened to you, but if you can’t raise it up to the level of a common experience--if the person or the event you’re writing about doesn’t epitomize something--then you either have a diary entry or a therapy session.

As an example, here’s a recent Manhattan Sonnet which spins an imagined pattern of behavior out of a particular situation. It’s a Manhattan Sonnet because the activity described is true not just of people but of the city as a person, which for all its opportunities can sometimes give you a look that says, “You? Who are you? And what have you done for me lately?”

Manhattan Sonnets: 20

There’s something naked in the way you look
At people who can open doors for you.
You cast your smile out like a baited hook
And reel them into shore -- no matter who
They’re swimming with or how much they resist,
You make them want to jump into your net:
Grateful that their mythologies are kissed
By your intentions -- glad to be your pet.
And when they’ve walked you through whatever door
They have the key to, and you finally come
To where they cannot help you any more,
You toss them into your aquarium,
And point to them and smile at me and coo:
“If you can open doors, that could be you."

How much of this is real? Just the initial look, actually. The actual event the poem is based upon is nowhere to be found, but the metaphorical event--the fishing, the netting,the aquarium, the coo/coup--is everywhere. Which makes this like a jazz riff on a standard that is nowhere to be found in the final transcription; it’s like counterpoint raised to the level of a melody. Any time you can do that as a writer, you are in Charlie Parker territory. Also (insert BlowingMyOwnHorn.wav) yet another build-up to a killer last line.

I could go on--and I did, in the original draft of this post, for three more work-in-progress poems (one of which, for my friend Shannon, ends with this couplet:

    So many hearts, but only yours can feel.
So many blondes, but only you are real.

Which is going to make all the other real blondes I know jealous. But they should be. Right, Shannon?)--but I think my point is made; or if not made, then well-advanced, like King’s Pawn to King 7.

One final example, with a challenge instead of a comment. Assuming that the poem below reads like a real incident to you (and if it doesn't, then fine), is the sense of reality grounded in what actually happened to the narrator? Or what did, or might, happen to you?***

When, like a worried mother late at night
Who hears her son in every settling creak,
I dress the shadows with the welcome sight
Of you, anticipation makes me weak.
I die a thousand times until I hear
Your key in the front door, then die again
When finally my eyes see you appear
And I can breathe you in like oxygen.
The light behind me gleams upon your lips
Where someone else’s hungry tongue has played.
Your kiss torments me like a dozen whips;
Your hug destroys my hopes like a grenade.
But pain and all, I’ll happily call true
Each lie you tell that lets me lie with you.

*Two other things? He was the world’s best listener--something else we have in common. AND HE WAS A FUCKING ACTOR, OKAY? I mean Jesus, people don’t have this problem with Moliere.

**Her actual reaction: “You are wonderful!” Which told me that she totally understands who the true subject of the poem is. Sharper than a bed of nails, that girl.

***Or both--which means you're my perfect audience.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Globe

A little O within a mighty wall
Beyond which curves a fickle, sullen river
Scarring an island in the sea’s blue ball –-
The greenest arrow in Great Ocean’s quiver.
See how a god’s eye view reveals earth’s wide
Circumference, where borders melt away
And angry nations side by warring side
Are all one land within the sea’s wide sway,
One patchwork hemisphere of sea and sod
Lit by the full moon’s mocking smiling face --
This shouldered burden of a straining god
Condemned to anchor earth in empty space –-
A motley player in a sovereign robe,
Deep heaven’s jewel, man’s wheel of fire: the Globe.

copyright 2010 Matthew J Wells

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mind Heist

Dreamed last night that I went to see this movie about people who can insert themselves into your dreams at the early show at AMC in Times Square with Philip K Dick. Dick was not happy; he said he couldn’t decide whether the director was stealing from The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch or using this movie as an audition to direct the film version, which has been optioned by MGM, which means it’s in development hell like the next James Bond movie. “It’s like a time warp out there in Hollywood,” Dick says. “When they tell you your project is currently in development, you can figure on not hearing anything for two months. And when they tell you you’ll hear from them next week? Make that six months. And when you’re dead? Forget about it.”

The movie starts with a neat little escapade where what you think is reality turns out to be a dream within a dream. Dick predicts this ten seconds into the film. “Sub-basement to basement,” he says, almost immediately. “If reality is the ground floor, then we’ll only know we’re actually in the real in world at the very end. And maybe not even then. It depends on if the babe is around.” The babe, in this dream within a dream, is someone who deliberately thwarts the main character’s desires, like a homicidal anima. “Suicidal, actually,” Dick says. Me, I’m initially thinking it’s a rival dream thief, but given that she’s played by Marion Cotillard, I’m going with either ex-girlfriend or dead girlfriend. “Dead girlfriend,” says Dick. “Ten bucks says the hero gets trapped in unreality. Or doesn’t want to get out. Or there is no reality. It's just his head. He winds up making reality out of his worst nightmare. He wakes up in what he thinks is the real world and there's the dead girlfriend, alive and waiting for him. There is no reality." "Dude," I say, "this is a caper movie. No way a caper movie ends like that, not even a quirky dream caper movie. It’s too Zelazny.”

Roger Zelazny, who’s stealing my popcorn from the row behind me, leans in and says, “Ten bucks says the hero gets lost in dreamland and can’t get out.” “You mean like in Dream Master?” I ask. “No,” he says, “like in that crappy movie they made out of Dream Master. The one where somebody’s trying to kill the president.” “You mean Dreamscape?” “Yup.” “That was based on Dream Master?” “Yup,” says Zelazny. “I wrote an outline based on my novel and sold it to Fox, but because I never wrote an actual treatment or a first draft, my name was never in the credits. Fucking Hollywood.” “I agree,” says Dick. “I don’t think Hollywood’s that bad,” I say. Dick turns to me and pulls out a gun. “You need to wake up,” he says, and shoots me in the face.

When I wake up, I’m sitting next to Marion Cotillard in a half-empty tabac on the Left Bank. She speaks French, but I understand what she’s saying because she has subtitles that automatically appear under her chin. “It was déjà vu, that movie,” she says. “For one thing, it was exactly the same part I had in Nine, except that in this one I didn’t have to dress up like a Victoria’s Secret model for my big number.” “Thank God for that at least,” I say, and she agrees by clinking her wine glass with mine. “You were the heart of that movie,” I tell her. She thanks me. “This one too,” I add. She smiles at me and I melt. “You are totally making a career out of that, too, by the way,” I point out. “I know,” she says, “I’d be three for three right now if Public Enemies hadn’t sucked like a family of vampires.” “Yeah, that was a waste of digital tape, huh?” “About as warm as a popsicle at the South Pole.” “And this movie would have been the same way without you in it.” She mutters something that her subtitles say is “[Demurs inaudibly.]” “Although when you think about it,” I go on, “you were in it even when you weren't around because of that Piaf song.” "Did you like that?” she asks. I nod. “I loved that,” I say. “Why did you love it?” she asks with a sweet little smile. I melt again. “Because every time it played, I thought of you winning the Oscar for playing Piaf five years ago.” “Two years ago.” “You sure?” “Positive.” “I could have sworn it was five,” I say. She shakes her head sadly. “Time moves more quickly down here,” she explains. “How quickly does it move on a film set?” “Sacred blue,” her subtitles say. “It moves like a turtle with four broken legs.”

She points to the set, where Leonardo DiCaprio is standing in a wading pool surrounded by divers. The director is going to shoot a series of close-ups of him in the van while he’s underwater, and it is actually going to happen sometime between now and the end of the month, but while he’s standing there, Marion and I have another glass of wine, share a cheese plate, and bitch about how impossible it is to translate Moliere into English. I give her some impromptu alexandrines and she laughs. This gives me enough false confidence to ask her if she's free for dinner. She smiles again. In the distance I hear “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” start playing. Everybody looks up into the sky. Except Cotillard, who stares at me and takes my hand. “You need to wake up,” she says, and leans in for a kiss.

When I wake up, I’m fighting Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a hotel corridor. He’s dressed like one of the leads from Quadrophenia; I’m dressed like Lawrence of Arabia’s stand-in. “Great fight sequence,” I tell him, kicking his legs out from under him. “Thanks,” he replies, bouncing off the ceiling and dive bombing me. “And that moment with Ellen Page,” I say, leaping out of the way and doing a bank shot on the far wall to land on his back. “You like that?” he says with a grin, kneeing me in the chin. “Best moment in the movie,” I say, grabbing his ankle as I fall away and swinging him like a shotput. “Even better than this one?” he asks, grabbing a doorknob to anchor himself. He swings his leg up to the ceiling like a whip; I hit the ceiling hard, then fall and hit the ceiling again as the corridor rotates around me, then fall through the giant stained-glass roof of the Poseidon ballroom, and everything goes black.

When I wake up I’m in bed with my high school sweetheart. We're staring up at the ceiling, which is the street we grew up together as seen from above. If I reach out, I can just touch the top of her house. “You need to dream bigger, darling,” says Tom Hardy. I turn around; he’s in bed with Elke Sommer circa 1965. Elke pushes Hardy off the bed and crawls over to me. “When are we going to see Inception again?” she asks, nibbling my ear. “Inception!” cries my high school sweetheart. “You told me you were taking me to see Inception!” “Don’t take her,” says Elke, “she’s married and looks like her mother these days. Take me. As long as there’s a copy of Shot In The Dark, I’m always 24.” She points to my high school sweetheart. “When she was 24, she was married for 2 years.” I turn to my high school sweetheart and start to say something but before I can speak, she says: “I knew you’d rather have her than me!” and slaps me in the face.

When I wake up, I’m having dinner with Christopher Nolan. “What just happened?” I say. “I just planted the idea that my movie is the best thing you’ve ever seen,” he replies. “You see, between the way you worship Elke Sommer circa 1965 and your high school sweetheart, I can pretty much use them to implant anything I want into your subconscious and you’ll think it was your idea.” In the background, I hear Edith Piaf singing about how she has no regrets at all anymore about anything. “And that’s my clever way of making you think of Marion Cotillard even when she’s not around,” says Nolan “Can you think of a clever way to make me think I’m not in my day job?” I ask. “No,” he says. “For that, you need to wake up.” "How do I do that?" I ask. Nolan points to the bottom of the blog entry. "See that MP3?" he says. "Click on it and you'll know exactly where you really are."

He walks away, leaving me to sit there waiting to get to the end of the blog entry. Eons pass. Continents rise and fall. The sun turns red. The human race evolves into a species with actual intelligence. Then Edith Piaf starts singing again, and Tom Hardy comes in dressed as a waiter and hands me the check. “You need to tip bigger, darling,” he says, and disappears.

Mind Heist - Zack Hemsey

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Persistence of Beetles

They say that God loves beetles most of all
Because he made so many species of them.
The theory goes that, when you get to call
So many creatures “children,” you must love them.
So: what you make the most is what you love.
In that case, I must totally adore
Mistakes -- they’re everywhere -- the offspring of
My pride, my cocksure arrogance, my poor
Decisions -- every one a different bug,
Mating and reproducing once a day
Until my world is knee-deep in a rug
Of insects who will never go away
And treat me like their private sushi bar
And say, “We’re not the nasty pest -- you are.”

copyright 2010 Matthew J Wells

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Mortality Sonnets - 4

You were in James Dean’s car the night he died.
They say he let you sit behind the wheel.
You hit the gas and kissed him till he cried
And just before the crash, he made you squeal.
You were the one who gave those stupid pills
To Marilyn and said, “Take twenty-seven.”
And you told Hemingway: “Time is what kills,”
And bought the shotgun that blew him to heaven.
And now you’re here beside me at the bar,
Buying me shots and laughing at my puns.
I say: “What will it be? A speeding car?
A stroke? A heart attack? A blaze of guns?”
“Oh no,” you purr. “Just something sweet, like this,”
And stroke my cheek and lean in for a kiss.
copyright 2010 Matthew J Wells

Monday, August 2, 2010

What Passes By . . .

The older I get the more I appreciate second chances and lost opportunities; and when I say "appreciate" (if I can go all Humpty Dumpty on your ass), I mean “be incredibly vulnerable to.” It’s all part of realizing that your yesterdays outnumber your tomorrows -- the roads you took, and the roads you could have taken, become places where you willingly linger and reflect, like rest stops which only serve bittersweet.

Currently, under the No Regrets column, you can file Seeing The Catherine Zeta-Jones Little Night Music. I’m not sad in the least that I missed it; from what I heard, instead of relating to the other actors, she spent most of her time on stage searching the audience for that camera with the red light flashing. And as much as I love Angela Lansbury, I really didn’t want to pay a hundred bucks to watch the equivalent of a live action three-camera shoot for PBS, so I passed. Until I heard that Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch were going in as the replacement leads, and I immediately said to myself, “I am really going to regret not seeing these two in this show.” So I did, last Thursday, during what turned out to be one of the press nights for the new-cast reviews which came out on Monday. (Heh--no wonder Stritch remembered all her lines.)

How was it? If, as I’ve heard, “It Would Have Been Wonderful” describes the Zeta-Jones/Lansbury show, you can take all those qualifiers away for the Peters/Stritch incarnation. I loved it. And because I did love it, I am now going to pick it apart a little, because why waste time picking apart something you don’t give a hoot about?

Personal bias: I think it’s Sondheim’s best show. If I had to say why, it’s because to me the whole is greater than the sum of the parts -- the lyrics are clever and brittle, but the situation is anything but, which means an actor has an eight-lane highway to play with in bridging the two. Plus it’s a comedy. If Sweeney Todd is Sondheim’s King Lear, A Little Night Music is Much Ado crossed with Anthony and Cleopatra, because there are indeed whole worlds at stake here, worlds well lost (or won) for love.

That sense of loss is something which Peters nails when she sings “Send In The Clowns.” But she takes a weird road to get there, a road down which she gets lost for a little while, and I can tell you exactly where it happens: in the first-act scene with Fredrik, when she responds to his request for a liaison, for old time's sake, by saying, “What are friends for?” as if it was a punch line and not a punch to the heart. From then on, Peters plays her lines out instead of in, like circus clown instead of sad clown, and keeps going to the same circus clown place for the rest of the evening, until the “Send In The Clowns” scene, where she finally (and beautifully) goes sad clown, and it breaks your heart. Part of me wonders if it’s a deliberate choice -- the surface archness perfectly sets up the swan dive into real emotion -- and if it is, it’s a tricky balancing act. Peters runs the risk of making you think that either she or Desirée is a bad actress, especially when she’s dueling with Erin Davie’s Charlotte in Act Two. Davie gives a note-perfect portrayal of a woman who has to laugh or else she’ll cry, and in everything she delivers there is both humor and sadness, bitterness and hope. It makes you want to see her do Jacques in As You Like It. She’s ably matched by Aaron Lazar’s Carl Magnus, who is just as pompous as you want him to be, and twice as ripped: here’s a guy whose body looks good both in perspective and the light.

Also bringing the wonderful: Alexander Hanson, who has that “I refuse to believe I’m not the romantic lead in this story” vibe that Guy Williams brought to Lost In Space. -- except that here, it totally fits the character. Hanson is happily self-deluded, but shows just enough self-awareness of the fact that his young bride could be his daughter to make his scenes with Peters, well, Bergmanesque. (Another great touch: of the two male chorus members who sing the commentary, one looks like Henrik’s twin and one looks like Fredrik’s.)

The other actors all have their circus clown/sad clown moments, with Hunter Ryan Herdlika’s Henrik firmly in the sad clown camp, and Ramona Mallory’s Anne neck deep in the circus. As for Leigh Ann Larkin’s Petra, the depth of her lasciviousness is more than a little jarring, given the time period in which this takes place. If a woman acted as openly horny as she does in the early 1900’s, even a maid, she would have been given either a lobotomy or a hysterectomy. Or both. Again, as with Peters, you wonder if this is a deliberate choice to make the sucker punch of “Miller’s Son” hit even harder. But when Larkin does the song, it’s just an extension of the lustiness she’s shown before. There’s no sadness under the desire; instead of an aria, it’s a pole dance. Plus it feels like she’s acting out choreography that was designed with someone else in mind. Whatever she’s doing, it plays like she still hasn't made it her own yet.

Not so Elaine Stritch. In her odd and completely modern way, she has made Madame Armfeldt totally her own creation -- there isn’t even a hint of Lansbury in what she does, never mind Gingold. It helps, of course, that Madame A is supposed to be from a totally different era -- just 100 years in the past, not 100 in the future. And yet it still works. Out of place is out of place, and in a weird way, out of place because you just rolled in from doing a cabaret act at the Rainbow Room works a lot better than out of place because you were batting your eyes at Ludwig of Bavaria when you were seventeen. The sense of dislocation is palpable. Something else that totally works: the way Stritch very deliberately, I think, plays to her reputation for dropping lines and getting lost. Madame A is just as sketchy, when it comes to memories, so part of the thrill of watching Stritch is not only hanging on her every oddly-delivered word, it’s wondering whether it’s her or Madame A who’s trying to figure out what to say next. (I swear to God, if she and Christopher Walked ever do a play together, every head in the audience will explode trying to keep up with their bizarre line readings. Like Walken, Stritch treats a script like a game of billiards where whoever hits the most bank shots wins. Plus she never hits the ball you think she’s aiming at.)

Stritch is also the only one the orchestra follows. (Out of necessity? Who knows? But it sure is fun to guess.) Everyone else in this production gets driven like a herd of operatic cattle, like the house manager has his eye on that three-hour time limit after which everybody gets paid overtime, and is banging a ten-count beat like an overseer on a slave galley. (This is especially noticeable in "Miller’s Son," which lasts about thirty seconds.)

All of which, as I said, means nothing next to the fact that I thought the show was wonderful. My advice to you is to go see it yourself, so that, like an old paramour reunited with a lost love, you can celebrate the diamond’s beauty by the way her flaws catch the light. Trust me -- you won’t regret it.