Papa don't preach, I'm in trouble deep
Before StonewallMy friend Jonathan and I wrote an article about a gay extortion ring in the early 60s. It's on Medium and should only take you six minutes to read!
Let Your Idols FallAs a gay man of a certain age who likes to bake and collect cookbooks, it was inevitable that I'd encounter MFK Fisher. Ms. Fisher inspired a lot of the men and women who transformed American cuisine in the 70s and 80s, such as Alice Waters. Her writings about her life and food are extraordinary, and I remember being completely seduced by her sharp, confident prose.
I became an ardent fan.
But then several events happened that made me reassess Ms. Fisher. The first is that I mentioned my fandom to an older gay friend who happened to be good friends with the British actress Gloria Stewart. He informed me that Gloria had been very good friends with Ms. Fisher, until the actress became an anecdote in one of her books. The story in question involved an anonymous actress whose daughter refused to eat her cooking. It was a fairly mean-spirited anecdote, especially when coupled with the fact that it was completely false and that it was clearly about Gloria. When Gloria confronted Ms. Fisher - hurt and confused by the betrayal - she found her friend strangely unmoved, and certainly not apologetic. It might seem like a minor bit of character assassination (in fact, that term may be too strong), but it was Ms. Fisher's strange, cold smile that most hurt - it said, I don't care that it was untrue, and I don't care that I hurt you.
It caused a rift between the two that was never healed.
The other event that caused me to reconsider Ms. Fisher involves an exchange she had with a man dying of AIDS that's included in her collection of letters. At first glance, it seems harmless. Ms. Fisher encourages the man to continue to savor whatever food he can, even though he's dying - even if it's just a cracker. But now, armed with the insight of the Gloria Stewart incident, it displays a shocking lack compassion. Having known plenty of gay men who died of AIDS, savoring food at the end of their lives was certainly the least of their concerns. Kindness, compassion, and the lessening physical and spiritual pain - those were in high demand. Enjoying a saltine - not so much.
Like an affair that's ending, when you start to notice everything wrong with your beloved, I couldn't stop seeing Ms. Fisher's narcissism and lack of compassion. Her fairly constant judgmentalism. It's subtle, and her beautiful prose does a fine job covering over these defects.
But it's there if you're looking for it. Like the hidden signifiers of dry rot that a homeowner might miss, but that a contractor can readily point out.
As an example, her contribution to The James Beard Celebration Cookbook. It's a wonderful book filled with famous chefs and restaurateurs and friends and colleagues, each contributing wonderful stories and recipes - some that they prepared for Beard himself, others taken from his cookbooks or lectures. This cookbook ends with Ms. Fisher, and although her short entry expresses deep affection - in fact, the almost preposterous statement that Beard was the only person she loved unconditionally - she includes no recipe. She claims this is only honest. Okay, you might say, fair enough. But is it? In all of her interactions with this person (who she most loved unconditionally, and who was a fellow gourmet), there's not one recipe that they talked about? Not one shared obsession or quirky matter of taste?
No, Ms. Fisher was very shrewd. By not contributing a recipe, coupled with her outlandish claim of deep connection with Beard, she secured the last word. In fact, it seems like that was Ms. Fisher's primary goal in life: to have the last word. Whether it was true or not.
So, just to get it out on the table at the beginning, I thought this was a brilliant limited series. The performances are amazing - what a cast! - and the writing is smart. Cate Blanchett does the nearly incomprehensible feat of making Phyllis Schlafly understandable - she's still a monster, but she's a monster who created her own prison through the thousand of small cuts of casual (and overt) misogyny.
Did I enjoy it? That's a tougher question. I found myself watching this series feeling terribly anxious. And I think the reason is that you know, going in, that the ERA is defeated. It's like a horror movie where the horror is foreordained with no possibility of hope or redemption. Imagine Jaws, if the whole movie were scenes of happy beach goers, families enjoying Martha's Vineyard. It plays out, and the shark is hinted at, so you wait. And finally, at the end of the movie, the shark attacks the young skinny dipper. End of movie.
I talked with a couple of friends about this anxiety. Both agreed they felt the same. Maybe it's the feeling of doom that comes from watching how the religious right ascended into power, with Reagan being the grandfather of the movement that led us to the fascistic tendencies of Trump. Sure, Mrs. America ends with a hopeful speech from Gloria Steinem. And Phyllis gets her comeuppance - a hoped for Cabinet position is pulled out from beneath her. Reagan got her mailing list and basically Phyllis can go fuck herself. In the nicest way possible.
There's hope and schadenfreude. But I still felt anxious. Till the very end. Maybe it's because I'm part of a minority - I'm gay - that is at the mercy of the politics of straight white men. Religious freedom? Sure, go ahead and take my rights away, because really, who could possibly be against religious freedom?
I'm still anxious, even today. But I'm glad I watched this remarkable story.
HomecomingI was a big fan of the first season, but my interest in the second season was really piqued when I found out Janelle Monae was going to be one of the stars. It's a cliche, but I'd gladly listen to Monae read the phone book (or whatever the digital equivalent is these days - our Contacts?).
Now that I've finished the season, I found my curiosity was very much rewarded. There seems to be a lot of negative criticism about the show. That it doesn't really pay off. Or that the characters are all pretty much irredeemable (with the exception of Walter, whose reappearance brings the story to a wonderfully nasty close). Even Chris Cooper's Leonard, who, although the narrative tries to paint as a clueless, essentially benevolent man, is still guilty of the kind of ignorance only a rich, white man can afford to indulge. His belief that his company has always been noble doesn't absolve him of the fact that his careless management caused great harm.
My take is that this season built on the themes of the first. Expanded them. Because what this show is doing is explore the nature of memory, and how our identities are tied to our memories. This seems like an obvious statement, and one that's been explored in dozens of films and TV shows about Alzheimer's and dementia (the best being Away From Here). But what makes Homecoming so interesting to me is this idea that our moral identities might not be so locked up in our memories. Is there a moral "us" that exists like a kind of rock-solid foundation, upon which our memories are built with flimsy materials? Are we essentially good or bad, in some kind of Calvinistic sense?
The second season of Homecoming seems to suggest this is true. Even after Monae's Alex wakes up in a boat, with no idea who or where she is, and she frantically tries to piece together this mystery, she has a nagging sense that she's done something wrong. This suspicion never really gets resolved, until Alex finally meets up with her (now unknown) partner Audrey (wonderfully played by Hong Chau).
This reunion confirms for Alex that she's actually been the villain this whole time. And when Alex realizes that the entire staff of Geist is drinking the same drug/chemical that caused her near total amnesia, she allows Audrey to drink it. It's a choice that could read as a shot at redemption: I know we're bad people and we deserve to be punished. But it's also a kind of an acceptance of her badness. A "good" person would have warned everyone, but especially the person who was supposedly the love of her life.
Even Leonard's attempt at redemption is half-hearted and morally suspect. He's willing to curse hundreds of people to oblivion, without actually taking much of a stand. He's not really the good person he thought he was.
And even Walter doesn't emerge as a hero. We have no idea really if he was a good person. Certainly it's suggested in the first season that he is. But by helping to orchestrate a scorched-earth revenge with Leonard, it seems like he's accepting something else. Something darker about himself. A "good" person would have gone to the press. Instead, he wipes away the memories of hundreds of people, with the same absence of hesitation one would have hitting the delete button after dragging a bunch of useless files into the trashcan.
Are you sure you want to delete these files?
StalkerI don't know why it's taken me so long to see Tarkovsky's movie. It's been on many lists of the 'best films ever' since it was released in 1979. Back in the dark ages, when I was in film school, I had several opportunities to watch it. I love sci-fi, especially post-apocalyptic stories. It's hard to imagine a film from the canon more suited to my sensibilities,
But I never saw it. And I'm actually glad I waited until now.
Back in 2003, I visited Estonia with a friend who shared my fascination with the Soviet empire. Maybe it's because we'd both grown up never believing we'd be able to visit the lands behind the Iron Curtain. Estonia was still struggling with throwing off the shackles of communism, and specifically the ways their country had been exploited and oppressed by their Russian overlords. When our hosts, a young Estonian man and his lively Russian girlfriend, took us to see the sights, they included all the usual suspects. The medieval old town in Tallinn. Walks along the harbor. A music festival. All of it was interesting, but at one point we told our hosts we really wanted to see the remnants of the way life had been under Soviet rule.
And so, with a mixture of surprise and irritation and embarrassment, they took us to see a Soviet housing project on the outskirts of town, where an endless line of gray square structures dominated the barren landscape. They took us to a secret submarine training facility in an area that had been off-limits to Estonians - to cross the unmarked border to the facility meant certain death. And finally they took us to an abandoned textile factory. The crumbling, rusted metal beams and the pools of psychedelic-colored industrial waste made for an oppressive spectacle. On the drive back to their house, our hosts told us that Estonia was where the Russians built all of the factories that produced the most pollution - in fact, the bay at Tallinn was once so polluted no one could swim in it for fear of a severe, ominous rash.
I tell you all of this to say that when I finally watched Stalker, it didn't surprise me that Tarkovsky filmed the movie in Estonia. All of the locations, which convey relentless post-apocalyptic ruin, made me feel like I was experiencing a dream founded on my "off-road" tour of Tallinn. In that way, I don't think I can be at all objective about the movie. Is it brilliant? Yes. Is it maddening? Yes. Does it work as an allegory about the last days of the Soviet empire? The war with Afghanistan? Communism? The difficulty of faith in a modern world? Yes, yes, yes, yes.
But it also means something personal to me.
In my mid-twenties, I had a period where many of my dreams involved crumbling, polluted, abandoned industrial sites. That I was struggling with depression and accepting my sexuality at the time is of no small importance. But there seems to be something more to this subconscious theme, especially for a child of the 70s, when pollution and ecological devastation were first being talked about. For a child of the 70s who was being told that the Russians were trying to destroy us, that we were one button away from nuclear annihilation.
More than anything - the shockingly beautiful photography, the eerie soundtrack, where diegetic sounds and synthesizer blur, the fully committed performances, the gorgeous closeups (has the back of the human head ever been portrayed with more care and meaning?) - Stalker seems like a film that's more a conversation/debate between Tarkovsky and the work itself, rather than something created to be shared. There have been a few other times I've had this feeling. Viewing the paintings of Francis Bacon. The films of Shane Caruth and David Lynch. The danger in saying this is it implies a navel-gazing solipsism, which is not what Tarkovsky was about. It also implies a kind of weirdness-for-weirdness-sake - an "art house" movie, designated thus because it's "difficult" to understand or too "intellectual."
From what I've read about him, Tarkovsky would have hated his films to be categorized this way. This isn't a difficult film. The plot is rather straightforward. The philosophical arguments are plainly revealed. In fact, the wife of the stalker addresses the audience directly at the end of the film to tell us how she feels (and by association, how 'we' should) feel about the stalker and his work.
I'll be watching it again. Maybe not soon, but I'll return to the hypnotic world of industrial ruin and stray black dogs and the tunnel with ice stalactites where Porcupine's sensitive poet brother was sacrificed to the whims of the Zone. Stalker is the Room, where our secret identities are revealed whether we're prepared to accept them or not.
Tell The Machine GoodnightOne of my projects last year was writing a pilot based on a debut novel that just came out called Tell The Machine Goodnight. It's a brilliant book definitely worth putting on your summer reading list, especially if you like Jennifer Egan. Here's the NPR review.
The Handmaid's Tale
Wow. Anyone else feeling the eerie sense that this novel might be prophetic?
Web Safe 2K16
Way back when, there were 216 web safe colors used on the internet - colors that could be faithfully rendered on old-timey monitors. Web Safe 2K16 is a brilliant project where different people have written 216-word maximum essays about these colors - the writers come at each hue with their own specific brands of nostalgia, some directly addressing the color, while others use it as a launching pad for little observational jewels.
If you haven't watched this show on Amazon, you're in for a treat. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is an astonishing talent, her writing as brilliant as her acting. She dares us to hate her for breaking the fourth wall and then wins us over with her old-school, WWII-era beauty and impeccable comedic timing, like a brunette Carole Lombard. That this is both the funniest and saddest show of recent memory is such a coup that it makes me feel like we really are in the Golden Age.
And...Olivia Colman as the evil Stepmother!
Madeline Kahn not only stole movies, she did so in films that many would consider to be classics, surrounded by casts that included such heavyweights as Barbra Streisand and Gene Wilder. She even managed to make a cynical failure like Clue a must-see camp classic.
Everyone loves Madeline in Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, as they should, but there's one performance that doesn't get a whole lot of attention: Miss Trixie Delight in Paper Moon. She was nominated for an Academy Award but didn't win that year - she unfairly lost to her co-star Tatum O'Neal, who benefited from the PR-generated idea that she was a child prodigy.
Below is one of her scenes, a monologue that she delivers to an unsympathetic Tatum. Alvin Sargent's screenplay is amazing, and Verna Fields (the editing goddess behind Jaws) cuts the scene perfectly. But it's Madeline's performance that astonishes. That beat she takes after she stops storming down the hill, only to turn around with that doleful face and say "You're gonna ruin it, ain't ya?" Up until that moment, Miss Trixie has been something of a buffoon worthy of scorn - but the way she scrunches up her face, half shame, half regret, almost like she's fighting off tears, is devastating, especially with the frank confession that follows. Tatum's poker face makes it all the more wrenching. And then she wins over Tatum and us: "So why don't you let old Miss Trixie sit in the front with her big tits?"
If you want to know how the Greeks feel about being in the EU - and all the attendant pain and drama this arrangement has caused for them since the 2008 global economic crisis - just watch this movie. Of course, The Lobster is also a meditation on how hard it is to be in a relationship. It's about how it's nearly impossible to find someone to share your life with, and how society imposes all sorts of rigid expectations on couples.
That's what great works of art do: they operate on many different levels.
For me, this movie is mostly an angry, bleak satire on what it's meant for Greece to be part of the EU. They're damned if they do, damned if they don't. "Couples" desperately search for that one defining characteristic that will unite them - failure to do so will result in being transformed into an animal. "People" who decide to flee society's demand to partner up are called "Loners" and are doomed to a life foraging in the woods, forgoing all intimacy including romance and sex.
When the main couple loses their one uniting characteristic, namely poor eyesight (literally short-sightedness), the man finally decides to perform the most horrifying act of self-mutilation so they can once again have something in common. Prior to that, the man asks the woman if she speaks German - she doesn't, and the man confesses that German is the most difficult language to learn because of its nearly incomprehensible grammar.
This was Hitchcock's last film. For a lot of critics it was at most a minor work - for some it was an outright failure and a disappointing end to a brilliant career.
I just watched it again and was struck by how brilliant Ernest Lehman's script is. The problem is it's not serviced very well by some of the performances. Bruce Dern and Barbara Harris, who are both extremely talented, have trouble with the rhythm and tone - Dern seems to be going for an alarming blend of goofy/method, and Harris seems like she's aiming for a kind of Disney-esque wackiness. Maybe Hitchcock was tired of treating his cast like cattle (in that they needed to be poked and prodded continually into giving the performance he demanded) and he just let them run with it. William Devane nails it, though, as does Karen Black. And in a weird, tiny supporting role, Katherine Helmond adds pathos and mystery. Her scene at the cemetery with Dern makes you wonder what the whole movie could have been like if all the actors had been in similarly top form. Sadly, Ed Lauter (again, a very talented performer) plays Helmond's husband and practically chomps at the scenery. If one of the biggest acting sins is indicating, then Lauer is committing offenses worthy of Dante.
This movie seems ripe for a smart remake. Lehman's script, with its witty dialogue and intricate plot, needs a firmer hand than Hitchcock was able to offer at the end of his life, and a cast that can straddle the shifting tones. Rene Russo circa 1995 would have done a great job as Blanche. And I suspect Guy Ritchie would have a lot of fun directing it.
Supporting Characters: The Kook
In BLITH SPIRIT, Margaret Rutherford gives the performance by which all other cinematic kooks should be measured. That she so fully inhabits this odd woman is what makes it such a triumph - there's never a wink to the audience, no SNL-influenced meta-indicating. No, Dame Rutherford makes us believe this woman believes in the spirit world. Not only that, the character fully believes in her own abilities, and as such, there's nothing funny about it. That's what makes it so damn funny. There's a terrific scene where she's consulting a book while at the same time finding time to finish off a sandwich. Somehow it all feels so incredibly organic and real. It's not funny, therefore it is funny.
The only performance in recent cinema that even comes close is Melissa McCarthy in BRIDESMAIDS - her character sees absolutely nothing ridiculous about herself, thus her performance is kept free from the thinly veiled smirking that lesser actors so often bring to their scenes.
The Returned - Season 2
I finally watched it. I think it's as brilliant as the first season - maybe slightly more. I've read reviews and talked to people who found the introduction of so many new characters distracting - they felt the season suffered from LOST syndrome. Another criticism I've heard is that the tension felt vague and diffuse for much of the season - the dead living basically just across the water.
What I thought it did so well, and with such careful, don't-rush-me craftsmanship, is eventually bring us back to the primacy of Julie and Victor's relationship. All those new characters offered us different, yet important, aspects of grief that, if they'd been tagged onto existing characters, would have felt cumbersome. And I felt that the diffuse tension, after spending the entire first season on the edge of my seat, was calculated to remind us that this was never a zombie show - not really. The horror for me was much more about how we barely make it through this life, and the only thing that gets us through it is when, miracle of miracle, we commit to sticking it out with each other, even when logic and convenience tells us to do otherwise.
This 1995 thriller by Claude Chabrol is nearly perfect. It completely subverts the "whodunit" paradigm of the genre and instead focuses on the paths all the characters take that converge on what becomes an almost inevitable act of violence. It's the small, seemingly banal choices made by everyone that contribute to a perfect storm, and the last shot - where Sophie is clearly going to get away with murder - makes us realize that the truth is often impossibly obscured by the surface.
Mrs. Doubtfire Goes To A Press Conference
This story is to me a perfect local news absurdity. The events, the players, and the local newscasters - it's a winner.
Werner Herzog Reads 'Where's Waldo'
Apocalyptic[Here's a little micro-essay I wrote. I did the second person thing, which is gimmicky and maybe doesn't entirely work, but fuck it, it's my website. And it's free!]
It started in preschool, this realization that the world was unstable and temporary. One day your mom let you watch an old black and white movie about scientists who build a spaceship to flee earth's destruction. The male lead looked like your pediatrician - the ears on both men so pointy that Leonard Nimoy's Spock would eventually replace their faces in your memory. The female lead spoke in that peculiar old-school diction that made American actors up through the 50s sound like they had upper-class London accents. As the asteroid approached earth there were tidal waves and fires, panic and chaos. The spaceship escaped to a nearby planet - Mars? - where it's implied the survivors will thrive.
You went into the backyard after the movie was over. Still reeling from the images you just saw, you aimed the water hose at an ant hill and watched as the victims of your devastation fought against their fate, shuttling eggs to dry land. If your mom had seen you at that moment, she would have thought you looked impassive, so much so that in a later era - an era dominated by the autism spectrum - she would have worried at your lack of affect.
But inside you wanted to sob.
As a child of the 70s you feasted on disaster movies. Earthquakes. Fires. Tidal waves upending cruise ships. Nature dispensing her wrath. Great White sharks. Bees. Frogs. Sometimes these movies ended on a note of optimism, of possible redemption. But most of them ended in bleak defeat. In perhaps the greatest distillation of the era, Gregory Peck takes aim at the child he knows is the Anti-Christ, but before he can pull the trigger he's felled by a policeman's bullet.
You wanted to cry at the end of these movies, but you didn't because crying only made the hopelessness worse.
In college, around the time they started you on anti-depressants, you decided you were going to read every apocalyptic novel ever written. The first was Mary Shelley's "Last Man." You abandoned the project after getting to the books that marked the transition from early 50s optimism that a nuclear war could be survived to the resignation that annihilation was inevitable.
You look back now and realize you were trying to achieve a kind of spiritual desensitization, in much the same way allergy shots immunize people against allergens. You realize now that the project was doomed from the start. Your pain was so overwhelming you could only stare at your cat with despair, wondering how you'd sustain her in the event of a cataclysmic event, be it The Big One or a rogue virus. You'd follow her into the yard, where she chirruped at the birds that flew overhead, blissfully unaware that a bomb could emerge unannounced from the same sky. You'd hold her in your lap, sitting beneath that oppressively blue sky, full of regret that there was never going to be a rocket ship to save you both.
An Extended (And Slightly Incoherent) Rant Against Bad Lyrics
I'm old so I still listen to the car radio. The programmed stations, taken as a whole, compile Exhibit A that I came of age in the late 70s/early 80s, so you can be sure that on any given day I'm going to hear at least one Madonna song.
I like Madonna. I'm certainly not one of those gay men who worships her. I'm also not one of those gay men who hates her - she's too much a part of the soundtrack of my youth. But damn it all to hell if I don't actually feel physical pain every time I hear the song Papa Don't Preach.
Papa don't preach, I'm in trouble deep
Fucking A that line bugs me. The lazy songwriter did that so the next line about losing sleep would rhyme. Fuck you, lazy songwriter. Or rather, Fuck you, songwriter lazy. What bugs me even more is that no one else seems to notice it. Just like they don't seem to notice that Madonna's hair in the video for the song is ATROCIOUS. It's like a 12 year boy's mom made him take a shower after several days of not bathing, and this is his passive-aggressive way of driving his mom crazy. Just like the bad grammar of "I'm in trouble deep" drives me crazy. See how it's all related?
Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes)
Someone who views foreign films for the Oscar nominating committee told me about this movie in 2014. "You will love it," she said. I couldn't see it when it had its short, limited release, and then I quickly forgot about it (that's what happens when you're 50).
My friend's recommendation was so forceful that something in my middle-aged brain dislodged this weekend and I remembered the film - that I couldn't rent it to stream, that I had to buy it, annoyed me, but I went ahead and purchased it.
The film is wonderful. I think more movies should be made that explore a single emotion other than love. In this case, we know from the first story that this is going to be a film about vengeance. And the last story, about a wedding gone horribly awry, is brilliant.
My relationship to Haruki Murakami has been complicated. Full disclosure: I'm a petty and jealous writer, so when enough sources tell me someone is a genius, I almost reflexively decide I'll never read that writer. This happened with Michel Houellebecq. It happened with Murakami.
About five years ago I was in a bookstore with my friends Carolyn and Cormac and none of us had read Murakami, so I gamely said I'd try "Kafka On The Shore" (it was the thinnest volume of his on the shelves). I think the way I offered to undertake this mission made it seem like I was going to try some kind of obscure offal, like pig snout. The book wasn't offal (or awful), but it didn't do much for me - the way whole sections seemed to repeat themselves over and over and over made me wonder if the problem was a clumsy, mistake-prone translator. Not for me was my final verdict and I never gave Murakami another thought.
Cut to this year. Someone whose taste I admire told me I should read 1Q84. Her passion for the book seemed so at odds with what little I knew about her that I was intrigued and downloaded it that night. I was concerned about the length - nearly 1000 pages - and I quickly discovered that Murakami's obtuse and repetitive style wasn't, in fact, the result of a bad translation. But I stuck with it, and somewhere around page 600 I was completely hooked. By the last sentence I was in tears.
I still think Murakami could benefit from a ruthless editor - 1Q84 could easily lose 250-300 pages and not one of them would be missed. The thing is, his genius is not his gimmicky style. It's the way he's able to tap into longing and regret, and the ways these feelings follow us around all of our lives - even into alternate dimensions. Murakami's almost entirely Western in his sensibility - the way products and surfaces and spaces are lovingly described in great detail - but remember it's Aomame's silent touch when she and Tengo are children that propels the entire story. This seems to me to be very Japanese. The small gesture contains within it an entire universe.
On paper, the mashup of sensibilities is slightly alarming: Writer Bob Nelson (Nebraska), directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) and Executive Producers Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat), Todd Hoffman (Love Stinks) and Todd Schulman (Bruno). But it works. In fact, I think it's a brilliant show. The writing is so good that I think the pilot had a hard time keeping up - I think everybody needs time to settle into the throw-away rhythm of the scripts. They'll get there I'm sure, it's an amazing cast. Any show that gives Mary Lynn Rajskub a chance to show off her genius is going to do just fine.
Fabulous BeastsI'm a huge fan of this moody horror short story by Priya Sharma. It's like it answers the question "what would happen if Mary Herron wrote a lesbian version of Cat People, but the cats were snakes?"
Fabulous Beasts is what happens.
TRUTH Is The New BlackHey all, I'm going to be giving a talk Wednesday November 5th in Costa Mesa from 7pm - 9pm as part of Shawn Marie Turi's TRUTH is the New Black: A CONVERSATION SERIES. Visit the link for more information and to buy tickets.
It's Shirley. Miss Jackson if you're frightened.
Is there anyone who doesn't love Shirley Jackson? How can you not, given how unpredictable and dangerous life can be? She understood the uncanny nature of existence and navigated it fully. "It's not fair!" you (and the victim in The Lottery) may cry, but the stones are still going to fly.
On that note, here's Paranoia, which appeared in the New Yorker in 2013.
Linda Tripp≅ Kim Davis
I was doing the dishes last night and got to thinking about Kim Davis again. There was an excellent article on Salon.com about her and the fundamentalist Christian agenda that I think does a good job laying out the real issues behind her actions.What struck me last night were the similarities between Ms. Davis and Linda Tripp. Both seem to be not-so-bright pawns who were manipulated by the right-wing into doing illegal activities - and both seem to have an exaggerated and aggrieved martyr complex. To my knowledge Tripp was never overtly religious in her mission, but it's interesting to read quotes about why she did what she did. Righteous anger seems to be a key motive that she shares with Davis. It would be interesting to know their psychologies/histories more in depth to see what else they have in common.
Unfortunate Fortune Cookies
Another dinner tonight at our favorite local Chinese restaurant.The mother who runs it is a bit of a tyrant - no smiles, no whispered corrections to the staff. It's all out in the open. Her displeasure needs no translation from the original Mandarin.
But Joe and I love it, especially the braised string beans. So we put up with frequent tension (and I suppose as a child from a dysfunctional family, tension during meals is almost comforting).
Anyway, I have no idea who their vendor is for fortune cookies, but the fortunes are almost always hilariously downbeat and/or confusing. Take tonight's offerings. If your desires are not extravagant they will be granted.The problem with this is how do they define extravagant? Judging from the mother who runs the restaurant, extravagant is more than a five minute break; also too much sauce with the egg foo young. Also, here's a spoiler I only learned after decades of frustration - we often don't get things we want no matter how basic our desires. It seems like this little fortune has backed us into a philosophical corner, where we're in danger of minimizing our longings so we don't seem all uppity with the Universe, or we hitch our train onto the same scam that fuels the ministries of hundreds of obscenely wealthy preachers.
Facts are cheap, information is plentiful - knowledge is precious. I honestly have no idea what this actually means. In fact, when Joe read it he didn't hand it to me for several minutes because he was trying to wrap his head around it. I think punctuation may be part of the problem. I abuse dashes like hell so I'm not going to harp on the dash. I also think the use of facts and information, two words that are essentially synonymous, separated by a comma is perplexing because it hints that there's some deeper meaning that doesn't exist. If I were rewriting this one I'd say Facts are hard to uncover, yet information is plentiful - good luck uncovering the truth. It's a downer, but I think you get the point.
Or maybe I just have too much time on my hands on a Friday night and I need to give it a fucking rest.
In Praise Of Limited Backstory
Backstory is one of those things I struggle with as a writer. The problem comes in how you present a character's history - all the little things that give a character depth and provide context. It's usually handled most poorly in the first act of romantic comedies, where cliche after cliche is used to provide motivation for the protagonist to embark on a new journey for love - the montage of bad dates, eating ice cream alone while watching TV, a fiance canceling the wedding at the last minute...just as the protagonist is fired from his or her job.
I loved the movie Nightcrawler - I thought Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo were fantastic, but what I responded to most was the complete lack of backstory for the main character. There was no origins moment. We didn't see his fucked up mother and/or father. We didn't get flashbacks that hinted at childhood abuse. All we got was a character operating completely outside of conventional morality. I remember feeling energized trying to imagine what horrors had created this monster - and then allowing myself to enjoy the mystery that was never resolved.
Here's another great example of very limited backstory. I just watched Broen (The Bridge), the original Scandinavian series that was remade into an American show. The main female character Saga consistently exhibits behavior that suggests she's somewhere on the autism spectrum. Her co-workers hint at odd behavior that makes working with her a challenge. Her boss, and then her Danish partner Martin, have to remind her to do and/or say things that normal people do (such as thanking someone for praise, instead of just agreeing with them). She shows gruesome crime scene photos to a man she's just had sex with and doesn't understand his alarm - they're just photos after all. Work photos.
The thing that's great is no one during the entire first season says what is making Saga act the way she does. In fact, the only tidbit we get about Saga's history throughout the ten episodes is that her younger sister killed herself after she'd been sent to live with Saga. It's just enough information to make us question the easy assumption that she has Asperger's. Maybe she has PTSD. Maybe her childhood and her sister's childhood was so horrific it completely warped her emotions - her sister's suicide was the thing that made her shut down completely.
I hope they don't go further into her history in the second and third seasons of the show. I hope they had the courage to keep us guessing.
Shame (or an extended post about writing retreats)[Disclaimer: This post is longish and bitchy. My apologies beforehand - I'm currently experiencing the worst canker sores I've ever had in my mouth, most likely the result of an incredibly stressful month. The payoff of this post (if there is one) would be for any writer who's contemplating attending an expensive writing retreat. For everyone else, the low-level literary/art scene gossip isn't terribly interesting or useful.]
About nine years ago I spent a great deal of money (Joe's and my entire tax refund that year) to attend a writing retreat at which George Saunders was one of the teachers. I foolishly thought that all it would take was for George (who is one of my favorite contemporary writers) to read my stories and I'd be on my way to literary fame and fortune. I know. Even as I typed that previous sentence I was still filled with shame at my stupid vanity and naivete, made worse by the fact that I was 40 and not 15.
Not surprisingly, my delusions were extinguished almost from the start. I was assigned to the other teacher who was there -- someone who I won't name for reasons that will quickly become obvious. I will tell you he once had a promising fiction career in the early 90s - he was one of those 40 writers under 40 that the New Yorker tells us are going to important.
Despite the fact that he never really achieved the kind of fame his talent had promised, he did put together a brilliant collection of short essays that I think holds its own against any of David Foster Wallace's nonfiction.The essays hint at personal demons that may or may not have been the cause of his not fulfilling his promise, but since I also write about personal demons, I fully acknowledge that they're not a terribly useful way to judge a writer's life.
When we arrived at the resort, it was revealed that this writer had recently married a much younger, very beautiful woman and that he'd brought her with him - officially they were celebrating a kind of honeymoon, unofficially it seemed like he was showing off his new bride. And why not? I'd definitely want to show off young arm candy too if our situations had been reversed.
Things didn't go well during my workshop with this writer, mainly because he tore apart my story. Nothing wounds the ego of a writer more than being told the truth about your work's flaws - the only thing that makes it worse is when you're paying several thousand dollars for the privilege. The main problem for me was the way he delivered his criticisms. First, his opening words to me were that he didn't care for the genre I'd chosen. Then he went through the story line by line, exasperated and condescending, dispensing sighs above which there seemed to be cartoon thought bubbles for the other writers that said "see what I mean, doesn't this suck?"
I wanted to tell him that the story had simply been an attempt to try something different - that horror/sci-fi had always felt a good avenue for expressing things that had haunted me since my first anxiety attack at age twelve (see, those pesky personal demons again - and see, no one really cares). Maybe the story wasn't terribly artful, and certainly it needed improvement - that's one of the lesser reasons I was attending the workshop - but I didn't feel like what I'd written was a complete waste of time. Of course I didn't tell him that. I simply sat there writing notes and when he was finished with my piece - his final words being "do you have any questions?" - I shook my head no and pretended to smile with gratitude.
As for George? The writers who'd been assigned to his workshop raved about him, both as an instructor and as a delightful human being.
After dinner, everyone would convene in the main area of the resort, where we'd drink lots of potent cocktails (I think one of the drinks was named The Jaguar) and jockey for face time with George. One night, I became part of a small group of writers and the famous writer's wife, all of us tanked - the writer's wife very pointedly drinking only bourbon.
I forget now what we were talking about - it must have been writing-related, because at one point she lobbed a comment that was so perfectly vicious and biting that at first I thought she was making a joke, like a drag queen referencing Mommie Dearest or The Women. The gist of her comment: you're all just a bunch of wanna-be writers; the fact that you're here confirms that. The way she dangled her cigarette from her fingers made it clear she was being deadly serious and not joking.
But of course she wasn't joking. With the permission that came from a couple of fingers of bourbon, she was simply confirming what I'm sure she and her husband talked about in the privacy of their honeymoon suite after the workshops. His demeanor during his interactions with the attendees had expressed precisely the same sentiments.
As an aside, I'd only once before in my life witnessed the kind of contempt and disdain the writer's wife displayed that night. In the late 80s Don Bachardy took me to a party at David Hockney's house, where we were treated to David's early designs for his Tristan and Isolde opera sets. Also in attendance was Helmut Newton and his wife June, still a great beauty in her 60s. After ascertaining that I was merely the boyfriend of someone important, and not important myself, June gave me a dismissive smile that told me I was a waste of her time, and then moved on to the canapes.
After the writer's wife stubbed out her cigarette and went to find her husband, I stumbled back to my room and indulged in a lot of self-pity. The next day, hung over and still feeling pathetic, I decided to disconnect from the rest of the retreat - my liver and ego needed a break. At one point I was alone in the lobby and started reading a literary journal in which I discovered Lisa Glatt's story The Body Shop. A quick Google search revealed she lived in Long Beach too and she offered writing workshops at her house. It was in her workshops over the next two years that I rediscovered my confidence as a writer - which, needless to say, had been nearly extinguished during the retreat.
I strongly believe that established writers can choose to use their success and their wisdom for the greater good. Just because someone is talented and successful (whatever "success" means - are we talking critical acclaim or JK Rowling-level money?) doesn't give him or her the right to extinguish dreams. Life accomplishes this well enough on its own.
If you're trying to establish yourself as a writer, you shouldn't ever pay anyone to inflict that kind of damage on you. I don't care how much you love him or her, or feel that they're going to help you in your career. Be careful who you submit yourself to.
As ridiculous and distasteful as I find this woman, I still feel sorry for her. When I was a brand-new fundamentalist Christian I felt like I needed to prove my Christian creds by taking a stand too. One day I was in my local bookstore and discovered that they sold Anton Lavey's satanic bible. I marched up to the owner and demanded to know if they were officially promoting satanism. The owner's look of confusion made me certain she was hiding something, so I said if she didn't take the book off the shelves I was going to boycott her store.
I was such a fucking mess at that time in my life and I wish I could apologize to the owner for my behavior. I felt that by taking a stand I was letting the evil world know that, despite having been a sinful homosexual and drug user, I was now different. I was one of God's chosen. That may have been true, but I was dreadfully unhappy inside.
I'm still trying to resolve my relationship with God, but I do know that these public demonstrations do little to help the person understand spiritual matters - I use my own experience as an example. You just come off looking more than a little unhinged, and you get support from other unhinged people who don't understand that what you're doing is making a mockery of those things that truly are holy.
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
Quite simply one of the best songs ever. The flute melody always makes me want to cry - is there any other sequence of notes that conveys longing and melancholy better?
1984 in the 50s
These are two examples of pulp covers for George Orwell's 1984 - the one on the left from the mid-50s, the one on the right from 1959. Interesting how the earlier one portrays Julia as a vamp ready to tear off Winston's uniform. Also interesting how the 1959 Big Brother sort of looks like Dubya.
I love this Russian artist's sci-fi world - some articles call it dystopian, but I find it strangely hopeful. Check out his website.
My friend Lisa Glatt's novel The Nakeds is brilliant. If you like funny/sad (and who doesn't?) you need to buy this book.
I first fell in love with Lisa's voice when I read her short story The Body Shop in Zoetrope. Her story collection The Apple's Bruise and her first novel A Girl Becomes A Comma Like That are both terrific.
This is a great documentary - it starts off as this hilarious character study of two slightly over-the-top kooks, and then turns into a surprisingly profound examination of loss, failure, and the hurdles, both personal and societal, that keep us from reinventing ourselves The filmmakers deserve the praise they've received since it premiered at Sundance. They never hold their subjects up to ridicule, which is the main reason it's so effective. A lesser filmmaker would have taken the easy road, but the resulting documentary would have been filled with contempt.
Check out their Facebook page. The film is coming out in limited release September 25th, then streaming October 2nd.
The title of this TV show is funny, in a porn parody kind of way. But not in a way that made me want to watch it. Netflix kept pushing it on me, like the boor at a party who keeps insisting you really don't understand the Libertarian party and he's going to tell you why.
But look. I've been VERY strategic in my Netflix ratings, and after a while it seemed odd that Scrotal kept coming up. So I watched it.
It's not flawless. The lead character has a haircut that's so distracting Joe and I kept yelling "Hair Product Please!" at the screen. And they go a bit heavy on the Luke character being an unrepentant Lothario. Overall, some of the characters got X character trait with little else to make them 3-D.
Joe and I really loved it. It has a great way of revealing character through flashbacks, where we already have information from previous episodes. And by the last episode we see things in a way that is as unexpected as it is touching. I even shed a tear for douchebag Luke.
I Know There's Something Going OnIn 1982 ABBA had been broken up for several years and Frida decided to do an album produced by Phil Collins (!). I know there's something going on...in this song that is so specifically and perfectly early 80s. Seriously, the music and the music video are like a Nagel print come to life.
Leave it to a British show created by an Irish actress and an American comedian who found fame through Twitter to reinvigorate the rom-com. How much do I love this show? I was only going to watch one episode while eating a sandwich, and then proceeded to plow through all six episodes. Guess what? Adults over the age of 40 can be sexy and complicated and fucked up and funny and smart.
Late to the game as always (that it took me 4 years to finally watch it is beyond excuse). It's a brilliant mini-series - Todd Haynes is a genius. There's no one alive who combines the kind of rigorous formalism he brings to his films with such depth of emotion. It's melodrama in the best and truest sense of the word - melos meaning song. A drama song.
The last scene kills me. Bert has just told Mildred that Veda can go to hell. It takes Mildred a moment to get there, and we're not entirely sure what her agreement means - is it despair or the first step of freedom? Then Bert says "Let's get stinko," to which Mildred finally agrees. "Let's get stinko," she says. She takes a long, hard sip of her rye and then fade to black.
Best Of Enemies
Just saw this documentary tonight at Outfest. It's terrific. Lots of interesting ideas, not least that this series of debates was the birth of the type of discourse we're currently subjected to on television. Pundits talking loudly (if not shouting) over one another rather than actually debating.
The thing that struck me the most is the vision of pure unbridled hatred presented on Buckley's face when he calls Vidal a queer and then threatens to assault him. To Vidal's credit he doesn't act scared in response to this outburst - his look of triumph that he's pushed this conservative to the point of revealing the ugliness underneath is quite delicious. The mostly gay audience and I laughed with appreciation that Vidal had snuck in the winning jab.
But later, as I was driving home, all I could recall was Buckley's vitriol - the murderous rage that bubbled to the surface after Vidal obviously hit a sensitive nerve (i.e. Buckley and his ilk have fascistic tendencies). This rage didn't come out of nowhere. And I have to say, I suspect that a lot of conservatives, particularly in light of recent events (gay marriage), continue to hate "queers" with the same level of passion. It's there. Waiting.
Touch Senstive - "Pizza Guy"
LOVE this song. I've been listening to it on repeat while I write this evening.
"Hey eh eh eh!"
Aaron and Melissa Klein - Sweet Cakes
Aaron and Melissa Klein (Before Their Media Handlers Made Them Look Less "Rural" And More "All American")
Aaron and Melissa Klein (After Their Media Handlers Made Them Look More "All American" And Less "Rural")
American Christians, just by being Americans, are among the richest and most pampered human beings who've ever lived. I'm convinced this privilege has created a toxic guilt, especially in the more conservative churches, because they're not experiencing persecution and hardship like the early Church.
"Man, I had to hop in my SUV and drive to two different Targets to find the patio furniture I wanted," doesn't have quite the same urgency, the same poignancy as "Man, they're throwing me to the lions."
This is why conservative Christians are spoiling for a fight. They feel guilty because they have such wealth and freedom from struggle and so they're manufacturing persecution.
How is the situation of Sweet Cakes manufactured persecution? Apparently Aaron and Melissa made and sold bakery products to evil lesbians Laurel Bowman and Rachel Cryer before they denied baking the two women a wedding cake. How does this make any sense? I'd respect these two grifters more if they denied all services to all gays and lesbians, and fornicators, and idolators, and, well...just grab your Bible and pick out every other kind of sinner you can find in St. Paul's letters.
It's not like the evil lesbians asked the Kleins to officiate their wedding, or attend it, or give their blessing. They asked them to bake a cake. (Just try this exercise, and replace the noun with any other service or product -- They asked them to replace their air filter; they asked them to mow their lawn; they asked them to dye their hair. By the Klein's logic, a hair dresser should refuse to do the lesbian's hair, because later her lesbian lover is going to run her evil dyke fingers through that hair).
By providing your service or product, you aren't condoning anything. Back when I was a full-blown conservative Christian, I worked as a travel agent, and a dilemma presented itself one day. A Mormon client was buying a plane ticket for her son to do his mission overseas. In case you didn't know this already, conservative Christians think Mormons are part of a satanic cult (except when their cooperation helps them elect right-wing candidates). My dilemma was, I was selling this guy a ticket to go lure innocent foreigners into his satanic cult. Wasn't I, by doing this, aiding the devil and giving my tacit approval to the end goal of this trip? A friend (who in hindsight was one of the few intelligent people I knew in my circle of Christian friends) said that by issuing the ticket I was merely doing my job. What the young man did on this trip wasn't my responsibility in God's eyes. If that were true, everyone would be stained with guilt every day on the job.
I suspect the Kleins aren't smart enough to realize they've been manipulated by the greater right-wing machine to be attractive poster martyrs for a cause whose real purpose to is to reassert the denial of basic civil rights to gays and lesbians, even as the Supreme Court is starting to rule that this discrimination violates that right-wing fetish object called The Constitution. If I did think Aaron and Melissa were smart enough to be this cynical, I'd probably hate them rather than pity them.
I'm a fan of this little sci-fi/thriller/horror limited series. The thing that I'm most interested in is its narrative structure. Remember Lost? Yeah, I do. The problem was Lost set up a mystery that, after many seasons, was almost impossible to resolve in a way that would satisfy anyone. And remember that Comic Con after its first season, when they assured everyone that the characters weren't dead, they weren't in purgatory?
Yeah, I do.
Wayward Pines says 'fuck the mystery.' 10 episodes total, episode 5 you get the whole shebang laid out in front of you like one of those frozen TV dinners from the 70s: Salisbury steak, corn, pudding, spiced baked apple. All there in front of you. No surprises.
What does this do narratively? It makes the audience take all that energy we'd be using to try to figure out what the fuck is going on, and focus it on what the characters are going to do in relation to what's actually going on. Ethan and his son Ben know what's really going on (as do we), but Theresa and Kate don't. I think it creates a different (and maybe more exciting?) dramatic tension. It's less "Ah ha, we gotcha!" and more Hitchcockian.
Here's something you might not know about me and my husband Joe. We're cat people. Not like horror movie cat people, just "aunt who knits Christmas sweaters and believes in angels" kind of cat people. We weren't always this way. About 18 years ago I found a couple of abandoned kittens, one of whom was blind, and that began a life a rescuing kitties.
We already have a lot of cats. And then Julius showed up. He's young - maybe 1-2 years old - and very chatty. He has what I like to describe as an Ethel Merman meow. He really sells it to the back rows.
Julius is tame and lovey. He purrs like a trooper. He must have been abandoned or got lost, but regardless, he'd make a great pet. We'd take him, but like I said, we're already flirting with becoming reality show participants (GAY MEN WHO HOARD CATS, next on TLC). If you live in the LA area and would like to adopt our little guy, drop me an email at pat AT patricktobin DOT NET. We just got him fixed today through the cat rescue group here in Long Beach - they can't foster him because there was apparently a bumper crop of kittens this year.
The Seven Deaths Of The Empress
The Seven Death of the Empress is a brilliant web comic by Brian Mowrey. Who doesn't love their Roman history with a bit of religious mythology and science fiction?
Write meNo comments sections - how 2009. Email me.
prtobin AT gmail DOT com
A Good Night
Tonight was a good night. My best friend DD invited me to a book signing at Skylight Books (one of my favorite bookstores) for Robin McLean's new collection Reptile House - I haven't had a chance to dive in to it yet, but from what she read I'm very interested. She had an interesting discussion afterwards about writing processes and how writers approach their stories - either from incident or character (she and I both share an approach that starts with incident btw).
What was great was that DD's boyfriend Stephen was able to come too, as well as DD's son Dylan and his girlfriend Penny. After the reading, we went to Palermo's, an old-school Los Feliz restaurant, for a nightcap and I had the best Old Fashioned I've ever had. It hit the perfect balance between sweet and bourbon - the muddled maraschino cherries and orange not overpowering the booze.
Amidst all the hipster irony, that Old Fashioned was something pure and true.
I recently rewatched The Birds - it's such a nasty little horror movie and I love it. The movies asks: Why has the apocalypse descended upon us? And Hitchcock's two word answer is: Just because.
I checked out the Daphne du Maurier short story it was based on. It's very different from the movie, but they both end with such hopelessness. That must have been the thing that won over Hitchcock when he finished reading the story (and according to reports, he only read the story once).
The most thrilling part of the movie for me is the relationships between the women. Tippi, Suzanne, Jessica, and little Veronica. All vying for Rod Taylor's affections (and listen, Rod Taylor circa 1963 was worth vying for). There are a lot of pregnant pauses (which one of my film instructors warned were antithetical to good filmmaking), but man are they something else - see exhibit A, the still above with Suzanne watching all of her hopes and dreams floating away...like the angry birds that will eventually kill her.
I also noticed the connections in this film to Notorious. Tippi's character is a rich party girl trying to leave behind her tarnished reputation; ditto Ingrid's. There's a grasping, controlling, manipulative mother in both. And then there are the two male leads - both characters whose indecision is the dramatic engine of the movies. Rod needs to let his mother and Suzanne go so they can move on with their lives; as it stands, they are stuck in his orbit like lifeless satellites.
I love when the young mother in the diner screeches hysterically that Tippi's the cause of the birds attacking (her arrival in Bodega Bay coinciding with the avian aggression) and then Tippi slaps her across the face. Here's what should have happened: one of the other cowering women - one who was familiar with town gossip - should have pointed her finger at hunky lunky Rod and said to the hysterical young mother "No, sister, the problem is THAT one!"
Adjectival CrutchesI apologize. I seem to use the word 'heartbreaking' a lot in these posts. Maybe too much. Maybe I use it because it's a word that seems to describe a lot of life as I see it. That said, there's no excuse for my laziness because there are plenty of synonyms around. Like these from thesaurus.com. which I've listed with notes on why they do or do not work.
Most Popular Keys on SpotifyHere's an interesting article. Seems major keys are most popular - people like happy sounds. I wonder what it says about me that I'm drawn to minor keys.
I wish there was an app that could find music for me based on my preference.
Simon Stålenhag is a brilliant Swedish artist-- his series of haunting sci-fi images suggest a weird and beautiful Scandinavian dystopia.
Old Swedish Movie PostersThere's a great article on io9.com. Here's the poster for Frankenstein. Beautiful.
Quantum FoamFrom Stephen Hawking.
Nothing is flat or solid. If you look closely enough at anything you'll find holes and wrinkles in it. It's a basic physical principle, and it even applies to time. Even something as smooth as a pool ball has tiny crevices, wrinkles and voids. Now it's easy to show that this is true in the first three dimensions. But trust me, it's also true of the fourth dimension. There are tiny crevices, wrinkles and voids in time. Down at the smallest of scales, smaller even than molecules, smaller than atoms, we get to a place called the quantum foam. This is where wormholes exist. Tiny tunnels or shortcuts through space and time constantly form, disappear, and reform within this quantum world. And they actually link two separate places and two different times.
Speaking of The Leftovers, I'm now obsessed with Carrie Coon. Her character Nora is heartbreaking - so real and damaged, but still clinging to the belief that there must be something good in life. The thing is she flies under the radar, just like a person in her situation would, until she can't escape her destiny.
It's a brilliant performance and I hope Carrie becomes a huge star.
TV Opening CreditsI was at a barbecue today and was talking about my love for The Man In The High Tower pilot - and how I thought the opening credits were brilliant.
My friend Robert thinks we're experiencing a golden age for opening credits. I agree - I think it's been going on for awhile. I'm also in love with the opening credits for The Leftovers
And what about the first season of True Detective?
I think the current renaissance started with Six Feet Under - it's still so powerful all these years later.
Florrie FisherI just discovered that Amy Sedaris based Jerri Blank on Florrie, This video of one of Florrie's motivational speeches is hilarious, touching, and strangely motivating.
Joe and I got married in Stockholm in March 2006 (we also got married again in 2008 when it was briefly legal to do so in California). It was still snowy and cold, but we didn't care. My family joined us in Sweden for the festivities, including my niece Hannah, who was four.
Here's a photo that our friend Christine took after we had taken Hannah to see the aquarium. Me on the left, Joe on the right. It was a fun day, but this photo is so melancholy, and that's one of the reasons I love it. As our friend Jennifer commented, it's like a scene from a heartbreaking gay drama, where one of the men is about to leave the country for good, forsaking his lover and their child.
Vertigo gets all the love whenever there's a list of best movies of all time -- while it's certainly a masterpiece, my favorite Hitchcock movie is Notorious. Everything about it is perfect - the script, the photography, the music, the cast. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman are at the height of their beauty, giving two of the most heartbreaking performances in cinema - lovers who, through pride and perversion, can't seem to get it together to say "I love you" until it's too late.
I normally hate animated gifs, but this one seemed appropriate.
Great movie, although it could have used a few more shirtless scenes for Oscar Isaacs.
More Songs I Never Need To Hear AgainPretty Woman - any version
Dead Mall Enthusiasts
I'm obsessed with this Facebook group.
The Sound Of My Voice
I just watched this movie and thought it was terrific. A lot of reviews seemed to have a problem with the ending, but I loved it. All those unanswered questions. All that mystery.
What I loved most about the film were the claustrophobic scenes in the basement. They reminded me of my years in ex-gay ministry and all the creepy mind fuckery I went through. Brit Marling and Christopher Denham brilliantly convey the coded language and lopsided power structures that allow cults to prey upon their victims. Even though I think the ending says that Brit's character actually is who she says she is, it still doesn't take away from the horrific nature of those scenes - I think in part they ask us to question the value of a savior who needs to abuse us into submission in order to save us.
Karen Joy FowlerI read her short story The Pelican Bar a couple of days ago and it's still haunting me. I love sci-fi mysteries that exist just outside the narrative, and that are never fully resolved. Who is Mama Strong? What is her mission? What happened to the girls who disappeared? And was it all simply the product of a young mind broken by all-too-human torture?
Although it dealt with very different themes and subjects, I had the same dizzy feeling after reading Michael Blumlein's California Burning.
Andromeda StrainI watched the original Andromeda Strain on TV when I was a kid in the 70s. It's still one of my favorite movies, and, I think, one of the most realistic portrayals of the way science works. The scientists aren't heartthrobs. They aren't Denise Richards playing a nuclear physicist.
My favorite character is Dr. Ruth Leavitt, played by Kate Reid. She's smart. She's funny. She's good at what she does. She made me want to become a scientist, but that dream didn't last by the time I got to college. Still, even though I was a film major, I took advanced chemistry just for fun. Thanks Kate!
Draven was the high school kid who tried to use that hilarious photo of him and his cat and a bunch of 80's lasers as his yearbook photo. It is, without a doubt, one of the funniest things I've ever seen (and in case anyone thought/thinks Draven wasn't in on the hilarity, you should check out this article).
Sadly, Draven killed himself Thursday. He was only 17. I just found out about it this morning and I've been in a weird funk all day, which seems self-indulgent since I didn't know him or his family. I can empathize with them - my own family being no stranger to awful tragedy. I'm also sad at the realization that there are so many talented, creative young people out there who don't make it because of depression.
Junsui Films ArticleFor their Behind The Camera series. Check it out. They have some great interviews and articles.
David Sedaris Reads 50 Shades Of Grey
Artzray InterviewAndrea Horton Davis is friend of mine from film school who's now writing for artzray.com. It's a great new website for young artists She interviewed me about screenwriting, check it out here.
French HornI was just driving along tonight and I got to thinking about how much I love the french horn. That's about it. Ta da. Big woop.
Here's the solo from Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony.
And here's a link to a slightly bitchy NYT article about the french horn. "Orchestral instruments don't come more treacherous than the French horn, either for the musicians who play it, or, when the going gets rough, for the listeners who find themselves within earshot."
Homeo & Juliet PodcastMary Patterson Broome and Jason Romaine interviewed me for their Homeo & Juliet podcast. They're very funny and talented - Mary Patterson does standup and Jason is a screenwriter. It's a fun interview.
Garrett Miller Podcast - 2/3/15 @7pmI'm going to be on Garrett's live podcast on Tuesday, February 3rd at 7pm. Here's the link.
I'll be talking about Cake and you can call in questions - just don't ask me anything hard, like the difference between a gaffer and a grip!
Cake Screening and Q&A - February 7thThe Filmmakers' Gallery in Long Beach is showing Cake on February 7th at 7pm, followed by a Q&A with me. It's a fun venue and I promise to answer any questions thrown my way!
You can buy a ticket to the event here.
CAKE - the short storyI know that you can simply download the story from my website, and I'm reminded a bit of that saying "why buy the cow when you can get the milk free?"
Wouldn't you love to read the story in a book? What if that book was an anthology of stories by some amazing writers, the common thread being that they're stories that were published in The Kenyon Review?
Well you can, all you have to do is buy The Kenyon Review's Readings For Writers.
Olive KitteridgeHBO's Olive Kitteridge is an astonishing work of art. The acting is amazing, but I especially loved the scenes with Cory Michael Smith - they're heartbreaking.
Dennis Hensley Podcast Part DeuxDennis has a great year end podcast - included is my story of working with Allan Carr. If you're gay and too young to know who Allan Carr is, please please please watch Grease while wearing a caftan. Allan is my personal gay patron saint, God rest his fabulous soul.
CAKE newsJennifer Aniston is starting to get the recognition she deserves for her performance in CAKE. A SAG nomination and another for the Golden Globes, both in the same week. Joe and I will be cheering loudly for her next month while we watch the award shows!
CineStory podcastI did a podcast for CineStory, the screenwriting competition I won in 2013. CineStory is a GREAT competition - money ($10k!), great industry mentors, a long weekend in Idyllwild, CA.
Dennis Hensley is the great writer of one of my favorite books (Misadventures In The 213) and films (Testosterone), and he interviewed me for his podcast. Check it out!
You're a poet and you know it...
If you actually read these posts, you'll see that there are no comments. If you want to say something to me you have to send an email - very old school, but I like keeping my website free of anonymous, homophobic rageaholics.
Every month or so I have to delete about a thousand pending comments that are 99.99999% spam. Sometimes, though, a spammer will send me something that almost verges on being art.
Take this one for example, from a fake Jimmy Choo outlet in the UK.
[I've broken it up, but the rest of it -- the haunting lack of punctuation and syntax and basic grammar -- is original]
looked at jimmy choo sale,
reaching a mean
sooner or later when you beg
jimmy choo uk.
took the money,
do not open the door to the southwest direction.
Otherwise, do not listen to old words,
suffer in the eyes
Shen Lin reached
the door was closed,
watching Lin Ran
two thousand, so giving.
Lin Ran ah a cry okay,
whether he is true, he is poor.
The line you have just told you
what he said.
Lin then looked at jimmy choo uk a,
was silent for a few seconds
Did not even,
if there is,
you do not take it seriously,
he was fooled
I'm excited to announce that Cake will be making its international premier at the Toronto International Film Festival next month. I think the world is going to be blown away by Jennifer's performance, as well as the rest of the amazing cast. My friends and family have been asking me if the film is what I envisioned when I wrote it, and I can honestly say it's better - five minutes into watching it I completely forgot I'd written it and just enjoyed it as a movie goer.
Here's the link to the TIFF website.
The Hole The Fox Did MakeGreat little web horror comic.
Joe and I have been watching all four seasons of The Partridge Family. It's pretty good. Danny and Ruben have a great rapport - you can see early on that the writers started giving these two all the best lines.
The thing I enjoy most is watching Tracy. Clearly she has no musical talent at all, and the show goes out of its way to cut around her and her little out-of-sync tambourine. Her reactions are never immediate or appropriate (God forbid she's in a scene involving an activity like a game - it's simply too much for her to engage in two things at once, the two things being the game and then acting).
All that said, we still love her. A favorite new game is to pause the DVD and catch her, mid-shake, in her own little world. You go Tracy.
Nonfiction Writing: Study The Masters
Ann Wroe writes obituaries for The Economist. Here's a lovely interview with her. Her writing is fresh and inventive, regardless of whether she's writing about a world-famous figure or Benson, a large carp who died at the age of 25.
First World Problems
I bought some gray jeans from Perry Ellis that I loved - somehow they circumvented the problems I generally have with pants because of my body (short legs, expanding middle-age belly).
Unfortunately, after I washed the jeans they had a strong and unpleasant odor, something akin to boat diesel fuel. I wore them to a meeting with a producer and warned the person that they might start to feel sea sick during our conversation - not from my ideas but from the stinky jeans. A second washing didn't improve the smell any. And now they're going back to Perry Ellis.
Poor me, right?
There's a great article on Gawker about Johnny's outfits while he's been providing commentary for NBC, This is my favorite look so far. I think it's obvious Tara Lipinski has given up on trying to be the sparkly one.
Yesterday there was a flurry of articles about Jennifer Aniston starring in my script Cake -- and now I know what a lottery winner must feel like. I think she'll be an amazing Claire and I can't wait to see who her co-stars will be.
Ms. Aniston has given many great performances, but there's one scene from Friends With Money that sticks in my mind. Her character Olivia is doing an estimate for cleaning the depressed guy's apartment (and how great that he'll turn out to be a millionaire, but I'm jumping ahead). His apartment is a disaster, and you can see Olivia's growing awareness that this mess is really a manifestation of a life on the rocks -- this becomes clear as he reveals bits and pieces of his sad back story. Olivia tells him her usual rate and he negotiates her down to almost nothing. She takes a moment and you see Olivia mulling over this ridiculous offer: and then she agrees to it. What's great is that Olivia shows compassion in a way that allows the guy to retain his dignity. It's such a lovely moment -- the kind of moment Jimmy Stewart excelled in portraying -- and it's played so deftly. Like a throwaway that hits you right in the heart.
August: Osage County
The reviews have been mixed for this movie -- I think the common negative criticism is that it's stagy and over-the-top. For me, though, this was one of my favorite films of last year, and I hope Julia Roberts wins the Oscar for her performance. August is a brilliant look at mental illness and addiction. Addicts ARE stagy and over-the-top -- they use performance to manipulate everyone around them. It ain't subtle, and I think the performers and the filmmakers understood that (as did, obviously, Tracey Letts, who's one of America's best living writers). Unfortunately this quality was misinterpreted by many in the audience.
The scene in the car between Meryl and Julia (Meryl's character says she can't do rehab again and that her daughters are free to leave her alone) is one that I can't stop thinking about. It's astonishing in its authenticity. Is the movie perfect? No. But is it an important work of art? Absolutely.
Thanks For Your TimeI got as sick of Gotye as everyone else on the planet. But I still really like this song from his Like Drawing Blood album and I love the Lucy Dyson video -- I've been playing it over and over tonight.
Fangs Of The Living Dead
Fangs Of The Living Dead. Anita Ekberg, playing a virgin who inherits a castle full of Euro trash, homoerotic vampires. Front seat center, please.
Cake In The NewsThere's a very funny article on Mother Jones about the 2013 Black List scripts. Basically the writers came up with log lines for all of the projects based on the titles.
A man is addicted to cake, dies.
I finally watched the entire first season. I'm always late to the game and usually things never live up to their hype, but this was an amazing show - it was actually better than I thought it would be. Olivia Colman gives one of the best performances ever of a believable middle class working mother - whether it's the scene where she's dispensing vacation gifts to her co-workers or when she finds out the identity of the killer, she always feels true to her character. And like all the best TV right now, this felt like a novel I couldn't put down.
Black List 20132013 is ending on a high note: my script CAKE made the Black List this year, which is a huge and unexpected honor. The list compiles the votes of entertainment executives on their favorite unproduced scripts from the previous year.
More songs I never need to hear againAnything by the group Toto
Wide open spaces are scary, n'est ce pas?
Lysley TenorioOne of my favorite modern writers.
We Will Never DieOne of my favorite groups is the Swedish jazz band Bo Kaspers Orkester. They have a song called Vi Kommer Aldrig Att Dö, which translates into We Will Never Die. It's a beautiful song, made more beautiful for me because it reminds me of the year and a half I lived in Stockholm and all the wonderful friends I made. This one is for you Margaret Steiner.
The ReturnedI'm addicted to the French TV series The Returned. It reminds me of the first season of Twin Peaks (the first season -- season two was a mess). One of the things I admire about it is that a lot of the visuals are presented in wide shots, where characters are small elements against the expanse of beautiful backgrounds: the lake and dam, the mountains, the shining night lights of the village. The result is a kind of crippling dread that is surprising.
Songs I Never Need To Hear AgainSuper Freak
Edge of 17
Boys of Summer
Anything by the band Journey
Austin Film FestivalCake is a semi-finalist for the AFF Screenplay Competition (under the title Jump - I've tried both titles and I prefer Cake I think). It also received an Honorable Mention in the Williamsburg Film Festival screenwriting competition.
When I first started writing seriously a friend said my stories seemed awfully similar to (i.e. a rip off of) Mary Robison. I was embarrassed to tell this friend that I had never read any of her writings. "You should read Why Did I Ever," my friend said. "That would be a good place to start."
I adore Mary Robison. I want David Markson and her to have a child who will write novels that consist of 500 words or less.
It has been a good summer for my feature script Cake, which I based on my short story. Cake won the Nantucket Film Festival Showtime Tony Cox Screenwriting Award.Here is a nice interview by Susan Sandler, she wrote Crossing Delancey (one of my favorite films).
Cake also won the CineStory competition, here's a press release that came out on July 10, 2013.
Welcome, ye visitors from the internetsThings have certainly changed around here, the old website is looking spiffy thanks to Anthony Wallace.