Monday, February 27, 2006

Familial archaeology

It seemed simple enough, getting stuff out of the way to set up something new in her bedroom. Two hours later, with one small corner cleared and three bags of garbage to show for it, I had to leave so she couldn't see me.

"Time to put the Downy in," I said, running down the basement steps. Lifting the bottle, my hands were shaking. The familiar, comforting scent of fabric softener wafted through the air.

My mind clung to it: clean folded towels, crisp collars, a fleeting memory of a small plastic riding toy, an impossibly silly plastic sheep - of all things - that I used to toddle around on while she washed these same towels, years ago.

As a kid I loved laundry day.

We'd spend hours together in our comfortably chilly, cheerily decorated dungeon, both of us constantly in motion... the sheep's wheels rolling across a cement so cold that it swept right through the heaviest of socks like an apparition, making the skin recoil. We measured our time in cycles, the abrupt clicking sound signaling rinse and spin, the angry buzz of the dryer reminding us our time was coming to a close.

Her small black and white television, rabbit ears askew, had the volume cranked up to compete with the comforting hum of the dryer. You could set your watch by the familar, dramatic soap opera theme music. Their snail-like plots and the unchanging faces were comforting.

Funny how even the most fleeting scent can evoke such a visceral, yet ethereal, response.

But I had to stay downstairs for just a few more minutes. Dust was everywhere. Clinging to my pants like cotton candy, stuffed down my throat, it blended with the moisture. Together they tracked down my face like two vertical lines of magic marker. I couldn't go back up there and continue digging. Not just yet.

No sense in wondering why things were that way. It was as unquestionably real as the worn sheep tricycle, and just as trapped in memory.

One thing though to know it, another to see it, sift through it, make sense of all of it.

Each pile melded and mingled with the next: neatly folded bags and clothes so old they nearly disintegrated at my touch; empty envelopes; unopened birthday cards. And look, here's a photo from 1976. I was all of nine, smiling broadly, standing proudly before the door that eventually became the backdrop for all staged photos. Maybe out of necessity, because it was the only space where exits were still possible, the only corner unburdened by piles of all that is by turns meaningful and absurd in a person's life.

Stacks of Reader's Digests, brown center wrappers untouched, they were old treasures to be opened on a someday that never came. Piled atop one another, they obscured my brother's worn yellow t-shirt, the Kawasaki logo chipping away like so much old polish from nails. Below it all, seven layers down beyond a point for which Dante could find the words, my Mrs. Beasley doll, her smiling mouth faded and altered to a barely perceptible grimace. These truly were the days of our lives, and I am now drowning in them.

Once I thought this was exactly what I wanted to do: clear the decks, reduce the chaos, unearth down to bare floor. Relatively easy, definitely sensible. I've always hated clutter.

Years ago in her other rooms, I'd even squared my shoulders and set to work, hard of heart, mercilessly discarding. But it was different then. She'd complain about every piece; every plastic bag or square of blank paper tossed away was like an affront. And she would rail, even though we both knew the job would need done again in a year.

This time, there was no argument, no sense of Sisyphusian struggle. We worked together - tersely, silently. Where once my fingers would've cavalierly tossed now they lingered, to caress a bit of fabric, feel the crinkle of old newspaper, before slowly letting go.

What must she have been thinking as she stood over me, looking for non-existent empty space in which to relocate this sweater, or that bag of paper clips. Did it hurt her, short circuit her system to watch these decades pass only to return a few layers below?

Like some crazy calendar, time bent and flowed, almost tangibly and visibly tied with each item. Did she fade ever so slightly with each? Were vague and gossamer memories flooding over her, and did they eventually also disappear forever into the big black plastic bag, my own always trailing after?

So much of nothing. So much of everything. All disappearing.

Once something leaves it is gone forever. Maybe she needed me to know she accepted that. Maybe she'd really always understood just that, and long ago set out to fight her battle against the intransigence of time, fashioning a fortress from unread magazines, folded bags and packages never opened. Only to discover and understand, finally, the battle is rigged no matter how it's fought or by whom.

The dryer buzzed, signaling that time was coming to a close. Wiping my face off with a dusty sleeve, I stacked the neatly folded towels and began to slowly climb the long stairway, back to the endless task that still awaited.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Welcome to Camp - Part Two

Going back as far as the Clinton years, if not to the Ollie North Iran Contra scandal period, we've heard rumblings of detention camp building stories from both Republicans and (more recently) Democrats. Fortunately, most of that came from Alex Whatsisface and other, less provable sources.

On February 6, a Long Beach, CA online newspaper called The Press-Telegram featured a column by Tom Hennessy about a new government contract awarded for the building of "temporary detention facilities."

"Appearing on page A5, the story said the federal government had awarded a $385 million contract for the construction of "temporary detention facilities." These would be used, the story said, in the event of an "immigration emergency."

Jamie Zuieback, an official with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), explained such an emergency like this: "If, for example, there were some sort of upheaval in another country that would cause mass migration, that's the type of situation that the contract would address."

That sounds a tad fuzzy, but let's concede that the camps do have something to do with immigration, illegal or not. In fact, there already are thousands of beds in place at various U.S. locations for the purpose of housing illegal immigrants.

But for anyone familiar with history U.S. or European the construction of detention camps for whatever purpose should prompt a chilling scenario."

Chilling is a very mild description.

The rest of the column goes on to detail that a Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root, received the contract.

So, detention facilities for some unlikely mass migration? Hennessy ends his piece with a stated desire that we contact our representatives and demand a more full and complete explanation. With this, I completely agree.

Especially in light of the implication of the contract: it's a contingency contract. Which means if there's no emergency requiring said dentention space, Halliburton doesn't get paid.

And as we've learned with Iraq, Halliburton always gets paid.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

To dream or not to dream

I have to post these lyrics today. One, because I was just singing them in the car and realized they're somehow relevant to life right now.

Two, because when you have a really vivid dream about someone, you might be in their dream, too. You know those kinds of dreams, where you awaken with a palpable sense of happiness, or deep sorrow, because it was so real?

As Dylan sang: I'll let you be in my dream, if I can be in yours. . . :)

Fitting, then, that this is the bookend to the other lyrics I posted, Wicked Little Town (Tommy Gnosis Version). This is Hedwig's version:

Wicked Little Town (Hedwig Version)

You know, the sun is in your eyes
And hurricanes and rains
and black and cloudy skies

You're running up and down that hill
You turn it on and off at will
There's nothing here to thrill
or bring you down
And if you've got no other choice
You know you can follow my voice
through the dark turns and noise
of this wicked little town

Oh Lady Luck has led you here
and they're so twisted up
they'll twist you up I fear

the pious, hateful and devout
you're turning tricks til you're turned out
the wind so cold it burns
you're burning out and blowing round

And if you've got no other choice
you know you can follow my voice
through the dark turns and noise
of this wicked little town

The fates are vicious and they're cruel
You learn too late you've used two wishes
like a fool

and then you're someone you are not
and Junction City ain't the spot
remember Mrs. Lot
and when she turned around

And if you've got no other choice
You know you can follow my voice
through the dark turns and noise
of this wicked little town

Unless you're the person who was in my dream and I actually did show up in yours, these lyrics probably mean nothing.

2005: The anti-hero as hero

Holy, shiny, self-sacrificing heroes are so passe nowadays.

Reflecting the rather grim times in which we're living, many of the main characters in this years' Best Picture nominees share certain indelible personality traits that make for some of the greatest conflicted anti-hero protagonists ever brought to screen.

Consider Ennis del Mar, the main character of Brokeback Mountain, along with Truman Capote, Timothy Treadwell, Eric Bana's Avner from Munich. To a lesser extent, even real-life heroes Edward R. Murrow and Johnny Cash are stellar examples of flawed, somewhat compromised human beings, even though they struggle hard to do the right thing. Moreso than their counterparts, anyway.

As character actors are to the world of movie making, anti-heroes are to story: most intriguing, deep and fully realized for an audience. Their shadings are richer, motivations more challenging and ability to confound more likely.

Like Capote, Ennis del Mar is more willing to pretend a life than actually admit to who and what he is, because of society's rejection. He lies to his wife, to Jack, even to himself. Only when it is too late does he realize what his choices have cost everyone, most of all himself. What's not so obvious is what he gets out of these choices.

With Capote, it's clearly ambition driving the cart of his own self-destruction. With Del Mar, it's fear. Though one could reasonably argue fear is a primemover of ambition. Without innate levels of fear - whether such pertains to success, emotional openness, poverty or an ordinary life - people wouldn't feel the need to make certain choices.

Del Mar, Capote and Treadwell are all largely self-inventions: Capote, with his fey mannerisms, ethereal voice and manipulative brilliance; Del Mar, bottled-up and cloistered from a childhood with a father who wanted tough sons, and Treadwell with his self-fashioned educator/child of the wilderness rebirth. All three are essentially hiding in alcohol, publicly declared false lifestyles and the woods.

Where public persona overrides the need for authenticity, acceptance of self is one of the most difficult goals to attain. Instead, a reliance on artifice and props becomes the short-cut to temporary happiness: see me as I wish to be viewed, not as I truly am.

Symbols of American life don't really get any more apt.

With our endless better living through status and shopping mentality, obsession with perfection, youth and keeping up with the Joneses, and relentless reivention of self (America and the movie industry were built on just that - former business magnates and frustrated bright, creative individuals headed west for new businesses, names and identities) these men are a mirror to our cultural need for facades.

America, the best and brightest - by any means necessary.

America, we don't torture - except when we do.

America, we have a great economy - built on Asian finances.

Ironically, or perhaps obviously depending on a person's view, none of these characters facades make them truly happy. Capote, it can be argued, loses his soul through compromised integrity. Del Mar loses the person he truly loves. The message remains that they must lose crucial pieces of themselves if they choose an inauthentic life.

Fortunately for them, unlike Treadwell, it's not their actual life being sacrificed.

But what of us, products of our time with flaws reflected in those ten feet high faces flickering across the screen; what are we giving up to live a fantasy?

Many of us are living the high life, off credit. We're immersed in sport, entertainment, alcohol, sex. . .anything to take the edge off reality. We've got designer clothes and McMansions, and yet, if the number of Americans currently on mood-altering pharmaceuticals is any indication, we're really no happier with our props, our Bergdorf's scarves, our loveless marriages.

Will we, unlike Truman, Ennis, Timothy and Avner, realize before too late what all of this really costs?

Stay tuned.

An end to the end

Uh-oh. Having spent so much time away from politics, immersed instead in the world of Oscar and his grouchy, frenetic fans, I find myself not caring about returning.

Which must be how the other Oscar prognosticators feel, too - about reality. In their world it's always happy and filled with uber good looking movie stars. Just like in the world of online anime, even George Bush can be ignored if one focuses long enough at Gaia.

The Internet is filled with people enraptured with all possible minutiae relative to any subject in the world.

Sick? Try one of the 8,000 sites dedicated to discussing every ache and pain imagineable. Want to work on cars? Here's 1200 web addresses devoted to the wellness of your carburetor. And, of course, for those of you wishing to get your freak on, there's always endless Internet porn of every imagineable configuration, concoction and coupling.

Just last week I used Firefox to select a new refrigerator with an icemaker. Different than the icemaker I've had for a year now - the one somehow located in the crisper bins. Not described in the manual, it makes huge blocks of weird-colored frozen stuff.

And yesterday I used the World Wide Web to change a lightswitch.

Which would be a handy, amazing thing if you don't consider shelling-out $60 a month and paying $1200 for a computer an exorbitant expense for what's essentially the changing of a $2.00 part.

Hey - at least I didn't need a manual! Although a downloadable one was there in .pdf form, just in case.

Who knew, back in 1994 when the virtual doors first opened on our local freenet, that we'd someday have this amazing connection to other human beings?

Or that it'd enable us to pursue existence with myriad higher purposes, such as looking at celebrities, creating Oscar lists, completing mundane household tasks, finding Milfs Around the World and arguing ceaselessly with Joaquin Phoenix's fangirls on why he shouldn't and won't win Best Actor this year?

And they said computers would never amount to anything; that'll teach 'em!

So, anyway, it's time to go back into politics again. I shudder. Surely things have gotten worse out there in our venal landscape of plausible deniability and non-stop mendacity? Yet, I must be brave. I must be cunning.

I must be out of my mind.

It was just getting easier to get back outta bed in the morning, visions of gold statuettes dancing in my head, after nearly six hours of mostly restful sleep each night. Nevertheless, I need more out of life than changing lightswitches and Top Ten Performances of 2005 lists. I don't want to stay clueless about America's continued slide into oblivion.

Guess that's using the Internet for something better than buying new shiny icemaker equipped refrigerators and surfing porn. Uh, not that I ever did that last part.

(PS - Discovery Channel is running an encore presentation of Grizzly Man this weekend. Highly recommended for those who've yet to see this amazing, strange film - catch it while it's free!)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Life without compromise: Grizzly Man

I just bought Werner Herzog's documentary Grizzly Man, depicting Timothy Treadwell's 12 years living among the brown bears of Alaska.

It's ineligible for Oscar nomination due to new AMPAS rules regarding previously taped footage.

What a shame. It's simply the most astonishing thing I've seen this year. Watch it and you'll really understand how rare and remarkable a film this is, on many levels.

Treadwell, 47 and girlfriend Amie Huguenard, 37, were killed while camping in Alaska's Katmai National Park. While the movie begins with this sad coda to a very original and compelling life, the story it tells through Treadwell's own video recordings is both a celebration of nature and open-ended question: who was Tim Treadwell?

Two hours of videotape cannot fully answer that question. Nor should it. In the real world, we're all a lot more complicated.

Despite the huge backlash against Treadwell (comments ranging from I think he's gay! to He was mental! to the downright awfulHe deserved to die) I don't think it's that simple.

He did what he wanted to do with his life. Yes, he was unhappy, a misfit who admits to not being able to hold down jobs or maintain positive relationships. That describes probably half of our world's populace.

But what percentage is passionate and fearless enough to actually toss aside regular life and go follow their bliss for twelve years, especially when said bliss can kill?
One can argue that his death was inevitable. However, he managed to live, up close and personal, for over a decade side by side with wild animals. He had to have done something right.

Watching Treadwell, his love and admiration for bears, foxes and other inhabitants of Alaska's preserves is obvious. As is his still-childlike nature in speaking words of love to them, musing about his own place in the larger world, and ranting against hunters or poachers. Yes, he does have issues - most of which he raises himself, before his confessional and confidante, the camera, and Herzog unflinchingly uses these to allow people to interpret Treadwell as they will.

These vignettes are both touching and unintentionally humorous. Which makes the film totally absorbing.

Imagine a camera in your home and you, completely alone for days or months, caught on film talking to your pets, musing aloud about various concerns, swearing from momentary injury. How unhinged would you appear? And yet, if talking to inanimate objects or pets when we're alone makes us crazy, we'd better start building bigger and better institutions immediately.

I wonder had Treadwell lived if he would've edited out some of his more personal video confessions, made at times when the camera was his only companion. At various points watching becomes voyeuristic in the squickiest sense of the word. You just know not all of this was meant for your eyes.

Dismissing him as crazy, wrongheaded or any other label misses the point entirely. He did precisely what he wanted to do with his life, and did it with equal parts passion, humanity and compassion. If nothing else, take that away from this remarkable dvd.

Why it's probably impossible, but crucial, to get Edie right

As the refrain went for years within her inner circle, I'm worried about Edie Sedgwick.

Our lives are inexplicably entwined, mine and Edie's, though you'd never know it on sight. Bad enough she's maligned to this day, diluted to the basest form and thus ridiculed as a drug addicted glamour girl with too much energy and trust fund to spare. But that's not the worst.

Now they've gone and made a film about her, starring Sienna Miller.

By this time next year, Miller's Edie face from Factory Girl will be splashed across baby-tee's everywhere. Half-blonde, half-brown pixie-do hair will be all the rage and you won't be able to leave home without seeing leopard skin print hats and jackets.

My best loved, best kept secret will be a marketing commodity.

Back when I was a sad, lonely eighth grader hiding in books, I found Edie in one of them: Jean Stein and George Plimpton's Edie: An American Biography. That first year, I read it three or four times. Since then, probably twenty.

She was everything I was, nothing I was, and everything I'd ever hoped to become: alive, vibrant, living on a precipice with an edge only she could navigate, soulful, crazy, intense, the muse of artists and rock stars.

She made the Chelsea burn; what's more subversive and otherworldly than that??

With her big grey car, endless parties on money that seemingly came from nowhere, Edie represented every ounce of glamour and excitement imagineable when you're thirteen. The hope to become part.

Despite all that, Edie Sedgwick was the person most alone in an overfilled room.

Everywhere she searched, from California to New York and back again, she never found what she desperately needed. Not even sure she knew exactly what it was, or what to do with it when she found it. You knew any life beyond 30 would be superfluous for Edie. Superfluous, and dreadfully boring. Because self-created icons don't ever float down; instead, they hit the ground - if they ever fall at all - with a deafening thud.

People miss the point when calling her just a drug addict, or self-promoter.

Edie Sedgwick was really a little girl lost.

I saw that clearly enough back in the early 80's, being one myself.

The drugs. The men. The fashion shoots, parties, shocking anecdotes and perennial willing free-falls: they were all cries for help from someone who really wanted and needed validation for more than what she represented or how she looked. She wanted to be truly loved, and never felt that - from her family, the Factory team, Dylan, Neuwirth, or anyone else who found it fashionable to keep her around for awhile. Most of all, she needed to find a way to love herself.

Looking at her various incarnations - the Youthquaker phase, the hardened drugged-out Factory days, and finally those hopeful, semi-healthy days before her death - you see one constant: an intelligent, curious innocence. Even after everything she saw and did, she still somehow held onto a bit of naivete, a sense of goodness and trust in the world.

I don't think this biopic will be willing or able to recreate that.

Being an Edie fan was always like being in a secret club; most people didn't know or care about her. When in my 20's, I suggested the book to my best friend. A responsible, reliable person, she kept that book for nearly ten years. I had to keep begging to have it back. Finally, she grudgingly returned it, only to tell me later her dad scoured heaven and earth to find another copy. She was clearly as affected by Edie's story as I was. Through the years, I've infrequently come across other fans. We shared a proprietary protection of someone we viewed as a rare flawed gem.

Despite her days in Warhol's Factory, despite the sad excess of a clearly damaged girl's last monologues in Ciao!Manhattan, she was truly worthy of so much more than a cheap distillation. Or a likely lousy biopic that will turn her into an even bigger 60's iconic caricature than she's somehow become, but will sell more cool accessories. Used and abused, even 30 years after her death.

That's a crime.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

VA nurse accused of sedition for letter to the editor

(We interrupt this season's much-needed Academy Awards diversion/mental health politics break to bring you this news. . .)

Betcha didn't know you, right now, could likely be accused of sedition! Sure, you may have violated a few archaic state decency laws in your day, but sedition, you say? Can't be!

Apparently, you'd be wrong:


n. the federal crime of advocacy of insurrection against the government or support for an enemy of the nation during time of war, by speeches, publications and organization. Sedition usually involves actually conspiring to disrupt the legal operation of the government and is beyond expression of an opinion or protesting government policy.

Right now, a VA hospital nurse specialist in Albuquerque, NM named Laura Berg has been accused of sedition by her bosses. After Katrina, she wrote this letter to the editor (for which her superiors confiscated her work computer):

"I am furious with the tragically misplaced priorities and criminal negligence of this government," it began. "The Katrina tragedy in the U.S. shows that the emperor has no clothes!" She mentioned that she was "a VA nurse" working with returning vets. "The public has no sense of the additional devastating human and financial costs of post-traumatic stress disorder," she wrote, and she worried about the hundreds of thousands of additional cases that might result from Katrina and the Iraq War.

"Bush, Cheney, Chertoff, Brown, and Rice should be tried for criminal negligence," she wrote. "This country needs to get out of Iraq now and return to our original vision and priorities of caring for land and people and resources rather than killing for oil. . . . We need to wake up and get real here, and act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit.

Otherwise, many more of us will be facing living hell in these times."

After her computer was seized, she wrote a letter of inquiry to her employers. It was responded to by Mel Hooker, chief of HR for the organization. His allegation in a letter dated November 9, 2005?


"The Agency is bound by law to investigate and pursue any act which potentially represents sedition," he said. "In your letter . . . you declared yourself `as a VA nurse' and publicly declared the Government which employs you to have `tragically misplaced priorities and criminal negligence' and advocated, `act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit.' "

Afraid yet? Good. That's exactly where the Bush administration wants you to be. Now shut-up and go shopping, you seditious creeps who dare to question or speak your minds.

(Thanks to for bringing the story to light.)

Friday, February 10, 2006

Stop, in the name of love

"I'm finally going to see Capote," he said with a big smile, walking to the counter.

"You are?!? Great!" I happily responded.

We'd talked about the film - our very first conversation - back in October. Only the hottest guy ever to share my airspace (and birthday week) he's also a would-be writer. Perfect film for him.

"So, did you see Brokeback?" I asked.

"Yes, I did. It was good. Did you like it?"

"Weeelll...." I said.

"You didn't? Why not?"

"Oh, a couple of reasons, actually. First, I hate love stories."

Just then the clerk's office cordless phone started ringing in his hand. That's generally our daily routine: a few sentences surrounded by constant interruption. Maybe that ringing sound was the death knell for our nascent friendship. Without benefit of explanation, I sounded like a cranky cynic.

What a way to leave a discussion.

I hate love stories? What the. . . I sounded like someone stole my romance gene. Maybe they did. But the truth remains: for lots of reasons, I loathe a big old love story.

Blame it on David O. Selznick.

As a child, I adored Gone With the Wind. So epic. So sweeping. Four hours of pure pageantry and undying love, it was for many years my favorite film and story.

The minute details still filling my head about Selznick, Vivien Leigh and author Margaret Mitchell are the main reason I couldn't get calculus. Just too much flotsam in the cranial region. Much of it humming along to "look away, look away, look away, Dixie Land."

By 1995, I was sick of love stories. Consider these three words: The English Patient.

It was supposed to be so epic (that word again), this tale of forbidden love and regret drowning in sand. I got totally swindled, again, and bought into it - until seeing Fargo.

That quirky little intense, thoughtful, consuming film was an unhyped gem. It made me really think, and not about that old elusive feeling, l'amour. But about human nature, and what makes people do the things they do, and about the merits or problems of a life of crime.

Someone from a news station happened to ask me what movie would win Oscar that year, for a "man on the street interview." I had no hesitation: "The English Patient will win, but Fargo should win."

There was no turning back for me.

And as it came to pass, I was correct. Now look at both those pictures, and tell me which one was really superior. Which is still interesting and continues to hold-up over time?

Just when it was safe to be a love-hating curmudgeon again, along came Titanic.

Not only did it boast of love, love, love that was doomed, doomed, doomed -- but it was historically relevant and full of wicked special effects. Rose and Jack, those poor sad kids. To find true love only to die a few brief hours after losing your virginity. . .could anything be more depressing?

Yes, actually. One thing can be more depressing: watching Titanic on television now.

Lousy dialogue, totally unbelievable relationship sub-plot, hollow script; to watch it is to cringe. What was AMPAS thinking, naming this clunker Best Picture? Worse, what were we thinking, believing it?

It's no wonder some folks are calling Brokeback Mountain , "Gaytanic."

More than a simple play on words, the comparison is both campy and apt. Take away the mountain or the boat and you're left with the same story: two people meet, fall in love, and one of them is inevitably doomed. Young hot leads, vast romantic scenery, others who come between the budding love affair. . .it's damn near too close for comfort.

More importantly, the only thing really epic about either film was the amount of hype surrounding them.

"Simply breathtaking!" might've been some ad campaigner's idea of the closest to honesty he could come when describing a love story where lots of people drown in the end, or a cowboy meets his demise under questionable circumstances. But for me, it really was breathtaking: pure strangulation of thought and character development.

Yeah, yeah. I know.

I'm supposed to be entranced, swept away by the love factor.

But to me, a love story is just a cheap ploy, a way to tug at audience emotions without doing the requisite legwork of true character development and a believable, meaningful plot that makes you actually care about the erstwhile lovers of said film. A hook, and we are nothing more than bait to a giant fisherman hell-bent on snagging an Oscar.

If simple love is bad, doomed love is the laziest cheap trick ever invented by a writer. Two people getting together and making googly-eyes at one another is great. Having one die in the end? Priceless. Ratchets-up the emotional quotient to a six or seven on the Kleenex meter.

So, keep your stories of doomed love. I'm not buying, anymore. When all is said and done, they're almost as big a let-down as really breaking up with someone.

Thanks, but no thanks.

You want to impress me, keep my interest, get my butt into a theater?

Bring me a complex study of a marriage or partnership that's not boring and/or completely dysfunctional. Show me the hot romance in daily life between two people who really put themselves out there, neither of whom is slated to drown or be murdered for 50 years after they hook-up.

Make them believable, complicated, messy human beings who aren't cardboard cut-out bookends practically wearing signs that say "I love not wisely" and the other "I love not well." Show me how they keep it together when the mortgage is late, they're on their 20th grocery store trip for the week, or their kid gets cancer.

Bring me something real. Something worth thinking about. Worth fighting for. Worth actually investing in.

Better yet, skip the love completely. Bring me a story of someone with inner conflict, wrestling their demons, and not always winning, not backed by a Rocky-esque theme song. Show me a heel I can root for, whose transformation into good guy or girl doesn't rely on prosthetics and makeup. Who really suffers and changes, but lapses into heeldom every now and again. And let me guess as to what his reasons were for doing some of what he did.

In the meantime, wake me up when Brokeback fever is over and we can get back to movies that have something more worthy of discussion than love.

Then we'll talk about what makes a film outlast its hype, and characters transcend the screen. And when such a movie comes around, I promise to love it, cheering it on to Oscar glory.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Oscar's Leading Man cleans up quite nicely

Is it March 5, yet?

Click on picture below to better read text. . .

Fairly new to the Hoffman bandwagon; it started with Boogie Nights and his confused lovesick mancrush on Mark Wahlberg's Dirk Diggler. He was so compulsively repellantly wonderful; I didn't know whether to hug him or get him therapy.

But it wasn't until two years ago, one Saturday night at midnight while feeling out of sorts that I saw Magnolia was playing on IFC.

Years earlier this former friend of mine, Brian (a mini charismatic reprobate not unlike Capote), spent months trying to get me to watch Magnolia - to no avail.

Anyway, it turned out to be a lovely four hour long movie. By 2 a.m., my eyes felt like someone gave them a Visine acid wash. But I couldn't turn it off.

Phil Parma - Philip Seymour Hoffman's character - just held my attention, if not my burning eyes.

Humane, thoughtful, quiet amongst a sea of dysfunctional characters, he grounded and centered the entire Jason Robards/Julianne Moore section of the movie. I wanted him to be my nurse if I was dying.

I wanted to marry someone just like him: solid, dependable, thoughtful, openly emotional and above all, kind. His performance seemed like a protective warm embrace; it enveloped you with a sense of peace.

This, from the guy who was such a jerk in Scent of a Woman. Such a fabulous queen in Flawless. Such a snide, pompous ass in The Talented Mr. Ripley. This is the same wonderful Phil Parma in Magnolia.

Hard to believe, but true. Ever the chameleon, it's impossible to pin-down which of his characters, if any, come closest to the real Philip Seymour Hoffman. But to me it will always be Phil Parma from Magnolia: the guy we all secretly want to marry.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Oh, no - talk about Faustian bargains!

Just saw the SuperBowl commercial for Mission Impossible III, and Hoffman's in it! Which means I have to decide whether or not sitting through hours of the odious Tom Cruise just to see the amazing, wonderful Philip Seymour is a worthy endeavor.

Principles, or desires? Desires, or ethics? Needs, wants or nightmares?

This is worse than Capote having to pick between success and betrayal. The only Mission Impossible DVD I owned was a gift, and later, a lovely coaster.

But for Phil? I'll have to think it over. Right now, it's time to watch the SuperBowl clip, yet again, and smile. Can't the bad guy win in the end? Katie Holmes and moviegoers everywhere will be eternally grateful.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Robbed! Steve Carell, snubbed for recognition.

Best pic of the year? Why, The 40 Year Old Virgin, natch. Sure, those rabid fanwankers of Heath Ledger might say differently, but Carell gave a far superior performance. Now there's a guy who knows how to act! Speaking of Ledger's fanboys, I'm sure they'll find this in one of their endless Internet "Heath scourings." When they do, let's see if this sounds familiar:

"Anyone can play repressed and longing. It was just him being a mimic. Carell, however, created his character from scratch. He became Andy Stitzer! I can't get him out of my mind. He was just so dreamy, so stoic! I don't care if he's a newcomer. Hoffman is never gonna beat Carell!"

Okay, merciless mocking aside: The 40 Year Old Virgin was actually pretty damn funny, and rather endearing, given what you might otherwise expect. Better than most comedies, not as totally out-there unbelievable either. That really is due to Carell -- he goes for laughs, but you can see some gears turning, as well.

In all honesty, I'm still rooting for Philip Seymour Hoffman and Capote.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Sometimes you really do need to quit him, Jack

"Tell you what, we could a had a good life together, a fuckin real good life. You wouldn't do it, Ennis, so what we got now is Brokeback Mountain. Everthing built on that. It's all we got, boy, fuckin all, so I hope you know that if you don't never know the rest. Count the damn few times we been together in twenty years. Measure the fuckin short leash you keep me on, then ask me about Mexico and then tell me you'll kill me for needin it and not hardly never gettin it. You got no fuckin idea how bad it gets. I'm not you. I can't make it on a couple a high-altitude fucks once or twice a year. You're too much for me, Ennis, you son of a whoreson bitch. I wish I knew how to quit you."

--Jack Twist, Brokeback Mountain

After viewing Brokeback Mountain, I was quite aroused. With anger, that is.

I really couldn't feel much beyond that, and pity, for Ennis Del Mar (acted with great economy and precision by Heath Ledger) and other living breathing people very much like him. Repressed, broken, ambiguous and lost people who realize, only too late, exactly who and what made risks worth trying and life worth living.

And that your real failing came not from having those feelings, but from not being willing to bravely follow wherever they led.

Straight. Gay. Asexual. Whatever.

None of that matters, because for some people love is something only truly understood in retrospect. When you can hang that person's memory in your closet and visit it from time to time, but not - God forbid - when you could actually take the bull by the horns and make the most of the time you have together.

Yes, part of the problem was the fact Ennis and Jack were gay before gay became chic. Obviously that's a big deterrent to living an authentic life.

But even in his allegedly socially acceptable life with his wife and, more criminally, his daughters - Ennis was unable to set aside his own wants and needs long enough to truly give something back -- even a little bit.

Try a little tenderness, Ennis. It's not gonna kill you. And look what the lack of it has done to your own daughter: she's just as sad and lost.

Then I wanted to turn around and shake Jack Twist (the robbed Jake Gyllenhaal, the heart and soul of this movie and who should've been nominated for Best Actor).

"Jack, honey -- I've been there! He's just really not that into you - at least not enough to overcome that miasma of repression and hurdle that Brokeback Mountain of emotional distance he's using as a roadblock to his own happiness!"

(Unfortunately, director Ang Lee cut this part - my stellar scene-stealing, Best Supporting Actress turn -in favor of letting this movie go on and on and on and on to its inevitable depressing conclusion.)

Moving beyond themes, the film itself earns its Oscar buzz. Still, it's not without serious flaws. The final third of the movie provides emotional resonance and payoff, but getting there is longer and more painful than Frodo's trip to Mt. Doom.

Speaking of repressed desire and love on a mountain. . .I think Sam and Frodo had it all over Jack and Ennis.

For one, their relationship was simply more developed and believable. They truly were soulmates who went through a whole lot with - and for - one another. No such buildup in Brokeback. A little chat, some beans, bad harmonica playing and wham, bam, thank you, Mister.

It's not the furtive sex scene. That was utterly realistic and believable, exactly what you'd expect with two people who are overwhelmed by one another, beyond rational contemplation and completely in thrall to their desires.

Getting there? That was the problem. I just didn't buy the build-up, because there wasn't any, really. It was like two bar buddies after a couple of rounds suddenly decided to do the throw-down, out of nowhere. Lust, yes. Love? Not so much.

Why Ledger's getting so many rave reviews is both the blessing and the curse of his performance. Tight-lipped, stiff and impervious, his Ennis is a blank slate onto which audiences can project their own desires, fantasies and beliefs. Yes, it highlights his inwardness and increasing claustrophobia among the emotions trapped inside. But it's also an easy way to create an impression of "more" when maybe what you see is exactly what you get.

It's economy of motion and emotion in the best and worst possible ways.

Poor Jack. Poor Jake. Pouring out their hearts and souls, eternally optimistic, generously loving and endlessly forgiving: neither of them stand a chance of being appreciated, by Ennis or by the audience.

Trust me, Jack. You need to quit him.

And I know just the man to help you do it -- the beguiling, conflicted and cerebral Truman Capote. He's not repressed. Not only that, he knows exactly what he wants and is willing to go as far as possible to get it. You two have a lot in common. Sometimes it's just better to go around that mountain, rather than try to climb it.

Besides, what if you finally get to the top, only to find nothing there?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Brokeback Truman

Off to see Brokeback Mountain today, but I confess: I'm a bit annoyed with it, already. Maybe it was Ledger's giggling through the SAG presentation. Maybe it's all the hype. But part of it is definitely the fact that Brokeback's legion of passionate fans are slagging Philip Seymour Hoffman's amazing turn as Capote.

And why?

Because they want Ledger. Not because they've seen Capote, or even care about the fact that Hoffman is America's best character actor. It's always the same old tired arguments, too:

"Hoffman was mimicking Capote!"

Uh, no. To successfully do that would be enough, one supposes. I couldn't mimic that weird helium voice of Capote's if I tried. But the point is that Hoffman channeled the writer. By the second scene, after you got past Capote's actual nasal voice and weird appearance, both organic manifestations of the writer himself, Hoffman the actor was lost. He became Capote, looks, voice, size but most importantly, spirit.

How do you take a very unscrupulous, grasping in ambition, self-obsessed role and make it not only likeable, but empathetic? Last time I saw someone pull it off was Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs.

And make no mistake: like Lecter, Capote was a bit of a monster. Not a flesh eating kind. Just as bad: a soul-eating kind. Watching his better angels duke it out with his debased devils was one of the most amazing things on celluloid in 2005. The fact that neither side truly won was just icing on the cake.

Next complaint from Ledger fans?

"The only reason Hoffman's gonna win is because he played a stereotypical gay in a movie that didn't even depict any gay love!"

That misses the point: He played a real person. Not a stereotype. It happens that the real Truman Capote really was kind of. . .uh. . . swishy. Can't say it any other way.

So then the issue is with the man, himself.

After reading George Plimpton's oral history on Capote, it stands out that not one of the many friends, detractors and enemies of the writer mentioned witnessing a single act of affection between Capote and his long term love, writer Jack Dunphy. Someone - maybe Carol Matthau - referred to Truman as fundamentally asexual. Which is not surprising.

It was the 50's, too. While the men lived and travelled together, and were known to be gay, they weren't overt about it.

How does any of this change the fact that Hoffman gave the most mesmerizing performance of an actor this year -- and maybe any other year? It doesn't.

Various other snark across the screen over the big 2005 Hoffman v. Ledger match-up is what I like to refer to as "backhanded compliments" designed with intent to slur the performer himself:

"The Academy only gives it to older performers!"

Not true. There's a pretty big age range of past Best Actors. Granted, they do tend to win only after paying serious dues -- but not always. Adrien Brody springs to mind.

I'm not sure why people want to slag one actor in favor of another, or deny the obvious in favor of a fantasy. Right now, oddsmakers have Hoffman at 1-7, Ledger at 10-1, and Phoenix (another one people are pushing) trailing even further behind than Ledger. Considering the shakeout of critics awards ( Twenty to PSH, six to Ledger, two to Phoenix) it's kind of hard to view Hoffman as anything other than a lock on Best Actor.

Could that change? Maybe. AMPAS is a fickle mistress. But it's hard to remember any year with one actor so far ahead of the pack only to lose out on the coveted Oscar.

Statistics and lame arguments aside, Hoffman will likely win simply because his breathtaking performance demands it.

[Edit: this was posted twice, and I had to delete one extra copy - unfortunately, with it went the one comment attached to it. So if you visit again, please feel free to post your comment again!]

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