Tuesday, November 25, 2008

george's greatest

GEORGE HARRISON'S GREATEST SONGS
1) All Things Must Pass
2) Let It Down (2001 demo version)
3) Free as a Bird
4) Someplace Else
5) Handle with Care
6) Isn't It a Pity
7) End of the Line
8) All Those Years Ago
9) When We Was Fab
10) While My Guitar Gently Weeps
11) Blow Away
12) Here Comes the Sun
13) Here Comes the Moon
14) Any Road
15) Something
16) Crackerbox Palace
17) I Me Mine
18) Soft-Hearted Hana
19) Pure Smokey
20) Within You Without You
21) Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)
22) Taxman
23) Cockamie Business
24) What Is Life
25) P2 Vatican Blues (Last Saturday Night)
GEORGE'S ALBUMS (RANKED)
1) ALL THINGS MUST PASS
His years of constipation burst forth in this 3-disc album. Even under the weight of phil spector's overproduction, the songs just roll you away. With the title song, it was the "quiet one" who turned the passing of the Beatles into an artistic expression of universal beauty and breadth.
2) TRAVELING WILBURYS VOLUME 1
I include Wilbury albums, because george was the driving force.
3) BRAINWASHED
His final album, a scintillating gem from start to finish, it reveals something (like warren zevon's last album) about the power of motivation in brilliance, as george had to know it would be his last.
4) GEORGE HARRISON
The mark of a great album is one in which you look forward to the lesser-known songs as much as the singles.
5) THE BEST OF DARK HORSE
Absent the hits from his early solo career (perhaps becase he didn't want to enrich his old record label), this is nonetheless one of the most satisfying hit collections around. The three new songs are a delight, one and all.
6) CONCERT FOR GEORGE
A benefit organized by clapton, and almost indescribably wonderful. The indian music is fantastic, and the lineup of george's friends performing his music is almost perfect. Particularly wonderful are ringo's "Photograph", billy preston's "Isn't It a Pity", paul's "All Things Must Pass", joe brown's "I'll See You in My Dreams", and paul and eric doing a ukelele version of "Something" (the best recording of that song ever).
7) THE CONCERT FOR BANGLA DESH
Synergy is real. Head and shoulders above most benefit albums.
8) THIRTY-THREE & 1/3
There are forgettable tracks, but wonderful songs fall like ripe fruit.
9) TRAVELING WILBURYS VOLUME 3
The brilliance rolls along...
10) LIVE IN JAPAN
The only tour in which a number of george solo songs were ever performed, this is a joyous event, supported by clapton and his band.
11) CLOUD NINE
Well-deserving of its status as one of george's best, and home to his most unappreciated song, "Someplace Else".
12) GONE TROPPO
His happiest album. If this is what living in the tropics does for everyone, we should all pack our bags. "Mystical One", a tribute to clapton, is a particular delight.
13) THE BEST OF GEORGE HARRISON
The only new studio track is the lovely "Bangla Desh". A fine collection of Beatle tracks and early solo work, one must subtract points for inclusion of the abysmal "You". Now that i think about it, george may be unique in the music business, where fans are usually subjected to endless hit collections with unending song overlap, plus that one new song which requires us to go out and buy the damn things. George released two hit collections, with no overlap between them. Eternal thanks, george.
14) LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD
A well-crafted album of good songs and two very good ones, the title track and "Give Me Love".
15) DARK HORSE
The first five songs are forgettable, "Ding Dong" is an annoyance of monumental proportions, and the final three songs are a delight.
16) SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND
A burp of an album, redeemed only by "Life Itself", and "All Those Years Ago", written in the wake of john's murder.
17) EXTRA TEXTURE
His most listless and uninspired work, rescued from the rubbish tip only by "Tired of Midnight Blue". "Ooh Baby" is interesting, a primitive version of what would become "Pure Smokey".

HIV Chin Chin Niggah

STAGE/SCREEN 78 & 80
-fall 2007, 2008
I'm black and blue, and have a pimple where my skin hasn't been able to breathe.
Either i spent the weekend in a gimp costume, or i've been in a movie.
Koh Yamamoto's new film HIV NIGGAH required two days of shooting. This is the second Koh film i've been in. The first, CHIN CHIN CHAN, was filmed a year and a half ago, and even now is only almost completed (a clip is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4bGPfSSn9c). CHIN CHIN is about an underground NY rock star murdered by an obsessed fan, but the show goes on. I played the brother of the fan, a good ol' Texas boy who gets taken out by sis's shotgun too. It was the first time i had ever been squibbed (that's when they strap gunpowder and blood onto you, and explode it remotely). The shoot was an absolute hoot. We filmed part of it in a Manhattan S&M dungeon. It was a great and goofy time.
NIGGAH is about racism and safe sex. We shot part of it in the very same dungeon, and this time there were clients on the premises, and the background shouts of "Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow...." lent the set a surreal element. I play Mark, a Christian Scientist holy roller pimping out my HIV-infected wife in NY nightclubs. Once again, the shooting was just silly fun. I was one of five actors who have been in both films. I was supposed to have a softcore sex scene with Tatiana, a real-life adult film star, but the scene was dropped due to time constraints. I'm bruised from the fight scene i was in...the Jagger pants i was wearing allowed for no pads, so my knees took a beating.
Film acting is a curious beast, one i'm still working on. Some great stage actors are never able to do film well. We're trained to project vocally across distance, and it can be hard to make the vocal shift to the intimacy of film. I felt like my vocals were projected and forced during this shoot, but that was because i was trying to use a "nightclub" voice, where people talk loudly to overcome the music. I had to imagine the music while we were shooting our close-ups, and i can only hope that the performance i delivered is more natural than it felt. Film acting is more an exercise in multi-tasking than stage acting. Sometimes you only get a few minutes of rehearsal, and then have to do take after take of the same scene, while a big chunk of your mind is focused on simple continuity, making sure that you deliver each take in exactly the same way...the way you grip your bottle, where you grab your partner's arm....maybe you only feel really good about one or two of the takes, but often those takes end up on the cutting room floor, for technical reasons. Actors create stage plays. Editors create movies.
Some of the actors asked me what people are going to think of the film, as it seems a non-stop shockfest of racism, sex, and violence. I'm told them i'm pretty sure Koh's films are comedies, actually. I think Koh (a sweet fellow who acts and produces, in addition to directing) is a bit of a modern day Anton Chekov, writing comedies everyone thinks are tragedies. How else do you explain the fact that the funniest scene i saw was a rape? Actors are the toughest audiences to impress, particularly ones whom you are working with. We know what's coming, so after the first take or two we seldom giggle. But that rape scene, i'm still smiling at the silliness of it days later.
Another beautiful week in the big city.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

why, johnny ringo!

Michael biehn came onto the scene in 1984, starring opposite an austrian bodybuilder in THE TERMINATOR. In the decades since, one of those actors has married a kennedy, had a parade of blockbuster films created around his talent, and become governor of the most auspicious state in the union.
The other has had a quieter career filled with consistent work, but the price of that consistency has been lower-budget films, of which many have been average, and a few awful.
Yet the well-budgeted austrian has appeared in more appallingly bad films, and both actors have been in the exact same number of brilliant movies - four each.
So it's time to celebrate mr. biehn.
No amount of money or talent can guarantee that a film will be good. The process is too scattered and complex. Compared to stage actors, a film actor is helpless in creating brilliance. Of course, it helps if james cameron loves you - three of michael's four have been cameron-helmed. And three (but not the same three) have had bill paxton in the cast, so make of that what you will. Michael is possibly unique in film history, in that his greatest roles have been perfectly balanced between good and bad guys (Hollywood rarely offers categories beyond these two). The essential filmography:
COACH - A fascinating curiosity. Far from brilliant, it is nonetheless sincere and charming and could never ever EVER get produced in today's politically correct world:
http://nakedmeadow.blogspot.com/2011/10/coach.html
THE TERMINATOR - Arnold's performance made the film, but try to picture some other actor as reese.
HILL STREET BLUES - Just weeks after TERMINATOR opened, michael had a memorable three-episode run as amoral rookie officer randall buttman.
ALIENS - Again, sigourney centers the film beautifully, but imagine someone else as hicks and it just feels wrong.
THE ABYSS - Lt. coffey is so creepily dislikable, you just want him to...not be there. Yet the core of his creepiness is the horrible certainty that there are people like him out there. If this film didn't knock you out, you may have only seen the original release. More than any movie i know, the added minutes of footage in the special edition elevate it to unqualified brilliance.
TOMBSTONE - In creating johnny ringo, michael drops the pretense of goodness which coffey carried. The result is deliciously horrible. One of those rare films which gets better with each viewing.
---
A part of me wanted to wait an indeterminate number of years before writing this article, because i have the feeling that it's not complete, that when all is said and done there will be one more transcendent film on michael's resume. How many would wager the same about the governator?
Reese. Hicks. Coffey. Ringo. He's no daisy.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

she-pigments of imagination

During my twenties, i made the realization that a staggeringly high percentage of my favorite writers and musicians were white men. This troubled me. I knew that our thoughts are a product of what we pour into our brains, and that subconscious attitudes are passed on more readily than hand-me-downs in a family of eleven. I had to face the reality that my patterns of thought predominantly reflected white male ideologies and perspectives. If this seems an obvious realization, it's just that gender and race issues had been important to me even as a child. I kicked myself a little for not making more non-white and female reading/music choices in my youth. While this self-assessment had validity, i eased up on myself when i realized that all this was largely inevitable, because for millennia girls had been taught to be quiet and unintelligent, while boys were taught that boldness was their birthright. How could it be otherwise then, that history's achievers would be overwhelmingly male? As for skin color, this reality had limited parallels there as well.
But still in all, when one makes such a realization, consciously seeking out more female and non-white creativity is a most excellent and goodly response. Which i did.
Of course, a little piece of me was also kicking myself for partitioning the creative universe into color and gender at all. As a writer, it is often my fervent hope that people might take no notice of my skin or my sex (posting pictures of myself on this blog was a choice that took some pondering...eventually the desire to be naked outweighed the desire for albino androgyny). I am sometimes unhappy that my name alone invokes assumptions of ethnicity and gender. I've always loved tomboys and androgynous names. I did change my last name once, and a part of me thought about going even further, but that desire clashed with the part of me that finds name-changing contrived and past-denying.
No one ever said being an evolving human in a complex world would be simple.
More than a decade later, white males still occupy the lion's share of my musical/literary favorites, but not quite so thoroughly.
I now have Keb' Mo' and Buddy Guy in my life. I have Cassandra Wilson, Paula Cole, Joni, Annie Lennox, Alanis, and Tori.
Michael Harper and Sandy Boucher have joined King and Malcolm X. Judith Levine and Carol Tavris have joined Simone de Beauvoir.
The greater dream is that these and all people be defined not by pigment or genitals at all.
We're getting there.
I hug you all.

Friday, November 14, 2008

games GAMES GaMeS

Games are fun. I like fun. I like games.
You can learn about a person from the games they like. Or don't like. I don't care for chess, it's always felt too earnestly militaristic. Maybe i also sensed how much commitment was involved in being good at it, and decided it wasn't worth the time investment. Plus everyone playing it always seemed so serious.
And although i was the perfect age and demographic for the video game explosion, i never got into them like my peers did. There have been rare exceptions, but i clearly remember being around fifteen and deciding that video games were too sedate and voyeuristic.
Here are the games i've loved (a "*" denotes one which i still play).
The earliest memories are card games. There was a vegetable-themed version of Old Maid, with characters like Col. Corn and Star Rock Broccoli. There was Last Card*, a complex version of Crazy 8s. Two versions of solitaire*, and double solitaire with my big sister and younger brothers (your fingers have to be quick in double sol). For a while, i loved War. There was Blitz* (Scat, to some), a trade-in game where you try to reach 31. This was the first money game i learned. We played for coins (or pretzel rods, or whatever). Hearts* can be fun...he's shootin'. When i was old enough there was Milles Bornes*, a French automotive travel game, and Pit*, the crazy shouting stock market game. And above all, Upsy Downsy* (also known as Up the River, Down the River), a game of bidding, tricks, and trump. Games can be as long or short as you want, and as many as ten can play. A good game lasts over an hour. Over the years, my brothers and i have added new rules, refining and experimenting. Upsy is king. I think i like it so much because it involves a certain amount of skill, but the human interactions are the best part. A few years ago, my aunt discovered a store-bought variation called Wizard*. I love it, although some purists in my family resist its charm.
The childhood board and box games i loved were Don't Break the Ice, Don't Spill the Beans, and Whirlaway. The Mickey Mouse Rickety Bridge game was great, saving monkeys and all. Mom had a game from her childhood about going to the outhouse, called Gotta Go. Aggravation was great fun, a marble dice game where you try to get home. My sister and i played this one regularly for a year or so, and i remember the day i was finally going to win. I was one die roll away, and she suddenly flipped the board so high that the pieces hit the ceiling. So i've never beaten her. Husker du was an awesome memory game. Breaker 1-9 was a cool trucker game. Skirmish was a Revolutionary war game. We played Monopoly, Life, and Go To the Head of the Class. The Star Wars Battle of the Sarlacc Pit was a great 3D board game, with little players that fell into the mouth. Battleship was cool. Clue was very cool, both the original and Master Detective versions. Coolest of all was Creature Features*, a monopoly game of horror movies. My brothers and i couldn't get enough. We dove into Risk* with a passion, too.
Poker* is my other favorite card game. Love it love it love it. I play low stakes, usually nickel-dime-quarter (i've never felt the allure of real-money gambling). The most i've ever lost in one night is about $15. I'll sometimes play poker solitaire, playing all six hands of draw. I've never played strip poker, and i can't wait. Poker and nakediditity together, holy cow. I've also loved Euchre*, both the two, three, and four-player versions. Push and Shove*, a rummy game, is fine.
During pre-adolescence, my next-door best friend Dave Bent and i played games ardently. Stratego was great. Titanic was so cool. It had a multi-layered board, with a big ship that spun into the ocean, turn by turn. You had to run around collecting passengers and food, then continue in a lifeboat. It's the one game i've never seen another copy of, and would most like to find again. The biggest game Dave and i played was War at Sea/Victory in the Pacific, two store-bought games i combined and modified extensively. I was hugely into naval military history in those years, particularly WWII. I added dozens of ships they had left out, and totally restructured the rules. I always played the Axis powers...not sure exactly why that was, but that was the way it had to be. A full playing of the game would take several weeks, a couple hours at a time. I haven't played it since those years, but a little part of me hopes that one day i will.
College added two games to my favorites. Questions is a party game in which every response must be a question. Celebrity* is a partner game in which every person writes celebrity names on strips of paper, then all names go into a bowl, and on your turn you must describe a person to your partner until they say the name. You try to get as many names as you can before your turn ends.
I'm old enough that i remember the first video game, Pong. Good stuff. Boop, boop. I played Coleco's Cosmic Avenger and Smurf and Ladybug before i gave up video games...i remember my brothers being awed by my Ladybug talents. The only video game i've played regularly since those teen years is Lode Runner with my second cousin John, for one year in my twenties. It was silly fun, with evil monks and goofy juice.
I got into Mancala, the African stone game, a few years back. I acted in one play where it was the backstage obsession, and i beat most everyone. I also had it in my briefcase the year i was a high school substitute teacher, and would reward worthy students with a game or two against me.
Trivial Pursuit* is lovely. The best version of it i've ever played combines Star Wars Trivial Pursuit with Star Wars Monopoly: if you can answer a question correctly, you avoid paying rent...but if you miss and the owner answers one right, you pay double. I couldn't get my brothers to play again after i schooled them the first time. Apples to Apples* is a great game my nephews love. The coolest board game i've learned as an adult is Balderdash*. You make up definitions for words no one knows, and try to fool others into believing your definition is correct, while guessing the correct definition yourself. This game nicely exemplifies my view on winning. I usually neglect to move my piece if i've won points, and am happier playing without the board altogether. Usually Balderdash deteriorates into who can write the funniest fake definition. So one of the quirks of the game is that the memorable definitions are rarely the correct ones.
Games games games. Let's play.

greatest story never told

The most important book which as far as i know has not yet been written is a comprehensive sociological study addressing the question of whether there is a measurable moral and ethical difference between religious people and non-religious. In essense, a scientific answer to the question of whether believers in god are "better" or "worse" people than athiests/agnostics. The study would measure characteristics such as honesty, generosity, courage, patience, kindness, and corresponding negative characteristics. The essential difference between religious and non-religious people is acknowledgement of a higher authority. The non-religious assume full accountability for their actions, while the religious give authority for their actions to some outside agent. Does one of these paths create a "better" person?
Of course, any such study would be mired in a ridiculously relativistic moral quagmire. The religious and non-religious have such fundamentally different moral codes that concepts of good and bad often have little crossover meaning. The results of the study would be debated ad nauseum. There are also those who will be concerned about making a distinction between religion and spirituality. I am sympathetic to that point.
As a person who has long been subject to condescension by religious folk, i have my biases in this matter. I've always been gently certain that a very large percentage of the "believers" who've looked down on me were nowhere near as "good" a person as i. So deflating the moral pretense of religion motivates me, as does the evolution of humanity out of the darkness of ignorance and superstition. I've had good friends with deeply-held religious beliefs who have been among the better people i've known. And might the research perhaps yield results which defy easy conclusions? Whatever the case, i just very much want to know what the study would reveal. If any of you know an ambitious disciple of sociology looking to make their mark, one of the seminal works in the history of moral evolution is waiting to be written...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

ZAZ!

David zucker, jim abrahams, and jerry zucker, we salute thee. Hm, given their predilection for exclamation points, i probably should have used one in that first sentence.
No matter!
There are two realizations that blindsided me while researching this article, which almost made me dump the whole idea - ZAZ were responsible for one of the most unfunny comedies ever, and one of their funniest films was actually made by someone else.
Nonetheless, the comedic eruptions created by this three-headed directing monster were so cinematically nonpareil, that tribute must be made. It is said that drama is far easier than comedy. A towering testament to that is the number of unfunny films these three were associated with when they went their (more or less) separate ways. Someone i was once trying to impress called the films shallow. I was deeply troubled by that suggestion. But i believe that humor is the most underrated indicator of intelligence, and that people who don't "get" ZAZ are missing something.
A curious feature of ZAZ films is that sometimes the versions they air on television are slightly different than the product released on video. Was andy a rock, or was it howie? What does geronimo yell when he leaps out of an airplane?
I was a bit stumped on how to structure this tribute, as focusing solely on the movies they created together left out films i wished to honor, yet the bulk of their solo work i wished to ignore. I ultimately highlighted all their collective efforts, plus a few solo shots - a sloppy approach that's the only satisfying way to point a ZAZ neophyte in the right direction. In order of funny...
AIRPLANE!
The first film they directed, it tapped into the need for a certain kind of mass cathartic laughter which had never before been accessed in such a fully-realized, completely unapologetic way. This film is nothing less than a culture laughing at itself.
THE NAKED GUN
So comedically perfect that, in the european release of this article, this goes to the top of the list.
AIRPLANE II: THE SEQUEL
Not created by ZAZ! Not at all! I'm in shock, as for years i've toyed with the idea that this might be one of the few sequels to ever top the original. How'd ya do it, writer and first-time director ken finkelman? If that's not shocking enough, i've just discovered that that very same year, ken penned...GREASE 2! Aaaaaaaaaahh!!!
POLICE SQUAD!
The only television they ever did, and such a smash it lasted four whole episodes. Naturally, one of the most over-the-top brilliant shows ever. The original files from which the NAKED GUN films were based, they were too brilliant for the airwaves. As the ZAZ boys say, too much audience attentiveness was required, because the jokes never let up. Leslie nielsen and ed williams (mr. olsen) are the only actors who leapt from small screen to big. Alan north (ed) and peter lupus' (nordberg) big-screen replacements were fine, but 'tweren't broke, so they aughtn't've fixed it. And one of the most brilliant characters ever, johnny the bootblack (william duell), never made the big screen at all. But i quibble.
TOP SECRET!
Val kilmer's debut, and the talent he displays is seamless. Yet this kind of role would never be Oscar-nominated, which is another reason why i haven't given attention to the Academy since 1985. Listening to the directors' commentary was the trigger for this article, as i simply must disagree with their moaning over how this inexpensive film suffers from a lack of plot. What the hell are you babbling about, boys? Only one or two films per decade come anywhere near this kind of funny. The underwater fight scene alone is worth the price of admission.
THE NAKED GUN 2 1/2
The second-greatest shower scene ever. A round of black russians on me.
THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE
Their earliest film, before they directed their own material. It's wildly uneven, and we none of us are worthy to touch rex kramer's size 27 tennies.
THE NAKED GUN 33 1/3
There is a moment when one realizes the ZAZ alchemy is petering out - when they do the long pan across the feet of the showering prisoners, a moment of brilliant comedy...totally fails to materialize. Am i the only one to wonder where was the inmate who had one black and one white foot? Even a tired ZAZ production is funnier than a million imitators, though.
HOT SHOTS! & HOT SHOTS! PART DEUX
The only spoofs ever made by a solo ZAZman which (almost) deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with the originals, are these by jim abrahams and ZAZ regular writer pat proft.
RUTHLESS PEOPLEGaah! They made this turd? Well, we should all...uh, step outside our comfort zone.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

bad monkey 2: monkey love

I worked the 2008 NY Chocolate Show this week as baby Bananas, the lovablest loveball merry monkey mascot.
In earlier Bananas articles, i don't think i was able to communicate how much genuine love he inspires. I despair of ever really being able to do so, in words. The reaction to most mascots is "yes, you're a dude/girl in a chicken suit/big doughnut, and you can go now". For anyone not aged 2-5, the best one can hope for, even with mascots which aren't overtly annoying, is a "that's cute" reaction which is relatively quickly forgotten, but hopefully remembered subconsciously.
With Bananas, the average reaction is on a different level, to say nothing of the more profound reactions. I'm not saying that Bananas is the first mascot to transcend the genre. The Phillie Phanatic has been making adults forget there's a man inside there, for years. That chicken does it, too. So it's safe to assume that others have done it.
But the kind of love Bananas engenders is just more personal than anything i've ever heard of. For a significant percentage of the thousands who saw Bananas this week, he was the cutest and most unexpected thing they experienced at the show, and he stayed in their consciousness throughout the day. For a smaller percentage who had a more personal interaction, he'll be a part of their consciousness for a good deal longer. And for a few...
The best way i can describe the profound interactions is by telling you of one child and one adult. The common thread was that they simply could not get enough. Please believe that hyperbole is not my style. The child was around two, and this non-verbal lad convinced his parents to return to me three or four times. I'm sure some of those times he just bolted from their presence when he spotted me again. He would have stood there, waving and dancing and hypnotized, for hours. This interaction was on the last day, when i was a bit wrecked. Most mascot gigs are over in three hours, but i was doing more than twice that for almost four days. By the last day, the pain in my upper back torso was pretty well torturous within a few minutes of putting the helmet on. In that state, you grab at extra moments of relief that come with leaning your heavily-helmeted head back. But even when you're cheating, you try to do it in character, so on that last day, someone watching long enough might have wondered why Bananas was so curious about the ceiling. If our booth had a massage therapist on-call, or i had a live-in therapist of my own, i'd have endured better. I'm not holding my breath on the former, and accepting applications for the latter. But this child came on the last day, and i gutted out the pain needed to give him a little window of magic which will very possibly only come once in his life.
The adult mirror of this child was a girl in her late teens. She was with a friend, and as happens in cases like these, i could tell right away that she was feeling something very strange and personal, something which affected her whole being. The first time she hugged me, i felt her urge to not let go. There's no way this reaction could have been so profound if it was a one-way thing. Something in her presence touched me deeply, and we created a circuit. Like the child, she and her friend came back to me three or four times (and i found her once too). There was just no way she could get enough of what she was feeling, as she looked into the screens of my eyes while i cradled and stroked her hand. If i had left the building with her, she wouldn't have even analyzed it. I mean, you know, at some point reality kicks in with adults, and within a few blocks, she would have analyzed it. But think about how amazing that proposition is, that it might have taken that long. When i'm in that rare zone, which occurs about once per show, i'm certain the woman just wants nothing more in the world than to take Bananas home. Again, no hyperbole. I would call it likely that years from now, she and her friend will suddenly recall that monkey moment in time.
For the first time ever, i saw video images of Bananas this year. I've always been objectively aware of his cuteness, but i now know that i never comprehended it fully. The images almost startled me, and i'm the one in the suit! It seemed almost unfair that that amount of cuteness could exist in the world.
At the end of the show, Bananas gives a rose to his favorite worker from another vendor's booth. I began this tradition last year, and this year delivered one to the Chocolove stand.
And this year i experienced one other thing i'd never felt. I gave a monkey hug to a beaming woman, and after a second or three, through at least five layers of costume and clothing, i felt her heart. It was so strong and i was so surprised that i pulled back a bit, and as i did, she exclaimed to her friends in amazement that she could feel my heartbeat.
Just like that.
Monkey love.

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Pittsburgh"

2006
-directed by Bradley & LaBrache

The movie PITTSBURGH is almost wonderful.
The dvd of PITTSBURGH is indeed wonderful.
This mockumentary chronicles Jeff Goldblum's return to live theater and his hometown, to play Harold Hill in a regional production of "The Music Man". Being a huge fan of Christopher Guest films (plus liking Jeff, and seeing Guest regular Ed Begley in the cast), i was drawn to this film, though i'd never heard anyone speak of it. Though it was enjoyable, i had to conclude that its lack of word of mouth was deserved.
Calling it a mockumentary isn't even entirely accurate. It's a mockumentary/practical joke, though that's not right either. Much of the supporting cast is unaware that a mockumentary is being filmed, they are simply real people honestly interacting with the leads, under the impression that the cameras are filming a documentary about Jeff's return to theater.
It's when you watch the deleted scenes and listen to the directors' commentary track however, that this dvd takes off. You have to watch the movie to appreciate the extras. The deleted scenes have more laugh-out-loud moments than the movie, but they didn't fit into the narrative restraints of a feature-length film. And it's only when you listen to the commentary that you appreciate the "performances" which turn out to not be performances at all. It's not even clear watching the film that the play-within-the-movie is real, and that Jeff and the others did indeed play these parts on this prestigious Pittsburgh stage. But real it was, a performance which existed independently of the filmmakers' cameras, and had been scheduled long before the film itself. The directors didn't know how much of Jeff's anxiety was sincere, and how much was acting. The silence about the mockumentary extended to real talk show appearances, wherein Jeff talked about the play, rather than his most recent movie (which ties in to his manager's ongoing distress that Jeff's choices are jeopardizing his career). There are delightful cameos. A subplot is Jeff's real-life engagement to the actress playing opposite him in the stage play, and the reactions (both fake and real) of the people around him to this whirlwind romance with a woman 30 years his junior. The movie ends with the city of Pittsburgh naming an official "Jeff Goldblum Day", another event which you don't realize is happening in real life.
Decent film, and delightful dvd. Hmm, that sounds like a brand new cinematic category.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

fragile insecurity

I have repetitive stress injuries in my knees. This is a self-diagnosis, as i haven't had medical insurance since my last regular job fifteen years ago. When my knees are rested they're fine, but prolonged hard use (like climbing a mountain) makes them tender and tight. It's a little worse in the right one. I'm guessing the damage is in the cartilage or ligaments. I still get around the boroughs by bike, so my legs won't get soft, and one of those arthroscopic surgeries may fix me up as good as new. But i don't have $25,000 lying around (my current fortune is closer to $250).
I'm not sure how i got these injuries. It may be a combination of factors. I've been a NY mover, requiring the moving of heavy loads up and down flights of stairs, sometimes for hours on end. But you know what the real culprit may be?
Vanity and insecurity.
I love my legs. I've always been able to run and climb and jump better than most everyone. But all my life, i've gotten "skinny leg" comments, especially from the males in my family. No amount of exercise has ever made my legs bigger. I've biked as much as 500 miles a month, and they stay just the same. They've always been well-toned, but from time to time those ol' skinny comments come my way. Why, when my legs are functionally better than almost everyone's, would these comments possibly bother me?
Because people suck. Because dragging someone else down is the easiest way to bolster our own status. Because we're stunningly good at dragging others down even when we don't consciously intend to. Because there's a little place inside all of us where we dream about being the most desirable person in the world. If there are people who've never been affected by body image issues, i haven't met 'em. My own self-love and confidence have been admired, even envied. Rightly so. There are perhaps some who would be stunned to know i was ever bothered by insecurity at all.
A couple years ago, i decided i finally wanted to make my legs "big". I lived on a long, steep hill, and i decided to sprint down and up this hill every day or two. It was beautiful exercise, one that i had to work at for a couple of months before i could sprint all the way up without slowing.
Except...i was running up and down a concrete sidewalk. It may just be coincidence, but it was about a year after i began my hill running that i first felt knee tenderness. In retrospect, it may have been the downhill which did the damage. If i had just walked down...
Such are the thoughts that play in one's mind.
Mind you, there was more going on psychologically than just that one motivation. I ran the hill partly for the joy of pure physicality. But have i sabotaged two of the best legs around, in the name of insecurity? And the greater question...if i can fall prey to insecurity, where does that leave the six billion or so whose self-worth is more fragile than my own?
We live in the land that created anorexia. We live in a world where thousands will have plastic surgery tomorrow, while babies go without the cleft palate surgery they need. Look at all the faces you pass tomorrow, feel the damaged psyches, the parade of people who will live their whole lives craving an unconditional love and acceptance they will never find. Look at them, feel them, and hug just one stranger.
I love you all.