Friday, March 31, 2006

Tuxedo Junction

I feel sorry for my wife, because she’s a girl.

Wait, that didn’t sound right. Let me explain.

I tried on my tux yesterday. I had to see if it still fit before heading off to Seattle for Taproot Theatre’s 30th anniversary celebration.

The tux plays into my history with Taproot. I was the Managing Director of the company the year we moved into our very own theatre. To mark the auspicious occasion of Taproot’s first season in its own home, Artistic Director Scott Nolte and I decided we would wear a tuxedo each opening night.

So, like two typical boys, we went shopping. Okay, maybe that isn’t a boy thing; in fact, the very anti-boyish nature of shopping for formal wear (at least the anti-Sean/Scott nature of shopping for formal wear) is part of what makes the event so special. Hey, a condition of my accepting a job at Taproot was being able to wear jeans to work. And Scott in a tie signalled either a board meeting, a fund raising meeting, or an audition as an used car salesman.

But the tux was more than a six-openings costume; I was getting married that year, and was frugal enough to figure out that if the wife-to-be approved the tux I bought for the theatre games, then I wouldn’t have to go formal wear shopping later.

So here I am, nearly ten years later, squeezing into my wedding/opening night tuxedo. I’ve gained weight. Or the tux shrunk, you make the call. I’ve worn the thing a couple of times in the intervening years, so it’s no surprise that the pants that used to require suspenders fits just fine now, thank you very much.

I decide to wear the tux around that apartment for a spell to make sure that I’m not going to pop a button. Watch a little bit of John Stewart in a penguin suit. Go for some chips and salsa, recover my sanity, and pop some popcorn instead.

No buttons fling off. In fact, it almost becomes comfortable. I forget about the restricting bow tie, the pressure on my abdomen from the vest, the jacket that pulls when I slouch, reminding me that formal wear requires formal posture.

And I’m taken back. Back to that first opening night, when the dressing rooms were still in a construction zone, and the balcony railing that obstructed the views wasn’t fixed, and the air conditioning acknowledged only two settings – frozen tundra and burning desert.

Back to a family of friends and coworkers, who, just like a family, fought and bickered and created and bonded. Back to talent that at the end of the day was about devotion to the craft and a love of the audience. Back to a time/place when/where no one expected the Spirit to be separated from the act of creation, where faith and art wrestled into unified vision.

I stood in my hallway, looking at the mirror, at my tuxedoed forty year-old self. I can almost see my brother Mark standing behind me. I can certainly hear him. I’m not in my Burbank apartment; I’m in that little room off the church sanctuary, wondering if I look as scared as I feel, wondering if she’ll really come down that aisle, wondering if this is all a dream, or a practical joke. And my brother mocks me in my tux, as only a brother can: a reassuring, loving, you-know-what-you’re-doing-so-get-over-yourself mock.

That’s what a best man does – stands alongside. And we are out there, facing the aisle, standing together watching and waiting.

And she appears. She is a dream, but a real, waking one. And she is coming down the aisle, towards me of all people.

And that’s why I feel sorry for my wife. (Okay, for those that don’t know Mark, he just made a smart aleck remark like, “because she came down the aisle to you?” Ignore Mark, please.)

You see, the woman gets to have that very-special-dress, that one-in-a-million dress, the this-is-the-only-time-you’ll-wear-it dress. And it is the only time she gets to wear it. The guy gets the practical, use it again when there’s a formal event, tuxedo.

So every couple of years, I’ll have some reason to need a monkey suit, and I’ll try it on as a measure of just how much a diet of Doritos and Pop Tarts effects the aging body. And I’ll feel the rigidity of that bow tie and the heft of that jacket; and I’ll look in the mirror…

And I get to remember.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Attention Cat Lovers

We want to hear from you…

Sean & I are looking to adopt a kitty fairly soon.

We know that cat owners are passionate about their pets, so we’d like to get your opinions on a few issues:

  • Is it better to get an adult cat (already litter trained!) or a kitten?
  • One kitty or two (so they have a playmate)? If two, should they be siblings, or just friends?
  • Favorite breed? (we do know we want a short haired breed)
  • Male or female?
  • Preferred litter box material?
  • Great food?
  • Other important "you've GOT to know this if you have a kitty" type advice?

We look forward to hearing your cat-wisdom.

Thank you!

--cath

This is Shale, waiting to be adopted at Cat Connection in Sherman Oaks. We met her on Sunday. What a sweetie.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Bugs, the Bowl, and a Babe


Remember that Bugs Bunny cartoon where he got ticked at the tenor, so he pretended to be a conductor, and made the tenor sing until he brought the hall down on himself?

That took place at the Hollywood Bowl, which is kind of cool, since my wife will be performing there next month.

The Bowl has hosted some amazing talent over the years: Sinatra, Bernstein, Pavarotti, Streisand, Stravinsky, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Abbott and Costello, Baryshnikov, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, as well as the aforementioned rascally rabbit.

Oh, and did I mention, Catherine Gaffney?

Bel Air Presbyterian, our home church, will be holding its Easter service at the Hollywood Bowl this year, at 11 am. And Catherine will be acting in a monologue as part of the service. Good friends Chris and Helen, and Ray and Karen will also be performing as part of the Choir.

I think that the Beatles made their Bowl appearance as part of a church service as well. Yes, I distinctly remember seeing footage of hundreds of women being slain in the spirit by that posse of pentecostal preachers.

Come down to the Bowl on April 16th. Admission is free.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Critic Secrets Revealed

From good friend and fellow writer, Jennifer Schuchmann:

A drama critic is a person who surprises a writer by informing him what he meant.
~ Wilson Mizner


From first hand experience on both sides of the orchestra pit -- yeah, that's true.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Friday, March 24, 2006

Classical Crime Fighter

I was listening to a classical music station the other day (I don't always listen to classical music or read poetry, but you can be sure that when I do I'll brag about it in this blog. It makes you think I'm classy.) Between numbers (that's classical music slang for "songs") the announcer told an interesting story.

It seems that a Florida city was having serious crime problems in its public park. To solve the issue, they put speakers throughout the park, and pumped in classical music.

And the crime rate decreased by 40%.

The classical music lovers weren't sure whether to be insulted (Mozart even drives criminals away!) or validated (Beethoven is so pure, you can't even think criminal thoughts around it!).

I guess we shouldn't be surprised. Even Lucy had a hard time staying crabby while leaning against Schroeder's piano.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Why I Write

The noble:

"The only end of writing is to enable readers better to enjoy life or better to endure it." -Samuel Johnson

And the truth behind my desire to write:

"My main reason for adopting literature as a profession was that, as the author is never seen by his clients, he need not dress respectably." -George Bernard Shaw

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Who's On First, or Tenth, Actually


I wasn’t the Doctor Who fan; that honor belonged to my brother Greg, who attempted to convince me to join him in a marathon viewing back in the days when he had the television in the basement of the Chicago house – a basement glorious devoid of windows, allowing no passing of the sun or moon to break the spell of junk-food fueled, four-day long movie binges.

But to interrupt movie viewing with Doctor Who viewing was asking a bit much. I tried, but, oh! Those production values, and accents, and weird costumes (he’s an alien because he’s wearing a silver body suit? How does that work?) And forget about convincing me that the guy with the scarf in one episode is the same as that other actor in the next… I gave up and convinced my host to returned the television to the adventures of Martin Riggs.

Perhaps in aging, I have grown wiser. Or maybe it is nostalgia for a show I never liked, but is now showing new episodes.

Or maybe it’s because the good Doctor, being science fiction, is able to more easily portray big ideas, the kind I like to chew on these days.

Whatever the cause, I found myself turning to a somewhat better production valued series, that is still preposterous and requires a giddy suspension of disbelief that is only possible late at night or by the silly at heart.

And my head thanks my heart for agreeing to be a bit silly.

On a recent DOCTOR WHO episode:

The Doctor, trying to impress first-time time-traveler Rose, takes her 5 Billion years into the future, where they join a party watching the destruction of the earth as the sun explodes.

The show features three beings representing earth:

The last human from earth, who finally reached perfect physical perfection through surgery by literally being only a patch of skin spread out on a canvas stretcher, featureless if it weren’t for makeup pointing out her lips and eyes (can you get any thinner?) Petty, self absorbed, and obsessed by thinness and money. Her gift to the other guests is a fake ostrich egg.

A Tree alien, rumored to be descended from the Rain Forest, there to pay final respects to a planet that has so affected the galaxy. Noble, a bit presuming, and ultimately willing to give her life so that other lives may continue. Her gift to the other guests is a living tree sapling.

Rose, a traveler from our time, who upon learning that the earth is nearing its end is driven to call home and check in on Mum (who is fine, and trying to finish the laundry, and why are you calling in the middle of the day?). After the earth is destroyed, and the villain that is trying to destroy those watching the earth be destroyed is destroyed, Rose is the one that points out that they all were too busy trying to save themselves to notice the destruction of an entire planet. She had no gift to offer, since she didn’t know she was coming to a party were gifts were required.

And of course there is the Doctor, who as an alien doesn’t represent earth – except of course by being the one that has saved earth countless times throughout history. The Doctor is a bit of a paradox in this – while constantly saving the earth in the past, he is rather cavalier about its destruction now. He seems to feel that it isn’t death that is a problem, but rather premature death; a theory perhaps born out of his own planets premature demise. His gift to others – air from his lungs.

And after the adventure, the only way for Rose to deal with the inevitable destruction of all life is to stand in the middle of a busy London street, and pop off to the pub for some fresh chips.

Let the writing of the dissertations begin.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

The new DOCTOR WHO is now playing on the Sci Fi channel.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Craig on Culture and Comedy

Craig Ferguson, host of THE LATE, LATE SHOW was on SUNDAY MORNING SHOOTOUT a few weeks ago; and of course I am only getting around to watching two week old shows now. (I like popular culture to have a cooling off period before immersing myself.)

On the show he made an interesting observation about cultural snobbery.

In this society, when one wants to feel superior while discussing dramas, they talk about what they LIKE in relation to others. "I fully understood that obscure work, and if you were as clever as I, you might have as well."

When one wants to feel superior while discussing comedy, they talk about what they DISLIKE in relation to others. "Well, if you find that sort of movie funny, that shows how low your tastes are."

He brought this up in context of films, and why it seems that dramas outweigh comedies in the Oscar races.

Like I said, interesting.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Making a Break For It


Tonight marks the return of PRISON BREAK, and it’s about time. Scofield and his crew have been hanging out under the infirmary for months now, and that can’t be good. Someone’s got to notice that they haven’t been in their cells since before Jack Bauer started his new day.

PRISON BREAK is on my must see list, and not just because of the tense, well-plotted action, the great acting, and the marvelous writing (in full disclosure, I have a friend on the writing staff, but I don’t believe that has biased me. Too much).

Yeah, it is great quality, but I am also drawn irresistibly to the show because I love entertainments that have layers of meaning. Like LOST, where if you barely scratch at the surface, you unearth complex metaphors and layers of significance. PRISON BREAK, too, is larger than itself.

I had a revelation just the other night, while at a prayer meeting. One would expect that a revelation at a prayer meeting would be about something religious, but mine was about television – which has been accused of being the new opiate of the masses, so maybe my revelation isn’t so secular after all. But I was sitting across from the aforementioned friend, so I guess I was tuned towards thinking about Michael Scofield.

So here’s the revelation (probably more of a “no duh” to the rest of y’all): PRISON BREAK is a retelling of the Orpheus myth.

You may remember that Orpheus was the musician whose beloved wife died. The poet-singer decided to get her out of Hades, but the only way to do that was to enter into the land of death and lead her out, risking being trapped himself. His success turned out to be completely based on faith – he was allowed to lead Eurydice to the upper world, but only if he never doubted that she was behind him and turned to look.

Michael is an artist (architecture being his field) whose beloved brother is incarcerated. The tattooed man decides to get his brother out of Joliet, but the only way to do that was to enter into the prison and lead his brother out, risking being trapped himself. And, as we have seen in the first half of the harrowing journey, the plan is completely dependent on Michael never losing faith that his plan will succeed.

Nifty, huh? My fear, however, is in knowing the myth too much: Orpheus does doubt, and turns to see the disappointment/grief in his beloved’s eyes as she returns to the land of the dead.

Michael is cliff-hung in a moment that can only be the greatest test of his faith – will he handle it better than Orpheus? Or will he too realize that faith in oneself will never be enough…

(Hey, don’t be surprised. Most of the metaphors I see in entertainment and life lead me back to thinking about G-d. At least I didn’t go full out, and make you listen to my thoughts from the prayer meeting, about how we too have a beloved artist who literally descended into Hell to lead us out, if only we have the faith follow his lead – but then again, I just did make you listen. Sneaky…)

Just my thoughts,

Sean

PS Bonus points for the person who can tell me what popular movie in recent history intentionally set out to retell the Orpheus story – about an artist who descends into hell, nearly leads his beloved out – only to lose her when he doubts that she is really following him?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Sheep, the Bible, and the Poetry of Pith


Billy Collins’ poems tend to be short, which is part of what makes him “accessible.” I’d like to mock the people that don’t have the fortitude to stroll through a ninety-eight page ode on the decline of civilization as mirrored in the cheapening of toilet paper quality throughout the 20th century, but then again I’m the guy that looked at PARADISE LOST and thought, “Crap, it’s all in poetry. How am I ever going to get through all that?”

So I enjoy that Billy Collins’ poems are pithy (pithy, by the way, means “short, succinct.” Which is why all those safari guides in those oldy time photos wearing pithy helmets all look short.) It also doesn’t hurt that the guy doesn’t feel stuffy. Sample line from “The Long Day”:

And why does z, which looks like
the fastest letter, come at the very end?
unless they are all moving east
when we are facing north in our chairs.


Hee hee. Okay, so I’m liking some of his poetry stuff. Some are still kind of “eh” to me, but for a populist reader like me, I think the batting average is pretty high.

My favorite is below, which I first heard on Prairie Home Companion. You can listen to Mr. Collins recite it himself by following that PHC link. You can also stroll to the bookstore or library and pick up THE TROUBLE WITH POETRY AND OTHER POEMS, and read it. (Along with another favorite, “Special Glasses,” a mournful piece about a pair of specs that allows one to see everything except the ex-girlfriend. A funny-mournful idea, sort of the way SCRUBS can get amusing-sad, but in two pages rather than 22 minutes.)

Anywho, I give you “Flock” by Billy Collins, in its entirety.


flock

"It has been calculated that each copy of the Gutenberg Bible...required the skins of 300 sheep." -from an article on printing

I can see them squeezed into the holding pen
behind the stone building
where the printing press is housed,

all of them squirming around
to find a little room
and looking so much alike

it would be nearly impossible
to count them,
and there is no telling

which one will carry the news
that the Lord is a shepherd,
one of the few things they already know.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Feather Bed of Words

This was a day for words. A luxurious, rare morning/early afternoon spent in the bed with words.

Reading from my daily devotional and Bible. (Can they be considered “daily” devotionals when I so often miss a day, and spend time like today reading a couple of days worth?) Chit-chatting with G-d over what I thought the readings meant, starting the conversation with an apology over not always making the daily daily.

Reading from 700 SUNDAYS by Billy Crystal, and arguing with myself whether I should keep reading it. My friend Bob Lee raved about the live performance, rating it among the top theatrical experiences of all time (although, admittedly, he did not see the original production of THE FROGS starring Thespis). Seems this material was meant to be performed more than read. I keep reading.

Reading another chapter from FLASH BANG. (Mark Steele did a cartwheel and then what! in a Presidential Inaugural performance? Get out of town!)

Reading several poems from THE TROUBLE WITH POETRY by Billy Collins, taking time to stare at the ceiling wondering about the poem that started by making me laugh, but then went off in that last paragraph to someplace else. Billy seems wont to do that in his work. I don’t read enough poetry, so reading this collection makes me feel good, especially knowing that Mr. Collins was our nation’s poet-laureate, and I didn’t even know that we had a poet laureate until Laura Dern popped up as one on THE WEST WING, making Toby nervous that she would say something anti-Bartlett at the State Dinner, which reminds me that Paula Price's kid, Dylan, will be on the show this Sunday playing Toby's son, although at age three probably not spouting any laureate level couplets, and here I am veering off to someplace else myself…

And not just reading, but spending time with words by writing. A bit from that novel that I take in bits because the whole is too overwhelming. A bit rewriting that spec that still isn’t quite right, but that woman from that show wants to look at tomorrow. A bit of a response to a film I watched two nights ago.

And back to dealing with words by reading, because this is lazy Saturday, and writing feels too much like work, even when done while still propped up in bed after being awake for hours. Laptops: technology's gift for the busy man in pajamas.

So I read blog entries by friends, and I only have enough time in life to read blogs by friends; and then I read blogs by my friend’s friends, an activity that I was afraid reading the blogs of my friends would lead to. But this is lazy Saturday, and I can afford to spend time reading things that I do not have time to read.

And then, dag nab you Jeffrey Overstreet! I click on the link that takes me to a preview of – how could I be so stupid -- SNAKES ON A PLANE. My deep feather bed of words has been soiled by video. The enchantment of prose and poetry has been shattered. I feel dirty.

Might just as well get up, take a shower, and put on real people’s clothes.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

V For Verily, It Could Have Been A Great Film


This movie is rated LBB - SBC: Little bit o’ blood, somewhat bloody confused. Viewers who are squeamish with violence or viewers who remember (unlike the film makers) that Guy Fawkes was pro-Catholic may not find this film their cup of tea.

I joined my friends Josh and Matt for a V FOR VENDETTA preview. A flick with some fun visuals, some thought provoking twists (doesn't V become the evil he is fighting when he -- well, those that have seen it know what action I'm talking about), and some really powerful scenes (V at the doctor's bedside -- nice!)

And, ultimately, a movie that is too much confused by itself. Head to Jeffrey Overstreet for movie reviews; and head to The Beat, a comic book blog, to see where the confusion began. Alan Moore, author of the book (V FOR VENDETTA) on which the movie is based, rants about how Americans messed up the vision.

You see, the original is supposed to be a thought provoking juxtaposition of anarchy versus fascism (not where the movie takes it -- Conservatism versus Liberalism). Moore was shooting for moral ambiguity, and as he says it, "I didn't want to tell people what to think, I just wanted to tell people to think."

I get why the film chooses to shift the conversation -- I mean, who wants to talk about anarchy versus fascism when we can talk about our current government? And who really wants to leave a movie theatre in a state of ambiguity? Okay, I know some of us might, but the box office hunt isn't for some, it is for a wider swath. So shift the conversation, and make V a full on hero, not an ambiguous one.

SPOILER ALERT: The rest of this blog will give away plot points. Pretty much the plot points that the trailers already gave away, but still, plot points near the end of the movie. Read on at your own risk.

The film starts to run into trouble with itself as it approaches the ending. V’s goal is to create anarchy – but if the film ends in anarchy, and V is now the poster boy of anti-conservatism, doesn’t that make liberalism look like anarchy? Truth be told, V does reach his goal of anarchy long before the attack on the Parliament building – with riots, as protesters and police clash and kill each other in a bloody mess. Death and destruction in a bloody mess; hmmm, that isn’t quite the alternative one would like to suggest to replace the Republican right. So instead the filmmakers end up with an anti-climatic mix of peaceful explosions.

And it could have been so much more (it could even have been so much Moore). Critic David Denby of THE NEW YORKER pithily remarks, “ “The country “doesn’t need a building,” V says. “It needs an idea.” Yes, but “Vendetta” doesn’t have any ideas...” (Thanks again to Jeff Overstreet for the lead.) The film makes its argument about what is bad, but has no clue of what might be a worthy alternative.

It’s not as if there were no opportunities. Evie, clearly not of the government, need not have been of V either. (And considering her circumstances, she shouldn’t be on V’s side.) V comes right out and tells her (and us) that the future should be neither of the fascist or the anarchist – it belongs to Evie. So what does Evie stand for?

She blows up parliament, voting for anarchy. Mostly because she wasn’t offered an alternative by the film makers. There was no third choice to consider – and there should always be a third choice.

When I watched the movie, I had no emotional or visceral reaction to Parliament blowing up. I did have an emotional reaction to the people taking their masks off. But not a cathartic one – and it should have been cathartic. It should have been a whoop followed by silence as I sat in wonder and awe over the future of this freed society, over the potential they now hold in their hands. However, there is no potential – only a choice between anarchy and fascism.

That crowd of the cloaked maskless, that crowd of sheep who had a moment of unified courage – that is a crowd of the lost, not of the found.

Want to know my fix? Of course you do.

First, the months that Evie spends away from V should be about her discovering what a free life should look like. (True freedom is not about being free to do whatever you want, but being free to do what is right.)

Second, for the finale, after the crowds have pushed through the soldiers, when the question comes – shall we have anarchy or fascism? – Evie should choose a third way.

Instead of blowing up Parliament, a tremendous fireworks display should be set off from the building; a glorious vision of pyrotechnics that doesn’t destroy.

Evie should have stated in action that she could have destroyed, but used her freedom to chose not to.

Not that would have been an idea.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Foolish Convention...


My book club read DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP by Willa Cather this month. In the back of my copy, there was a letter from Ms. Cather describing how she came to write this particular book, as well as providing insight into her process.

One section that struck me in particular, as Ms. Cather is describing the lovely Catholic churches built the region (New Mexico and surrounding areas), and her wish that there was a more thorough history of their creation:

"...but soon I felt that no record of them could be as real as they are themselves. They are their own story, and it is foolish convention that we must have everything interpreted for us in written language. There are other ways of telling what one feels, and the people who built and decorated those many, many little churches found their way and left their message."

Just her thoughts,

Sean

PS Favorite quote from the book: The old man smiled. "I shall not die of a cold, my son. I shall die of having lived."

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Brain Food

I like to feel smart. However, actually being smart takes work, so I jump at any short cut to stimulate the feeling of braininess without actually having to sit in a classroom for an entire semester.

Perhaps you are like me in this. Here are some activities that can help you achieve a veneer of Mensa-tude.

1) Tivo Jeopardy. Watch it twice. Question all those answers out loud before those moronic, slow poke contestants during the second viewing.

2) After finishing a crossword puzzle to the best of your ability, don't let all the empty squares fool you into thinking you're not brilliant. Fill them in with random letters. From a distance, you look smart.

3) Attend a random, open to the public, lecture at Caltech, preferably on a topic with a title you don't understand. Every time the speaker says something that seems to impress the audience, loudly say "No duh," and roll your eyes. Walk out half way through the lecture, muttering, "Baby Elmo knows more about this stuff than this guy." I recommend trying this tactic during a Stephen Hawking lecture; he's less likely than others to chase you down and beat you up. It is hard to feel smart being publicly whooped by a science geek.

If these methods seem too much like a cheat, and you actually want to become a little smarter while feeling smart, I do have another suggestion.

Mars Hill Audio Journal. Conversations on the cross section of culture and Christianity with Ken Meyers on tape or CD. This is stimulating stuff, covering topics from the role of imagination to literature to media to bioethics. And it is done in a down to earth, even-I-can-follow-it level. In fact, the most recent CD includes a discussion on postmodern individualism and reality television. See, brainy AND couch potatoey all in the same discussion!

Another cool thing about them is they will send you a free sample for you to decide if it really is your cup of tea.

I know this sounds like an ad, but I don't work for these guys. I just really like the way they stimulate my thinking. I found them when David McFadzean bought subscriptions for all the attenders of a Christians in Theatre Arts conference.

Here is a quote from a recent Mars Hill Audio e-mail that summarizes their approach:

"A Christianity which will bear witness to God's Word in Jesus will be a speaking, thinking,arguing, debating Christianity, which will not be afraid to engage in intellectual andphilosophical contest with the prevailing dogmas of its day."
-- Oliver O'Donovan, Begotten or Made? (Clarendon Press, 1984)

Conservative theology meets open minded conversation. My kind of people.

Oh, and if they ever do start to get too brainy, I just say "No duh" and roll my eyes.

Just my thoughts,

-Sean

Quote of the Moment

"I don't like propaganda in the theatre unless it is disguised so brilliantly that the audience mistakes it for entertainment."

- Noel Coward

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Another Plug for a Hot Book

Okay, by now you should own a copy of Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film and Culture.

But in case you don't have it yet, here is a link to an adapted chapter by Barbara Nicolosi, to give you an idea of what you are missing: Escaping the Creative Ghetto.

The book also includes essays by the likes of Dean Batali, Janet Batchler, Ralph Winter, Scott Derrickson and a host of others.

Thanks to Jeff Overstreet for listing the above link on his blog.

Just my thoughts,

-Sean

Monday, March 13, 2006

Good GOOD NIGHT

I am ambivalent about blogging. There is a part of me that wants everyone in the world to read and love me; and a part of me that would prefer it if no one read this at all. I mean, come on: among my first postings was a mostly positive review for KING KONG. Upset some folks, but not enough to get me banned from the webways. Well maybe this entry will get me properly shunned:

I really enjoyed GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK. Not my favorite movie of the year, but right up there in the top fifteen or so. Oh, and just to be thorough, I have a strong respect for George Clooney.

The movie is well made, with proper attention and craft given to setting, costuming, editing and cinematography. In my mind, the film is seamless in shifting from the imaginary world of Strathairn and Clooney playing historical characters to the actual historical clips of the likes of McCarthy and Liberace. The directing was everything it should be, keeping the movie moving while keeping the limelight on the story and the actors.

And what a job the actors did. David Strathairn, a performer that I have admired since I saw him in a reading at the Lamb’s Theatre ages ago, is impeccable. My wife heard him in an interview commenting on how he was struck by Murrow’s stillness. Clearly that translated into his performance, a quiet, contained force in the center of the hectic television news division. Strathairn was mesmerizing.

The writing is an odd hybrid, not quite an original piece, as much of the film is either real clips, or taken straight from existing broadcasts of Murrow’s shows. Nor is it a documentary, or a re-enactment, or, well, any such thing. It doesn’t arc like a story should, playing to the events of history rather than adapting those events to story. It doesn’t dig deep into the characters; in fact it comes with a distance, a screen between the audience of color and the events of black and white.

It felt very much like another history-of-journalism movie, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. And yet, PRESIDENT’S MEN had an awkward, abrupt ending, as if history wouldn’t finish in the timely manner needed for a feature film. GOOD NIGHT however, although oddly structured, although oddly fictional-fact and factual-fiction, just plain worked.

This is a political film, but it is my kind of political film. And by that, I don’t mean because I agree with Mr. Clooney’s politics -- in general, I don’t. I am a moderate Republican, Mr. Clooney is, from all reports, a liberal democrat.

I do not doubt for a second that Mr. Clooney was driven to make this film at this time because he sees parallels between McCarthy and our current administration. And clearly, Mr. Clooney is only interested in Murrow’s side of the story, and only in one part of the story – starting after McCarthy was clearly in his abuse-of-power mode. The film is not the whole history of McCarthyism or the Cold War; just one sliver in a larger history.

That said, I found the film frank and, strangely enough, restrained. While Clooney may see parallels between the past and the present, he did not force them into the movie. The film does NOT start present day with someone commenting, “Gee, wasn’t there another guy like this president? Oh, yes, HUAAC…” and then fade dissolve into the past. The words of McCarthy are not twisted to have a stronger contemporary relevance. The words of Murrow aren’t altered to make clear an anti-Bush administration stance. McCarthy is presented, to his own discredit, strictly by existing footage, allowing McCarthy to speak for McCarthy.

No, the story is presented as its own story. The film makes no connections to the present; it leaves any such connecting to the audience.

Lesser filmmakers (like a certain documentary maker I can think of) wouldn’t let the story speak for itself. Mr. Clooney did, and I respect him for that.

As a side note, I have read and heard a good number of people slamming this movie for its political slant. I find it interesting that many are direct attacks on the personhood of George Clooney, while not addressing the content of the movie itself.

Highly ironic, if you’ve seen the movie. And pretty much confirms any point that Mr. Clooney was hoping to make.

Just my thoughts,

-Sean

(For a dissenting view on Clooney's level of honesty, visit washingtonpost.com, the same paper that brought us ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN.)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Zen Sarcasm

Okay, I've hopped back over twice to reread it, 'cuz it makes me laugh. Take a spin to friend Janet Batchler's blog for her list of top ten Zen Sarcasms.

For an insight as to what makes me twisted, #4 is my favorite.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

But I Do Appreciate Stories!

Sometimes, I just have to respond. The following is a comment from my Oscar post, and my response to the comment.

juliep123 said...

With all do respect, sir, you forgot that "Brokeback" DID win Best director (Ang Lee), Best adapted screenplay, and one other award (best original score, was it?). It really saddens me that right-wingers have supposedly issued a full-scale holy war on the film industry. Hundreds of movies are made and released each year; truly there MUST be something out there that reaches your values. People need to stop acting so paranoid about the "worldview" of stories and start appreciating them. Maybe that's the reason why Hollywood is, apparently, dominated by so-called "Liberals".

Juliep123,

First off, thank you for agreeing with me. You seem to be suggesting that a film should not be judged solely on its world view, which is precisely what I state in my reasons why I am glad BROKEBACK did not win best picture. I feel that the category should go to the best movie of the year, not the good movie that happens to have a popular liberal/conservative/religious/atheistic/political/apolitical slant.

I’m not sure why you think I forgot that BROKEBACK won director, adapted screenplay and original score. I didn’t mention who won best animated short, and you didn’t accuse me of forgetting that someone got that award.

But as long as you brought it up: I won’t comment on original score, because I don’t know enough about scoring to feel qualified. I won’t comment on whether BROKEBACK should have won best adaptation, because I haven’t compared the original story to the script to know if it was a great adaptation.

I will say that best director isn’t a surprise. Several actor friends (who know of whence they speak) feel that the acting noms BROKEBACK got were all well deserved; and if at least three actors in one film give Oscar worthy performances, it tends to mean the director did his job really well. And Ang Lee is a good director (I really enjoyed SENSE AND SENSIBILITY even though I was prejudiced against it by not liking the novel), so, again, I’m not surprised.

You gave me a bit of whiplash by talking about being saddened by right-wingers and their holy war on the film industry, then following up by talking about my values. Surely you aren’t claiming that I am a right-winger engaging in the jihad you talk about? If so, wow. I think that may tell me more about the world you live in than it does about the one I do.

By the way, within just that one post, I gave positive notices to (and appreciate!) CRASH, GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, WALK THE LINE, RAY, and THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT. And yet, because I suggested that BROKEBACK is a good film but not the best picture of the year, you claim I haven’t found anything out there that reaches my values. I can only respond by saying what I think should be obvious: of the hundreds of movies that are made and released every year, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN was only one of them.

Just my thoughts,

-Sean

Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscar Night '06

As the Oscars have now come and gone, here are a few of my thoughts:

BROKEBACK DID NOT GET BEST PICTURE

And I’m glad. Not because of the gay non-issue (and may I say that yet again the general Christian buzz on the film is misplaced. Really, we are supposed to be upset because the adulterers in the picture are romanticizing same sex relations? How about being upset because the two adulterers are, oh, I don’t know, romanticizing adultery? For some great thoughts on BROKEBACK, check out Jeff Overstreet’s blog, and scroll down to “Revised: Revisiting Tonight’s Big Oscar Winner”)

No, the reason I am glad is that from all reports, BROKEBACK is a good film, not an Oscar worthy film. I felt the same about SIDEWAYS, a movie I thoroughly enjoyed, but thought was a tad over-hyped.

On the carpet tonight, I watched the critic’s round-up as they picked their winner for Best Pic. Interesting to watch, as they practically all agreed that BROKEBACK was important and groundbreaking (I disagree), and just about admit out loud that if it was about a heterosexual couple, it wouldn’t be in the running.

In other words, a good film, but not an Oscar worthy film.

CRASH WON BEST PIC

And I am happy with that. I really liked CRASH; it worked for me. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, here is a tip: it is NOT a slice of life movie. Most of the criticism I have heard of the flick comes down what I think is a misread of the kind of a movie it is. It is a hyper-reality film; it is nearly a fantasy. Haggis has taken kernels of reality, and blown them way out of proportion to see what would happen if we looked at ourselves under the microscope.

And the real story is about us, the audience. How are we reacting? Where are we forcing black and white answers on this colorized world?

I love that we aren’t allowed to hate the despicable, or grant unconditional approval on the heroic. I love that there is ultimately only one pure character in the piece (a child), and no purely lost character. I love that Haggis forced me (against my will and every fiber of my being) to see the world as G-d does – painfully broken, woefully unable to heal itself, but still worthy of redemption.

Is it manipulation? You bet. But for me, it worked.

Ah, the scene where the child worries for her daddy, because she has his invisible, bullet-proof cape – ah. I still cannot think about her running out of the house without tearing up – months after watching the movie. For that alone, I won’t begrudge the statuette sitting on Haggis’ shelf.

REESE TOOK BEST ACTRESS

And I can live with that. WALK THE LINE was an amazing piece of work; all the brilliant acting and directing of RAY, without the missteps in the script.

I’ll write more about the film soon, but for here I’ll be content to say that I’m glad it got one of the major statuettes. And Reese was amazing, so why not?

WALLACE AND GROMIT GOT AN AWARD

And hopefully they can use it to get some well deserved cheese. The passion required to make animated films, and to especially make them so well with attention to all details from character design to script… wow.

GEORGE CLOONEY HAS AN OSCAR

For a movie I haven’t seen. But I did see GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK last night.

And heck, I’d give George an Oscar for his acting work in FACTS OF LIFE just to say thank you for this film. It’s a weird film, in that it is half documentary and half regular movie, with real footage for all the clips, and many of Murrow’s speeches done verbatim from the original. So I don’t know what category this would fit in, but there is no denying the performances were outstanding, as was the direction.

And it is an important film (unlike the touted cowboy romance). And I don’t have room to say why here, so another promise for a more thorough examination in the near future…

THREE SIX MAFIA WON BEST SONG

I think they sang “This Little Light Of Mine, I’m Gonna Let It Shine.” Or maybe not. I was in the other room getting some Thin Mints out of the freezer while they performed. But I’m sure it was a G-dly, uplifting song.

BEST MOMENT OF THE NIGHT

Streep and Tomlin recreating the feel of a Robert Altman film while presenting the Honorary Oscar. Priceless.

Although Jon Stewart’s explanation to the audience of what a pimp is (“an agent with a better hat”) comes in a close second.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Quality of the Artist

On a writer's web group that I belong to, one participant was yearning for a book or somesuch by one of the great writers that would fully explain how to create such masterpieces as they did. It seemed to this person that the musings on writing by the greats is incomplete, possibly because the writers wanted to make their craft seem more of a mystical experience. (He was speaking specifically of Flannery O'Connor, in general of most great writers.)

I thought my response might interest some of y'all, so I'm reprinting part of it here.

Here is my take on what is needed to create great art:

When G-d designated the artist he thought capable of doing his work, he said, “I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability, and knowledge in all kinds of crafts…” (Exodus 31:3)

In other words, we need three things (and we need all three of them):

-Things that can be taught (Knowledge of our craft)

-Things that can’t be taught, but can be nurtured (skill, ability – talent and aptitude)

-Things that can only be given by G-d (Spirit, inspiration, the mystical)

I would argue that great artists can NOT explain the full how-to of their work even if they wanted to, that there is a mystical element involved, that the work will always mean more than they could ever intend.

So, in sum: Study (attend classes, review those notes, read books on writing, scrutinize the greats), nurture (exercise the writing muscles continuously, feed the spirit with great art, rub up against fellow artists sharpening one another) and pray (be open to inspiration, brood, and get out of G-d’s waywhen the Spirit wants to work).

And leave the rest – success and failure – to the Wisdom of the Creator.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Friday, March 03, 2006

I've Been Upgraded!

Jeff Overstreet, writer of Looking Closer Journal (a blog that I shouldn't have to link to, since it is on all your speed dials, no?), has referenced me before in his blog. But now I have been upgraded to full entry in Looking Closer!

I responded to his blog on being attacked along with other Christians who review films by Ted Baehr of Movie Guide. Jeff took my comment and gave it its own entry.

I feel so validated! Hop on over and take a look see.

-Sean

Thursday, March 02, 2006

More HOODWINKED


HOODWINKED has been nominated for a Saturn award. For those of you who don't know, a Saturn award is given to the filmmaker most likely to be driving an inexpensive but stylish automobile. Or they are the awards given by The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Fims.

One of the two. I get them confused.

-Sean

BOOK I'M LOVING AT THE MOMENT


Misleading title, as I am enjoying multiple books at the moment. I tend to read four or five books at the same time, ranging from the intellectually deep (Batman graphic novels and Dilbert cartoon collections), to serious non-fiction (Dave Barry, Mark Twain) to the occasional light reading (St. Augustine, Shakespeare).

Some books take longer than others, usually because I want to spend more time in them. I'm still working my way through BEHIND THE SCREEN; using it as a weekly devotional. Some books are quicker, especially if they have a deadline, like my book club books. (TRISTAN AND ISEULT, or as my wife calls it ENGLISH PATIENT FOR THE MIDDLE AGES.)

One that I am taking my time and savoring is FLASHBANG: HOW I GOT OVER MYSELF, by Mark Steele. Why I'm loving this book:

-It is a book dealing with theology that in no way takes itself too seriously. G.K. Chesterton said, "I've often thought that the gigantic secret of G-d is mirth." I agree, and have trouble taking seriously anyone that doesn't find mirth in their world view.

-Mark has a running dialogue with himself throughout the book. Dialogue may be the wrong way to describe it. He heckles himself. He provides his own Statler and Waldorf, sitting in the balcony mocking the author's performance. Witty stuff.

-The book is practical, not a "lets get in a classroom and debate this stuff, then go out in the world and forget we ever read it" book.

-The book contains sentences like: "Speaking only for myself, the assumption upon meeting someone impressive is that I must become more impressive than I actually am -- somehow matching my impression of their impressiveness, which is often an inaccurate impression." Gold, pure gold.

-Mark is involved in film making, and devotes an entire chapter to the shooting of a film for a Japanese car company and getting caught in a tornado in Oklahoma. Hey, if you've survived shooting a film while literally being swept up in a tornado, you deserve to have someone read your book.

-The book makes me laugh, and entertains, and convicts, and makes me stop every once in a while, put the book in my lap, and stare at the ceiling wondering.

It is a book that I am enjoying so much, that I actually CAN wait to see how it ends.

Just my thoughts,

Sean