Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

31 December 2006

The First Three Movies I Saw in California

My plane landed in Cali at 8:30a and by 1:20p I was at the movies seeing the new confection from Pedro Almodóvar: Volver. It's a completely fabulous film and a return for Almodóvar to his classic, brilliant formula from the 1980s. Almodóvar is a master of filmmaking and each of his films seems exquisitely crafted and gorgeously shot. Volver is a delicious blend of what he has been doing for the last ten years or so (discussing serious topics and evoking powerful emotional responses) and his earlier work (broad, hilarious comedic storytelling). Volver feels like a mixture of all his work, like the next step in the career of a genius. He returns to telling a story exclusively about women, and the women in Volver are totally fabulous. Penélope Cruz is utterly gorgeous and gives a riveting, certain to be Academy-Award-nominated performance. And the cast also boasts the lovely Lola Dueñas (who I loved so much in Mar Adentro) and Almodóvar's old muse, the brilliant Carmen Maura. The plot seems a little overdone and a bit of a rehash for the director (see What Have I Done to Deserve This? if you don't believe me) but all of this combines for a film that is as funny as it is touching. It's a must see and it's superb.

And I know everyone will jump down my throat and call me a philistine, but I loved Flags of Our Fathers. I love the way the story's told. I love the acting, I love the complexity of Eastwood's political feelings. I thought Adam Beach was absolutely stellar in his role as the Native American soldier on the tour. It's a performance that's quiet and complex and at times brash and wild. Beach has created a character whose motives are never quite explained and who never quite fits in. It's wonderful work. I understand the objections to Eastwood, but I guess I just don't object. I buy into this stuff hook line and sinker and I honestly loved the film. It gets sentimental at the end, and the way Paul Haggis ties up the narrative is a little bit awkward, but the film really worked for me.

As for Richard Eyre's Notes on a Scandal, it's sort of a masterpiece of camp, with campy performances by Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett and melodramatic music by Philip Glass. It's not much of a narrative and it doesn't really reveal much about the characters at all either. It's a sturdy enough thriller, with a closeted lesbian as its center. Both Dench and Blanchett give fierce, excellent performances, but this is All About Eve junior at best, with not nearly enough other women complicating the narrative. (Eve had Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter and Marilyn Monroe to bounce things off of. Scandal has only very brief glimpses of other females.) Eyre's film also paints this lesbian psychotic as the craziest thing in the film. The film isn't explicitly homophobic, but if a lesbian may-december relationship is more disgusting and vile than a heterosexual one, there's a bit of a double standard there. Dench is extraordinary in her role: jumping back and forth from sweetness and vulnerability to horrific malevolence sometimes mid-sentence. But the film has only this going for it and not much else but camp.

30 December 2006

2006 In Review

LOVED
~ ~
1. Children of Men
2. United 93
3. Half Nelson
4. The Fountain
5. Shortbus
6. Volver
7. The Last King of Scotland
8. Water
9. The Queen
10. Flags of Our Fathers
11. Brick
12. L'Enfant
13. Fateless
14. Imagine Me & You
15. Sophie Scholl: the Final Days
16. The Painted Veil
17. Pan's Labyrinth

REALLY LIKED
~ ~
18. C.R.A.Z.Y.
19. Little Miss Sunshine
20. A Prairie Home Companion
21. Tsotsi
22. Time to Leave
23. Friends with Money
24. Three Times
25. Marie Antoinette
The Prestige
Babel
Apocalypto
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Gabrielle
13 Tzameti

LIKED
~ ~
Ask the Dust
Clean
The Departed
Thank You for Smoking
Curse of the Golden Flower
Old Joy
Letters from Iwo Jima
Dreamgirls
Notes on a Scandal
Venus
Summer Storm
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles
Poseidon

LIKED MORE THAN I DISLIKED
~ ~
Cars
Duck Season
Monster House
X-men: the Last Stand
Another Gay Movie
Happy Feet
Let's Go to Prison
Running with Scissors
The House of Sand
Lady in the Water

BARELY LIKED MORE THAN I DISLIKED
~ ~
The Pursuit of Happyness
The Devil Wears Prada
Evil
Woman Is the Future of Man
Casino Royale
Snakes on a Plane
Little Children
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
The Oh in Ohio

DISLIKED
~ ~
Eragon
For Your Consideration
Art School Confidential
The Good German
Don't Tell

HATED
~ ~
Blood Diamond
The Last Kiss
Manderlay
Hard Candy
V for Vendetta
Scoop
The Illusionist
The Black Dahlia

COMPLETE AND TOTAL WASTE OF TIME
~ ~
Joyeux Noël
Superman Returns
The Promise
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
The Good Shepherd
Click

28 December 2006

Limen 1.0

In a parking lot, seemingly abandoned on this
The first unofficial day of winter
A young man in a recklessly-driven car
Lets out a yelp, something primal (?)
I sit in a borrowed car on land that isn't mine
I wait for company, miles, miles away from home
Miles and miles away from the home before that one
I hope to keep warm in this car, biding time
Until my sister's plane lands in a few long hours
Listening to that boy's yelp
I had been thinking about liminal spaces
The snow creates a new order
Erasing paint on the streets
Eroding the rule of laws normally obeyed with diligence
A cab driver turned left on a red arrow, though there were five other cars--all of us watching him
But who was there to enforce that red arrow?
And after all, maybe the snow had shorted the system
The light was taking a long time to switch
And no one was coming anyway
Under different circumstances, maybe,
The cabby would've waited his turn, frustrated, but still
But the cold blanket of white
Creeping, finger-like
Waves of smoke on the streets
Transform us all a little
No one is about
No one will see this minor traffic transgression
And even if...
Who would argue
The roads are scary, ice-covered
Slick with frozen mud
The white and the dark, dark brown
Underneath
Cover everything
All of human history--easy to forget--so painful
We rejoice in the snow
We stop remembering why the rules exist
In the first place
We want to
And we will go back--we know we will go back
To the rules tomorrow or at the very latest on Saturday
But today
Tonight
Feel free to yelp in the parking lot of the supermarket
I, myself, ran a red light just a few hours ago

23 December 2006

Breaking News from Colorado Springs

So I get into Colorado Springs on Thursday Morning and the roads are closed. I also had to pick up my sister from the same airport at 11:00p, and since I couldn't get to the house (30 minutes away from the airport) because of the closed roads, I ended up stranded in Colorado Springs (quite similar to Tallahassee in its own way) for twelve hours.
So I went to the movies. Of course, they only have a giant multiplex here with crapola Hollywood fare. I refuse to see The Nativity Story, and I had already seen Happyness, Eragon and Apocalypto, so I bought myself a ticket to Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. I found it both imaginative and stupid. I have to say that i thought it was one of the funniest things I'd seen in a long time. It is unmistakeably American in its sensibilities and its humor (nude men wrestling is really funny to us). But for some reason I found the scatological laughs to be freshly conceptualized and well done. It's tasteless and silly and ridiculous. It's also clever, pointed and rather scathing toward the American heartland. I've said before that I think Americans are sort of an easy target, and making fun of people who still support George W. Bush is the simplest thing in the world and nothing new under the sun, but Borat points its lens at the belief systems of these people and their beliefs come off not only as "dumb back-woods American" beliefs, but also as horrifyingly simple-minded. What Borat does successfully is paint a picture of a nation that could have voted for George W. Bush. The people in this movie are the people who kept this man in office for this long. And when you come down to it, while Borat is probably one of the funniest movies I've seen all year, it's also a rather shocking document of this country.

20 December 2006

Two More Before I'm Off to Colorado

If you're paying attention (or not) during Gabriele Muccino's new movie The Pursuit of Happyness you'll figure out that money can, indeed, buy you happiness, or if not happiness, at least happyness. Sorry. I couldn't resist. Seriously, this movie, which is very heartwarming and kinda sweet but also very short on substance is the biggest piece of capitalist ideology I've seen in a really long time. It seems like innocuous Hollywood bullshit but don't believe it. The Pursuit of Happyness is really a giant load of American propaganda that preaches the old song that if you work hard in Reagan's economy you too, yes you can make it. And by make it, Happyness means make money. In fact, money solves all problems. And if you fuck up as a dad, don't worry, your kids will forgive you once you score that choice internship at Dean Whitter and start making tons of money, because all of those stockbroker dads on Wall Street, they have amazing relationships with their sons. In fact, everyone's happy there. The film actually says this in voice over. I'm not even joking.
Will smith is really good in the film and will definitely get an Oscar nomination. His little son is freaking adorable, too. So that scores points. The last Gabriele Muccino movie I saw was L'Ultimo Bacio, which was remade this year into The Last Kiss. I loved L'Ultimo Bacio, so I'm a little sad that Happyness isn't a better movie than it is, but feel free to skip this one.

Go rent Monster House instead. It's totally unique and crazy and the fat kid is the hero. It's really great as animated pictures go. There's a fucking house that eats people. What more do you want from an animated movie?

Rope

Has everyone heard of Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film Rope? It's a milestone for several reasons.
It's the first film Hitch made in color.
It also has (not so?) latent homosexuality as an undertone of the film. Definitely a curiosity in 1948.
It also is a continuously shot movie. Well, to be precise, the movie consists of nine extended shots. They couldn't shoot the entire film without cutting because the cameras couldn't hold enough film to do that back in the forties. The camera, instead, will move close in on the back of one of the actors and then move away and the cuts are hidden (well, they're totally obvious, but still...) while the screen goes black for a second before we move away from the actor's back.

The film stars John Dall (The Corn Is Green) and Farley Granger (Strangers on a Train) as murderers (and lovers?) who conspire to commit the perfect murder and then throw a dinner party. The first guest arrives fifteen minutes later. James Stewart is the one guest at the party who just might be able to solve the murder. It's suspenseful and really intriguing. Farley Granger is pretty near excellent in the picture, the dialogue sparkles and the way the film is shot is so extraordinary that it's worth a rental just for Hitchcock's technique.

Two Movies I Disliked (Sorry, Darren)

The new Christopher Guest (A Mighty Wind, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show) movie, entitled For Your Consideration is a satire of the whole Oscar-buzz awards-show-machine idea, and it is, unfortunately, rather boring. The laughs are few and far between and the send-ups and subtle are so steeped in Hollywood culture that they fall totally flat (at least here in Tallahassee). I went to the movie with a non-Californian and he was totally lost. I wasn't lost at all, but the movie is so badly edited, so poorly scripted, and so totally unfocused that I got very frustrated after the first twenty or thirty minutes. The film has no central plot device like the other three films, with a clear end in sight. Instead, it flounders, without purpose, making fun of... wait a minute! Who exactly is For Your Consideration making fun of? It seems to me that who they're making fun of are actors. But not stars, not ego-driven Hollywood movie assholes, but rather working stiffs, people who scrape together money to pay rent and wind up doing shitty weiner commercials to make ends meet, people who have been around for twenty-thirty-forty years trying to make a go of it in Hollywood and never achieving any kind of fame. That's who Guest & co. are lampooning. And to me, well, that doesn't really seem fair. I mean, those people don't really deserve to be mocked.

And the Wachowski Brothers' latest script V for Vendetta has been directed by James McTeigue and is beautifully shot, edited and decorated--the score, too, is beautiful. It also boasts a bevy of talented British actors--Stephen Rea, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Fry, John Hurt, Rupert Graves, Sinéad Cusack--and a wonderful performance by Natalie Portman. But the script is awful. It's like something out of Ayn Rand. And I mean stylistically not politically. V for Vendetta is about as subtle as a mack truck, with screechingly one-dimensional characters. And some of the plot points left me furious at the script. Terrorism as a form of rebellion is lionized--fine. But the makers of V and V himself (the lead character I mean) propose fear as a tool to be used against their own people in the same way that fear has been used as a tactic by the oppressive, totalitarian regime they wish to overthrow. It's a totally confused sort of logic that makes sense in the minds of the Wachowskis (and, I presume, McTeigue) but didn't make sense in mine. The fight sequences, too, have all been choreographed into precise, mathematical, mind-numbing boredom. There isn't an interesting action sequence among them, leaving only the political chatter of which the movie consists. Talk is interesting, but in a movie purporting to be about action, talk is beside the point. And when the talk is logically unsound, as it is in V, it comes across only as absurd.

19 December 2006

Summing Up 2006

1. What did you do in 2006 that you'd never done before? I moved across the country, started graduate school, played beer pong, and made out with a white guy.

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year? I don't think I made any, but if I did, of course I didn't keep them.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Hm. I don't think so.

4. Did anyone close to you die? My aunt Debbie died this summer of cancer.

5. What countries did you visit? None. Not even Canadia.

6. What would you like to have in 2007 that you lacked in 2006? A topic for my thesis.

7. What dates from 2006 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? 8/5/06: I left California for Florida.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Getting in to graduate school, comprehending the readings in my Research & Bibliography class, writing a really good final paper for that class, directing Boys' Life and The Voice My Mother Gave Me Set Me Free

9. What was your biggest failure? I constantly fail to be as generous as I would like to be.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? I was sick and sniffly for the greater part of October. I also cut the end of my left middle finger off at the beginning of the year, but that's it.

11. What was the best thing you bought? My new house and my new television.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration? Julie, for putting up with me as we drove all the way across country. My friends in the directing program and most of the other artists I've met here who do amazing work. The Democratic party. My awesome friend Danny, who keeps getting cast in stuff.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? Mark Foley, Michael Richards, George W. Bush (still), Lisa Soland.

14. Where did most of your money go? Moving.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? The Oscar nominations, school, Dreamgirls, going out on my first date with the gentleman friend, when my friends Jaime, Anna and Derek surprised me by coming to Tallahassee to see me off. Best. Surprise. Ever.

16. What song will always remind you of 2006? Cobra Starship - "Snakes on a Plane (Bring It)" / Elton John - "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters"

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder?
Happier
b) thinner or fatter? Thinner
c) richer or poorer? Richer

18. What do you wish you'd done more of? Dating (that's an easy one), directing, cooking and drinking gin.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of? Research on Faust, feeling sorry for myself and saying goodbye to people I love.

20. How will you be spending Christmas? With my wonderful family in Monument, Colorado.

21. Did you fall in love in 2006? Yes. His name is Heiner Müller.

22. How many one-night stands? Um. Zero.

23. What was your favorite TV program? The Academy Awards, and while I had cable for that month I was fucking hooked on the Food Network.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year? Yes. Grad school has introduced me to a whole new group of people... and as unkind as I am, I was bound to hate at least one or two (or three) people.

25. What was the best book you read? Itamar Moses: Bach at Leipzig, Madan Sarup: An Introduction to Post-structuralism and Postmodernism, Griselda Gambaro: Antígona Furiosa, Jewelle Gomez: The Gilda Stories, James Frey: A Million Little Pieces, Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse and The Waves, Gabriel García Marquez: Love in the Time of Cholera and so many more...

26. What was your greatest musical discovery? Eric Whitacre, Jason Robert Brown, Biirdie.

27. What did you want and get? Lots and lots of things: mostly a Democrat-run congress, but also some great teachers, a great roommate, a bunch of cool friends in Tally, and lots of validation.

28. What did you want and not get? A boyfriend. A Crate and Barrel within driving distance from my new house. The release of a new J.K. Rowling book. One can't have everything.

29. What was your favorite film of this year? So far United 93, The Fountain, Half Nelson, The Queen, Water and Brick, but there are many films I have yet to see and I don't live in Los Angeles anymore.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I turned 25. My parents took me to a place called The Raymond. Honestly, though, I can't remember what else I did.

31.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? I think my life is pretty nigh-well perfect. As I said before, I miss directing and I wish I had a boyfriend. Those are old songs, though.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2006? I'm embracing denim and t-shirts as a permanent look. It's easy now that I'm a student. I hardly ever have to dress up.

33. What kept you sane? Getting coffee with Ryan, decompressing the days with Roomie, talking on the phone to people I love who are far away.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Neil Patrick Harris, Takeshi Kaneshiro (as usual) and Matthew Goode.

35. What political issue stirred you the most? American policy in Iraq

36. Who did you miss? All of my beloved peeps in California, especially my mother, father, sister, and brother, my friends Linda, Justin, Wahima, Elizabeth, Ashley, Danny, Jaime, Julie, Anna, Lisa, Derek, Sarah, Tito and Scott.

37. Who was the best new person you met? My brother's fiancée Rosie, my advisor Mary Karen, Roomie, Amy, Ryan, Alison, Ruth, Ariel, Samina, Becky, Jamie, Kate, Vanya, Phillip, Sean, Rick, Chandler, Dave, Ben, Lane, Herman and Emilie. I've met a lot of great people here in Tally.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2006: The easiest way to see if you understand something is to explain it to someone else and the best way to learn something is to teach it.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: "And I can't imagine / That we won't miss this." The Limbeck Band

18 December 2006

Undergrad Love

A bisexual undergrad I don't know "poked" me on Facebook today.

The undergrads think I'm hot.
I think it's funny.

Two Movies for Yesterday

Finally saw last year's Canadian submission for the foreign language Oscar, Jean-Marc Vallée's C.R.A.Z.Y., which I totally loved. It's a father/son love story about a young gay man with four brothers in the seventies coming to terms with his sexuality and his father's relationship with that. In a lot of ways the film is been-there-done-that, but I loved it nonetheless for the artistry of the story being told (Vallée's scipt is excellent) and the wonderful lead performance from Marc-André Grondin. The film is filled with musical references: Pink Floyd and Bowie, mostly, though the title refers to Patsy Cline's song by the same name. The film, interestingly enough, also seems to be about the fading of the Catholic Church in French-Canada. In any case, I loved it.

The same cannot be said for the idiotic Eragon. This film gives us exposition for about an hour (seriously), a few skirmishes and then a final battle that is boring and bloodless. This is a children's movie and is filmed like one. I love me some dragons, so I was going to see it anyway, but this movie is stupid and boring. When that baby dragon hatches in the first third of the movie, though, prepare to melt.

17 December 2006

Apocalypto

You're probably not going to believe this, but I quite liked Apocalypto. I'm not sure that the title has anything to do with anything, but the movie's good anyway. I've heard people muttering that it's the most violent movie they've ever seen--Joe Morgenstern said so in his review--but compared to other Mel Gibson films, I don't think they're quite right about that. It's definitely violent and bloody and all of that, but certainly less so than The Passion of the Christ, Payback and The Patriot--don't get me started on tThe Patriot.
The thing is, Apocalypto is really about violence, and it's quite thought-provoking. It recalls human atrocities on all continents in a real and fascinating way. I found it very powerful in its ability to evoke things like Holocaust work camps, sub-saharan Africa, and Roman gladatorial slaughters--all in the span of about four minutes. It's quite extraordinary.
It's also visually stunning. Gibson is a true visionary. I mean, I think he's batshit crazy in real life, don't get me wrong, but no one is making movies like this. It's a very Hollywood style of filmmaking, but it's also unique and special and feels groundbreaking in a lot of ways.
It has its problems, too--a Hell of a lot of running and inopportune introductions of comedic sequences--but for he most part he stays on track and the film picks up steam. It's impossible not to root for the hero, and I can't imagine watching the movie and not thinking about Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo or Srebrenića.
If you're not into violence, of course, don't go. But Apocalypto's violence is not on the relentless, snuff-film scale of The Passion of the Christ, and the visuals are worth the ride.

15 December 2006

May the Movies Begin

I am done with my last class... sort of. There is still a small amount of grading to be done for the Intro Class, but my assignments for the classes I'm actually in are over and done with. And now I can start watching movies full force.

Too bad I'm in Tallahassee and the only things playing are Apocalypto, For Your Consideration, Borat, and The Pursuit of Happyness. Ah well. At least I can see those.

This morning, after taking Ryan to the airport, I sat down to watch City Slickers, which I'd never seen. Let me tell you, they sold this movie all wrong. I was under the impression that this movie was a comedy. Not so, my friends, not so. It is a very sentimental drama with a happy ending and a few jokes thrown in. It is most definitely not a comedy. I don't even think it wants to be. It's a kind of heartwarming, silly, Homeward Bound kind of movie. It succeeds at that heartwarming stuff, I guess. I'm not really into that sort of thing, but it does what it tries to do rather well, I guess. Eh. I was bored, to be honest.

14 December 2006

Jesus Christ.

I'm doing a re-write. I cannot believe that I'm still awake at this time of night.

AND I suck at writing conclusions, in case you were wondering.

12 December 2006

What's the Scoop?

Now, you all know that I love me some Woody Allen. But his latest film Scoop is a complete and total mess. Allen does seem to have a sort of death-is-funny idea happening, which I find very refreshing and delightfully reminiscent of early Allen like Love and Death, but the movie itself isn't funny. I am overstating a little. It's funny twice, maybe three times. And I smiled another two or three times, but mostly no. Mostly it's a mess. And none of the performances are any good either. Allen feels off his game onscreen, Scarlett Johanssen gives a ludicrously dull, earnest performance worthy of a woman with less talent and less sex appeal, and even Hugh Jackman, who I thought could do no wrong, delivers a character that feels phoned-in and milquetoast. Boring. Skip it.

Per Request from Ashley, the 2006 Movie List So Far

I still have about 45-50 movies I'd like to see for the year, but this is the list for now. Earlier I did take a break from grading papers and popped in the recently arrived DVD of Woody Allen's Scoop, but unfortunately I think I enjoy grading more than that movie. I put that mess on pause and came back to my computer. Anyway, THE LIST:

1. United 93
2. Half Nelson
3. The Fountain
4. Water
5. The Queen
6. Brick
7. L'Enfant
8. Fateless
9. Imagine Me & You
10. Sophie Scholl: the Final Days
11. Little Miss Sunshine
12. A Prairie Home Companion
13. Tsotsi
14. Time to Leave
15. Babel
16. Ask the Dust
17. Clean
18. The Departed
19. Thank You for Smoking
20. Summer Storm
21. Duck Season
22. X-men: the Last Stand
23. Happy Feet
24. Running with Scissors
25. The House of Sand
26. Lady in the Water
27. The Devil Wears Prada
28. Evil
29. Casino Royale
30. Snakes on a Plane

31. Art School Confidential
32. Don't Tell
33. Blood Diamond
34. Manderlay
35. Hard Candy
36. The Illusionist
37. Joyeux Noël
38. Superman Returns
39. The Promise
40. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

11 December 2006

Film Update

I am a shitty film blogger.

The Fountain, new from Darren Aronofsky (his last film was 2000's Requiem for a Dream) is amazing. Aronofsky ought to never wait do long to make a movie again. I loved this movie. It's a visual stunner and the imagination of Aronofsky is front and center with the movie. I know some will have trouble with the movie, but I absolutely loved it. It's not terribly intelligent or new or anything, but the techniques he uses are so wonderful and it is easily the most beautiful film of the year. Hugh Jackman is absolutely wonderful in the lead role(s). And there is a totally hot, wonderfully filmed sex scene in a bathtub. Did I mention the movie is breathtakingly gorgeous?

Ask the Dust is a competent, slow-paced movie from legendary screenwriter-turned-director Robert Towne (you know who he is. He wrote Chinatown.) It's okay. No great shakes. An Italian immigrant and a Mexican woman fall in love in 1933 Los Angeles. Some of the movie is done really, really well. Colin Farrell is very good (if far too good looking for the part) and so is Salma Hayek. The plot is rather conventional, though, and it doesn't really have much new to say. Shrug. It was good.

Half Nelson is one of myn ew favorite films from this year. I loved it. It's about a drug addicted high school teacher in an inner city neighborhood. It's a movie with very few answers and a lot of really intriguing, honest questions. The two main performances, from Ryan Gosling as the teacher and Shareeka Epps as his young student are absolutely extraordinary. Epps is a total puzzle. She is the toughest little girl you've ever seen and yet she has a smile that can make you feel like you've never seen anyone smile before. Gosling is superb, haunted. The movie is about so many things: mostly addiction, race relations and teacher-student relations. I cannot recommend it enough. I think it's the smartest movie I've seen this year. Go see it!

Blood Diamond is retarded. Skip this bullshit. It's an Edward Zwick party and it's idiotic as all Hell. I think I disliked it more than last year's Munich. Spielberg's movie was at least well-made.

Happy Feet is a total mess too, but also totally fucking fun. Penguins that dance like Savion Glover. You can't really screw that up. It's also a movie about religious fanaticism and environmental protection in the Antarctic and growing up different (gay?--I think so). I liked it quite a bit. It's very silly but totally ridiculous and therefore fun. There are even these little tiny Adélie penguins that all speak Spanish. It's hilarious.

05 December 2006

Star-Love

Have I mentioned in the last week how much I love Neil Patrick Harris? I'm crazy about him.
A note from my friend reprinted without his permission:
Playwrighting
I notice that a lot of my perception of life and the way I write is heavily influenced by theatre. I see someone on the street and think,"Oh, I want to write a character about him", or I'll be driving down the street and see an interesting building and I'll think about how I would interpret that into a set design. Even when I write my own thoughts down in my own, personal journal, it's spewed out like a monologue; or I can hear the way I would say it aloud to an audience in my head.
Ha. Mary Karen said the other day "every text implies a performance." For me that means that the written word always implies the spoken word. Every word that has been written, formed first in the mouth. It was spoken before it was written. If each word contains its own history, then each word that we read also contains the word as it was spoken. A tangent? What Mary Karen meant, too, I think, is that for theatre people, we always see a text as performative (performable?) because we, as artists (as people) are concerned with performance and the power of performance.
Further,
Blogging and journal writing are performance. You write for others to read. You write for an audience. It is the very essence of performativity.
Is blogging theatre? A question for another day.

04 December 2006

You Should See My Nectarines!

I had a strange dream about greens last night. I was making something... some sort of food and I was grocery shopping for it.I found the spinach, but I needed mustard greens and collards and I couldn't find them in the grocery. There was one more kind of green I wanted but I can't remember what it was (turnip greens?) In the end I did find the collards and the mustard greens, but I couldn't find that last one. And it's so random that I remembered this dream, too. I was reading a play called My Name Is Rachel Corrie and she said the word "spinach" and I remembered the dream all of a sudden. Weird.

WTF?

27 November 2006

Enormous Word

In an essay I read today by Bert O. States, Mr. States used the word "entelechial."

I had to look it up. I don't usually have to do that.

Other terms in this text: pronominal, semiotically, cipher, Rube Goldberg machines, coup de grâce, American Agit-prop theatre, typology, rapprochement.

Sometimes I think I'm on another planet. Erik, you read shit like this all the time, right?

A poem I didn't write

From The Writer's Almanac:

"Where are Men When they're Not at Home?" by Reid Bush, from What You Know. © Larkspur Press. © George Braziller.

Where are Men
When they're Not at Home?


Different places.

Some are out at the barn checking on the mare that's about to foal.
I know, not many now.
A few.

Some are running down to the corner store to pick up something they forgot.
Be right back.

Some are in offices practicing pitches. Spiels.

Some are phoning from offices—saying they'll be late.

Of course, many are dead.
You suddenly think about them because you're back where you haven't been in 20 years
and go to look them up.
                                    But they're not there.
                                                                   Just some widows.

But most are way off somewhere searching for fathers who were never home
enough.

25 November 2006

Babel / Casino Royale

I quite liked Babel, Alejandro González Iñárritu's meditation on language barriers and the small (and large) tragedies that can result from our inabilities to communicate with one another. The story, as with Iñárritu's previous two films (Amores Perros and 21 Grams) is told in smaller sections that (supposedly) add up to a whole. This is the director's technique, and he seems not to want to stray from it, so while Babel may be the most accomplished of these three features, it still feels in a lot of ways like a re-tread of Amores Perros. To be fair, Babel is told on a much larger scale than the other two films: Iñárritu is dealing here with global questions of language and communication. The film follows four separate stories, each revolving around a single rifle. The storyline furthest removed from the bullet is the tale of a young deaf girl in Japan who is dealing with her grief over her mother's suicide (murder?) and her sexuality. This story, which has the least to do with the meta-narrative was, for me, the most moving of the four tales, although I found each of them deeply affecting.
The problem with Babel, though, is not the power of the narrative(s), but Iñárritu's storytelling method, which feels old hat. It also suffers in the writing. Guillermo Arriaga, who also wrote the scripts for the other two films (as well as last year's The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), deals with exposition with no perceptible skill. He spends so much time obfuscating the truth of the narrative contained in the film, that when a truth comes to light, instead of it being revealed with quiet realization, it hits the audience like an egg hitting a stretch of pavement: interesting until the journey ends. Each of Iñárritu's little revelations comes across in this way as boring. By the time we find out what we wanted to know, we no longer care. Each bit of exposition is revealed as late in the game as possible and each time it happens, the audience asks itself why it wasn't told that earlier. So his filmic technique only half-works. He hides the truth for most of the time, cutting back and forth between his storylines, artificially preventing the characters from saying things they normally would, delivering things out of sequence. But this technique, while building suspense, gets in the way of the story being told. He cannot serve the story of Babel because he is too busy stylizing it.
The acting in the film, though, is uniformly good, with a beautiful performance from Brad Pitt (who I always think is good, but who, I'm well aware, has his detractors.)

The new James Bond film, Casino Royale is some kind of prequel, after having already had twenty Bond films: a kind of Bond Begins (everyone wants to be what Christopher Nolan is to the Batman franchise). I liked it for the most part, though I had a few huge complaints. Daniel Craig is great and he's gorgeous and cool. He makes Bond his own immediately and I never thought of Clive Owen once.
The movie is too damn long, of course--most mainstream movies are these days. This is a huge problem for the film, especially since cut between acts two and three is this ludicrous romance sequence that rings totally false and is completely out of keeping with the rest of the film. I cannot articulate the complete boredom and hollowness of this sequence. At some point I had my head in my hands and I was chanting "make it stop, make it stop."
Judi Dench is awesome, of course, though she's sort of too-much-of-a-good-thing. The movie is already too long and there are far too many scenes with her. The principle is this: if Judi Dench is onscreen, there aren't any bullets flying. I love her, but I'm at Casino Royale because I want to see an action movie.
Act two is problematic too, mostly because it centers around a 45-minute poker game. Instead of fighting or spying or doing reconnoissance, Bond is at a poker table in Montenegro playing—of all things—Texas Hold 'em. This is the second-most preposterous thing about the film. Maybe I don't understand international gambling trends, but does the international jetset really play Texas Hold 'em? The popularity of this game continues to baffle me. Poker has so many more infinitely interesting variations that a 10-million dollar tournament of Texas Hold 'em seems to me a truly ludicrous suggestion. It also sort of undermines the whole fighting-the-bad-guys thing by making war into a PG-13 game. I mean, instead of showing men dying in real war, Casino Royale abstracts war into so many diamonds, clubs and spades. I love what Joe Morgenstern said in his review: "If only Al Qaeda could be done in by a full house." It's silly.
Nevertheless, I kind of enjoyed it. I don't see action movies very frequently, so while I can intellectually pick it apart, I did have rather a good time. I mean, I sat in the dark and leered at Daniel Craig and made fun of the silly film conventions and laughed at some of the witty bits of writing. It was mildly fun as these things go. My companions were less forgiving. One even said that he liked the action in M:I:3 better.
Oh yeah, and the theme song for Casino Royale (written and performed by Chris Cornell) is truly awful.

22 November 2006

I Am Thankful For...

Safety Meetings
Thai Food
Relationships that work out
French Feminism
The Frankfurt School
The last bar that served me a Lemon Drop Martini
Karen Finley
My gay godfathers: Edward Albee, Tony Kushner, Thornton Wilder
My favorite independent straight man: Wallace Shawn
My gay brothers: Ryan and Tito
An enormous calming force in my life: my roommate
Oscar Wilde and William Congreve
My favorite actor to watch bar none: Neil Patrick Harris
My best friends: Danny, Derek, Justin, Matthew
My best girlfriends: Ashley, Elizabeth, Wahima, Madison, Jaime, Anna, Linda
Takeshi Kaneshiro
Mary Karen Dahl
Nancy Pelosi
John Paul Stevens
Arianna Huffington
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences
Bombay Sapphire gin
My father and mother
My brother
My sister
My cousins Angela, Katie, and Emily
George Clooney
Isabelle Huppert
Virginia Woolf
Alan Hollinghurst
Richard Wagner
Tori Amos
Julie Taymor
Eric Whitacre
Wong Kar-wai
My students: the good ones
All the men I’ve slept with (no exceptions)
All the men I want to sleep with
Dozens more people who love me more than I deserve

Sad News

If you haven't heard, Robert Altman passed away last night. I am very sad about this and I'm having trouble typing out a response to how much I loved what this man was doing in cinema and how much I respected his work and his excitement, so... I thought I would leave you with this clip from last year's Academy Awards, when Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin presented Altman with (finally!) an Oscar—an honorary one, celebrating his outstanding contribution to the movies.

All He Does Is Work All Day... Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Read two plays tonight after proofing my rough draft for tomorrow. One is David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly, which I know I should have read forever ago, but I just got around to it. It was Andy's favorite play or favorite role or somesuch, too, and yet I never did read it. Anyway, it's alright. Not brilliant or anything, but pretty good and definitely bold. I didn't fall in love with it, but I definitely appreciated it.

And then I read David Hare's Stuff Happens, which is absolutely incendiary. I loved it. I had a ticket to the show, too, when it was at the Mark Taper and I didn't go. I just couldn't stand to deal with Bush on a free evening. This was during the time when I would get so furious at everything he said that I had to turn off the radio when he spoke. So I skipped out on Stuff Happens when I had the chance to see it. And now we're reading it for a class and I missed out on an opportunity to actually see a show we're talking about. It's really a shame when I look back, but even now as soon as Bush started to speak, the fury rises and I want to reach through the pages of the script and throttle some sense into him. The play is a portrait of corruption and war-mongering and horror, of course: a document of the lead-up to the Iraq war could be nothing else, really. It's superbly written. Colin Powell comes across as a saint, Tony Blair as a shrewd, honest politician who made a giant mistake but who had good intentions. Bush comes across as a milquetoast leader operating at the whims of whomever he's last spoken with. Cheney comes across as the devil incarnate and Rumsfeld as blabbermouth (he comes across that way in the press, too, so that's no shocker.) Condoleezza Rice is an enigma at the center of the play: she's the secret in Stuff Happens. You never really understand what she's up to and no one really trusts her except the president. It's the best-written role in the show. One of the best things about Stuff is the references to god and religion that permeate the script. Every time one occurs it is pointed up by David Hare and each one sears itself into my mind and makes me furious at this administration. God, Mr. Bush says, directed him to invade Iraq. That's absolutely insane.

20 November 2006

Soap Suds and Thatcherism

I rewatched Stephen Frears' brilliant My Beautiful Laundrette this evening for Dramaturgy. Just thought I'd share. The picture could be fleshed out a little, I think: the screenplay that is a required text for the class feels fuller and more developed, but it's a wonderful film nonetheless and a very insightful social commentary.
*
And I'm on page fourteen of my huge Wally Shawn paper. Hooray.

18 November 2006

Frustration for Saturday #1

I'm writing a twenty-page paper about Wallace Shawn's The Fever and I just realized that I don't think I'm adding anything to his text. Fuck me, this is hard. Time to re-write!

16 November 2006

The Library

I'm always shocked at just how many books they will allow me to take home from library here. It's astounding, really. I have three books on John Fletcher out and a book on Wallace Shawn, plus one by Annie Sprinkle, one by Karen Finley and a book about the history of performance art all checked out. PLUS I have one of Culture Clash's books out from the library at neighboring Florida A&M University. Then I went to the library this morning and they let me check out two more books with Wallace Shawn articles in them. It's out of control. I wonder what the limit is...

Christ, I'm boring. I'm posting about the library.
Shit.

Lord, let me get a life so I have something to post about!

15 November 2006

Bernard Pivot Questionnaire

1. What is your favorite word?
Disaster
2. What is your least favorite word?
Real
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Dialogue with someone who has the vocabulary of an artist
4. What turns you off?
Need
5. What is your favorite curse word?
Fuck
6. What sound or noise do you love?
A chord about four minutes into the Prelude to Act III of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg
7. What sound or noise do you hate?
Car horns
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Politics
9. What profession would you not like to do?
Salesman
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Heaven does not exist, but in answer to the question: "Everyone else is already here. You're fashionably late, as usual."

14 November 2006

Kow Times

I thought of Kristy Winter McCaw today for the first time in I really don't know how long. I never think of her. But there is a girl here in Tally who reminds me of the Kow. Oh, Wahima, how I miss thee!

I am writing an essay on Wallace Shawn's The Designated Mourner that I just. can't. squeeze out of my brain. It doesn't want to finish itself. I sit at page two and then write another one an hour later. I've been at page four now for, like, three hours. My brain is mush.

AND the teacher of Intro to Theatre called me and asked me if I could stay around for 90 minutes after class tomorrow to proctor a viewing of Anna Deavere Smith's Fires in the Mirror. Just what I want to do. I said yes, of course, but sheesh! All the more reason why I need to finish this Wally Shawn business tonight!

Cultural Studies Synthesis Paper

A new paper I finished tonight. I'm sharing these things because they're all I'm producing. Apologies.

Simon During in his introduction to The Cultural Studies Reader gives what he calls “a brief history” of the discipline (2). Of particular interest is During’s discussion of actual people in his section about French Theory: Bourdieu, de Certeau and Foucault. During writes that actual individuals are subjects on which material forces work, but that they are not only subjects. He says that in addition to being subjects, human beings are also physical beings interacting with the world. This, he argues, means that individuals can make choices in opposition to the cultural forces determining their identities. During gives four instances in which his “embodied social subjects” act against “the [material] forces they know to be positioning them” (10). Each of these instances deserves further exploration and analysis, for they seem, as a group, to suggest that though the subject is determined by a web of cultural (material) forces, there is yet some essential human ability to resist these forces and exert an essential and powerful individuality.

For his first instance, During posits that “in theory at least individuals can always make choices which take into account, and thus avoid, the forces they know to be positioning them” (10). Through our ability to recognize, then, that we live in societies determined by cultural forces, the line of thinking is that we have the ability to act in opposition to these forces or factor them into our decisions. The trouble with this argument is that by taking these forces into account when we make decisions as “embodied human subjects,” we still do not step outside of the forces that determine our identities. I may be able to recognize that what I refer to as my identity is determined by forces pre-dating my existence and outside my control. I may also be able to act in defiance of these forces. But neither the recognition of my self as an overdetermined subject nor any acts transgressing this position actually have the power to alter my determined identity. I cannot construct a new identity for myself free from cultural determinants, and even if I could, it would be a response to known cultural determinants and so determined all the same.

During also argues that “an individual’s relation to the fields [hierarchical systems] continually incorporates and shifts under the impact of contingent givens [. . .] and materials events (weather, illness, technological breakdowns and so on) which are not simply determinants of social or cultural forces” (10). He is suggesting that because humans live in actual bodies and live on actual earth, there are natural forces at work in the world that have an effect on us as subjects that are not determined by material forces. This, too, is a fallacy, however. During specifically suggests that technological breakdowns, weather and illness are outside the realm of material determinacy. All of three of these, though, can easily be shown to be manipulated and determined by cultural and material forces at work in society. The weather, just to take one of During’s cases, is affected by actions that human beings have taken in the world such as deforestation and pollution. The water we drink has been collected, stored and parceled out among citizens of any area where water is scarce. The edifice that protects a person from the weather was built with materials from the planet, the removal of which have had an effect on the weather. But even if we grant that the weather itself is not determined by cultural forces, we must concede that the weather’s effect on human subjects in the world is determined by material forces. Social and material factors determine how protected each of us is from the elements, the level of cleanliness of the air we breathe and the purity of the water we drink.

During’s third argument for individuality is that humans have an infinite capacity for using language. Language, he says, is a free, frequently exploited resource among all societies. “[L]anguage itself intervenes between the individual and the socio-cultural fields that construct his or her positions. Our sense of uniqueness is grounded on our sense that we can say what we like – at least to ourselves” (10). Language, of course, is not infinite. It has been determined by cultural forces, and though we can change it, that is, though an individual can have an effect on the language (by adding words, altering meanings or spellings, using words in new contexts, etc.), the language itself is still a social apparatus. All changes made to the language merely alter the apparatus. More accurately, these changes don’t act upon the language at all. Rather, it is the language that acts, incorporating changes into itself. A society evaluates which new words, spellings and syntactical uses it wishes to adopt and then does so, inscribing that which is avant-garde in language into the status quo. Anyone using language must use a materially constructed apparatus and is bound by its laws.

Lastly, During suggests that human beings have the capacity to believe that we are not determined by cultural and material forces and that this faith in individuality is proof enough of something deeper: “in a temporality which flows towards the unknowable and uncontainable, they may find in themselves ‘deep’ selves which cannot be reduced either to the managerial self that chooses styles, strategies, and techniques of self-formation or to the subject positioned by external fields and discourses” (11). But During is really speaking not of the human subject’s ability to see something deeper than cultural determinants, but rather his inability to comprehend that there is nothing deeper. When he says the selves found by human subjects “cannot be reduced,” he is really saying that the subjects cannot (or will not) reduce these “selves” to their material determinants, not that such a reduction is impossible.

To be fair, During states that “subjectivity primarily consists of practices and strategies” (11). Even in arguing that there is some essential self to which human beings can cling, he concedes that the subject is constructed principally by material forces. He also states that modern Western culture is fond of a subjectivity that is less determined by material forces and posits cultural studies in opposition to this view. It would appear, though, after an exploration of During’s arguments, that the case for the essential self, untouched by material determinants remains a weak one.

WORK CITED
During, Simon, ed. The Cultural Studies Reader. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2000.

13 November 2006

Twenty-nine of My Favorite Films

Network by Sidney Lumet
Magnolia by Paul Thomas Anderson
Three Colors: Blue by Krzysztof Kieslowski
The English Patient by Anthony Minghella
Interiors by Woody Allen
Chinatown by Roman Polanski
The Thin Red Line by Terrence Malick
The Grifters by Stephen Frears
The Lion in Winter by Anthony Harvey
Hedwig and the Angry Inch by John Cameron Mitchell
Croupier by Mike Hodges
Maurice by James Ivory
La Dolce Vita by Federico Fellini
Fanny and Alexander by Ingmar Bergman
The Godfather: Part II by Francis Coppola
The Hours by Stephen Daldry
A Place in the Sun by George Stevens
All About Eve by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar-Wai
The Hustler by Robert Rossen
Shakespeare Wallah by James Ivory
The Barbarian Invasions by Denys Arcand
Talk to Her by Pedro Almodóvar
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ...and Spring by Kim Ki-Duk
The Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa
Raise the Red Lantern by Zhang Yimou
The Killers by Robert Siodmak
Howards End by James Ivory
The Burmese Harp by Kon Ichikawa

11 November 2006

Not Unexpected...

Your Movie Buff Quotient: 96%

You are a movie buff of the most obsessive variety. If a movie exists, chances are that you've seen it.
You're an expert on movie facts and trivia. It's hard to stump you with a question about film.

A Few Brief Thoughts on Things I've Seen This Week

Before I go off to the office to compose a lecture for Monday morning...

Running with Scissors is alright. Actually, it's not that good. I mean, I liked it okay, but it isn't nearly as shocking and outrageous as the book, and the film has trouble finding Augusten Burroughs' voice. The book is awkwardly written in the first place, and lacking in an overarching narrative, so I understand why it would be difficult to film the book, but the fun thing about Burroughs' book is how outlandish everything in it is. The ridiculous things that go on in that doctor's house are so funny and so horrifying at the same time. In the book this really comes through, but in the film it doesn't work. I think this is due to cinematography, frankly. The movie is too pretty, and the audience never really gets an idea of the squalor that exists in that doctor's house. I don't know. I was never shocked or surprised in the film, and although it's funny in parts, it's no great shakes. Annette Bening is wonderful as usual, and Alec Baldwin is great, but I think the movie is awkwardly done.

The Queen is a brilliant movie, though. I saw it yesterday and absolutely loved it. Helen Mirren is superb and surely getting an Oscar nomination (she'll probably take the statue home, too.) Michael Sheen as Tony Blair is also really great. This film (directed by Stephen Frears) is a subtle, fascinating portrait of the monarchy and of human nature. I highly recommend it.

I also saw FSU's production of As You Like It. Blech. I think I've decided, after discussion with Roomie, that I hate this play. I think it is probably the most difficult of Shakespeare's plays to direct and though I don't think it's very poorly written, I do think it's boring and over-written. The characters are fun, but the play is no good. The ridiculous deus ex machina at the end, the silly cross-dressing construct: I'm over it. And FSU's production... sheesh. Let me not say too much about it, but I actually think it was worse than Six Degrees of Separation.

And this morning I watched Joseph L. Mankiewicz's The Barefoot Contessa. Mankiewicz followed A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve with this nonsense? Whatever. It was a strange star vehicle with an incoherent plot, like something Gene Tierney would have done, only the star was Ava Gardner. Humphrey Bogart is good (this is the same year he made Sabrina), but the film is too long and too bloated... and frankly, not very interesting.

Am I being unkind this morning? Did I say how much I loved The Queen?

Off to write a lecture...

05 November 2006

A Resource Compiled for My Documentary Theatre Class

Culture Clash: Chicano Docu-comedy

Culture Clash is a group of three comedian/actor/dramatist/documentarians who have been collaborating together for twenty-two years. Their work explores Chicano culture and the intersection of other cultures with Chicano culture. The group is known for being able to both poke fun at and lionize Chicanismo (Mexican-American pride.) With its roots in El Teatro Campesino of Northern California, Culture Clash attempts to begin political dialogue about culture and differences between cultures. Broad topics include racism, homophobia, machismo, revolution, and violence. Perhaps more significantly, Culture Clash has created dialogue about important political topics in Chicano communities across the western United States as well as in Latino diasporic communities on the east coast. Most importantly, Culture Clash’s unique brand of performance is infused with self-effacing, gender-bending, pop culture-filled, satirical humor. Their work also exhibits a profound belief in the theatre as a form with the ability to build community, and a faith in its audience as a powerful force for exacting social change.
Spanning over two decades, their work includes the plays Radio Mambo, Chavez Ravine, Bordertown, Nuyorican Stories and an (extremely free) adaptation of Aristophanes’ The Birds. Also widely performed is a compilation piece of five of their shows, which has toured as Culture Clash in Americca. Two separate anthologies of their plays have been published by Theatre Communications Group and the group has performed across the country.

The Early Years: Comedy Fiesta

Culture Clash was founded on Cinco de Mayo in 1984. This day is significant as a holiday celebrating Mexican victory in battle that is celebrated more in the United States than it is in Mexico. The original six members were first brought together by René Yáñez, the curator of Galería de la Raza in San Francisco, California. The original members of Culture Clash—then called Comedy Fiesta—were José Antonio Burciaga, Marga Gómez, Richard Montoya, Monica Palacios, Ric Salinas and Herbert Sigüenza. They performed at the Galería’s Cinco de Mayo celebration, bringing comedy to a venue mostly concerned with political change and serious issues. Sigüenza says of the first performance: “What happened that night was truly magical. I mean, I think the audience knew, we knew, that this was something really exciting and new and different, you know? There had never been Latino comedy, urban comedy, like that before” (CC, Life xv) A year later on May fifth, 1985, the group had renamed itself Culture Clash (an homage to British pop music group Culture Club.) By late 1988, the group’s number had been reduced to three: Richard Montoya, a Chicano, influenced as a child by the United Farmworker’s Union movement in California; Ric Salinas, a Salvadoreño who immigrated to California with his parents and grew up in San Francisco; and Herbert Sigüenza, a Salvadoran-American who returned to El Salvador to live before getting a degree in art at the California College of Arts and Crafts. The three were from various artistic disciplines: Sigüenza is a visual artist, Montoya a comedian, and at the time Culture Clash was founded, Salinas was “rapping bilingually and break dancing” (CC, Life xi).

Early Forays into Narrative Theatre

In 1988, after Culture Clash had been touring as a stand-up comedy and cabaret act, they decided to write their first play as a trio. The Mission is a full-length original comedy about three out of work actors in San Francisco who are unsuccessful in all of their artistic endeavors. After a series of failed and hilarious auditions and odd-jobs, including a sketch where Herbert gets a job at Taquería Serra: Heavenly Tacos (where the customers want quesadillas without cheese and mistakenly order tacos al cabrón), the three turn to kidnapping as a way to become famous. They decide to kidnap Julio Iglesias, who turns his back on his Latino identity and changes his name to “July Churches.” This contemporary Latino frustration with San Francisco’s Mission District is juxtaposed with the oppression of the native Indios by mission-builder Junípero Serra in sequences traveling back to the days of the Spanish settlers in California.
A Bowl of Beings is less of a unified narrative than The Mission, exploring a wide range of topics, centering on Chicanismo. Bowl incorporates dance sequences, spoken-word poetry, and music sequences with ridiculous but politically charged skits. “The First Chicano Opera, 1492” is an entire sequence criticizing the celebration of Columbus Day that is sung operatically by the three comedians. Later in the show, Chuy, a Chicano activist, through some suspect voodoo magic, resurrects Ché Guevara in order to restart the Chicano revolution. The show closes with a sequence entitled “Stand and Deliver Pizza (The Last Chicano Movie, 1992)” a politically charged send-up of the 1988 Edward James Olmos.
Other works during this time include Carpa Clash, a Christmas show with an immaculate conception among Chicano workers: “even if their child turns out to be the Son of God, he’ll be deported as an illegal alien by Gov. Pete Wilson,” and 1992’s S.O.S.: Comedy for These Urgent Times, a show in response to the Los Angeles riots in April of that year (Everett). All four of these shows have been criticized for losing steam. They start strong, reviewers seem to say, but run out of energy as they progress. The laughs, as well, are easily won in these shows, but at the expense of deeper analysis and honest exploration of cultural gaps.

Documentary Theatre: the Americca Plays

1994 marked a turning point for Culture Clash. At the behest of a group called Miami Light, the Clash was invited to perform A Bowl of Beings for the Miami community and was then invited back, supported by a Rockefeller grant to write a show about the Cuban immigrant experience in Miami. Culture Clash “invaded” Miami, did seventy interviews, and built a show based on these interviews and the conflicting (and communal) points of view their interviewees shared. The result of this project: Radio Mambo, is a huge shift from the way that Culture Clash had previously worked. Rather than a series of broad comedic sketches, Radio Mambo is a portrait of the city of Miami: a poignant exploration of the tensions in the city between races and among people of the same race. Always complex, Radio Mambo looks at Miami as in interconnected web of immigrant communities: Cuban, Haitian, Jewish, with varying goals and dreams, and how those communities interact with the established inhabitants, white, black, and Cuban immigrants from earlier generations.
The three comedians had always played numerous characters, but had restricted their portrayals to Chicano/Latino and white characters. The Miami project required that Culture Clash take on an even wider array of roles. Montoya, Sigüenza and Salinas move with ease from playing WASP socialites in one scene to black prison inmates in another to portrayals as outrageous as a sequence where Salinas and Sigüenza play a Cuban-American couple with Montoya as the family dog. The effect is extraordinary. Like the work of Anna Deavere Smith (an obvious inspiration for the Clash), the three men are able to cross cultural boundaries, effecting sensitive, powerful portrayals of cultures reacting to other cultures. When a Salvadoran-American man performs the gestures and words of an immigrant from Haiti, ideas about essential “blackness” and cultural divides seem to disappear at least for a moment. Radio Mambo, then, is at once painting a picture of a divided city: displaying images of a region with a wide array of opposing views. At the same time, all of these racial, sexual, cultural, age and gender differences are articulated by the same three men. If a group of Latino comedians can perform all of these differences, how far apart, Radio Mambo asks, can all of these points of view really be?
Culture Clash, having hit upon a sought-after format with Radio Mambo, continued to exploit this writing technique and performance format. San Diego Repertory Theatre in California commissioned a theatrical project about the city of San Diego utilizing a similar method of exploration: monologues and short scenes based on interviews with the residents of the city of San Diego. From this commission, the Clash crafted Bordertown, not simply the story a single city, but a duet of sorts between two cities: San Diego, California on one side of the United States border and Tijuana, Mexico on the other. The show deals with the relationship between these cities and the specific issues the cities and their residents deal with as neighbors. Similar projects appeared in the following years as Arena Stage commissioned a city project for Washington D.C., INTAR Hispanic American Arts Center commissioned one for New York City, and BRAVA! for Women in the Arts commissioned one for San Francisco. The resulting shows, Anthems: Culture Clash in the District, Nuyorican Stories and The Mission Magic Mystery Tour, after being performed in their respective cities, were all eventually combined with Radio Mambo and Bordertown into a single evening of theatre that the group toured as Culture Clash in Americca.

Newer Documentary Work: Los Angeles and Beyond

Since Culture Clash in Americca, the group has been working on new methods of site-specific exploration. Chavez Ravine is a documentary work that investigates the Chicano community that was living in the downtown Los Angeles area of Chavez Ravine. In the 1950s, the people residing in the area were removed from their homes to make way for what became Dodger Stadium, an enormous arena and eventual home of the city’s baseball team (purchased from the city of Brooklyn.) The show is at once an exposé of corruption in 1950s Los Angeles, an affirmation of the Chicano contribution to the city and a hilarious, thought-provoking history lesson based on interviews, historical data and radio broadcasts. Chavez Ravine is framed by world-series winning 1981 season of the Los Angeles Dodgers, where the Rookie-of-the-Year and Cy Young Award winner was Chicano pitcher Fernando Valenzuela.
Their subsequent works have also been California-based shows. Water & Power, an exploration of corruption in Los Angeles that centers (as most corruption in the city does) on water has been called “an exciting venture for Culture Clash, a movement away from satiric sketch comedy to more traditional drama” (McNulty E1). Zorro in Hell is a comedic play that Montoya says is “unmasking a myth and asks us all to find our inner Zorros and fight for social justice” (qtd. in Welsh E1).
The Clash have called these most recent three works, Chavez Ravine, Zorro in Hell and Water & Power, their “California Trilogy”; the term seems to signify that the group has reached another turning point in its history (Welsh E1). It seems safe to assume, however, that Herbert Sigüenza, Ric Salinas and Richard Montoya, who have been going strong and working tirelessly together since 1984, will remain committed to the work that has defined Culture Clash for over a decade: irreverent comedy, the Chicano perspective and documentary theatre.

I'm All Over This Poem Right Now

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of allnothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

*
I know this piece is about belief in god for cummings, but for me it is not.
I think the poem is lovely.
I'm listening to a new recording of this poem set to music by Eric Whitacre and I'm in love with it.

Adventures in Teaching or "Why They Shouldn't Let Me Near a Classroom"

An email I got from a student whose initials are J.P.R.:
is there a reason why i dont have a grade for my second response paper?

My response:
'Cause I haven't graded the 'R's yet. Patience, my son.

29 October 2006

Lauren Bacall Double Feature

Now, I liked Dogville a lot. That ending really satisfied in a cool way. But Lars von Trier's follow-up to Dogville, which is entitled Manderlay is a whole other ball of wax. The film centers around a plantation in the early 1920's that is still under slavery. Grace (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard) takes over the plantation, freeing the slaves and introducing her own (obviously colonialist) régime on the slaves. It's a move that obviously echoes the United States' nation-building agenda in Iraq. The film asks all sorts of questions about race, racialization, sexual desire, democracy and hard work. The trouble is, the film is boring beyond belief. It's so dreary, in fact, I was actively wishing that it would end by the 1-hour mark. Mona Hammond gives a lovely, moving performance as the oldest of the slaves at Manderlay, but Danny Glover is boring and Lauren Bacall is in the film so little, I barely remembered her by the end of the film. Chloë Sevigny & Jeremy Davies, who (along with Bacall) were in Dogville, have a kind of cameo, but are given nothing to do. Not recommended.

This morning I woke up at 4:00a and couldn't get back to sleep, so I decided to watch an old movie. Luckily I had The Big Sleep on hand from Netflix (apropos, no?). I'd never seen The Big Sleep and it had been recommended by one of my TD friends here in Tally. It did not disappoint. It's a classic, obviously, but it deserves its classic status. It's directed by Howard Hawks and based on a Raymond Chandler story. Hawks makes every woman in the film a gorgeous beauty and it's filled with sparkling dialogue and excellent delivery by Bogart, Bacall and Dorothy Malone. Totally excellent. If you haven't seen it, I recommend you do.

Update from Below the Surface

Things are going well here. I am succeeding (as far as I know) with my school work. There is much to do, of course. Too much, really. I have some huge projects coming up and as usual I don't know when I'll be able to get them done. I will, though. We all pull through with this work. It pushes me like crazy but I find that it isn't too much. It is possible.

My current research is on Heiner Müller's Hamletmachine, Culture Clash, solo/performance/art and Wallace Shawn. I'm tabling my interests in other topics for now and working on these topics because, quite frankly, I have no free time to be working on other things.

I have decided, though, to return to my two-movies-per-weekend habit that I had in Pasadena. It was a rejuvenating practice that I need to reclaim. I'm still occasionally writing poetry (it's so weird to be doing that—I don't know what has possessed me.)

I miss everyone. Drop me a line, send me an email, give me love. I miss you guys.

27 October 2006

Casa de Areia

The House of Sand (Casa de Areia) is good. Well... it's well made, anyway. It stars Brazil's foremost performer Fernanda Montenegro (love her), so when it got released here it was must see viewing. Montenegro is given lots to do (she plays three characters in the film), and the film is gorgeously shot. But the film is slow and feels mired in the sandy landscapes it paints. It's also plot-heavy and over-burdened by its own clever convention of having Montenegro star as her own daughter and granddaughter. The ending is excellent (you know how I love endings) but it doesn't quite redeem the rest of the picture. 3 stars. I liked it. But if you don't like your movies slow, you won't like this one...

25 October 2006

School Update

I finished my handout for my Queer Theory presentation tomorrow finally and because I have no reading due for Thursday, I can spend my evening tomorrow grading the new batch of papers that are coming in tomorrow afternoon for Intro to Theatre. It's a never-ending nightmare! (At least the papers are on Angels in America. That should be fun. I should bite my tongue: 50% of them will probably be homophobic.)

I took a break this evening, though and went to see Deepa Mehta's Water down at the Student Life Building for free. The film is fantastic. I've moved it to #2 for the year so far. I'll have to rent Fire, now. It's so good. Seriously, you should all watch it. Look for it to get an Oscar nomination for Foreign Language picture, too. Canada is submitting it and I think it's strong enough to be one of the five finalists. My favorite performance in the film is from actress Seema Biswas who is damn near brilliant in the movie. It's a powerful, subtle performance and her character is the soul of Mehta's film. Highly recommended.

22 October 2006

Oh My

I do not need another distraction siphoning precious time away from work I should be doing, but I sure did join Facebook.

Ho-hum

A watched pot, as they say...

I'm a tad dark today. Maybe because I don't have an overwhelming amount of work to do. But I don't even feel like doing fun things. I feel like being maudlin and sitting on my back porch with a gin and tonic. I talked to my brother and sister: that was nice, but I want someone to hold me. Maybe it was re-watching Millennium Approaches yesterday or maybe it's that I've started reading Foucault's The History of Sexuality or maybe it's—I don't know. But I'm not doing so hot. Of course it will all be gone by tomorrow; that's the Piscean nature. I will be back to coping without complaint, but for today I am a child. For today I am a boy.

21 October 2006

Six Degrees

I'm not sure if I should talk about FSU's production of Six Degrees of Separation. The director was the Director of the School of Theatre here, so the whole enterprise is very politically charged. He also cast faculty members as the adults in the piece (weird) and built seating banks on the deck of our mainstage theatre instead of seating patrons in the house (we're in the midst of a parking shortage this semester, so it was partly a seating concern, I hear.) The gentleman friend was unable to attend, so Ryan went with me.

We were both fairly horrified by the show. He much more than I, but I as well. I think this horror is partly a textual thing and partly (moreso, in my opinion) a thing with our particular production. The thing that Ryan kept asking me was "But why do this show?" and I think his question is right on the money. The show is dated and weird. It has a 1990s Realism thing going on and it... well the show has a lot of problems. The race and the sexuality of the anti-hero of the show are huge sticking points and are used only to illustrate "otherness." What I mean by this is the reason the character is black and the reason the character is gay is because both of those things are "other" than the main characters of the show, Ouisa and Flan. The point is that he isn't black and gay: what he is is not-white and not-straight. It's a weird show. For me, the show's problems can be solved to a very large extent with good direction. (Ryan disagrees with me on this one, for the record. He points to the disastrous Children's Hour moment in the play when the young man from Utah who Paul fucks throws himself out of the window of the roller disco or whatever it is. This moment, says Ryan, is inherently homophobic à la The Children's Hour. He's right about this and I can't argue.)

The point really is "Why do the show at all?" What does Six Degrees of Separation have to say to us still? Has someone else come along and said what is good in Six Degrees better than John Guare has since he wrote the play in 1990? I think someone probably has.

One more thing about this show. Before Six Degrees I hadn't seen the work of my colleague and friend Herman Montero, who designed the lighting for the show. The man is brilliant. Keep your eyes peeled for his name. He knows what he is doing.

20 October 2006

Poem from 8/17/06

Another Tallahassee-inspired poem:

The mornings sweat here
Atmosphere pushing me out of its way
I don't fit here
There isn't room
For me and the air
To live together in peace
This war will last for years
Infidel in the holy land
Trying to worship a false god
The humidity and the churches
They push push but I
Am a lone pilgrim in a strange land
Finding my path through the sticky air

The Departed

I saw Martin Scorsese's new movie The Departed last night very late. Yes, I finally made time to go to a movie. The Departed is a remake of the Honk Kong thriller Infernal Affais, which starred Andy Lau and Tony Leung. Let me first say that I loved the original film. It's a taut, wonderfully acted action movie with some lovely poetic moments as well.

The Departed stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, Mark Wahlberg, Ray Winstone, Alec Baldwin, and a whole host of other people. (Kind of like The Aviator and Gangs of New York before it.) Let me say that while I liked The Departed, it's not quite Infernal Affairs. It doesn't have the tension and the poetry that Andrew Lau's movie had. It makes up for that by raising the level of the violence in the film. But the thing that was so brilliant about Infernal Affairs was its questions about being a criminal/cop and what the difference between the two men is. Affairs also had this amazing father/son throughline where both men treated both the chief of police and the head gangster as father-figures. The emotional connections between the men was so much more powerful in Affairs than in Departed.

Departed's focus is much more on the lone woman in the cast. I don't want to sound too negative about the film. As I said, I liked it. The script is absolutely superb. It zings along with audacious remarks and its portrait of macho behavior, violence and homophobia inside both criminal circles and law enforcement do a lot to erase the lines between the two. Almost as though they are two gangs, roaming the streets for territory. The Departed also has some of the best acting I've seen this year. All of the performances are fantastic. Leonardo DiCaprio is especially great as the cop turned gangster, but Matt Damon's performance is also excellent. Jack Nicholson is his usual Jack self, though less ironic than usual. He's, obviously fun to watch, but I found myself occasionally shaking my head and rolling my eyes. Alec Baldwin is great as usual (It's not a surprise anymore when he's good. The man is a great character actor. I think we can all just say that now.) My favorite performance, of course, is from Mark Wahlberg who lights up the creen every time he's there. His is an assured, unpredictable performance with an enigma at its center. His character is the most flamboyant in the film (of the normal characters: I'm not counting Jack of course) but the performance is an absolute joy to watch. It rivals my affection for his wonderful performance in I ♥ Huckabees.

The film is a little long. It needs trimming at the beginning and Scorsese spends far more time with Jack than he needs to, but it's still good. It's a shocking, original Hollywood thriller... mostly because it isn't original and it isn't a Hollywood film. Go for the script, the brilliant acting, the excellent cinematography and the awesome soundtrack (with nice additions by Howard Shore.) Hell, go for Marty.

P.S. And if you look closely, you'll see that Scorsese quotes John Ford's The Informer at one point. A nice nod to classic rat cinema about rats.

18 October 2006

A Thought from My Brilliant Roommate for This Evening

This is from an essay she wrote on My Beautiful Laundrette:
At some point in each of our lives, we will feel like outsiders. This moment is inescapable, whether in regards to our artistic aesthetic, sexuality, religion, race, or economic or educational background. One moment finds us confident in our sense of fellowship with those around us, while the next could easily replace that feeling of belonging with uncertainty and disconnectedness. A veritable moment of belonging cannot exist because in order to create that moment of kinship, we alter ourselves. The person now belonging is no longer the person who wished to belong.

17 October 2006

Konstantin

Today was ridiculously unproductive. As usual on Monday we had our awful meeting with the professor whose assistant we are. That meeting is the worst thing about grad school for me. I hate it so freaking much I can't even talk about it.

And then I didn't do anything I was supposed to do. I worked on my midterm grades and then I went to class and then I was in rehearsal for pretty much the rest of the night. I spent a little time reading about Heiner Müller, but not enough. And I wrote, like, one additional sentence for my paper proposal that has to get done tomorrow night.

I'm acting for the first time in what seems like centuries. My friend Ryan has to direct a scene for his directing class that consists mainly of exposition. So he's doing Seagull and he decided I'm perfect for Konstantin. So I'm doing it. It's a short scene, but you know Konstantin never shuts up throughout that whole thing. It's weird. I'm not nervous or anything like that. Mainly I don't feel like I remember how to do it: acting. I can't remember how to go about it. I forget how I crafted beats and moved through things. I can't remember any of it, honestly. It's awful. I feel totally inept. Ryan, bless him, says I'm doing well, but I'm out of it and I know it. I need to stick to reading books about theory.

Chekhov is, of course, brilliant, though, and the other actor in the scene found this fantastically beautiful moment late in the scene. It's lovely. I don't know where this paragraph is headed... I need to go to bed.

16 October 2006

Swamped Weekend

Mostly I've been doing work this weekend. I finally read Oh, What a Lovely War! and I read a whole bunch of theory, too. I also finished grading the midterm for my Intro class. Grr. That took for bloody ever.

Roomie did drag me out for a lovely evening of theatre, though. Actually, "lovely" might be overstating it slightly. We went to see Big: the Musical at the Quincy Music Theatre only "15 minutes from Tallahassee!" There's no reason to have made a musical out of Big in the first place, but it didn't matter because the musical is dreadful all around. The music is bad, the lyrics are bad and the book, despite being based on an adorable film, is terrible: rushed in places and needlessly drawn-out in other. Each of the songs feels like it goes on forever. It's a disaster of a show, really. The production was bad, too, though I don't really want to talk to negatively about it. It is community theatre after all and in a Tallahassee suburb.

Today I wrote four pages of a Faust paper I have due on Thursday. And I read. And organized sources for my huge article that has to be publishable if I'm getting an A in Research & Bibliography (no pressure there.)

I played beer pong for the first time this weekend, too. The lighting designers and TDs talked me into it by promising me gossip. (Compare, by the way, the wikipedia entries for Beer Pong and Moisés Kaufman. That's depressing.)

I'm sure I had more to report, but it has left me for the present.

14 October 2006

Picture Share

This is a fun photo I took on the sly (sort of--if you look closely you can see that two of my students caught me) of my students taking their midterm exam on Friday. It made me smile:

13 October 2006

A Poem for Today

I can't seem to write coherent thoughts about what is going on here. I feel by turns prepared and unprepared. Half the time I feel like I am excelling here, on top, excited, ready. The other half is the overwhelmed half. I miss my fucking friends and there is so much to do. I may be drowning in schoolwork. I can't even talk about the next five years. I don't know what will happen. I have a pretty fair idea, I think, but I only have ideas about which I am ambivalent.

This poem is dated 8/16/06. I wrote it when I first got here right after Jai, Derek, Julie and Anna left: before school started.

These experiences are fresh
But my nature feels used to every bit
"If you cannot learn to live,"
He said, and didn't mean me
Though I felt it: the only part
Of the conversation my memory noted

These floors and walls in the
Heat of summer feel liveed-in
As though I've been here on occasions previous
And I have
I was here yesterday
And will be tomorrow
Glazed wood and new paint
Are mine and I must learn to live,
To own, to decide

10 October 2006

Two Tips

These are from my advisor MKD. She said she got both of them from her grandmother.

"Recreation means changing the work that you're doing."

and

"If you're bored it's your fault."

I love this woman.

08 October 2006

Things I've Written Most Frequently on Papers I've Graded

1. Underline or italicize major works of art like plays.

2. Instead of giving me your opinion in the first person, think about phrases like “The evidence will show that…” and “A closer examination of the text proves…” Critical analysis is not just your opinion, but a critical interpretation of the textual evidence in front of you.

3. What is your evidence for this statement? You must support conjecture like this with specific historical, textual, or critical evidence.

4. Quotes comprised of fewer than four lines do not need to be set off in the block-quote format.

5. Quotes exceeding four text lines should be set off in the block-quote format described in your MLA handbook.

6. Hyphenate compound adjectives such as this one.

7. The second person is generally considered out of place in an analytical essay. Use the first person (sparingly) or the third person for more effective arguments.

8. Songs or smaller pieces of a larger work of art are put in quotation marks.

9. Does the text of the play support this claim?

10. Can you give a specific example in the text of this?

11. Please use MLA format for your paper. Your name goes at the top left corner of the paper. Review your MLA handbook.

12. Cite your source for this quote.

*
Can you tell I don't feel like doing any of the tasks I've assigned myself?