Saturday, June 27, 2009

Second Movie (stated in no particular order)

When I was in college, I was required to take one language class. I’d taken two years of Spanish in high school, but it was a small school and that was really the only language offered. So at college I fought against logic and took French. I’m ashamed to say that I did well enough in school (mostly B’s) without studying - so I usually didn’t. (I suppose I picked up enough to get by- simply by listening in class. I have no other explanation - I can’t claim to be a genius when I wasn’t even smart enough to study. I can claim to be lazy and maybe a little stubborn.) Even as a six-year-old in first grade, I had no interest in learning the alphabet until the teacher explained that you needed to learn it in order to read and after that, she had to dangle books I did want to read in front of my imagination in order to force me to read the books I didn’t want to read. “Read the blue and red readers first; then you can read the book about the cats.”

French did not come easy. For the first time, I was studying. I made cue cards for myself and a huge poster of verb conjugations for my wall. It was no use. I was getting a solid “D” in the class and it was beginning to drag my other grades down. So for the first time, I dropped a class. (I may never have studied for one - but I never walked away from one before.) Because I never learned French, I saw the movie “Amelie” with English subtitles - but I’m not sure that was a bad thing. Reading subtitles forces attention to detail and Amelie is a movie about attention to detail.

On the surface, Amelie is a movie about a lonely young woman who lives in a world of her own-appreciating the world and caring for the people in it, but like an isolated satellite-separate from it. Until you watch the details and realize that you are watching a movie that appreciates all the myriad details about everyone . . . For instance:

“Raphael Pulain dislikes peeing next to someone else.
He also dislikes catching scornful glances . . . .
at his sandals . . .
clingy, wet swimming trunks.
Raphael Pulain likes . . .
peeling large strips of wallpaper . . .
lining up and shining his shoes . .
emptying his toolbox, cleaning it out . . .
and putting everything back.”

After you read the details about enough people on the screen, you become like Amelie-wondering what everyone around you likes and dislikes. Realizing THEY DO have little personal likes and dislikes that make them interesting and endearing and human. After that you realize that something as simple as thinking a little bit like Amelie could bring peace to the world.

Let me introduce myself . . Amelie style . .

“angiece dislikes . . .
the feel of her waistband touching her skin . . .
the texture of overly ripened bananas touching her tongue.
She also dislikes watching people smirk.
angiece likes cats . . .
she likes putting her face right next to theirs . .
the feel of their fur against her cheek,
the rumble of their purr against her ear.
When she was a child . . .
she would hide in the bushes next to a cat . . .
pretend she was one.”

First Movie

Recently I went to see Disney/Pixar’s “Up” in 3D. Art wanted to see the 3D, but I felt really unsure because I haven’t seen a Pixar movie yet that didn’t make me cry and I was pretty sure “Up” would be no different. Why not cry in the comfort of your own home? Isn’t that one of the perks of buying all that assorted electronic equipment?

Art couldn’t understand . . “It’s just a movie.”

My first movie, "Defending Your Life," proves there is no such thing as “just a movie.” Forget that it is easily Albert Brooks' best comedy; I need to thank him and his movie right here publicly for helping change my life.

On one surface Daniel Miller (Brooks) is a schmo that you could almost dislike. All of his insecurities ride right along the surface of his skin . . .nothing is held back . . and like anybody who is so involved in his own insecurities, Daniel is a little self-centered. But just when the viewer might think Miller represents the worst of us, he sits down next to a guy who owned strip clubs while he was living and is obviously several rungs down the ladder. We realize Daniel Miller is just an average schmo.

He is any one of us.

But I get ahead of myself . . .I used the words “while he was living.” The movie is the story of Daniel Miller - ANY ONE OF US - who dies and discovers that the purpose of life is to become more intelligent and use more of your brain. The first thing we “little brains” need to do is overcome our fears, because that is what we waste so much brain power on. In the movie, when you die you face a court trial to “defend your life” or prove that you moved beyond your fears in your lifetime. If you don’t prove that you have overcome your fears, you are recycled and return to Earth; but if you do prove it, you “move forward, continue onward.”

Now the movie also has a wonderful love story and some very funny bits about past lifetimes and Miller’s insecurities and foibles, not to mention the brilliant Rip Torn as Daniel's Defense Attorney Bob Diamond, but it is this idea that only fear stands in our way that has meant so much to me.

It is “just a movie,” but watch it and the next time you realize you’re afraid to do something - picture having to defend not doing it against Lena Foster (Lee Grant) arguing that you were simply afraid. I’m not going to insist I’m ready to advance now, but it helped me overcome fears and I can prove it.

I was afraid to go see “Up” because I was afraid I was going to cry in the movie theater right? But I went anyway . . .

and I cried . . .

thank God for those 3D glasses . . . .

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Second Song

My second song is "Comes Love."  I don't know which version because I don't know who was singing it when I first heard it . . . some female vocalist from the 1930s, but I don't know which one . . .  Perhaps I should explain.

I'm a big fan of the music of the 20's and the 30's.  Earlier than that and the sound is liable to be a little operatic and shrill; later than that and it is too common, familiar.  The 20's with the early jazz gyrations of exuberance like "Ain't We Got Fun? or "That's A Plenty;" the 30's with the crooning encouragements like "Pennies From Heaven" or "The Best Things in Life are Free;"  and the bluesy innuendos of sexual decadence or, frankly, the substance abuse that perhaps accompanies a Prohibition like "I Wanna Be Bad" or "Minnie the Moocher" -performed with this wonderful nearly indescribable tinny, hollow sound.  Frequently the performers' voices seem to mimic the sound of a trumpet that has been muffled by a "mute."  I once played a 20s/30s favorite for Art, certainly the smartest guy about audio in my experience, and asked him "How do they get the singer to sound like that . .what IS that?"  His answer?  Bad microphones . . .

Perhaps . . . I've been known to use outdated, "bad" photographic equipment to achieve an artistic goal . . .maybe simply using old salvaged mics would achieve a similar distortion of sound that old lenses bring to sight. . . . . maybe.

I first discovered that I loved that music in another Steve Martin/Bernadette Peters film, "Pennies From Heaven" which was a big screen version of Dennis Potter's mini-series about a daydreamer who perpetually drifts into cinematic musicals when facing his humdrum life.  My new favorites were Helen Kane, the Boswell Sisters, and the underappreciated Irving Aaronson.

I'm a big fan of 20's and 30's music; I'm not necessarily a fan of big amusement park rides.  The two would seem to be mutually exclusive with nothing in common until you consider the Disney ride "Tower of Terror."  The ride is themed around a haunted, dilapidated 1930's Hollywood hotel and while the "main action"  is pushing you down faster than gravity can pull you, the gift shop is playing some truly wonderful music.  I rode the Disney World Tower in 2005 and, don't get me wrong, it's a great ride.  The number of drops varies each time you ride and the velocity of the surprise-when it comes-will lift things that aren't tied down up from the seat.  But faced with riding the California Adventure Tower in 2008, I was a little reluctant.

Truthfully, I'm always reluctant about amusement park rides . . . I get motion sickness and I spend WAY TOO MUCH TIME evaluating whether I will throw up on a ride.  There is some part of my brain that apparently thinks throwing up is the equivalent of death or worse.  I don't like to throw up.  But I realized that my reluctance to riding the tower wasn't because I was afraid I would throw up.  I knew I wouldn't.  Rather, I was anticipating it like someone who needs to use the restroom feels about an extremely bumpy road that stands between him and his end goal.  I wasn't looking forward to the sensations the Tower was going to deliver.  So I chose not to ride and retired to the giftshop to wait for my friends.  

Giddy with relief and self-satisfaction at having made a decision not based on fear, I had a rare moment of "real" conversation with a middle-aged saleslady about the ride before she descended back into trying to sell me Hollywood Hotel bathtowels and shotglasses when all of the sudden "Comes Love" came over the shop's speakers.  It was all I could do not to sway along with the music or attempt to sing along.  

"Comes a rainstorm, put your rubbers on your feet
Comes a snowstorm, you can get a little heat
Comes love, nothing can be done . . ."

I nearly hit the saleslady like Dino hits Fred when he comes home to the Flintstone household.  "That, you can sell me that," I said, pointing at the ceiling.  When I finally made her understand that I meant a soundtrack to the ride, she led me to the only soundtrack the giftshop had to sell - "The Nightmare Before Christmas."  

When I think back on Orlando's Tower in 2005, I remember hoping this was the last drop and that we could get off now.  When I think about Anaheim's Tower in 2008, I remember everything I just told you-but in even greater detail-the saleslady's hair and glasses, the various items on display, the barriers at the check out (suggesting nearly as many people purchase the photo of them riding the ride as actually 'ride the ride,') the feel of the light carpet under my feet, the smiles on my friends faces as they exited towards me and I encouraged them to go again . . and it's wrapped up in this ribbon of a haunting tune that still makes me want to undulate and sing along with the cobwebbed earworm in my brain . . 

even if I don't know who is singing . . .

but I someday I will . . . 

cause I may not have bought the soundtrack, 
but the song exists on media somewhere . . .

and I took home the thrill of the hunt.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

First Song - (Stated in no particular order)

I've been inspired by LL&L and I have decided to make a list of favorites.  Only I'm going to list one per posting and I'm going to to start with music (although I reserve the right to switch to movies or books or whatever at anytime . . . lol.)

First song - "Lament" sung by Bernadette Peters from the show "Into The Woods."  

I think I first became fond of Bernadette Peters when I saw her in Steve Martin's "The Jerk." I fell in love with the "You Belong to Me" sung acapella by Peters and Martin and it has been on every MP3 player I've ever owned.

I stumbled into "Into The Woods" kinda backwards . . . .  I worked at an independent bookstore as the "returns department."  It was a dangerous job for a book reader-books being returned could frequently be purchased by employees at the discount at which they had been sold to the store and I was exposed to many deals.  One day an illustrated version of "Into the Woods" crossed my desk.  I've always loved fairy tales and after glancing at just a page or two, I knew I would have to read this book.  By the end of the day, I knew it had to come home with me.  I had no idea it was also a Broadway show.  I found that out when PBS broadcasted it one Christmas.  I immediately laughed and enjoyed "The Steps of The Palace;" "Hello, Little Girl;" and "Agony;" but the songs that stuck with me . . that picked at my subconscious were "Stay With Me" and "Lament."

Both songs are told from the point of view of the witch who kidnaps Rapunzel.  

In case you're not familiar with "Into The Woods," let me backtrack . . . in the story a group of different fairy tale characters - Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk,) among others - meet up and their individual tales intertwine and become something new.  Beleaguered by the wife of Jack's giant, the characters are forced to perform a unique scavenger hunt so that Rapunzel's witch can set the world right again.  

Now my favorite fairy tale as a child was "Rumplestiltskin" (who isn't included in "Into The Woods,") but essentially "Rumplestiltskin" and "Rapunzel" could almost be portions of the same story.  (A) Magical creature (Rumplestiltskin/the witch) is irritated by non-magical commoner.  (B) Angered, the magical creature exacts revenge by taking the non-magical commoner's first born child.  

Until "Into The Woods," I think I always looked at the stories as a karmic phenomenon.  The revenge is directed at the core of the original dilemma and hits the commoners essentially where they live.  But if it is revenge, what do Rumplestiltskin and the witch really get out of the deal?  What happens next?  You can't exactly sing "I got yer baby" for the next 20 years.  

The emotional and powerful delivery of Bernadette Peters in the song "Lament" is that of a mother caring and agonizing about her child, not a witch punishing the neighbors.  It turned my notion of who was the bad guy and who was the good guy in the fairy tales forever on its ear.  

Without the rights to "Lament," I can't present the song to you here (it isn't even on the list of things that are "blip"able,) but I wrote this short story,  "Witch", with that song playing as an earworm.  

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hidden, Secret Worlds

Last night I went to bed as usual.  Read a little, turned out the lights and went to sleep.  This morning I woke up feeling like I had a splinter in my right palm - a splinter that wasn't there yesterday.

It made me think of an old tv movie of the week- I looked it up and it was called "Night Slaves" and it starred James Franciscus (the guy in the 2nd Planet of the Apes movie and/or the blind detective "Longstreet.)  Anyway in the movie Franciscus has been injured or in some sort of accident and he has a metal plate in his head.  He and his wife go to some small town for him to relax and recuperate, but he discovers that, at night, his wife and the rest of the town leave their beds and perform manual labor.  I can't remember what manual labor; it was kinda like building roads or something.  In the morning, they are a little tired, but remember nothing.  Franciscus is immune, presumably due to the plate in his head.  

So when I woke up feeling like I had a splinter in my hand, I thought, "Whoa!  What unseen force is making me perform cabinetry at night?"  I looked around my house, but no new wooden furniture was there to be found. . . .

Seriously, what is it about the idea of an unknown, parallel world that is so intriquing?  

It's like that red pill and blue pill in "The Matrix."  I never even saw the later movies, but in that first one-they had me in the palm of their hand.  There was never a question, if given the choice, I'd take that red pill.  I wanna meet the wizard; see whose hand is pulling the curtain . . .

But lately I kinda wonder.  Maybe we believe too much in secret societies, hidden truths and mysteries to be uncovered.  We believe in hidden foes that control the world and determine it's outcome; we dream of fantasy lovers and benefactors who will see us as something special and carry us off like Cinderella to a fairy tale life.  

All of that is looking for validation outside of yourself.  

It seems like it is divided into 2 camps:  the camp that is looking for someone or something to give their life meaning and the camp that is looking for someone or something to blame because their life is meaningless .  . . . .Neither camp is a good place to be and if you get too comfortable there you win . . . . .  a longer stay in the camp -meaning you'll continue to look for someone to save you or blame someone for making you feel this way . . .either way . .you'll feel the same.  

I once read that the ending of the movie "Pretty Woman" didn't originally have Julia Roberts running off with Richard Gere.  She simply left "the life" and went to school, a stronger, more proactive, responsible person; but that wasn't good enough for audiences.  They wanted the fairy tale.  

Don't let wanting the fairy tale get in the way of your happy ever after.  

No one is going to show up and offer you a red pill or a glass slipper.