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

29 May 2007

I've Been in Los Angeles for a Week Now

I've been in California for a week now. (I am here for another four.) I have to confess to beginning to feel a little bored. Or maybe I'm feeling homesick. I love my friends here, don't get me wrong, but I just haven't seen that much of them. They all have lives (which should come as no surprise) and I don't, because I am mostly unemployed and all of my worldly possessions are on the other side of the country. Do I sound like I'm complaining? I hope not. Plus, I have set about attempting to remedy this whole not-seeing-my-friends thing by making plans for my evenings.

The weather here is absolutely gorgeous: breezy, a little cool and then really cooling off in the evening—enough to merit a jacket, even. It's lovely.

Did I tell you I saw As You Like It. It was a production done by the Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company, directed by Lisa Wolpe and featuring my dear friend Linda, who is on the board of directors. I hate this play, in case I haven't said so before in this forum, and the LAWSC production did little to change my mind. They set the show in the old West—cowboys, guys with guitars, ranch-hands, etc.—which did little to illuminate the text in any way, but was relatively harmless as a choice. (I staged Taming of the Shrew as a beach party, so I don't have anything against textually unsupported concepts, but I like them to feel new or, at the very least, funny.) The show was mostly a bust, but my friend, who played Phoebe (the woman who falls in love with Rosalind, who is posing as a boy) plays the character as a kind of Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles-type saloon performer. It's a brilliant stroke of comic performance. She comes in with a thick Spanish accent and a black dancing-girl dress, looking like a hilarious Bernarda Alba. And, as usual, her ability to be severe and at the same time allow the audience to laugh at her is excellent. It's a show-stealing piece of business, accomplished in two and a half scenes. (But if I have to sit through this show again in the next five years, I will know that I've done something evil and the universe is punishing me.)

I've seen two movies since I've been here, too. Waitress is a really cute romantic comedy/drama. I found it very charming with several excellent performances and all surrounding the making of pies, so it is filled with all kinds of really delicious-looking confections. The film stars Keri Russell as a pie wizard and depressed waitress, who is married to the worst kind of lout of a husband (Jeremy Sisto). She finds out she's pregnant early on in the film and curses herself for allowing it to happen. Now, she thinks, she'll never be rid of her creep of a spouse. Then she starts a romance with her married OB/GYN and everything starts to shift. It's an interesting picture about the morality of adultery. It also stars Nathan Fillion as her doctor and Andy Griffith as a crotchety old customer at the diner where she works. The movie is sensuous with an indie feel and a heart of gold. Definitely check this picture out if you can. I liked it a lot.

The same cannot be said for My Favorite Year which I watched on DVD this morning. It's a contrived stagey kind of thing, with bad art direction and some unfunny scenes and (occasionally) some very bad acting. Peter O'Toole got an Oscar nomination for his performance as a drunk aging movie star, and he's fairly good in the film, but he's mostly just doing easy slapsticky schtick. I didn't buy it. He isn't nearly as good in this as he is in The Stunt Man and the film is so over the top and unbelievable, that I found it difficult to invest in the characters as well as the comedy. Joseph Bologna as the star of the television show at the center of the film gives a clever, tongue-in-cheek performance, and it's the only bit of acting I really liked in My Favorite Year. This movie was made into a musical, too, as you might recall. The musical flopped. I kept trying to remember my favorite song from the show today while I was watching the flick, but it just wouldn't come to me. I guess it's no great loss.

25 May 2007

I Emailed This to a Friend Earlier and Then Thought I'd Post It

Things come to me at different times and I feel certain connections with them based on that. And of course we come to things in an order, right? We come to things in the order in which we come to them (or they to us). So, for instance, I don't know Leaves of Grass at all, but I've been reading books that refer to Whitman vaguely, elliptically, and then over the last three days I read Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days which revolves all around Whitman and his lasting impact. I didn't recognize all of it, but it resounds in my memory, like echoes of something I should know better, or know better than I think I know. I know without knowing, maybe. I read a line today in the book "Unscrew the locks from doors! / Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!" and I recognized it as Ginsberg. At least I thought it was Ginsberg. I looked it up. It's Whitman, but Ginsberg had used it as the epigraph for Howl. So language resounds in different ways at different times... according to the order we come to them. Oh yes, and Michael Cunningam writes like Virginia Woolf. Not just like her, but he follows certain of her tropes. He uses her devices sometimes. I see them as I read him. And late in the book he used the word "roil." Cunningham taught me that word. He must use that word five or six times in Flesh and Blood and I figured out its meaning as I read the book. That word and "inchoate." I might have had to look up "inchoate." But in Specimen Days he doesn't use the word "roil" until very late in the book, and when he did I thought "oh, there it is." And then the author seems familiar. I feel his affection for Woolf, and I think of my own. It's a little like community. It's the best word I can think of for it, anyway. Our contextualizing of material becomes broader, richer, as we get older.

24 May 2007

Los Angeles

I spent yesterday morning flying here. My friends Wahima, Elizabeth and Justin picked me up at KLAX and then we went to Santa Monica and then Hollywood to spend the day. I got to the suburbs around 9:00p. I am staying with the parents and I already feel a little stranded.

This is just like Tallahassee in so many ways.

I forgot, too, that when my brother and sister get together they really enjoy making fun of me. It's nothing—just silliness—but we're so different, by which I mean that I am so different. I forget how different when I am away from them. We seem similar when I don't spend a lot of time with them.
Anyway, I am here now. And I am seeing more (and different) friends tonight and again tomorrow. So I am excited. And then after today I will also have a car, so I won't feel so suburban.

21 May 2007

How Cute Is My Brother?

So I am at the library reading some gay theatre that I had to order through inter-library loan because we didn't have the book at FSU. The book arrived today from New York or somewhere where they keep books on people with deviant sexualities but it's due date is 6/21/07, which is before I get back from Los Angeles and it can't be renewed. So I had to stay at the library to read it, which is ok, I guess, since it's quiet. And I'm getting off track...

So I'm at the library and my phone rings. It's my brother. I just talked to him yesterday, so I know he's not calling to chat. He actually needs something and I need to answer the phone.

If I need two cloves of garlic and I buy this little bulb, how do I know how much a clove is?

I whisper an answer and say goodbye. But the phone rings again after three minutes:

Where would I find something called "orange zest"?

I chuckle and move to the copier room where I can talk to him without being rude. I explain orange zest—not an easy thing—then I hang up and go back to my reading. Twenty minutes later:

This says 1 tablespoon of oil and then underneath it says "salt and freshly ground pepper". Does that mean a tablespoon of each of those too?

Oh dear. I explain and hang up. But he calls back again in a few minutes:

This says to brown the pork on all sides and then transfer the pan to the oven. But how can I do that?

I am assuming he just glossed over the part in the recipe that said "cast-iron skillet". At least he realized that his frying pan probably wasn't a good candidate for the oven.

But how cute is he? He was (is, I guess) trying to cook dinner for his girlfriend but doesn't know the first thing about how a recipe works! I thought it was charming. Like explaining football to your boyfriend who just can't figure out what a first down is.

20 May 2007

Quote of the Day

me: Oh my god, he's the whore of Babylon.
Tito: Seriously, he's slept with forty guys since I've known him.
me: Jesus! Have you even slept with that many guys in your life?
Tito: No.
me: Me either.
Tito: I haven't even masturbated that many times!

18 May 2007

Extra! Extra!

It seems preposterous, but I had never seen Disney's 1992 live-action musical Newsies. What was I doing back then? I found time to see the animated musical Aladdin in the theater, which means I wasn't still banned from attending the cinema (movie theaters are dens of sin, don't you know?). I see why the film wasn't a commercial success, I guess... the kids in the movie, while lovable and fun are, well, they're not exactly the kinds of role models that good middle-class families want for their kids. They smoke cigarettes and resort to violence and (gasp!) question authority.

There are several fabulous things about Newsies. First, it's a real musical, by which I mean that this film does not couch its songs in any context other than the film's own musical context. These are not imaginary musical numbers in the head of our protagonist, and they aren't songs sung onstage by musical performers. Newsies knows it's a musical and is proud of it. They don't make films like this anymore. I can think of only two or three in the last fifteen years. (If you can think of more, leave me a comment.)

Another fabulous thing about the movie is its class consciousness. Here is a film with a vision of morality. Sure, it's set at the turn of the twentieth century but the implications for modern morality and the struggles of the working poor are evident. Newsies is a film about the working classes banding together against the capitalist oppressors. I know I sound like a crazy Marxist, but it's exciting!

The cast is fabulous, too. Christian Bale is a great actor, even as early as this film. He, of course, came to everyone's notice with Spielberg's 1987 film Empire of the Sun (my favorite of Spielberg's pictures), and now he's famous for all sorts of cool films, but he is wonderful in Newsies even at age eighteen.

Newsies was a huge flop in 1992. It received a critical bashing, even by Roger Ebert. And it even received a whole host of Razzie nominations. None of this makes any sense. Newsies is a film with a heart, a message, at least five really good songs, imaginative choreography, clever performances and charm to burn.

17 May 2007

Kon Ichikawa #1

I'm adding a movie to my favorite movies of all time list. I saw it today. It's Kon Ichikawa's 1956 Japanese film The Burmese Harp. It's about the ravages of war and it's a beautiful piece of cinematic poetry. I had decided after twenty minutes that I thought it was brilliant, but I had no idea just how much I was going to love this film. Check it out!

16 May 2007


Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia, which received ten Tony nominations yesterday and is slated to win a whole bunch of them, is wonderful. I have had this book on my shelf for about four years (the play premiered in London in '02) and I just today picked it up. It's lovely. Oh that Tom Stoppard. I needed a little break from all of the queer theory I'm swallowing (so to speak) and this play was perfect for that. It's a trilogy, so I have two other parts to read, but if the other two are anything like Voyage, its first segment, I'm in for a real treat.

Three More Pictures

I saw The Stunt Man over the weekend, but I haven't felt like writing about it. It's a very well-crafted, funny movie about reality and truth in the movies. At two hours, twenty minutes it's way too long, but I liked it well enough. Peter O'Toole plays the director of the film, who basically thinks he's god. Barbara Hershey is the film's star. And Steve Railsback plays a criminal who hides on the set, pretending to be a stunt man who recently died. It's a confusing film at times, but mostly enjoyable. I think it gets a little lost at times, but, as I said, it's very well crafted. Richard Rush got his only Oscar nomination for directing the picture, and it was well deserved.

Woman Is the Future of Man is a South Korean film by Hong Sang-soo. It's also a very well-made picture, but this one has a lot of problems. It follows two very old friends (Yu Ji-tae and Kim Tae-woo) who meet up after many years and begin to discuss a woman with whom they were both sexually involved. The men go off to see the woman, but then the film drifts off into strange territory. After an incredibly abrupt falling out between the guy we like (Kim) and the girl, the film begins to follow the guy we think is an asshole (Yu) as he pursues another woman. Then the film ends abruptly. It's a nuanced, intriguing film, but it doesn't seem quite whole, unfortunately, and I wished there were more of this film. Plus Yu Ji-tae, who is so good looking in Oldboy looks flabby and gross in this movie, and he's such an incredible jerk. I was a little disappointed in this picture.

1970's disaster movies are a great guilty pleasure of mine and I jumped at the chance of seeing my friend Ryan's copy of Airport '77. It's campy and ridiculous and fun and I had a great time watching it. This giant fucking plane goes down in the Bermuda Triangle after a series of ridiculous plot devices. Jack Lemmon is the pilot. Brenda Vaccaro is the chief cabin attendant and his lover. The passengers include Christopher Lee (!), Olivia DeHavilland, Joseph Cotten (whose eyes bug out through the whole film), M. Emmett Walsh, Lee Grant (who gives a fabulously campy performance), and a whole host of other peeps. There is even (totally randomly) a blind piano player who sings sweet nothings to Kathleen Quinlan. It's great fun.

15 May 2007

Gay Insights from Michael Warner or This Post Has Nothing to Do with Jerry Falwell

I am reading Warner's book The Trouble with Normal (2000), which is—more than anything else—an extremely well-structured argument against gay marriage. This guy is so right about so much. It's awesome! Anyway, here is a particularly astute insight from chapter three:
Gay marriage ceremonies, like the one stage by the Reverend Troy Perry in 1970, or the more recent wedding of two undergraduates in the Princeton University chapel, are performances in relatively unknown territory. They call attention to the nonuniversality of the institution. They force reactions in settings where the scripts are not yet written. They turn banal privacy into public-sphere scenes. At the same time, taking part in them is safer than coming out. Coming out publicly exposes you as being defined by desire. Marrying makes your desire private, names its object, locates it in an already formed partnership. Where coming out always implies some impropriety because it breaks the rules of what goes without saying and what should be tacit, marrying embraces propriety, promising not to say too much.
Warner's real point is that as a culture we stigmatize sex. Marriage is a way for ostensibly monogomous homosexual couples to get around the stigma of sex when talking about their relationships. They come out as having established a lasting partnership with someone else, instead of coming out as a person who practices societally deviant sex. But we all need to start talking about sex. The problem here is the completely unnecessary stigma that sex has in our culture and nothing else. Gay marriage solves none of the problems that the stigma against queer sexual practices creates. It serves only to further entrench the stigma of sexual practices, heterosexual and queer, in conservative USAmerica.

Singular Sensations

The movie of A Chorus Line is a lot like the stage play, although I had been told by several people that it was very different. I was prepared for a complete lack of musical numbers, for a huge subplot involving pizza and ninjas, for really bad direction, but none of these makes it into the film.

The movie cuts a couple of numbers: three to be exact ("Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love", "Sing!", and "The Music and the Mirror") and transfers a fourth to a different performer ("What I Did for Love" is sung by Cassie instead of Morales). It also adds two truly terrible songs. "Surprise, Surprise" (which was inexplicably nominated for an Oscar) was written for the film as a replacement to "Hello Twelve..." and "Let Me Dance for You" replaces "Music/Mirror". Both songs are bad and the lyrics are interesting in neither. It's a shame that these tunes replaced better songs. (I was glad "Sing!" was cut. It's annoying.)

Some of the envelope-pushing aspects of the original stage show—okay, not really some—have been removed. It's more like most of the references to homosexuality that are in the show simply aren't in the movie. The film tends to gloss over this element in the show. This is really stupid, of course, because most of the dancers in the movie are obviously gay (We're supposed to believe that Gregg Burge is straight? Oh, please). The show, of course, works so well because it is a window into the world of Broadway chorus dancers. It tells their stories: The Red Shoes and acting training and plastic surgery and competition and fucked-up childhoods and (gasp!) homosexuality. For the movie to gloss over this one aspect is (oh my god he's going to say it again) really just an example of the pervasive homophobia that exists in popular culture.

But this is not a bad movie, and it is especially adept at creating the kind of tension that fills an audition space. No matter what the director says—no matter who gets to stay and who has to go—he commits a kind of violence having to cut people from his cast (I always dread having to do it). But the money shot in the film is the penultimate scene when Michael Douglas names his cast: the relief, the sheer joy, on the faces of the eight performers who finally get the job choked me up a little. I forget how important it is to be cast in something. I forget how brave performers have to be.

14 May 2007

Too Personal

I know I complained the other day about Fellini's Amarcord. I called it too much a meditation on the auteur's childhood or something like that. What I meant by that is not that Amarcord is a bad film, really. But there are links, I think, in a film that is ultra-personal like Amarcord that I am not able to make in my living room, not having lived through the same childhood myself.

The problems of a director's too-personal drama being put into a film are multiplied with Dito Montiel's A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. The film starts off shaky and continues in fashion. The problem, to my mind, is the plot. It's an all-too familiar story of growing up in New York amid the rough-and-tumble crowd and having to decide—for whatever reason—to leave it. I didn't mind this so much, except the guilt of having left seems to consume Montiel's main character, and I could never figure out why. He's made a really good movie about what a crazy, difficult life he had, and he makes a very strong case for leaving it. Yet the character's big decision is all dependent on this guilt. The climax, in fact, is completely linked with how he was wrong to leave. I was totally lost.

The cast is uniformly good—Channing Tatum, Shia Lebeouf, Robert Downey Jr., Rosario Dawson, Dianne Weist and Chazz Palmintieri—and Montiel (who wrote the script and directed this story of his own life) has a lot of intriguing formal flourishes. Some of these work, and some of them don't. He's certainly seen his share of Spike Lee movies. In one of his best segments (an homage to Lee), each of the kids we've been watching for the last forty-five minutes introduces him- or herself. The best part of it goes like this:
Diane: My name is Diane and I want to fuck.
Giuseppe: My name is Giuseppe and I'm Antonio's brother.
Jenny: My name is Jenny and everyone's a fucking joke.
Antonio: I'm a fucking piece of shit. That's what I am.
It's a wonderful cinematic moment and that final one is simply heartbreaking.

This is A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints at its most intriguing. More often, though, Montiel's playing with form feels like it's only serving to cover up the fact that this is a story we've all heard before.

13 May 2007

Gonna Wash That Racism Right Outta My Hair

Joshua Logan's film of South Pacific is really baffling. The movie is, of course, based on the stage musical of the same name. Music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and book by Joshua Logan. What is so weird about the film is its cinematography. For some reason, and I guess this is the source of some small controversy, most of the songs are shot through these color filters. This has been retained for the DVD transfer of the film. Now, why would you go to all the trouble of shooting on location in Hawai'i and Malaysia just to filter the film as though the whole thing were shot on a sound stage in Culver City. It doesn't make a bit of sense!

Also, everyone in the film is dubbed except for Mitzi Gaynor. And why? Juanita Hall, who won the first Tony award as best featured actress in a musical for the original stage production appears in the movie. She is, in fact, the only member of the original cast in the film. And yet she's dubbed. It's really very weird. I mean, sure John Kerr is gorgeous, and Rossano Brazzi is extremely good looking as well, but why not cast good-looking actors who can sing in your musical film? Weird.

There is a lot that's great about the movie, though. Its discussion of racism is very interesting, if dated, and the islands look great.

12 May 2007

Weather Report

The weather here is positively vile. It's hot and muggy because it's Florida, but it's also completely overcast as though it might rain at any moment, and the air is filled with ash because of the fires which are burning close to Tallahassee. Hopefully it will rain. This is disgusting. It makes me want to do nothing all day.


I rewatched Network tonight. Ryan had never seen it so we decided to sit down with our gin and tonics and give it a look-see. Sweet god that is a good movie. I don't think there's anything like it in all of cinema.

P.S. I did yoga today. I think if I exercise in the afternoon instead of taking a nap that it's really beneficial. I try to exercise in the mornings, but it just doesn't work. I don't even want to be alive in the mornings, much less move my body into downward dog. But in the afternoons, it's rather invigorating. I'll keep you updated.

11 May 2007

Billy Budd

I have a confession to make. Though it is a classic, I've never read Herman Melville's novel Billy Budd, Foretopman. I've also never heard or seen the Britten/Forster opera Billy Budd. I have no explanation for this at all. There's a play, too, I guess, called Uniform of Flesh.

But today I saw the film Billy Budd. It was directed by Peter Ustinov and came out in 1962. The acting is first rate. It marks the first cinematic appearance of the great actor Terence Stamp, and also stars Robert Ryan, Melvyn Douglas, Ustinov and John Neville (the well-manicured man from The X-Files). It's also exquisitely made, beautifully shot, Ustinov has a way with actors, and the homoerotic tension he builds in some scenes is palpable and intriguing. BUT.

This movie is the biggest, stinking pile of ideological bullshit I have seen in quite some time. I liked this movie for the first hour and forty minutes or so, but the ending pulled the rug out from under me. It's unconscionable, horrifying. The justification for murder is something like I haven't seen in I don't even know how long. That anyone would choose to put this story on screen in the way that Ustinov did is to me unthinkable. And he plays the murderer! I am so angry at this film I can barely speak about it. I was yelling back at the screen like I could change the course of the narrative. Billy Budd is worse than, say, Munich in terms of ideological bullshit. The way it glosses over real facts and attempts to make the audience sympathize with the murderers in the film is unbelievable. Up until the 90 minute mark I would have given this film five stars. The ending bumps it down to one. Fuck this movie.

09 May 2007


I had a phrase when I was in Vancouver that I used to say ALL THE TIME. It meant about ten different things. I could not think of this phrase for the life of me today. And then it came to me:
Ain't that some shit.

I said that so often! Oh my god. I don't know why I needed to share that, but it took me back to college days at Cal Poly: Tartuffe and Terminating and Othello. That was so long ago!

Three More Movies

Zhang Yimou's Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles is a story about an old man who has a nearly irreparable relationship with his son. To fix his relationship with his son, he decides to travel from Japan to China to film something for his son: something that his son has wanted to see for a very long time. The film is about technology and human relations—the technology sometimes intervenes, sometimes cannot help at all. It's an interesting movie about communication and translation and finding the ability to be clear about emotions without the help of media. It's Zhang Yimou, too, so that means that the movie looks gorgeous. This is a far cry from Yimou's wide, sweeping costume dramas that are usually more about style than substance (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower). This, rather, is a simple story about human connection. I liked it okay, but I found it to be a bit of a retread of old material. I suppose I'm a bit tired of crusty old men finding new joy and new reasons for living in the eyes of children. It's an old story, after all.

Mommie Dearest is a fucking classic. I hadn't seen it until now. Faye Dunaway gives a performance that is sheer brilliance and the little girl who plays Christina Crawford, Mara Hobel, is extraordinary. Faye's transformation is, in itself, extraordinary. She tears into the role and it's absolutely delicious to watch. I loved every minute of it. It's campy, sure, and it's a horror movie, of course—a genre not traditionally taken seriously by anyone—but this is a great movie. (P.S. We also watched some of the John Waters commentary. That man is a genius.)

Today's movie was John Huston's film noir piece The Asphalt Jungle, which I loved. The ending is too 1950s for my taste, but it's still a great noir picture, easily one of the best I've seen.

News on the Wire

I just read this news. Bakersfield and crystal meth? I feel so bad for this guy!
Troubled actor Tom Sizemore has been arrested on suspicion of using crystal methamphetamine in a car outside a hotel in Bakersfield, California. The 45-year-old, who is on probation for a 2004 drug offense, was picked up by police yesterday morning after an associate, Jason Salcido, reportedly got into an altercation with an employee of the Four Points Sheraton hotel.Thirty-three-year-old Salcido, who is on parole, was also arrested after police claim to have found him carrying a "narcotic smoking pipe." Sizemore was taken into custody when cops then searched a car he was sitting in, allegedly finding two bags of crystal methamphetamine and pipes. The pair were booked for investigation of possession of methamphetamine, being under the influence of a controlled substance and possession of narcotic paraphernalia. In October 2004, the Saving Private Ryan star was convicted of methamphetamine possession. The following year, his probation was revoked after he admitting faking a drug test. Sizemore tested positive for drug use in January 2006 - he was given three years probation and ordered to submit to weekly drug tests. In 2003, he was found guilty of domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend, former Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss.

08 May 2007

A Few Flicks

I am not getting much reading done, I must confess. Reading theory is so much harder than reading plays. I get through ten pages or so and I'm tired, even of really interesting stuff like the book I'm reading. But I have been watching movies. My friend Catie even roped me into going to see the new Spidey by offering to buy my ticket for me. Far be it from me to turn down pre-paid invitations to things.

So the new confection from Sam Raimi (i.e. Spider-man 3) is about as good as the second one. Actually I may have liked it a little bit better (the villains are sexier in 3 than in 2—and you know how my criteria roll). Spider-man 3 is hampered by the same things that hampered Spider-man 2, namely the insistence of the filmmaking team on stressing the importance of the moony, idiotic and completely boring relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. I know I've complained about the tendency in Hollywood action movies to want to tell stories that aren't action-related, but I feel it bears repeating. The reason I want to attend a Hollywood action movie is so that I can watch a lot of fun Hollywood action. It is wholly unnecessary to insert into this perfectly good genre a plethora of scenes where we explore character and watch our action heroes stare out of windows and wish for better, less complicated lives. Zzzzzzzz. Let's get to the action! I want violence, speed and wit from my action movies. There is also a truly bizarre sequence in the middle of the film where Peter Parker gets taken over by an alien force and it makes him all emo-looking. He styles himself some bangs and then dances down the street, making his hands into imaginary pistols and winking at a number of tall, gorgeous models who pass by. Then he plays the piano and dances on the tables at a bar. It's one of the wierdest cinematic sequences I've seen in a while. (At least the "Age of Aquarius" number at the end of The 40-Year-Old Virgin operated outside the context of reality.) One more thing, though, before I close on this Spidey discussion. Topher Grace is fantastic! He is great in every single scene: funny, clever, totally natural. He inserts a kind of wicked irony into this campy super-hero universe. He lights up the screen and it all seems tongue-in-cheek. Like he's having a blast. It's a performance that's miles away from the three leads' desperate earnestness.

Two more (French) films:
Jean Renoir's La Règle de Jeu (The Rules of the Game) is a 1939 film about class conflict, at least that's what it seemed to be about for me. It's the film that Woody Allen's A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy clearly gets its inspiration. Evidently, the film was very controversial when it was first released, but it is now widely considered a classic. It follows a couple, both of whom are having various affairs, who invite an entire troupe of others down to their house in the French countryside for a week or so. It's about decadence and decorum and what it means to really be alive (and/or in love—are they the same thing?), and it's excellent.

I also finally saw Alain Resnais's L'Année Dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad), which is an extremely cool mood piece (I guess) about memory and love and power. The film really has no plot, and the characters aren't really clear—who they all are, I mean, is unclear. Their relationships to one another are muddled, and the time frame of the piece is just as confused. Never mind where the film is set (Marienbad is, as far as I can tell, a red herring). The film is a giant mystery. I quite nearly loved it, and I found its wierdness and mysteries fascinating. This is a famous image from the film:
Notice that the figures on the boardwalk cast long shadows toward the viewer, but the topiaries cast no shadows at all. It's so cool! But the film really is meditating on the fluidity of memory and it became, for me, a piece about how our relationships with others (especially those we love or fetishize) are defined (of course) by what we think we know about what the other person has said to us. But when you can't really remember what someone else said or felt, or when the other person denies that he or she said those things or that you felt those things, everything can become so confusing. If you can't remember certain things, who is to say that you are mis-remembering entire sequences of time in your relationship. Anyway, if you like esoteric, you can't get much more so than this film. Definitely worth a look.

07 May 2007

Gay Post

I'm reading this freaking great book right now called Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire ("homosocial desire" being a semi-obvious oxymoron). This book is so cool, though. I'm trying to figure out what my master's thesis is going to be on and so I've committed myself to reading as much queer theory as I can before school starts back up in August. I have a meeting with one of my professors on Wednesday and she's supposed to give me a grand reading list for the summer, but for now, I figured I would start with what I have at home. I pulled this book off the shelf and I'm loving it. An excerpt:
Because "homosexuality" and "homophobia" are, in any of their avatars, historical constructions, because they are likely to concern themselves intensely with each other and to assume interlocking or mirroring shapes, because the theater of their struggle is likely to be intrapsychic or intra-institutional as well as public, it is not always easy (sometimes barely possible) to distinguish them from each other. Thus, for instance, Freud's study of Dr. Schreber shows clearly that the repression of homosexual desire in a man who by any commonsense standard was heterosexual, occasioned paranoid psychosis; the psychoanalytic use that has been made of this perception, however, has been, not against homophobia and its schizogenic force, but against homosexuality—against homosexuals—on account of an association between "homosexuality" and mental illness.
This is especially cool because I was talking to Ryan about this intersection between fear of homosexuality and definition of homosexuality. My argument to Ryan was that though we may define ourselves now as homosexuals (and we may even be proud of the definition—I usually am), it was not we who invented the definition. Rather, it was society at large's need to name us as Other—to isolate and stigmatize "homosexuals" in order to re-inscribe and reinforce patriarchy—that defined us. So "homophobia" came before "homosexuality", or at the very least the two appeared concurrently.

In the Land of Women

The first feature by Jonathan Kasdan (son of Big Chill and Grand Canyon director Lawrence Kasdan) is undoubtedly a chick flick.

I'm not gonna lie; I went to the movie to see Adam Brody. (He's so cute!) I saw Adam Brody for the first time in Thank You for Smoking and I thought he was fantastic, so I decided I wanted his movie career to succeed. Anyway, Brody doesn't disappoint. I think he's a good actor, and he makes the scenes he's in really work. The problem with the movie is the script.

In the Land of Women is about a middle-aged woman (Meg Ryan) who has breast cancer. Her daughter hates her and she doesn't understand why. And Meg Ryan's character in In the Land of Women is a SAINT. I cannot stress that enough. She does everything right. And she's amazing and caring and beautiful and she has cancer. The daughter has good in her heart and we all can see it, but no one understands why she hates her mom so much. There's no reason for it. Well, everyone has lessons to learn, certainly Adam Brody's character. But the daughter learns to love her mother, etc. etc. For some reason I am thinking of On Golden Pond all of a sudden. We've all seen this plot about a thousand times.

There is some really funny stuff—all of it due to Adam Brody's performance, which is quite good, even in a movie this sentimental. Let me also say that I kinda liked the film in a lifetime-movie, chick-flick kind of way, which is why I want to make a point to say that I am not the intended audience for this movie. This is a movie about women—specifically women of middle age. It's also rated PG-13, which means that there isn't any sex in the film. This of course makes no sense. A movie for anyone other than middle-aged women and their disobedient daughter would have had Adam Brody and Meg Ryan sleep together at least once. But that would make Meg Ryan less than a saint, and the movie is more interested in hagiography than telling a good story.

Homophobia alert: the word "faggot" is used three times in In the Land of Women. There is no explanation for this. The word felt out of place each time it was used... at least to me. Maybe I'm not used to hearing this word in movies, but I kept wondering why the writer chose this word. *Sigh* Homophobia: I don't understand.

06 May 2007


Federico Fellini's Amarcord didn't feel very Felliniesque to me. Well, I guess I'm not even sure what that means. Amarcord has all of the grotesquerie (am I allowed to say that? am I misinterpreting Fellini?) of the other Fellini films I've seen. But it's also not a very critical film. Instead, Amarcord is a nostalgic look back on what I presume is the director's childhood.

In case you were wondering, Fellini is a tits man. Amarcord is almost exclusively about tits. Fellini is also about ass, so there's a break or two for ass shots.

I liked it enough, but it's not La Dolce Vita, and as I said, it doesn't feel like an exploration of anything in particular except the filmmaker's own childhood memories. This, for some reason, felt less universal than , though I have no explanation for this. What I will say is, the nostalgic childhood films of Lasse Hallström and (especially) Giuseppe Tornatore resonate more with me than Amarcord. I know Nuovo Cinema Paradiso and Malèna are more sentimental films than Amarcord, but I thought they were more interesting.

05 May 2007

Questionnaire from Julie. I Must Be Bored.

1. You and Jesus go out to dinner - who pays?
Jesus. I've given that man a lot over the years. I figure he owes me one.

2. You suddenly have to flee the country and adopt a new name... what would it be?
Wow. I haven't thought about this before. It would be a name from a movie. I name everything after movies. Maybe Bill Holden.

3. Pick one state in the U.S. to get rid of permanently?
Texas. Peace out. They can obsess about themselves in their own country. They do anyway.

4. You wake up as the opposite gender. What's the one thing you wanna do?
I think I'd probably masturbate.

5. Luke Skywalker or Han Solo?
Han. I'm not into blondes.

6. Toy you always wanted but never got as a child?
I seriously can't remember. I always wanted more legos, but I think I always saved up and bought them...

7. If you were this question, what would you ask?
When is the last time someone took your breath away?

8. The last time you laughed until your stomach hurt:
With Ryan, Alison & Julie the last time we went to Brothers the Warehouse.

9. What is the last movie you saw that actually scared you?
Final Destination. Don't lie. That shit is scary. I also get scared every time I watch Apocalypse Now. I never expect that fucking tiger to jump out at me.

10. Stupidest thing you've ever said out loud?
The list is pretty long. I can't remember. I say stupid shit all the time.

11. You're sentenced to death and it’s the morning of your execution: what do you want to eat?

12. What's something that most people do that you've never done?
I've never been to New York and I have no excuse.

13. Before you die you want to go to...?
Back to Europe.

14. What’s the last thing you ate?
I drank a glass of juice. I'm turning into Shelby from Steel Magnolias

15. A wild animal you'd like to have as a pet?
A fucking wolf. That would be awesome.

16. A drug you'll never try?

17. If you were an animal, what would you be?
A bird. Maybe a goose or an owl.

18. If you had to marry someone you knew at the age of 12, who would it have been?
Oh my. That was what? The seventh grade? I think my closest friend was Michael Rodarte (I wonder if he's gay now. Probably.)

19. What's something a lot of people don't know about you?
I used to know how to play the piano. But now I don't.

20. First celebrity crush?
Matlock. And Hercule Poirot. Crimefighters are hot.

21. What's a weapon to suit your personality, habits and abilities?
Just give me a cigarette and let me burn people.

22. Best flavor of runts?
The red one.

23. Favorite breakfast bread style (pancakes, waffles, toast etc...)
Coffee cake. Yum. But I won't eat it. People with body dysmorphia don't eat things like that.

24. Favorite movie?
Network. Have you seen it? If you haven't you're missing out.

25. Worst way to die?
There aren't any that are good. But I don't want to die quickly, that's all I know.

26. Grossest injury you've ever seen?
When I cut the end of my middle finger off on Christmas Eve 2005. That was hot.

27. The worst injury you've ever had?
Nothing that bad. Except when my mother ran over my foot with the family car.

28. Favorite thing about Thanksgiving?
This quiz asks a lot of questions about food. I think this questionnaire has body dysmorphia. My favorite thing about Thanksgiving is stuffing. And gravy. I am all about gravy.

29. Sport you hate the most?
Basketball. I know the men are half-clothed and all that, but it's so boring.

30. What state in the US do you want to visit?
New York. It's time I went.

31. What's something you think would be sweet to know everything about?
Mandarin Chinese. I wish I spoke it.

32. Favorite Actor/Actress?
Lately, I'm all about Meryl Streep. My new favorite actor is Neil Patrick Harris.

33. What's one phrase you absolutely detest?
"I don't think the character would do that."

34. What makes an awesome party?

35. What's your favorite material possession?
My books.

36. What's something that most consider an insult but you enjoy having said about you?
Does being called gay count?

37. Favorite kind of dog(s)?
Beagles. God help me those things are cute.

38. Favorite carnival food?
What is this? I have no idea.

39. Morning or night person?
Night. Mornings are for people who went to bed early.

41. Weirdest Ebay purchase?
I've never done this.

43. Its Saturday at 3am. Where are you?
Writing a paper, usually.

44. Who's your favorite friend/friends to go out with?
My boyfriend.

45. Worst job you've ever had?
I dug weeds for one day for a property manager when I was fifteen. Never again.

46. What's something your friends make fun of you for?
Being a snob is a frequent jab. And they're usually right.

47. Favorite cereal?
Golden Grahams.

48. Book you could read repeatedly?
Michael Cunningham's Flesh & Blood and Lewis Thomas's The Lives of a Cell.

49. What's the meanest thing you've ever done?
I do inappropriately unkind things all the time. Is there a scale? I sometimes tell a story of something really mean that I did after my girlfriend in high school and I broke up, but I don't want to repeat it here. It was really mean.

50. If you were drafted into a war, would you survive?
I sure as Hell would.

The (Not-so) Gay Divorcee

A couple nights ago I sat down and watched The Gay Divorcee, which is very badly titled, if you ask me. Firstly, it's not very gay at all not really about gay people, though it is kinda gay (I mean, I liked it, so that means it's at least a little gay—I have no idea what I'm talking about). Secondly, it's not really about a divorcee. The eponymous divorcee (Ginger Rogers) is the object of the main character's affection. Fred Astaire chases Ginger Rogers (Americans loose in Britain) from London to a little town by the beach where they fall in love and dance. It's quite charming, really. Alice Brady also stars as Ginger Rogers' doddering aunt, and she's wonderfully hilarious. (She would be Oscar-nominated for a similar role in the following year's My Man Godfrey.) The songs in the film are great, the classics being "Night and Day" and "The Continental", a song which—and I wouldn't joke about this—lasts for a total of sixteen minutes. It's a nice tune, but it was beginning to wear on me by the time all the dancing was through. (And then, of course, they bring it back for a little reprise at the end of the film.) This movie's a classic, though, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Alright, I need to go read a play or something.

I'm coming to Los Angeles in less than three weeks!

P.S. I freaking love The Light in the Piazza. Victoria Clark is fabulous.

03 May 2007

Wertenbaker and Two Films from Last Year

I read two more plays by Timberlake Wertenbaker today. The book (Plays One) includes five plays total:
New Anatomies is a really cool piece about a Swiss woman from history who dressed as an Arab man during the French occupation of Algeria. The cast is made up entirely of women, each of whom plays a Western man, a Western woman and an Arab man in the play. It's (obviously) about gender, but also about obsession and journeying. It's very cool.
The Grace of Mary Traverse is also about a journey and about womanhood. But this play is mostly about class in England. It's set in 1870 and it's a powerful play, filled with fascinating characters. Rather in the vein of Stephen Jeffreys' The Clink (if I remember that play correctly) and Naomi Wallace's One Flea Spare. It's brutal and messy and very interesting.
Our Country's Good is the most famous play in the book, and rightly so. I don't think I've ever read this play without crying. It's powerful and beautiful, and my undergrad (bless them) did it this Fall, though I didn't get to see it.
The Love of the Nightingale is a re-telling of the myth of Philomele, who has her tongue cut out by her brother-in-law after he rapes her. The play is quite beautiful, but perhaps I am becoming bored with adaptations of our old Greek myths, at least the ones that are set in Ancient Greece. I could direct the Hell out of this play, but it doesn't say quite as much as I would like it to.
The last play in the book is Three Birds Alighting on a Field, which I finished this afternoon. It's about the art world. High art, expensive art, selling out. I was kinda bored. It's not a subject that interests me much, though as we all know I am as susceptible to wanting to be fashionable as the next snob over. Thing is, nothing happens in this play. There's just a lot of, well, talk.

But I watched two movies yesterday that I want to talk about. Both of them were released in this country last year, and both are excellent. So:

Three Times is a film by Tiawanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien. It is really three separate films, each set in a different time period, but all three surrounding a couple played by Chang Chen and Shu Qi. The first segment "A Time for Love" was my favorite. Set in 1966, it follows a pair of very shy lovers as they meet and slowly fall in love. It's extremely cute and I found it touching without being sentimental. They're so awkward and adorable and they need each other so much! The second segment "A Time for Freedom" is set in 1911 and surrounds Taiwan and its independence from Japan. This segment is set entirely in the interior of a kind of hotel. The couple barely speaks to one another, so much so that this entire segment is a silent film, with the dialogue displayed on title cards. It's an intriguing device and the film is subtle and everything internalized, like a Merchant-Ivory film without dialogue. The third segment "A Time for Youth" is set in 2005 and concerns a triangle of characters, who interact with one another through technology. It's interesting, but the characters are rather hapless and it's not as stylistically cool as the first two segments. But I liked the film very much and moved it onto my top 25 for last year.

Shortbus is the latest film from Hedwig and the Angry Inch creator John Cameron Mitchell. Shortbus, which is unrated due to its sexually explicit conduct, is a fabulous film. It's about sex and New Yorkers and deep, difficult sadness. This movie is the best sexually explicit movie I've ever seen, and the sex is important. It's interesting. The people in Shortbus talk about sex and have sex and it looks real in the movie. They laugh and do silly things while having sex, and they talk and stop and start again. It's all so believable. The story concerns a bunch of New Yorkers thinking about sex and dealing with their sexual problems. It's funny and beautiful and accurate, and at times Shortbus is deeply moving and very powerful. I loved it. HOWEVER, there is explicit sex, both straight and gay in the film, and this movie is not for those who are bothered by the idea of sucking cock.

01 May 2007

James Ivory Double Feature

Last week, Julie and I watched James Ivory's The Wild Party. Julie, for her Musical Theatre History class had to come up with a syllabus for a course she was teaching. One of the class sessions was supposed to surround Michael John LaChiusa's Broadway musical The Wild Party (not to be confused with Andrew Lippa's off-Broadway The Wild Party from the same year). At any rate, the musical is based on a well-known 1928 poem by Joseph Moncure March, and as Julie and I discussed the show, I mentioned that Merchant-Ivory had made a film based on the poem in 1975. We decided we should see the film as research for the course she was designing (for me it was just an excuse to buy another James Ivory movie), so we took a break from all of our work and watched.

The Wild Party stars James Coco and Raquel Welch, but despite the poem's cleverness (and ribaldry), Ivory's film is incredibly, almost unbelievably dull. It has a lot of Ivory trademarks. There is some nice subtlety at times, and there are a few cool sequences. Coco stars as a fading comic buffoon of a film star. He's no longer famous, and he insists on making silent pictures, even though it's 1928 and hardly anyone is making silent pictures anymore. The silent film-within-the-film is very fun, and also quite cleverly done. There is also a fairly cool orgy sequence (more tame than it ought to have been, but still—) and one or two nice musical numbers (the film is a musical, though I don't think it wants to be). Mostly, though, it's boring, and sometimes Ivory's ideas about what is beautiful are off the mark. He has the ability to see beauty in things that will not strike other people as beautiful, I think. Sometimes, this strikes me as revelatory, but often (at least in his 1970s films, his ideas of beauty strike me as strange and uninteresting).

Bombay Talkie is one of Ivory's earlier Indian films. It stars the gorgeous Sashi Kapoor, his wife Jennifer Kendal, and the beautiful Aparna Sen. This movie is cute, and cleverly done. The opening credits sequence is very, very cool (actually, Wild Party's opening credits are really cool, too). Bombay Talkie is a kind of histrionic melodrama, with a plot similar to a traditional Bollywood musical from the period, with a lot of fun conventions. It is also a story about white privilege and silliness. I quite liked the film, but like most of Ivory's work, I begin to like it even more the further away from it I get. By next week, I'll probably be deeply attached to the movie. Ivory clearly knows what he's doing, and the Merchant-Ivory team is one of the cleverest. Bombay Talkie is an experiment, though, more than it is anything else. The plot is loose and silly, and flecked with melodramatic nonsense. Kapoor is beautiful, and there are quite a few nice things about the film, but I'm not sure it has anything really interesting to say.