Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mini DIY Double Feature: Commencement Address from Aaron Sorkin and Adam Savage

I am such a sucker for these things. They're a bit like an annual check-up, a chance to realign your actual self with your better self.  A reminder that it's not over.  It being this life thing we're fortunate enough to have going on.  It changes, it is always changing.  Best to embrace the good while it lasts, and weather the bad with grace.  It's all temporary.  And, no matter what, if you're still breathing, it's not over.

Quite a few gems from Mr. Savage:
"Be kind."
"Don't work for fools."
"Finally.  Finally."
"There are not only second acts, there are third acts, fourth acts, finales, curtain calls...  Don't be afraid to be a late bloomer, repeatedly."

My favorites from Mr. Sorkin:
"More and more, we've come to expect less and less of each other, and that's got to change."
"The world doesn't care how many times you fall down, as long as it's one fewer than the number of times you get back up."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

DESIGNING WOMAN | 1957 | Good Pedigree, Lame Progeny

DESIGNING WOMAN is a heartbreaking movie.  Not because it expertly relays a tale of tragedy, but because it's so close to being good, but is actually pretty bad. Like WITHOUT LOVE, it has so many things going for it and yet it fails at most everything.

As a matter of principle, I'm not big on remakes, but when I see films like this, I want to remake them.  Watching so much time, energy and talent wasted on something that came so close, but fell so short is so painful, that I feel compelled to do something, anything, to make it stop.  I can't remove this blemish from the filmographies of Peck, Bacall, Minnelli et. al., and so I start daydreaming, wondering if what should have been then, could actually be now, or ever.

Initially, I thought it was my fondness for Atticus Finch that made me think that DESIGNING WOMAN had the potential to be anything more than it ended up being. But then I saw that this film won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. I could be wrong, but that makes me feel like even the Academy was saying that this film had started with something really worthwhile. It could have been so much better.  So easily. And it wouldn't have meant more time, more money, or anything of the sort.  Just a few nudges in different directions, here and there.

I frequently see this film listed as a Screwball Comedy, and according to my current working definition of screwball (which is pretty much just a simplified version of Wes D. Gehring's definition of screwball), it does kind of fit the bill.  There's a comic anti-hero, a bit of class conflict (sort of), it takes place in an urban setting, and there's a mixture of high and low brow comedy.

Gregory Peck's character is definitely not a classically heroic character, and yet given who he is, he does some heroic things to keep Lauren Bacall.  However, the film doesn't establish a solid case that these two need to be together, and it relies too much on the genre and the assumption that audience will root for them because they're supposed to...  because they're the leads.  I'm pretty sure that's not what Lubitsch was talking about when he said the audience should be allowed to add up "two plus two".

Their pairing isn't about upper crust meets Forgotten Man.  These two are class adjacent, with similar incomes and careers that aren't too different - she's a fashion designer and he's a journalist.  Yet, there's still plenty of room for class conflict, because the values and priorities of these two worlds are so different that they could keep these two apart.  But not enough is made of it.  The conflict between their two worlds is not actually tethered to anything tangible.  It's all done with shallow gestures.  The characters appear so superficial that you wonder why they don't just call it a day and let their social differences separate them.

Comedy-wise, there's actually some worthwhile material in here, both high- and low-brow, but the execution ruins it. Each joke is given so much space that it feels like there are giant arrows on the screen saying, "Look at us being so smart & funny!" and/or "Look at us being so everyman & funny!" - Laugh stupid audience, laugh!  
Although DESIGNING WOMAN utilizes many of the elements found in Classic Screwball, and even though it seems to be trying to tell the story in that sharp and witty tradition, it is less like a solid descendant of that line, and more like a Grandparent of generic rom-coms to come (see:  SOMETHING BORROWED, 27 DRESSES, and the like).  It's like a Barrymore married a Hilton and produced a Heigl.

All of that said, even the most disappointing experiences have something of value.  Sometimes its best to search for the good things and let go of everything else.  I'm pretty sure I won't think of this film again, but if our paths cross in the future, I'll be nothing but gracious and friendly, because all I'll remember is this...

Released: 1957
Director:  Vincente Minnelli

Leads: Gregory Peck, Lauren Bacall, Dolores Gray
Writer: George Wells (Oscar Win, Best Original Screenplay)
Genre: Romantic Comedy (of the worst sort)

Plot summary and reviews of DESIGNING WOMAN @ Rotten Tomatoes

Monday, May 7, 2012

Junot Diaz | The Importance of Being an Artist, and Fucking Taking the Fucking Cake | Portland State University, April 30, 2012

When Junot Diaz spoke at Portland State University last week, he was greeted by a small group from the Dominican Republic and by a smaller pack of Garden Staters.  After a quick chat with each, he said, “Portland, you take the fucking cake."

Walking home from this reading, I found myself wishing there were some way I could exchange my entire education for hanging out with Mr. Diaz 24/7 until I get "it".  Of course, if it weren't for all of my education, I probably wouldn’t want "it".  And, of course, I am fully aware that I can’t get "it" by attaching myself to someone else and absorbing their "it".

Still, I'm sure I'd benefit as a human being if I could just listen to Mr. Diaz talk about...  whatever...  whenever.  More specifically though, I want to hang around this guy because I just might learn how to be an artist.  Not in a formal training, learning craft, or apprentice-y sort of a way, but simply, what it is to be an artist.

Even just being a fly on the wall might give me a shot at getting it into my head, once and for all, that being an artist is important.  That it's a valid thing to do, even if you don't get paid or become relevant to anything, or anyone, ever.  That artists are essential to a functional society, even (especially?) beyond the folks of the creative class that flock to hip cities to work for media companies, and keep trendy eateries afloat with non-stop client meetings.  Those folks are crucial to the economics of our society, but artists do something equally (more?) valuable.

Those things in parenthesis, that's what I actually believe, but it feels like I'm betraying my past if I come right out and say it.  The creative class was a good place to be...  for a time.  And, for a time, I actually even convinced myself that there wasn't a difference.  That being creative, is being creative, is being creative.  But there is a difference.  Of course there's a difference.

Not that I was doing anything especially creative.  I was just supporting people being creative - Managing.  Facilitating.  Identifying.  Connecting.  Coordinating.  So, as far as being an artist goes, I've spent years as a copy of a copy of a copy.  Of a copy.

And, in the end, it could be that I should have fought harder to continue being a copy of a copy of a copy.  Of a copy.  It is possible that a copy is the best I'll ever be.  But I think I'd rather try to make my way as an artist and fail, than die/retire wondering "What if?"

I just hate that I'll have to sacrifice my teeth.  From where I am, looking out to where I might be going, I just don't see a good dental plan.

If you get a chance to see Junot Diaz, take it.  To get a taste of what it might be like, go here (Junot Diaz at Boston College on February 15, 2012).  Watch it.  You'll be better for it.

Then, read his books.  You'll be better for it.

He really does take the fucking cake.