Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fancy Dancing

This is a total boy thing, but you know when you were a kid and you didn't have a basketball net, so somebody stood there with his arms in a circle in front of him and pretended that he was the net? I always think of that whenever I see a male ballet dancer standing on point with his arms in a circle in front of him. My first reaction is always to use the guy's face as a backboard when I'm shooting lay-ups. My second reaction is to thank God I had a strong cup of coffee and a brownie fifteen minutes ago, because between the sugar and the caffeine I might just be able to keep my eyes open as these guys lift girly-dressed women up, put them down, twirl them around, stand there like posts while they sway around them like flowers in a breeze, carry them bodily ten feet to the right, and do the whole sequence all over again.

That was the first section of the four-part Georgia Ballet program last night at BAM, which ended up being the ballet equivalent of Star Trek movies and Pretenders albums: every other one was great. So after dozing off during Chaconne, I was wide awake for Duo Concertant, thanks to this dancer:

Eyes left, ladies--it's the girl, not the guy.

Her name's Nino Gogua, and she was also in the fourth section, Sagolabeli, a bracingly choreographed vision of Georgian folkloric dance accompanied by Georgian folk music. The other thing Duo Concertant and Sagolabeli had in common? The name-above-the-title dancer for the company, Nina Ananiashvili, wasn't in 'em. She was in Chaconne and Bizet Variations. Was this why those two pieces were boring and the others weren't? I'm not enough of a dance aficionado to say. I only know I liked the even numbered ones better than the odd ones. The odd ones felt more formal and less alive. Watching those pieces was like watching a figure skater do figures (remember those days?) instead of a routine--the limitations are so precise, it's not about style--it's about using technique to reproduce a figure, not create a new one or give the illusion of creating a new one. I definitely felt that creation in the even-numbered pieces. But not in the odd ones.

Miss Grey Lady, she so stodgy

Rules for a new drinking game: a shot of tequila for every bizarre circumlocution the New York Times uses to avoid saying the word "fucking" in this article.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mistuh Oscar, he daid

Declining viewership for the Oscars, half-hour by half-hour:
(A18-49 = ages 18-49; 9.8/23 = 9.8%, 23 share)

Averaged total:
8:30-11:00 p.m. Viewers: 29.16 million, A18-49: 9.8/23

By 30 minute segments:
8:30 p.m. Viewers: 32.27 million, A18-49: 10.6/24
9:00 p.m. Viewers: 30.70 million, A18-49: 10.2/23
9:30 p.m. Viewers: 30.07 million, A18-49: 10.2/23
10:00 p.m. Viewers: 27.34 million, A18-49: 9.3/23
10:30 p.m. Viewers: 25.42 million, A18-49: 8.8/23

Miss Silverman, she funny.

Top viewer numbers for "oscars" video on YouTube: 261,189

Viewer numbers for Jimmy Kimmel's I'm F&%*ing Ben Affleck" on YouTube: 1.3 million

Viewer numbers for Sara Silverman's "I'm F&%*ing Matt Damon" on YouTube: 4.9 million.

Reporters are nothing but parrots

Here's the money quote from New York Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson, who explains why the unfounded insinuation about an 8-year-old possible affair just HAD to be in that Times McCain story last week:

If the editors had summarily decided to edit out the issue of romance, because of possible qualms over "sexual innuendo" or some of the others issues cited in the reader questions, our story would not have been a complete and accurate reflection of what our sources told our reporters.

TRANSLATION: We repeat whatever we're told. We don't question it, we don't confirm it, we don't edit it. We just repeat it. Because that's what a good stenographer reporter does.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Weekend Update

Tandy at the Lakeside Lounge. With a firm grip on my camera, and my bag safely hidden under a pile of coats, I went to the Lakeside late Friday night to hear Mike Ferrio with his band Tandy and special guest Matt Mays. And it was weird, mostly because I've seen Mike do primarily solo shows for the last 12 months.

So hearing multiple guitars and harmony? It was like hearing a cover band do your favorite song.

Which is not to say it wasn't a great show. Just one in which I had to stop weighing the solo versions of the set against what I was hearing. Once I did that? Joy. Especially Matt's slide guitar.

It was also Mike's birthday. Happy birthday, Mike.

If this is Texas, you can have it. The choice was, see Dale Watson at the Rodeo Bar Saturday at 11 PM, or see him at 8 PM Sunday at Hill Country Bar BQ. My friend DJ and I opted for Sunday at 8. Big mistake. We met at 7, to be told that the downstairs music room wouldn't be open till 8. Once the doors opened down there, we would be seated for the show. Fair enough. We waited 15 minutes for an upstairs table, ate our dinner, and checked procedure with our waitress. "Sure, you can just take your drinks and food down when they open up," she said. So we did, and parked ourselves at the end of an unreserved table, only to be told that (a) the table was reserved, (b) if we wanted to sit close to the stage we would have had to reserve a table before we came down, and (c) the only unreserved seats at this point were at the bar, with a big honking pillar in the way, or at the back of the room. "I'm trying to do the best I can," said one of their floor managers. "If this is your [expletive deleted] best, then you're giving [expleteive deleted] Texas a [really foul expeletive deleted] bad name," I thought, and after trading an "I am totally effing annoyed" look with DJ, we left. Which is why I ended up in the Park Bar watching the Oscars. And why I will always--keep me honest here--always--choose the Rodeo Bar even if the show starts at 1 AM.

Oscar drinks my milkshake. Saturday night I got this e-mail from an ex-girlfriend who works at Price Waterhouse:


I forwarded your Oscar Predictions blog to some of the partners, and the Stonecutters among them are not happy. You predicted every category correctly for all the right reasons, so they have decided to Lyndon Johnson your Washington Post ass**. They’ve tweaked the numbers so that none of your acting picks are winning, and Best Director and Best Film go to someone else. But they were really amused at your rationale for Best Foreign Film, so The Counterfeiters is still getting the Oscar.

Thanks a lot; you just ruined me on the office pool.


*An old nickname from 4 jobs ago.

**Back in the 60’s, when the Washington Post reported in advance that Lyndon Johnson would be enforcing the mandatory retire-at-70 law and retiring J Edgar Hoover from the post of FBI Director, Johnson was so pissed off that he made Hoover FBI Director for life, reportedly saying: “That’ll show those bastards.”

Random Oscar Thoughts.

Wow--there are so many red dresses it looks like a Chinese wedding.

Tilda Swinton is wearing a bedsheet and looks like Ziggy Stardust. The question is: is it her husband’s bedsheet or her boy toy’s bedsheet?

Unless I missed it, Marion Cotillard never mentioned Edith Piaf in her acceptance speech. This is the equivalent of no one mentioning the novelist Winston Groom, who wrote Forrest Gump, the year Gump took everything. Typical Hollywood.

Renee Zellwegger has no eyes.

There were so many clip segments it felt like a VH-1 Special.

Jessica Alba is not a happy person.

John Stewart getting Marketa Irglova back onstage to deliver her thank-you speech was the classiest thing I've seen in years. And in case you missed it, this is what she said:

This is such a big deal, not only for us, but for all other independent musicians and artists that spend most of their time struggling, and this, the fact that we’re standing here tonight, the fact that we’re able to hold this, it’s just to prove no matter how far out your dreams are, it’s possible. And, you know, fair play to those who dare to dream and don’t give up. And this song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are.

E-mail conversation with Ava:

MATTHEW: Foreigners! Four foreigners have won American acting awards! What's this country's premier pat-ourselves-on-the-back award ceremony coming to?

AVA: Its senses.

Friday, February 22, 2008

lunar eclipse: 2 of 2

lunar eclipse: 1 of 2

Signifying Nothing

What's slower than the G Train, full of Stalinist visuals and Hermann-esque "You are ordered to FEEL now" music, and engrossing without actually being exciting? (Or to quote Spice World, excellent, without actually being any good at all?) What else could it be but the Patrick Stewart Macbeth at BAM. It's sold out, it gets a standing ovation, and it is the perfect example of Peter Brook's Deadly Theatre in living (sic) action.

This production takes the cake, bakes it at 125 for 9 hours,
sings a Russian folk song over it, lights the candles by rubbing
two sticks together, and then sings "Happy Birthday" at 16 RPM.

What’s Deadly Theatre? It's people with embalming fluid in their veins, which makes it the polar opposite of Immediate Theatre, which has people with real blood in them. It’s where the stage is filled with animated statues rather than human beings, or actors who are always Acting with a capital A in a production that has been Directed with a capital D to present a Poem Untrivial with a capital PU. And shouting. A lot of shouting. Which is what British casts do when they perform a play in Americuh. To quote Ava:

I was delighted with Rock and Roll, apart from some jaw-dropping scenery-chewing. I asked Ester, "Do you think they always do it like that or is it just for here?""Here," she said.

[Heaving a huge sigh] Yes, here. Talk to my friend DJ about Ian McKellen's Richard III and you'll hear the same thing. As for me, when I saw Amy's View in London, it made me feel like I was sitting up on stage with Judi Dench going through what she was going through; but when I saw it on 45th Street, it made me feel like I was sitting in a theatre watching a bunch of incredibly subtle comedians tell nothing but dick jokes. That's what happens when the Brits play here. It's the rare transfer that doesn't shout itself hoarse to the second balcony.

So that's part of the problem here: the show is Deadly because that's perceived to be the only way to perform a play in front of Americans. And Deadly is not only shouting, it's pauses. Truckloads of pauses. A caution of pauses, to coin a phrase. In this production? There were about 10 minutes of pauses per hour, so by the end of the night about 25 minutes of the 2 hour 45 minute running time was dead silence. Operative word being dead. For example -- here's how Stewart delivered the "Tomorrow and tomorrow" soliloquoy:

Tomorrow (five second pause)
and tomorrow (five second pause)
[oh yeah] and tomorrow (five second pause)
[This concept totally surprises me] creep (pause)
[Isn't it amazing?] in this petty place (pause)
from day (pause)
to day (pause)
dow-ow-own (pause)
to the last "Sill Uh Bull" [I just LOVE saying it that way]
of re- (beat)
corded (beat)
time. (Really long pause to signify Time passing; audience eats it up)

Here's the production in a nutshell. It's also the perfect example of the difference between Deadly Theatre and Immediate Theatre. There’s a working sink on stage. In Immediate Theatre, somebody with blood on his hands will go to the sink, turn on the water, and wash the blood off. In Deadly Theatre, someone with blood on his hands will go to the sink, stand there with his hands held in front of him, and talk about crap. Then his wife will come on stage with blood up to her elbows and a big old splash of it on her nice green gown, and she’ll join him at the sink with her hands held in front of her, and unlike any actual human female on earth she will not even clean the blood from her dress, never mind the blood from her hands. She'll just stand there and talk about crap.

It's a fucking sink! Use it!!!

Sound? Check. Fury? Check. Signifying nothing? Check and double check. Talk about tales told by an idiot . . .

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Oscar Predictions

In which I attempt to read the minds of a bunch of old white men who think that (a) weekend grosses equal success (b) Hollywood and humanitarian are synonymous and (c) "Romance" equals 60-year-old men with 30-year-old women, but only when all the 20-year-old women are taken. (Caveat: no minor awards here, just the major ones.)

Best animated feature film of the year. This is a head to head battle between Persepolis and Ratatouille. Since, to mainstream Hollywood, there’s no real difference between a movie starring a rat and a movie starring an Iranian girl, the voters will go with their alleged hearts. Persepolis is a downer; Ratatouille has an upbeat ending. Oscar goes to the rat.

Best foreign language film. I didn’t see any of these, so Matthew’s Fourth Rule Of Oscars goes into effect here. If any of the five nominated films has a Holocaust-related theme, it’s going to win.

Supporting Actor. Who doesn’t have a chance in hell of winning? Hal Holbrook. Who should win? Casey Affleck for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Who is the favorite to win? Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men.

Two thoughts: (1) The end of No Country probably left half the Oscar voters feeling betrayed and pissed off, which means they might take it out on Bardem and vote for somebody else. And (2) Philip Seymour Hoffman had three stand-out performances this year, and Tom Wilkinson brings the can’t-look-away crazy to Michael Clayton. In their favor: they’ve both worked with EVERYBODY. Which means they will each get a lot of “Hey -- Bardem’s going to win anyway, so I think I’ll vote for [Phil/Tom]” votes. In both their favors: they’re nominated for movies that make you walk out of the theatre feeling pretty good, in comparison to No Country. In Wilkinson’s favor: he’s the right age. I say he wins it.

Supporting Actress. Ruby Dee, your award is the nomination. Saorsie Ronan? As the only actor up here from the Best-Picture-Nominated Atonement, your nomination is a slap in the face to Keira Knightley, if not a direct comment on her non-acting ability. That leaves Cate, Tilda and Amy. Tilda has an outside shot, but the meat of her performance is a sequence that owes too much to editing than acting, so scratch her. Cate should win it, but she’s already won a Spooky Channeling of a Real Person Oscar for her Kate Hepburn in Aviator, and besides, I’m Not There is an art-house film. But then, Gone Baby Gone was a summer flick (which amounts to the same thing come Oscar time). I think this one’s too close to call. My gut says Blanchett, but since she already has one of these, I think it’ll probably go to Ryan. Maybe. Possibly.

Adapted screenplay. In my mind, no contest: No Country gets it as a faithful adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel.

Original screenplay. When the nominations were announced, I would have said Juno, but the Great Juno Backlash is in full force right now, and Hollywood is crying “God forbid we reward a popular movie with an Oscar!” Plus: it’s written by a woman. As is Lars and the Real Girl and The Savages. And while the Academy loves Brad Bird, I don’t see the Oscar going to Ratatouille when Michael Clayton was written and directed by (a) a guy and (b) a guy who has worked with EVERYBODY. Oscar to Tony Gilroy.

Best Actor. In any other year, the battle here would be between Tommy Lee Jones, who’s nominated for being Tommy Lee Jones, and George Clooney, playing a lawyer who acts a lot like a Hollywood agent in disguise. But this year, you can forget them, and forget Viggo Mortensen’s thug and Johnny Depp’s homicidal barber; this year, it’s Daniel Day-Lewis’ award to lose. Expect a brief but emotional mention of Heath Ledger during his acceptance speech.

Best Actress. If they didn’t give it to Cate Blanchett for Elizabeth, they’re not going to give it to her for being upstaged by Abby Cornish in the sequel. Marion Cotillard? Nobody in LA saw the movie, and only about 20 of them can pronounce her name. Laura Linney? Fabulous, but the movie is too small. Ellen Page? Sorry, Ellen, the Juno Backlash is in full swing. You’ll get a lot of votes from creepy old guys who want to sleep with you, but that’s about it. The Oscar will go to Julie Christie, because 95% of the male Hollywood voters over 40 fell in love with her in Dr. Zhivago, and dreamed of her going down on them the way she went down on Warren Beatty in Shampoo.

Best Director. Julian Schnabel? Too New York. Plus Diving Bell is not even up for Best Picture. Jason Reitman? Another Juno Backlash victim. Tony Gilroy? Michael Clayton wasn’t flashy but it was competent. Competent won’t be good enough, however, not when it’s up against the Coen Brothers and Thomas Anderson. It’s an apples and oranges choice: epic semi-silent movie versus post-modern thriller, both of which have a WTF ending. My gut says that it will go to Anderson because he's made a "classic" where you sit there and say, "Wow, what a great visual." In No Country, you're unaware of the direction at all, which may make for a better movie experience, but it won't win awards.

Best Picture. Atonement. Yeah; right -- none of the major actors were nominated, and the director wasn’t even nominated. No chance in hell.

Juno. The writing is smart, the subject matter is handled tastefully, the characters grow from stereotypes to real people, and it has some great laughs. Just like Little Miss Sunshine. So: no chance in hell.

No Country for Old Men. If it wasn’t for that ending, this would be a shoo-in. But again, note that none of the lead actors have been nominated for anything. Does Hollywood want to be represented by a post-modern thriller with a downer ending? My gut says that, since the Oscars are all about how Hollywood wants to think of itself? The award will no-way-in-hell go to No Country, because Hollywood doesn’t want to think of itself as a Coen Brothers movie. Even though it actually is.

There Will Be Blood. The plus side? Daniel Day-Lewis’s channeling of John Huston, and Thomas Anderson’s channeling of DW Griffith. The minus side? The main character is unlikable, the ending is wa-a-a-ay over the top, and there’s no redemption at the end. Anderson’s Director Oscar is the best this film will do. Which leaves:

Michael Clayton. An exceptional example of a well-made film, which wouldn’t stand so tall if competence wasn’t in such short supply in LaLaLand. Plus the main three actors were all nominated. Plus it has a (yes!) redemptive ending. Hollywood loves crap like that. Especially when the other two prestige pictures have WTF endings. This how Hollywood wants to think of itself: as a guy who makes the right choice even when he’s being paid off to make the wrong one. (A situation which, if it ever happened in real life, would mean a lot less crap from the Dream Factory.) But this is not real life. This is Oscar Night. Which is why Michael Clayton will win Best Picture.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Calendar of Hollidays: Part One

Having finally gotten over The Doc Holliday Cold, during which I watched a lot of Westerns, I started thinking about how all the Hollywood Docs compare to the real Doc (and each other). So let's start off with an obscure Doc and then a classic one:

The Doctor in Need of Redemption. Cesar Romero, Frontier Marshal (1939).

Answer to the trivia question: who played Doc Holliday and the Joker?

Watching Frontier Marshal (which is a "special feature" on the new two-disc Ford At Fox edition of My Darling Clementine) will give anybody who's familiar with Clementine a pretty frightening case of deja vu. It's like watching the two early versions of Maltese Falcon: you not only get echoes everywhere, you get echoes in strange voices. There's nothing quite like watching Ricardo Cortez mortalizing the same lines that Bogart makes immortal, unless it's watching Randolph Scott lighting up the same set pieces that Henry Fonda makes dark, and realizing that the classic you grew up watching is an adaptation of an Ur-Tombstone movie that was made seven years before.

How alike are they? Both movies are based on the Stuart Lake bio of Wyatt Earp. Both have a saloon girl in love with Doc Holliday (in Frontier Marshal he's Doc Halliday); both have a girl from his past show up in Tombstone, a girl Wyatt Earp is obviously sweet on; both have Doc operating to save someone from a gunshot wound (because in both movies, Doc is a medical doctor and not a dentist). The major differences? In Frontier Marshal, Wyatt Earp has no brothers (!); instead of the actor doing Hamlet we get Eddie Foy (bonus points for historical accuracy); and Doc is killed before the OK Corral gunfight (whoops--take those bonus points away). Also: Doc drinks milk (!) until he gets depressed, then he starts in on the whiskey.

That's more like it.

Self-destructuive drunkard that he is, Doc finds redemption when he saves the life of a little boy who gets a bullet in the neck as part of a horse-by shooting, assisted by Nancy Kelly as (well) Clementine. (Hard not to think of it in those terms.) After which, with his arm around his girl, stone-cold sober and proud of himself, Doc gets shot by one of the Clantons as he's leaving the saloon. Shot dead, as in too dead to fight at the OK Corral. Which, because this film's Wyatt Earp is an only child, means that Randolph Scott gets to go up against everybody (including a spineless Lon Chaney Jr.) and finish them all off to avenge Doc. (Halliday even gets the closing shot, as his saloon girlfriend rides off to her future past his grave in Boot Hill. No dying in bed for this Georgia gunman.) In my opinion, if you're going to fictionalize history this much? Change the names.

How does Romero stack up on the Doc Holliday list? Pretty low, actually; about the same level Randolph Scott stands on the Wyatt Earp list. Stolid would be a compliment. Neither actor has the chops to give the camera more than a surface portrayal of his character. Scott makes you wish you were watching Ride The High Country or Seven Men From Now; Romero makes you wish that you were watching Anthony Quinn. And, all in all, the movie itself makes you wish you were watching My Darling Clementine.

The Mountain of Health. Victor Mature, My Darling Clementine (1946).

Primarily a John Ford movie with some pretty jarring David Selznick-authorized post-production inserts (they jump out at you like salmon when you know what to look for), this film feels and looks older than it is, like it was made in '39 or '40, rather than just after WWII. But the Clanton family scenes are a dead giveaway that we're a femme fatale short of a noir movie here (is there anything more noir than the line "When you pull a gun, kill a man?"). And if we're talking dark? Look no further than the man mountain playing Doc Holliday:

Don't mess with me or I'll fall on you.

He wears black like a bad guy, and he coughs about once every ten minutes to remind you that he's supposed to be wasting away from consumption, but I'm sorry, Victor Mature has consumption like grizzly bears have anorexia. There's no way this guy is being eaten away by anything, except maybe pride because he's stealing the movie from Henry Fonda. And boy, does he. When Mature is on screen, you can't take your eyes off him. This is where the tradition of Holliday Trumps Earp in Tombstone movies begins.

I am drinking Henry Fonda's milk shake.

Historically, we're no closer to the real Doc Holliday than we are in Frontier Marshal. He's still a medical doctor and not a dentist, and in Clementine he got his degree in Harvard. But there's something in Mature's performance (the sweat that never seems to leave his face? The sense that there are rocks and avalanches grinding beneath his cheekbones?) that prefigures every doomed thug and gunsel from No Way Out to Night And The City. This guy has a jumbo-sized death wish, and the camera loves every second of it, nowhere more than when he's reciting Shakespeare like Edwin Booth on steroids:

Historically, Mature's Holliday is as fictional as Romero's Halliday, but because Mature is larger than life, his performance conforms to the Liberty Valance Law ("When the legend becomes fact, print the legend"), and works on a mythic level above history. The gunshot victim he operates on? Dies in the night. His Boston girl? So obviously in love with the town Marshal. What else can this hulk do but take his boots off, sneak into a stable, and then start coughing so he gets himself shot? One of the top five Hollidays for sure.

Long Weekend Update

Adding Machine. You're probably thinking, "Oh Great, a musical version of an Elmer Rice play; that's gonna be this year's definition of depressing." And yes, you're right, it is, but in a good way. The score is amazing, the acting and singing top notch, and the libretto/script takes the theme of the play and rides off in a couple of wonderful directions, all of them designed to make you say "I'm giving my notice at work tomorrow" when you walk out. Best line: "I might as well be alive." Go see it.

In Bruges. That's In Fucking Bruges, you fucking gobshite, because this is a fucking Martin McDonagh script, and you know what that means. "No I don't know what that means." Well I'll tell you what that means. "You tell me what that fucking means then." It means the end echoes back to the beginning quite fucking literally; it means a lot of the dialogue is q&a repetition, with deadpan riffs and total silliness ("This is the shoot-out"); and, oh yeah, it means a fucking shoot-out in fucking Bruges with actors still able to walk around after getting fucking drilled with fucking dum-dum bullets. And if you want to see why Colin Farrell keeps getting miscast as a fucking leading man, go watch him clean up in this flick in a character part that he totally makes his fucking own.

Arrogant Pricks. Giving Roger Clemens the benefit of the doubt when it comes to steroids doesn't change the fact that he attacks anybody who says anything against him, acts like he's above the law, pretends to knowledge of other people's memories, and sits in front of television cameras with a "How dare you accuse me -- I've won the Cy Young award more times than you've had sex" look on his face. All he needs is the smirk and he's a certain ex-owner of a baseball team telling us all how wonderfully things are going in Iraq. Which leaves the question: are all Texans this ass-holy? Or is it just Texans who have anything to do with baseball?

Atonement. Thank you, Kiera Knightley. Because you are the film equivalent of a Tootsie Roll Pop with nothing inside it, the kind of candy that can't even satisfy a sweet tooth? I thought James McAvoy was a fecking eejit for wanting you, and spent the whole movie imagining how fantastic Cate Blanchett would have been instead of you.

Sick, sick sick. Okay, I know I'm on the mend, but that's no reason my stupid body can't seem to stay awake for more than three or four stupid hours at a stupid time. The farching idea. Just because I'm fighting an infection, popping painkillers, and switching back and forth between alcohol and antibiotics, that's no reason for this stupid machine in which my brain and soul are trapped to shut down over a long weekend. Can't it shut down during the stupid work week for feck's sake? Stupid flesh and blood.

The sky is the killer of us all. And when I have been awake this weekend, I've been reading this:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Soul of Love

If souls can touch, then ours embrace
Defying distance, time and space.
If love can write, then mine will pen
As brilliantly as halogen.

If souls can walk, then hand in hand
Ours wander in a promised land.
If love can run, then mine will climb
Mount Everest by dinnertime.

If souls can speak then ours will sing
A double note that's deafening.

If love is noise, then mine's a sigh
More piercing than a baby's cry.

If souls can feel, then mine will bleed
Until your life is free of need.
If love is pain, I will endure,

Rejecting every certain cure.

If souls have blossoms like a rose,
Then ours will bloom where nothing grows.
If love is thorns, mine is a crown
That I will sport without a frown.

If souls can sleep, it is no lie:
Yours sings to mine a lullaby.
If love can die, this much is true:
The sum of mine will die with you.

If souls are skin and love the whip,
Then mine is scarred from head to hip.
If love is wings, our souls will fly
Beyond this world of wind and sky

To where two souls can intertwine,
Where mine is yours and yours is mine,
And love, brave love, beyond compare
Is everpresent everywhere.

It's Valentine's Day, Charlie Brown!!!!!

Ain't love grand?

Hi! I'm Sarah Michelle Gellar! I'm here in my pretty little Valentine's Day number to guide you through the 11 Commandments of Love and Romance. Do you want to know how to win a man like a sideshow prize? Do you want to become fulfilled, desired, and happier than a heroin addict? Do you want to be so deliriously happy that you throw up in your own mouth whenever "he" touches you?

Then just follow these 11 easy rules!

1. Listen to what men are really saying. When a guy says "Do this, or it's over," what he's really saying is, "The only way I'll ever go out with you is if you do exactly what I say."

The price of love is total obedience.

2. When men get caught cheating, it's always the woman's fault. You just know that ten seconds before Marion turned around, Jack was telling the cab driver to head for the Empire Hotel.

It's all that slut Connie's fault--honest!!

3. Every heart needs a second home.

Because the home it has in my chest
is emptier than my brain.

4. The day youth becomes an obstacle to love is the day alcohol becomes an obstacle to inebriation.

Tell it to Woody Allen.

5. An office romance is its own punishment.

From the memoirs of Condoleeza Rice.

6. Men who say they don't want your pity will still settle for your body.

Men who say they don't want your body? Gay.

7. Every skirt-chasing flirt needs an anchor. Do yourself a favor and tie him to one, okay?

"I love the guy . . . the way
the turkey loves the axe."

8. Save the L Word for the right moment. Nothing ruins an affair more than dropping the word "love" into a romantic evening that reminds your honey of the time her father took her to that lighthouse when she was 12.

Hey look--it's Stephanie Powers!

9. In any group of three people, there is at least one whore. The operative words here being "at least".

Pick out the whore in this picture.
Hint: it's the one with the pallette.

10. Don't become a slave to unreasonable expectations.

Tough luck honey -- that's all that's out there.

11. And whatever you do, never -- NEVER -- go out with Batman. You'll always come in second.
Still the single best comic book panel in history.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Actor Who Wrote Hamlet

The Third Series of Arden Shakespeare editions has produced the best evidence yet that what scholars refer to as the "text" of Hamlet is actually a script. Three scripts in fact: the so-called Bad Quarto of 1601, the Second Quarto (Q2) of 1602, and the First Folio of 1623. How are they doing this? Instead of conflating all three source scripts into a single version that was never produced by the pen of Shakespeare, Arden is giving primacy of place to Q2, both because it was printed during Shakespeare's lifetime and because it's generally recognized to be derived from a copy of Will's handwritten manuscript (what scholars call "foul papers" and theatre people call a "cut and paste draft").

Junking the 300-year-old tradition begun by Nicholas Rowe when he combined Q2 and the Folio to create a so-called complete version of the play, the current Arden edition is (perhaps inadvertently) supplying the best possible evidence that Shakespeare was first and foremost an actor who happened to write plays. Which is a necessary corrective to blowhards like Harold Bloom, who want us to picture Shakespeare in his study writing beautiful lines of poetry and then gagging when he has to hand them over to (barf) actors. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like all playwrights, Shakespeare spent the better part of his time re-writing, whether it be for a road production of an otherwise lengthy play (the only version of Macbeth we have is so short that it's almost certainly a stripped-down touring script) or an updated version of an old favorite (the two versions of King Lear; the "newly corrected and augmented" Love's Labor's Lost).

And thanks to this new edition of Hamlet, you can see the writer at work. How? Because every now and then you're brought up short when a familiar line becomes totally unfamiliar. Like this one: "Tis not alone my inky cloak, cold mother." The Folio has "good mother," and every conflated edition for the last three centuries follows it. But that's not what was printed in the Second Quarto. You'll look in vain here for the "Denmark's a prison" scene; that's only in the Folio. And in the Folio version? No "How all occasions do inform against me." That's Q2 only. And what are we to make of the fact that Polonius in Q1 is called Corambis? If Q1 is the transcript of an actor's memory of a playing script, does it correctly record an early version in which the character names were different (Rosencraft for Rosencrantz) or is it just the actor's memory at fault? Making things even more complicated: Q1 and the Folio version contain the same "additional" passages which are missing from Q2. So instead of a clear Q1 to Q2 to Folio transmission, you have Q1 to Folio, with a bank shot to Q2. Does that mean we're dealing with two different drafts of the same play? It does to me, but what do I know? I'm no university professor; I'm just a theatre writer who acts now and then.

On one level, this is the most conservative edition of Hamlet I've ever read. Which on another level makes it the most radical edition ever. By in effect unstitching the quilt of Hamlet that has been taught and performed for 300 years and displaying it as three separate blankets, you get a clear and refreshing sense that Shakespeare's true home is the stage, not the study. And any editor who upholds a conflated version of the script as the true Hamlet is also upholding an elitist vision of Shakespeare The Poet -- because God forbid our Great Poem Of Hamlet was written by (barf) an actor. Well guess what? It was. Wrtten and rewritten. So there. And you know something else? The Hamlet we know as Shakespeare's version of the story was performed for 15 years between the time it was written and the time Shakespeare died. As a theatre writer who acts now and then, I'm betting it was rewritten at least five different times during that period. I'm betting that at some point in 1608, Shakespeare walked into the Globe with a new cut and paste draft and said:

Okay, everybody, listen up--this afternoon's show? "How all occasions do inform against me" is out. Prayer scene is out. "To be or not to be" comes two scenes earlier. Advice to the players is out--nobody ever listens to it, and everybody thinks it's me talking anyway, so it's gone. The Mousetrap is in--that means no dumb show, Player King, don't forget this time. The rest of you leads, I got a ton of new lines here. Gertrude? In this version, you're in on it with Claudius. Claudius? In this version I'm actually going to use your name in the dialogue instead of a stage direction so everybody in the audience will know what your name is for once. And oh yeah--the Ghost. Claudius, today you double the Ghost. Laertes, tomorrow you double the Ghost. Friday--Hamlet, you play everybody--what the hell, it's all one big soliloquy, right?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What Is It About Hillary?

When I see stuff like this, and read articles like this and this, I don't know whether to laugh or cry over the way women are objectified in our culture.

Never mind that the joke of having a Hillary nutcracker depends on the fact that “strong woman = ballbuster” never needs to be spoken out loud –- it’s a given, like “strong man = role model” and “weak man = pussy.” What strikes me as interesting is that the joke is based on two separate premises: the generic premise based on a sexual stereotype and the specific premise that Hillary Clinton is one nutcracking bee-yatch.

The generic premise says that any woman who attempts to compete as an equal on a male playing field must be competing primarily to stick it to men. As a penalty, the criticism she gets is half-nitpicky, half-gotcha, and the bar for her achievements is always set a little higher than it is for her male co-players, which means that in order to be equal to those men, she has to be superior to them. If she fails at this, her entire sex fails; if she succeeds at this, it only proves that her entire sex will do anything to stick it to men. And if she makes the slightest mistake, especially the kind of mistake that’s excused in one of her male co-players? She gets the book thrown at her. (Hi, Martha Stewart!)

The specific premise says that Hillary Clinton wears the pants in the Clinton marriage -- which means it’s only a matter of time before somebody starts marketing a doll of Bill Clinton in a dress. (You’d think, right? But interestingly enough, the logical corollary to ballbuster Hill –- “Bill has no balls” –- doesn’t seem to have the same currency in the Penile Hive Mind. Unless I’m missing something. My God -- could it be that the Penile Hive Mind is only equipped to dish it out and not take it?)

So we’ve got a joke based on a generic sexual stereotype (woman = nutcracker, and vice versa), as well as a specific swipe against an individual woman who embodies the unspoken male fear of the powerful (and therefore castrating) woman. And I wish I knew what it was about Hillary’s embodiment of this cliché that pushes the Rant Button in people. There’s definitely something about her personally which drives some folks gleefully bazoo. They so totally delight in trashing this woman. I mean me, I think Barbara Bush has it all over Hillary as a vengeful, grudge-keeping termagant (oops -- another stereotype), but you don’t see Barbara Bush nutcrackers on E-Bay. And not just because you never saw her in pants. (Although if you ask me, that has a lot to do with it. Barbara Bush could be an axe murderer, but as long as she wears a granny dress, the PHM gives her a pass as a man-hater.)

So chalk up the Hillary Nutcracker as another in a long line of misogynist jokes, and remember -- that sound you hear in the background is a lot of people with two X chromosomes grinding their teeth like Marge Simpson. Will Homer ever change? Nope. Will stereotypes ever change? Sure. (Two words: Stepin Fetchit.) But the double-standard operates here as well. If a woman doesn't agitate for change? Change never happens. If a woman does agitate for change? She's out to stick it to men, which means she becomes the problem, and change never happens. It's a Red Queen's Race and it always has been: women have to run as fast as they can just to stay in the same place, and if they let up for even a second, they're back where they started. (Insert picture of Bugs Bunny holding up a sign that reads DEPRESSING, AIN'T IT?)

As for me, I have my doubts about Hillary as a politician, but they have nothing to do with her sex, any more than my doubts about Obama have to do with his race. And I suggest that if another company came out with an equivalent Obama toy -- say, the Obama Lawn Jockey? -- there would be such a chorus of pundits using the words "vile" and "disgusting" that those two words would quickly become meaningless.

Just as meaningless –- if you stop to think about it-- as a criticism based on a sexual stereotype. If I can quote myself, from an unfinished project about women in the workplace:

WOMAN #1: He called me a bitch in front of the entire meeting!
WOMAN #2: Good for you.
WOMAN #1: Good for me?
WOMAN #2: Calling a woman a bitch is what a man does when he can’t think of anything else to criticize you for.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Weekend Update

This day job is a test; this is only a test. A test of my ability to deal with anger, resentment, and all those other pus-filled boils which my ego delights in bursting. Anger is all about ego; ego is all about fear. What am I afraid of? It's a day job. The only thing I should be afraid of is letting it become my whole life.

One more memory gone. Fazil's closed on Friday. Is there an actor in this city who didn't rehearse there at least once for something? I was trying to remember (DJ--help me out here): wasn't this where we rehearsed Don Juan in Hell's Kitchen? And didn't I have the sit-down reading of the first draft of History Of The Lagers there too? The sad thing, if it's true? I haven't been inside the place for over ten years.

Call me "Old Spice."
Trusting my friend Kathleen's taste in music yet again, I saw the Melanie C show at Hammerstein Ballroom Saturday night. (That sound you just heard? Half my friends doing a double-take.)
It was a good show. (That sound you just heard? Those same friends doing a triple-take.) Besides being ripped like Rambo, Melanie has a Jonatha Brooke voice with a deeper tone, and while her solo stuff may not be Spice-Girl-hooky, it's Dusty Springfield good. I can see the Pet Shop Boys writing for her so easily.

The floor was about three-quarters filled, with the front really crowwded and the back full of dancers. Good dancers too. The camera and cellphone screens focused on her were like little monitors all night long.
Three times during the show she stopped to collect gifts and cards and flowers from the mob at the front of the stage. She got more swag than a presenter at an awards show. Worked harder for it, too.

Bonus moment for pop culture fanatics: all the other Spice Girls watched the show from a roped-off area about 20 feet from where we were sitting in the balcony, although the verdict is still out on whether Skeletor Posh was there.

Thank you, tooth pain. I can barely open my mouth, and my lower jaw is so swollen I look like a catfish. The way the universe works? This means I will get a movie audition sometime in the next 20 minutes.

Friday, February 8, 2008

72nd and broadway

The 39 Steps @ The Roundabout

Along the lines of "Dying is easy; comedy is hard," writing about something you despised? Easy. Writing about something you loved? Hard. Because what more needs to be said besides "I loved it" and "you should go see it?"

How's this:

"Y'know," I said as I walked out of The 39 Steps, "I am never going to be able to watch the movie now with a straight face."

"So you've seen the movie?" said a woman behind me. "We never saw the movie and we were wondering how close it was to the original."

"It is totally the original," i said. "Scene for scene almost."

"Except not as funny," said one of the ushers, who has probably seen the show every night since it opened and still has a big grin on her face when she talks about it.

Four actors, two of whom play about 20 characters each. Two hours of charming, silly fun. The best Hitchcock cameo ever.

I loved it. Go see it.

For a behind-the-scenes slideshow, go here.

Cold Update

Matthew: Still wheezing like a Welsh coal miner.

Ava: Poor Doc. Still got that cough, hmm? Mine's not great either.

Matthew: Not so much a cough now as an eternal wheeze, like there's something crouching at the bottom of my lungs waiting to grab my face if I peer over the side to see what it is.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


The recent report of a nameless traveler from an antique land is in error.

The “vast and trunkless legs of stone” he saw knee-deep in desert sand were originally part of the so-called People’s Temple, a gigantic complex which was being relocated to higher ground as part of the Great King’s Water-For-All Initiative. This comprehensive collection of public works would have resulted in flooding what is now a “boundless and bare” stretch of “lone level sands” and creating a fertile crop-bearing garden, if the Great King’s plan had not been opposed by short-sighted Ministers and Representatives more interested in lining their own pockets than serving the people.

The half-sunken head with its “sneer of cold command” is actually part of a separate statue from the temple complex, and, to anyone familiar with the myriad surviving representations of the Great King, is not Ozymandias at all but his half-brother Sesostris. As evidenced by several surviving chronicles, including that of Psuedo-Herodotus, the sneering figure of Sesostris, who three times tried to usurp the throne, stands to the left of the Great King, who confronts him with a sword while offering a dove of peace in his right hand to his people.

As for the surviving inscription, because certain diacritical marks over several key consonants have been worn away by time and decay, the current translation is in error. When the marks are restored to their original positions, the inscription reads as it did originally: “My name is Ozymandias, the people’s ruler subject to the rule of the people. May the Gods look with favor upon all my works, and my people never despair.”

This is, of course, an honest error, and reflects neither on the endless history of British imperialism, which is a monument to mistranslation in all its forms, nor on the anti-royalist sentiments of the “unnamed traveler” who might possibly be just as much of an outright atheist as his friend Shelley, to whom he told this “tale.”

As for the claim that “nothing beside remains,” one need only point out the Zuggurat of El, the Pearls of Allah (a string of man-made oases specifically created as way-stations across the Sahara, and the House of Commons, which owes its very existence to the Great King’s so-called Temple of Commoners, as is mentioned in several unpublished diary entries of Simon DeMontfort, who called the first Commons as part of the Great Parliament in 1265.

In summary, we maintain that all references which equate Ozymandias with failure, futility, tyranny, and the deleterious effects of Time are demonstrably in error –- and that a great and far-seeing ruler, who has yet to be given his rightful due as a pioneer in the field of public works and the originator of representative democracy as we know it, has been repeatedly insulted by those who should know better.

If he was alive today, the Great King’s magnanimity would be sorely tested by these misconceptions. A magnanimity, we might add, which is not shared in the least by his lawyers.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Februaries

Ten signs that you're suffering from an attack of The Februaries:

It's February. Just like Tuesday is the longest day of the week (Monday was ages ago and Friday is years away), the 4 weeks of February last longer than a giant sea turtle's lifetime and go by twice. As. Slowly. It's like February is the toll booth at the end of January's downhill slalom from Christmas--and not just any toll booth--we're talking Lincoln Tunnel here, folks, where there's no radio reception, the air is filled with soporific fumes, and it takes a week just to go a mile underground.

Self-indulgence masquerading as self-reflection. "Let's take this time to reflect," you say to yourself, which in any other month of the year would result in some kind of spiritual clarity, but in February it's like sliding down Hell's longest firepole face first into a mirror that shows you every zit and blackhead on your nose at ten times its normal size.

Why bother? Is what you're feeling despair? No--despair takes energy. What you're feeling is what Despair rubs off its shoes onto your doormat before it sprawls on your coach and turns on the History Channel.

Massive social hibernation. According to Sartre, Hell is other people. According to me, February is other people covering you with itching powder. If there's fun, it's never where you are or where you're going, but almost always wherever you just were, with someone other than anyone you're with now.

Mister Roboto. Everything is mechanical: responses, activities, and especially what passes for enjoyment, but is only really the flaring of an occasional circuit connection, which flashes with all the warmth of a Christmas Tree light flickering three streets over. Nothing warms or inspires. Creative projects become plodding, workmanlike hulks of dreck which no one will ever want to see, read, or do. February is the artistic equivalent of trying to find a pure rhyme for the word "month."

I'm wrong, the world is right. Your critics are correct, your enemies have God on their side, your supporters are naive and misinformed, and on your happiest February day ever, you are a useless sack of weight-gaining flesh with a January sell-by date stamped on your forehead. The Februaries are to low self-esteem what the Marianas Trench is to a pothole. Especially when it comes to --

Rejection Slip Hell. Every November and December, I send out cleverly-written scripts to a dozen or more contests, workshops, etc. Because they are cleverly written, contain ideas, and actually attempt to build towards a conflict between equals, they do not resemble modern plays at all, and therefore inspire form rejection letters which hit my mailbox on the afternoon of any day in which I leave work feeling halfway decent about myself.

Valentine's Day. I don't know what's worse--having someone, or not having someone, with whom to fall short of this particular day's romantic expectations. On the one hand, feeling alone with someone else is far worse than being alone, period, but since the Februaries rob you of all perspective, the operative words here are "lonely" and "alone," so you get to feel sorry for yourself either way.

Blah blah blah. You want to read something but every book you touch leaves you cold. You want to see a movie but everything playing in theatres makes you say "Meh." Food is tasteless, candy lacks a kick, and drinking incredible amounts of alcohol gives you gas instead of a buzz. If you had a social life, sex would probably feel like parallel parking.

There are actually only nine signs. Because it's February, I'm too why-bother to think of a tenth one.

As if Drew Barrymore in '04 wasn't bad enough

Thank you, Topps Baseball Card company, for (as my Cleveland brother would say) chitting in my Cheerios this morning.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Perfect Valentine's Day Gift

For the man who has everything (and gets everyone):

You too can romance aliennes, turn enemies into lovers, and canoodle with Joan Collins, all while favoring your right profile. Yes, women with Sixties hair the universe over will take one look at your really weird sideburns and become full-fledged sluts for the Federation. Talk about boldly going where no man has gone before.

(I figure this either going to be Skidoo bad or give-yourself-a-headache-laughing funny. Or, in Star Trek terms, this could be first-season gold or third-season ap-cray. I'll let you know. Because you really do need me to read this, so you don't have to.)

Goodbye Girls

Ester's back in London; Ava's off to Oz.

I am now in the market for new excuses to spend my nights doing anything but writing.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Weekend Update

A bunch of whining losers.

If traders are the toddlers, investment bankers—and the CEOs they report to—are the tweens of the system, plagued by attention-deficit disorder. As we speak, your typical Wall Street managing director is glancing at CNBC in his office, intermittently checking six computer screens, thumbing out e-mails on his BlackBerry, barking out orders to a personal assistant, all the while furiously working out on the elliptical machine. Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Bear Stearns take great pains to distinguish themselves from each other. But they all lurch together from hot financial trend to hot financial trend the way tweens ditch yesterday's pop stars for today's (goodbye, Britney; hello, Hannah Montana). Like proto-teens, bankers are incapable of exercising independent judgment. Which is why every bank—from the staid Swiss to the sharpest trading houses on Wall Street—got caught up in the subprime debacle.

From the best article you'll ever read about investment bankers.

Party Like It's 1929."Well, since you're going to be 29," I said to Ava a few weeks ago, "why don't we do a 1929 party -- dress up like Scott and Zelda and hit a speakeasy?" This was before I got The Bungee Cold and spent the day fever-dreaming about Linda Darnell. (Yes, I know--there are worse ways to spend a Friday.) So, like John Henry Holliday suiting up to join the Earps at the OK Corral, I suited up and joined the Babes at BFlat on Church Street, where I nursed a couple of beers and tried not to sound like a broken air conditioner whenever I breathed.

Oh yeah--there was some stupid sports thing this weekend too.

Shades of the Aaron Boone game. Jeebus.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Another Thought for the New Year

(Thanks, Ally.)

Be careful with your thoughts
They become your words.

Be careful with your words.
They become your actions.

Be careful with your actions.
They become your habits.

Be careful with your habits.
They become your character.

Be careful with your character.
It becomes your DESTINY.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Seafarer, or, How To Write A So-Called "Play" For Broadway

Step 1. Take a ten-minute ghost story.

Step 2. People it with a Main Character who sits there and takes everyone's crap for two hours, his incredibly annoying older brother, two slightly-less-annoying inconsequential friends, and Lucifer.

Step 3. Have the Main Character, his brother and one friend talk for 45 minutes about anything at all. This is what passes on the modern stage for "drama".

Step 4. Bring Lucifer onstage at the 45-minute mark.

Step 5. Figure out an awkward way to get everyone offstage for ten minutes so Lucifer can reveal himself to Main Character.

Step 6. Have Lucifer reveal himself to Main Character. Because audiences are really stupid, make Lucifer cause the onstage lights to flicker and have him give Main Character stomach cramps.

Step 7. Do not--repeat--DO NOT--have Main Character stand up to Lucifer. This would cause dramatic conflict.

Step 8. At end of Act One, set up a poker game for Main Character's soul in Act Two.

Step 9: At beginning of Act Two, repeat Step 3, with the addition of Lucifer and second inconsequential friend.

Step 10. Have Lucifer not like music. This is what passes on the modern stage for "depth of character."

Step 11. Repeat Step 5.

Step 12. Have Lucifer deliver a pedestrian monologue about Hell to Main Character. This is what passes on the modern stage for "a stunning tour de force."

Step 13. Make sure ending is an act of God.

Step 14. Cast great actors because otherwise people will fall asleep.

Step 15. Wait for standing ovation at end as audience applauds their own recognition that the play is just deep enough for their shallow idea of drama.

Step 16. Wait for glowing reviews from critics using words like "dazzling," "enthralling," and "intelligent," all of which are character revelations about their authors.

Step 17. Close March 30th.

Friday, February 1, 2008

I've Got The Bungee Cold

The Bungee Cold is that endless double-barrelled congestion that bounces back and forth between your lungs and your sinuses. When your chest is clear, then your eyes are watering, your cheeks ache, and your brain is sodden with backed-up snot. And when your sinuses are clear and your brain is back to normal, you're wheezing like a Stanley Steamer and coughing up a lung like Doc Holliday.

-- of a Bungee Cold, probably.

On the flip suide, the one good thing about being Doc Holliday is you get to have Linda Darnell chase you.

For you? I'd cough up three lungs.