Nov 25, 2012

in which we talk about the thing I do not talk about

It will be two years in two weeks or so, give or take.   It feels like it was yesterday and it feels like it was a decade ago at the same time.

If you are one of the few to actually know me outside this blog, outside this nom de plume, you know that my mother and I have//had a relationship that is best described as "it's complicated" from the Facebook pull-down menu.  If you are among those few to know me well, you know she's gone.

I'd like to pretend I'm doing fine.  I'd like to pretend it didn't happen.  I'd like to pretend the world spins forward, just as it had before.

But that's impossible.  It is the thing that can not be undone.  The irrevocable.  The demarcation between 'before her' and 'after.'  The Rubicon, the Styx, the Hellmouth.

I can apply Wite-Out to as much of her memory as possible.   Redact.  Leave my life looking like the Watergate transcripts.

(Longtime readers may notice that I completely deleted the post in which I called her a big fat bitch, kinda, for her Christmas Card that should be the stuff of LEGENDARY EPICS, in terms of passive-aggressiveness.  But she WAS being a big fat bitch.  But now she's dead.  So I feel guilty calling her that.  Then I feel guilty about whitewashing the past, as though rewriting our history does her a disservice.)

But that doesn't bring her back.  Doesn't make it any less real.  Any less hard.  Any less now and possibly forever.

It's hard not to feel alone.  Feel bereft.  Feel abandoned.

One of those hazy childhood incidents that became a source of ongoing jokes between us was when I somehow lost myself in a toy story and stood there muttering to a cashier that 'mommy come back, mommy always come back' until she did.  Then one day she doesn't.

The absolutely, hilariously, poignantly tragic thing?  It was stairs.  This woman survived being born with a hole in her heart (literal, not just metaphorical), survived breast cancer and radiation and a double mastectomy, survived nearly 60 odd years of the trials and tribulations that we call life.  And it was a missed step in our back staircase that took her down.  Broke her spine.  Would leave her a quadriplegic.

And if you know my mother, you know that a life in which she could not dance would be no life worth living.  So she chose not to.  We chose not to.  We had to find documents and wills and powers of attorneys.  We had to plead her case before a tribunal of medical experts and hospital staff to assure them that we would not sue them for complying with the wishes she had made clear to us for decades.  She had to desperately plea her case - after a surgery left her vocal cords useless but her mouth able to mouth words  - had to plea her case to a shrink, to a nurse, to God.  To die.  To stop.  To end.

The hardest thing is trying to believe it wasn't an ending.  To our story.  To her.

I'm not what you call a religious man because my family did religion like they did everything else - weirdly, uniquely and like no other family I know.  At best, I could be described as a sampler of spirituality without settling down to strict adherence to any one religion.  Which is kinda how she did things.  I always gave her some snark for being so new-age-y but what do you expect of one who came of age in the Age of Aquarius?   And while she turned much more to Catholicism in the wake of her father's death, I do not have such cold comfort.  Such explanations.  Such reasons.

The biggest bullshit aphorism ever perpetuated is that 'everything happens for a reason.'

The world is not reasonable.  The twists of fate are not reasonable.  Mankind is not reasonable.

No reason or afterlife or narrative arc you could come up with will justify a world without her in it.

I can only try to write that narrative from now on.  The after.  It's how I can honor her.  Remember her. Keep her here, keep her now, keep her alive.

She used to always ask me why I didn't write about her.  Why, if I wanted to be a writer. Why, if I wanted to make it.  Why, if one should write what one knows.  I told her that no one would believe it was drawn from life.  That no one would believe she was real.  She was much too much for life, much less art imitating such.

But here we are, two years later.  And all I know is that she is - was - the realest woman I've ever known.  And loved.  And lost.

Sep 16, 2012

there will be beauty

I believe in America.  I believe in Altman.  I believe in Anderson.

(Anderson believes in America, too.  For Xenu’s sake, Julianne Moore’s character in ‘Boogie Nights’ is *actually called* Amber Waves.)

I believe in hope.   I believe in grandeur.  I believe in promise.

If you believe in one, any, all of these things, than you owe it to yourself - and to America, really - to take what may be perhaps your last opportunity to see a fiction feature film in 70mm.

Now, this is going to take some work and effort on your part.  TWC has, for some reason, decided to be making up the release plan for ‘The Master’ as they go along - what with the secretive surprise screenings and last-minute one-night-only affairs.  (To the point that *I* was actually wrong, for once, regarding something film-related and I was absolutely convinced that only the Arclight was showing it here in LA.  Absolutely convinced and VERY ARGUMENTATIVE about it and I perhaps owe some people an apology.  Mea culpa, you guys)

I promise you the work will be worth it.  

I could break out film history or tech specs or numbers to convince you of why this - celluloid, 70 - is the way a film should be shot and seen.

I could but I won’t.  If you need convincing of the inherent superiority of celluloid, Theodore Roznak’s ‘Flicker’ makes the argument far better than I.  

Instead, I will simply tell you that you’ve never really seen film until you see it in 70.

Case in point - 2001.  A Space Odyssey.  Back in the dark days of home video - pan and scanned, box TVs, VHS, etc - I watched it.  I thought it was boring and dull and pretentious and lame.

Then I saw it on the big screen.  In 70 mm.  The Egyptian, specifically.  And I saw it again for the first time - because I was really truly seeing it.  Its great big dazzling visuals and beautiful score - Kubrick and Clarke’s vision and visionariness - simply couldn’t be contained or done justice on a 26-inch screen.

Then I went through the same thing with Lawrence of Arabia.   

All those big grand epics of old.  

They’re bigger and better and bolder when they’re in 70.

70 - and America - is a place where the hills are alive with the sound of music and it’s full of stars.  Where anything is possible.

Don’t you want to go to that place?

Don’t you want to believe?

In the magic and beauty of movies and America?

Then go.  

(As I said, this shit really should be done via official channels and marketing and things are changing last minute, but the Unofficial PT Anderson Fanblog has a list of cities and screenings.)

Apr 27, 2012

'girls' on film.

Quick question: have you seen both episodes of Girls?  Second question: if no, has that stopped you from writing/blogging/snarking about Girls?  Yeah, that's what I thought.

(If not, you can watch the entire first episode on YouTube here.  HBO is worried that job-challenged 20something women might not be premium cable subscribers, so they're trying new things.)

Here's the thing - as the Firewall & Iceberg Podcast so brilliantly put it recently, this is what happens when a niche show gets hyped up beyond belief.  Despite what the bloggers and the NY echo chamber and everyone else has been writing about for MONTHS (seriously, when it finally premiered, wasn't it a letdown because you thought it had been on for a season?), this is NOT a show for everybody.

But that's okay.  It clearly is not being conceived or made as a show for everybody.  HBO shows are automatically not 'huge' hits in the way network shows can be.  It's a different model.  And within that model, there is going to be a range of shows - from 'it's not TV, it's HBO' to 'it is TV, only with more tits and ass and blood' (hey there True Blood!) to 'we don't know what this is yet but let's put it on.'  Girls, IMO, falls into the last category.  Which is fine.  And totally okay.  What is totally not okay is rather than saying 'oh, this isn't for me but I can see how it can be for someone' is to say 'UGH, LENA DUNHAM IS FAT AND WHITE AND DUMB AND PRIVILEGED AND THIS SHOW DOESN'T DESERVE TO EXIST.'

Firstly, if Lena Dunham is 'fat,' I am going to go up to every single woman whom I am friends with and give them a hug.  Then I am going to take a long hard look in the mirror.  I'm not going to lie - I used to be a lanky bastard, now I'm more Jason Segel-ish.  (I love you antidepressants but I hate your weight gain!).  I'm blessed-ish with a good face and a sense of hunor.  I might not have a six pack.  Neither does Lena. But, odds are, neither do you.  Here's the thing, saying "I didn't get a boner when she showed her tits" is not an adequate or appropriate dismissal of the show itself because she is NOT showing her tits so you can get a boner.  Based on how the sex scenes are written/staged/acted/etc, it is safe to say that titillation is not on their agenda.  How often did you complain about Turtle and Drama pulling in extremely high quality poontang despite their less-than-conventionally-attractive looks?  Oh, you didn't?  But that's different, Entourage is just a fantasy, just a TV show or whatever.

Well, my dears, so is this.  It might be in a more indie mode or hailed differently but all art is artificial.  Taking an insular view of a certain demographic of Brooklyn girls in their 20s is not far removed from an insular view of Hollywood Brotastic-ness which, despite SEVEN SEASONS, never achieved the level of satire it promised.

Which is where we get into the 'white and privileged' criticism.  Yes, Girls is.  And so?

It is beyond disingenuous for white liberal writers to pull out the 'UGH, it's a portrait of NY without (m)any people of color and therefore it is BAD and SHOULDN'T BE ON TV!'  if they have remained silent about, say, How I Met Your Mother.  Or Bored to Death.  Or Friends.  Or SATC.  Or Louie.     This is entirely different than, say, looking at it in a larger perspective of TV's lack of racial diversity.  Or people of color wondering when the show that's 'the voice of a generation' is going to come along for them.  Is Girls racist?  Uh, maybe.  Depends on how you qualify 'racist'.  But as Maureen Ryan brilliantly put it - "Girls Isn't Racist, Television Is Racist (and Sexist)."  This is a conversation that needs to be happening, definitely.  But it is unfair to use the lack of diversity to dismiss the show offhand - without engaging with the show's content itself - and not condemn a bazillion other programs.

And here's where the show's content becomes crucial - that issue of privilege.  Firstly, being the daughter of the drummer of Bad Company is NOT the same thing as being Chet Haze.  I will pay 30 bucks cash money if you can find me ANYONE in the midwest (outside of film geeks) who knew who Lena Dunham's parents were before the coverage of this show/the press for Tiny Furniture.  So can it with the "this was greenlit because of nepotism" shit.  Seriously.  Going back to the aforementioned Firewall & Iceberg Podcast, they pointed out that NO ONE disses J.J. Abrams or Joss Whedon on being able to work in the industry because their parents did.  More importantly, this show is not acting as though the issue of privilege isn't an issue.  Quite the opposite.  It is, somewhat, the entire point of the show.  These people are, without a doubt, privileged.  And yet they think they are worldly and cultured rather than insulated.  They have 'first world problems' and yet, to them, their problems are so overwhelming and the end of the world.  That's the central conflict.  That's the satire.  That's the point.  You can dismiss it as being upper-class or Brooklyn or overly white or whatever.  But the show is aware of that.  So are the characters but not nearly as self-aware as they'd like.

Bad sex?  Struggling between ideals and reality?  Thinking one's worldliness is greater than it is? Welcome to being in your 20s.  Yes, it spoke to me.  As a white gay dude.  Not a fat rich NYC nepotist chick.  But if it didn't speak to you, that's cool.  But say that.  Or say 'I thought this scene was bad' or 'the acting didn't do it for me.'  Don't say "THIS FAT RICH WHITE CHICK DOESN'T NEED A PLACE ON MY TV."

Art earns itself the right to exist by the virtue of the content itself.  Not whatever qualities the artist has.  Or, in other words, if you have ever watched Chinatown and thought 'damn, that's a good movie' rather than 'Roman Polanski is a rapist and a horrible person and I must dismiss this now,' then shut your face.  That 'right to exist' can be granted by many things, but one of the main ones is, as they told us in screenwriting classes, 'having a voice.'  Which this does.  Clearly and distinctively.  It may be drawn from Woody Allen or Whit Stillman or whatever, but it is still a unique voice.  I picture that in a year or two or five, film types will know what you mean by 'Lena Dunham-esque' or 'get me a Lena Dunham type' as well as 'Wes Anderson-y.'  You don't have to like her voice.  You don't have to listen.  But you shouldn't try to silence it for reasons that have nothing to do with the show or the voice itself and have everything to do with white liberal guilt/hating fat chicks/etc.  If it speaks to your experience, great, but if it doesn't, that's okay.  But you can't dismiss that experience itself anymore than you can condemn the works of Spike Lee for being 'too black' or Hitchcock for being 'too British' without coming up with an actual criticism about the work itself.

Is she the voice of our generation?  Doubtful.  Is she a voice of a generation?  Definitely.

Mar 18, 2012

oy, these shadows BE DARK.

My reaction to the Dark Shadows trailer. I'm not going to link to it because if you're reading this on the interwebs, you've seen it by now. Firstly, the music cues are really lazy to me. 'Superfly' is an awesome song but it's as fresh as using 'White Rabbit' during a 60s psychedelic scene. Actually, firstly, WTF? Secondly, really lazy music cues. Thirdly, this is going to be lengthy because I am going to get into not just the trailer itself, but cinema at large.

For me, what's so frustrating is that I genuinely WANT the Goth Trio to be better. They are all genuinely talented individuals and were once actual iconoclasts. But they frequently default to all the depth of, as someone at the pink place so brilliantly pointed out, cosplay.

I think Burton is many things - criminally overrated. Stuck in a weird developmental phase like some sophomore who took a class on existentialism and went to Hot Topic to express his pain and then never left. The man's films aren't directed so much as they're production-designed. Which, hell, Wes Anderson is guilty-as-hell of at times, but I also think his films, for all the actors-in-a-dollhouse-under-glass, almost always break out of that dollhouse for portions of their running time to deliver an emotional wallop. If you can think of the scene where Ritchie slits his wrists in the Royal Tenenbaums without being torn to shreds inside, I don't know how your heart works, man.

Most importantly - I don't think Burton, as a filmmaker, has shown much growth for such a long career and for so many films. The fact that his next project is literally remaking his first film, for Disney, when the result of the Frankenweenie short film in '84 was that Burton was fired from Disney for being too weird says *everything.* I know few people in this age think it, but selling out is still possible.

Seriously, think of the massive leap in, say, Fincher between Se7en, Zodiac and TGWTDT. Or Anderson from Rushmore to Tenenbaums. Think of Marty and his sweet, glorious Hugo. Which was the work of a man smarter, faster, better, stronger at filmmaking than the one who made The Departed or The Aviator. Or, if not better, different. I am not sure how much the Burton of 2012 is *different* than the one of 1984. Except, if anything, more cynical. More commercial. More satisfied to slap a crazy wig on Johnny Depp and call it character development and call it a day and call up Buena Vista for his big fact check.

Also, I know that my generation has known nothing BUT post-modernism but, I'm kinda sick of it being the default mode. I don't want an ironic detachment or distance all the time. Why can't I simply have a dumb teen party movie rather than a dumb teen party movie done as a fricking youtube video? How awesome - and rare - would a genuinely gothic or supernatural film or a feature of a daytime soap be that actually nutted up and was like "yes, we are actually taking this seriously." And not by claiming to be "based on a true story" shakycam mockumentary.

Saw what you will about the Pirates films but I do feel that the people behind them started out with an attitude of "hey, let's make a pirate movie!" - "like, a full-blown Captain Blood old-school swashbuckler?" "yes" - "even though that hasn't been done in years and kids might find it dated Cutthroat Island bombed hardcore and this is based on a themepark ride?" "Yes. PIRATE MOVIE. FULL STOP." Captain Jack might have been wacky but the film, to its credit, treated the Will/Elizabeth plotline - both action-wise and love-story-wise - for what it was. Swashes, they were buckled, as they darn well should be.

This feels to me like Burton took a look at the source material (which I just found out is indeed streaming and will watch as my BFF is a hardcore fan of the show and I have to see this Burton craziness due to allegiance to her) and instead of wondering, "I wonder what about this genuinely appeals to people" said "FUCK IT, I'll do it for the LOLZ" and then winking "Isn't the very idea of a melodramatic vampire soap opera HILARIOUS!? Isn't this premise essentially ludicrous!?"

Which is kind of annoying and patently offensive to anyone who has ever been a fan of melodrama or the supernatural or daytime soaps.

No. No premise or genre is, essentially ludicrous. A lot of people find musicals off-putting or stilted or dated but that doesn't mean that the genre itself is OMG PEOPLE SINGING AT RANDOM WTF HA.

Disclaimer: Because I am so torn by Luck's end - absolutely deserved due to the horse deaths and yet also JUST as I finally nutted up after 6 unseen episodes and started watching them on the DVR - I went into classic 'avoid promising shows I actually enjoy watching because all you will get is CANCELLATION and PAIN' mode by revisiting my favorite bad televisual boyfriend on Hulu Plus.

Yeah, you know I'm talking about Glee. What absolutely floors me about the show - to the point where I simply can not look away but must bear full witness to the trainwreck - is how often it FAILS outright at being a musical. Or, simply, frequently, doesn't want to be a musical. A musical has characters burst into song to express what they can not say. That is what it is. That is what it does best. And yet 80-90% of the time, there are these blah, samey, stagey production numbers - this is not Idol or the Voice. This is not supposed to be a talent show. It's supposed to be a musical. Or worse, literally spelling out in the most basic expository way what the purpose of the character singing the song is in dialogue moments before they sing it. Imagine Tony turning point-blank to a character or camera and announcing, flat-out, "I am now going to demonstrate my love for Maria by singing this song about her, called Maria." Good job, champ, but now you no longer need to sing this song because you just said it. Or, god, the absolute worst, doing virtual shot-by-shot remakes of iconic music videos. (Yes, I just finished the MJ episode.) I love Jane Lynch as much as anybody but a carbon copy of her as Madonna via Fincher is as semiotically and spiritually empty as Vaughn as Perkins by way of Van Sant by way of Hitch.

That makes no sense. Stop couching it. Stop distancing it from the thing it needs to be. Look, Milch could blow the Western's conventions to hell and back again, reinventing it and becoming something new and classic at the same time. But there were times when Deadwood, being a Western, needed to have a saloon, some whores and some guns.

Ditto Buffy's breathtaking implosion of pop-culture meets high-school meets horror cliches. Ultimately a show about a blonde Van Helsing (obligatory sidenote of: TWO. HUNDRED. MILLION. DOLLARS) needs to shove some stakes in some undead hearts.

Because Glee, when it actually IS a musical? When it actually does that thing that it is supposed to do? And, frankly, should be doing all the time since highschool is the emotional equivalent of a Michael Bay movie with even the most banal of things exploding into fireballs because so much hormones? When it lets the characters dream? When it lets them sing what they cannot say? It is glorious. Think of "Loser." Think of Kurt's beautiful, epic "Rose's Turn." Beiste doing 'Jolene.' Basically, think of any number that was born out of a need greater than "this is MJ week" and "we need to sell songs kids like on iTunes so MOAR KATY PERRY." It is astoundingly rare that more than one or two of these numbers happen per episode. And yet - they are what a musical is. Emotions can not be said and so they must be sung.

Don't be afraid to be what you really are, Glee. It's the irony of ironies that you keep telling that to the characters, to the audience, CONSTANTLY. To the point where it is literally the only "theme" in the work, displaying it with as much insight as "Free to Be You and Me." But the show can't tell that message to itself.

Jan 9, 2012

STFU, Kim Novak.

I simply *had* to post using that headline, because it's probably going to be appropriate only once or twice in my Life.

So, I haven't seen "The Artist" yet - in large part due to the fact that is playing NOwhere near Amishville, PA (also, Weinsteins, the official film website should take a page from Fox Searchlight and list future opening dates/cities) - but am aware that it is a near-silent film-about-filmmaking. It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to know that, generally, when writers/directors make films-about-filmmaking, they are going to reference, pay tribute to and otherwise homage/rip-off other movies. There's a grad-school thesis just waiting to be made simply by doing an annotated version of "Hugo."

If you haven't seen Dujardin and Michel Hazavanicus's work yet, get thee to Netflix Streaming to watch "OSS 117" for a pitch-perfect recreation and simultaneous parody of early Bond films. So, while I haven't seen "The Artist," I have a vague idea of what they're going to try for. Now, apparently, one of those filmic quotations/homages in the movie is the use of Bernard Herrmann's iconic score for "Vertigo" during a crucial sequence. Now, one would think this would be no big deal considering that a quick look at the composer's IMDB page shows that that fine piece of music has been featured in everything from "A Single Man" to "Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle."

No biggie, unless you're Kim Novak. According to Deadline (which, ugh, I know), she is none too pleased . And by none too pleased, I mean, she feels like hearing "Scene d'Amour" makes her the equivalent of Lisbeth Salander:

Los Angeles: “I want to report a rape,” said Kim Novak, the legendary star of “Vertigo,” “Picnic,” and many other revered classics. “My body of work has been violated by ‘The Artist.’ This film took the Love Theme music from “Vertigo” and used the emotions it engenders as its own. Alfred Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart can’t speak for themselves, but I can. It was our work that unconsciously or consciously evoked the memories and feelings to the audience that were used for the climax of ‘The Artist.’”

Novak went on to say that “The Artist” could and should have been able to stand on its own. “There was no reason for them to depend on Bernard Herrmann’s score from ‘Vertigo’ to provide more drama. ‘Vertigo’s’ music was written during the filming. Hitchcock wanted the theme woven musically in the puzzle pieces of the storyline. Even though they did given Bernard Herrmann a small credit at the end, I believe this kind of filmmaking trick to be cheating. Shame on them!”

This kind of “borrowing” could portend a dangerous future for all artists in film. “It is morally wrong of people in our industry to use and abuse famous pieces of work to gain attention and applause for other than what the original work was intended. It is essential that all artists safeguard our special bodies of work for posterity, with their individual identities intact and protected."


YOU DIDN'T WRITE IT, BITCH. Also, hearing a piece of music you DID NOT COMPOSE is NOT the equal of rape. Here's Wagner's prelude to Tristan und Isolde - which a sharp-eared listener will notice bears a remarkable, sometime note-for-note similarity to Herrmann's score.

This is as bad as Johnny Depp comparing posing for pictures in a glossy magazine to rape. Celebs? Stop comparing anything to rape EXCEPT actual rape. Seriously. Stop.

In sum, shut the fuck up, Kim Novak.

a cinema on a desert island

So, the fabulous Matt Zoller Seitz wrote an article recently for Salon in which he asked us, what, if we could somehow take a perpetually functioning DVD/Blu-Ray player to a desert island -- one run by solar power or coconuts, one presumes - we would be watching.

He allows for a single short film, one self-contained season of a television show and ten films. However, the last part has a caveat -- for example, because "Carlos" played Cannes as a single five-hour film from the the French TV miniseries, it qualifies as a single film. However, film trilogies, franchises and whatnot do not. The first two "Godfathers" are separate works.

Part of this is easy - one simply thinks of what films one has watched the most. But the other part -- I am shutting myself out from all future works, from all the films and shows yet to be made, from all the ones I have not yet seen - is hard. The question, quite simply, is what can I watch over-and-over that still has hidden depths I have not yet seen? Once the novelty is gone - once the third-act twist has been revealed, once the dialogue has been memorized - what remains?

So, with that in mind:

Short: Hotel Chevalier
Season: Twin Peaks, Season Two
1) Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
2) Bringing Up Baby
3) Citizen Kane
4) Fanny & Alexander
5) Gone with the Wind
6) Lost Highway
7) Out of Sight
8) Umbrellas of Cherbourg
9) Vertigo
10) Zodiac

Look for justifications to appear shortly. For now, I will merely say that several on this list fall into the "stop whatever I am doing and watch them in their entirety, should they appear on TV, despite the fact that I have seen them all before and own them on DVD."

(Honorable mention using that criteria: Bring It On. It is a constant delight.)