Saturday, January 24, 2009

Friday, January 23, 2009

Twilight Watch, Part 5: The Final Chapter

I give up.

I tried, I really did.  

I can't read any more.

I just can't face it.


I'm on page 51, and the thought of opening it and reading fills me with dread.  I can't stand the thought of talking about it any more.

I list all the books I own that I haven't read yet in the back of my current notebook.  I've been doing this since high school.  The same list has been carrying over since then.  I cross off the books as I read them and then transfer the list to the next notebook.

The list is now crazily out of hand.  There are lots of books on it I can't wait to read.  

Life is short, life is hard.

I really can't waste any more of it reading something I can't stand.  I just can't bear to think about it any more.  I'd rather write about books I like.


There are stories about girls who date vampires that are great.  This isn't one of them.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

At Last*

Like many, many other people, when I woke up this morning I felt that I was different.  I felt as if something had unclenched inside me, as if a leaky pocket of poison that was embedded inside my gut had been excised.  

While watching the changeover of power yesterday, I kept writing (mostly on facebook) "I can't believe it's real".  And I couldn't.  I guess I needed to sleep on it, because  this glorious freezing morning, it's finally real.

I hate talking about 9-11.  I refuse to talk about it with people who have never lived in NYC - I guess I mean anyone who doesn't have any personal connection to what happened.  I have a lot of thoughts about that day, and I've mostly kept them to myself.  They don't concern geo-politics or oil or Muslim fundamentalists.  I can talk reasonably intelligently (I hope) about these things but they have no emotional hold on me, and as stupid and solipsistic as it may sound, I've thought mostly about how this city has changed and how this city has felt abut that day.  I've lived in the city for about twenty years and grew up right next door to it.  My parents grew up here.  My grandmother grew up here.  So did my great-grandmother and my great-great-grandparents.  I have family members in both the NYPD and the NYFD.  This city is my home.  

Some time after September 11th, I thought that something I read summed up what I felt about things better than anything else.  This is what is usually called The Flitcraft Story.   Dashiel Hammett's  novel The Maltese Falcon was written pretty much as a film treatment, it hardly differs from the movie at all with one striking exception.  In the scene where Sam Spade sits up with Brigid O'Shaughnessey, he tells her a story about a man he had been hired to find a few years back.  Flitcraft was married, worked in a successful real estate office in Tacoma, played golf, had no secrets.  One day he left his office to attend a luncheon and he vanished.  "He went like that," Spade said, "like a fist when you open your hand."  Spade eventually ran across Flitcraft in Spokane.  This is what had happened to him:

"Going to lunch he passed an office-building that was being put up- just the skeleton. A beam or something fell eight or ten stories down and smacked the sidewalk along side him...He was scared stiff, of course, he said, but he was more shocked than really frightened. He felt like someone had taken the lid off life and shown him the works."

Flitcraft was shocked to discover that chaos exists, and he decided over lunch that his quiet, orderly life as a good citizen was out of step with the way the world operated, so he left. Flitcraft wandered around for a few years, then settled in Spokane and got married.

"His second wife didn't look like the first, but they were more alike then they were different. You know, the kind of women that play fair games of golf and bridge and like new salad-recipes...I don't think he even knew he had settled back naturally into the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma. But that's the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling."

New York City and 9-11 always seemed just like Flitcraft to me. Shocked as hell when everyone realized that nothing one does is protection from falling beams, and then everything is different, and then back to being the same, but not really.  We all know beams fall.  I didn't realize until today that there has been some part of me that has been terrified every day since September 11, 2001.  I know beams still fall, but I no longer feel as if they are being purposely thrown at us.  What I felt when I woke up this morning was the feeling of not being frightened. And then I watched our new first couple dance as they were serenaded by happy, lovely BeyoncĂ©.  In a movie it would have seemed like too much.  But when I watched it I just sobbed and knew something terrible was over. 

*I wrote this on 1/21/09, but didn't post until today.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

This Says It All

This is the most unspeakably gorgeous and happy thing from a perfectly wonderful day.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Twilight Watch, Part 4: Chapter One Completed! Only 470 Pages Left!

I finished chapter one of Twilight a moment ago, and I'm really making an effort to pretend I haven't read anything about it.  This is, of course, impossible, but I am trying to be fair.  

With that in mind, I think I'm beginning to understand both this book's rampant popularity, and the affection its fans have for it.  I need to be clear.  It's really poorly written (shockingly so, I thought), but more than anything I've read (that's been professionally published), it reads as if it was written by an actual fifteen year old.  Its first person narrative is completely and utterly solipsistic, and it's clear Stephanie Meyer is in no kind of control of the tone.  The young girl telling the story is in some ways an incredibly realistically portrayed kid.  She is self-centered as only a sixteen year old could be, convinced that she is a unique snowflake.  She talks about how she doesn't fit in, how she is "different".  By day two she has a lunch table full of incipient friends, two boys crushing on her, and she's already met her very own Jordan Catalano, the mysterious and ludicrously handsome Edward Cullen.  Twilight is exactly like My So Called life, had Angela Chase been the head writer and show runner.  

Bella is pale, obviously pretty but not in an obvious way, she's bad at sports and is seemingly the center of everything at Forks High School pretty much immediately.  Another way of putting it is that Bella Swan (the name.  I ask you.) might be the biggest literary Mary Sue since Dorothy Sayers created Harriet Vane.

More to follow.  Hopefully we'll get to the vampire stuff soon, because I have lots to say about that.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Harry Lime Lives!

This has been such a strange week. Famous people dropping dead every five minutes, an airplane and a miraculous and skillful save in the Hudson, and the final few days of this dreadful administration.

I've been working a lot on the screenplay for Angry Little People: The Movie. It's such a sad story in so many ways (i.e. all of them). It's all about Helen, a failed housewife and deeply closeted artist who has systematically destroyed herself with alcoholism, inertia, day-dreaming and bad, bad decisions. It's getting harder and harder to spend so much time in her head. As someone who has been plagued with all sorts of anxiety disorders and constant worries that my decisions are bad, and that I don't write enough and just want read novels and watch movies all the time, I'm beginning to see too much of myself in her. But she's not me. I made other decisions. I'm not an alcoholic. Maybe her story has always meant so much to me because she's not me, but she is an object lesson, someone who drinks too much, a writer who doesn't write; who is all feeling and zero critical thought.

VIRGODOG: Maybe you should write happy things. Happy people should write sad things, and sad people should write happy things. That's how it should work.

CAVIGLIA: And I'm a sad person, so I should write happy things?

VIRGODOG: Well, yes.

CAVIGLIA: What about Eugene O'Neill? He was a sad person who wrote sad things.

VIRGODOG: And how did it work out for him?

CAVIGLIA: Pretty well. He won a Nobel prize.

VIRGODOG: And what about all the other people in his life?

CAVIGLIA: I guess not so well. They didn't win Nobels.

VIRGODOG: I don't think I like where this is going.

And then I watched the Soderbergh film from a couple of years ago, The Good German. I really hated it. It was completely confounding to me. He filmed it in B&W, in the old aspect ratio, even using the lenses people used to film '40s movies. Doing all that with a modern cast, in a movie filmed now, I guess he couldn't avoid an ersatz feel to it, but he could have avoided it being sloppy and poorly shot. The movie looked just dreadful. And he has Cate Blanchett, and Clooney for Christ's sake and made them look awful. It was boring and confusing, and I don't understand what he was getting at. I talked a little about it last night with Fuzzy Bastard and he thought that Soderbergh seemed angry at the movies of the '40s. You can't really argue with a feeling, I guess, but I think the movies he seems to be arguing with: Casablanca and The Third Man are impossible to have a dispute with, they will stomp all over whatever problem you might have with them and simply win.

I don't think anyone needs me to tell them that Casablanca is a really, really good movie. I love it. And for most of my life I managed to see it only in theaters (including once at Radio City Music Hall. Yowza!). A couple of weeks ago, I watched a documentary on PBS, From Hitler To Hollywood, about the actors and artists and writers and filmmakers who fled occupied Europe and wound up in California. Really worth seeing if they air it again. Casablanca was made during the war and pretty much every actor with a speaking role (except for Bogart, Bergman & Claude Rains) was a refugee from Hitler.

The Third Man is in the top five (maybe the top three, or top two) of My Favorite Movies of All Time. I think it is perfect. Maybe that's one of the reasons this Soderbergh thing made me so mad. It was like he was trying to show how dark and edgy and how bad the Americans could be, too. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact that movie has been made. In 1949. By Graham Greene, Carol Reed and Orson Fucking Welles. Filmed on location in bombed out Vienna. With a crazy zither score. With jokes about genre fiction versus art. With two American characters, one hopelessly naive, the other a greedy, sociopathic profiteer. With Alida Valli as the femme fatale; you never find out what happened to her during the war, what she did to survive, or what she saw. You never find out a goddamn thing about her in the movie, because she's not talking, and nothing she could say would be quite as bad as what you're thinking. You know nothing, but see it in her seen it all dead eyes and know what ever it is, it was bad. And it will probably never be okay for her again. If Soderbergh wanted an Elsa who never got out of occupied Europe, here she is. Cate Blanchett might be one of the greatest film actresses alive, but her role here is unplayable. She's a movie dame who talks and talks and bloody talks, and it's all so underwhelming. Maybe Soodrbergh was domed to failure in this, but did it have to come off feeling so half assed?

I'm all over the place in this post today. I'l leave you with this:

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Lifetime + Oscar Winner = OMG My Daughter Has the Pox!

More on Twilight later, I promise.

As I was eating my lunch this afternoon, I turned on the TV and I got completely sucked into a movie about teens with Syphilis airing on (of course) Lifetime. I am sort of secretly addicted to servicey, problem-based TV movies. They are like crack. I fully realize I am losing any kind of credibility whatsoever. Marcia Gay Harden is the mom in the syphilis one. Mercedes Ruehl is the mom in the one on next. Tilda Swinton is the mom in one airing later tonight*. These films are all ostensibly being played as a part of the "Can You Keep a Secret?" event. An alternative name could be the "I won an Oscar and now I'm the mom of a troubled teenage girl on a Lifetime TV movie!" marathon. If we needed more evidence that there are like zero movie roles for women over the age of forty, this is it. And please don't bring up La Streep in the comments. I love her, but whatever roles there are, she gets nearly all of them. And for the slightly younger older lady set. Julianne Moore seems to get the rest. And yes, I know saying zero roles is an exaggeration, but three Oscar winners in Lifetime movies in one afternoon is a little much.

*Upon further research, it looks as if the Tilda Swinton one was not necessarily intended to be a TV movie. But it has the added bonus value of Timothy Hutton, another Oscar winner. And I fucking love Tilda Swinton. She is my biggest girl-crush ever.

Twilight Watch, Part 3: Page One

I opened the book to begin reading and the first thing I read is:

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,
thou shalt not eat of it;
for in the day that thou eatest therof
thou shalt surely die.

Genesis 2:17


At least I now know why there is a large apple on the cover.  It's all about the sex.  Maybe I should read at least a page.

There's a grammar mistake in the first sentence of the preface.  She needs a little help with her comma usage.  This is why I never read The Da Vinci Code.  The syntax in the first paragraph was so awful I couldn't read any further.  I'm having the same problem here.  

Where's my red pen?!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Twilight Watch, Part 2: The Arrival

It's been more than a month since the last installment of Twilight Watch.  I still haven't seen the damn film.  It's starting to fade from the multiplexes and it's beginning to look as if I will have to wait for On Demand.  Sigh.

I think the best thing I can do is to just continue The List I've been working on for the past few months as that was the whole point, right?  Okay.  Here goes.

Catherine Hardwicke: As far as I know, she is the only production designer turned major director in the history of American movies (as always, if I am wrong, please let me know in the comments). So far she seems to have avoided the cinematographer-turned-director disease of pretty, pretty films with story problems. I was super excited to see her first film, Thirteen. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am completely obsessed with anything that has to do with teen girls. To say I enjoyed Thirteen in no way implies that it was any good. It's a melodramatic film, full of after school special clichĂ©s. Even though I was aware of all that when watching it, I still found it hard to shake. For all its silliness it feels right in how it's pitched emotionally. Sadly, the reality of teenage life is often more like bad television then good art. A few years ago I began listening to a lot of Britney Spears for a project I was working on, and I was amazed at how dramatic all her songs were, how emotionally raw and over the top. And then I got part of why she became such a huge star- her songs aren't any good, really, but they feel like being in high school.  While writing this I took a look at the reviews for Thirteen, and honestly they kind of weirded me out.  All of these middle aged men giving positive, serious reviews to this film about thirteen year olds having sex and wearing really hot clothes and lying to their parents, just made it seem really prurient.  Andrew Sarris wrote one of the few negative reviews, pointing out how creepy it was watching this film in the theater with a bunch of grownups.  Thirteen is the only film of Hardwicke's I've seen.  I really want to see The Nativity Story.  I have no idea how Hardwicke treats the subject matter, and I think I have a fantasy about single, teen, pregnant Mary of Nazareth deciding that telling a really elaborate lie about the messiah is a better plan than being stoned to death (I remember a TV miniseries about Jesus from the '70s that had a scene of Mary worrying about being stoned to death, it really stuck with me).  I have a feeling I will be disappointed, but that will be more my problem than the movie's.  The Lords of Dogtown is somewhere on my Netflix list.  LA skaters have never really interested me that much, but I've heard it's pretty good.  And now Twilight.  Sigh.  The worldwide take is nearly $280 million. It cost $37 million to make.  It's a monster hit.  I have to see it.

Then suddenly, things get even more interesting.  Catherine Hardwicke has been fired from Twilight's sequel, New Moon.  According to Summit Entertainment, this was a mutual decision based on scheduling.  Anonymous reports inside Summit say Hardwicke was "difficult" and "irrational".  Oh, for Christ's sake.  Irrational?  She just helmed a low-cost blockbuster.  Suck it up Summit.  She is being replaced by Chris Weitz whose most recent project was The Golden Compass, which cost $180 million and was a US box office disappointment, but did well internationally.  I'm not the hugest fan of the His Dark Materials books.  I liked the Golden Compass, and more or less enjoyed The Subtle Knife, but I thought The Amber Spyglass was a mess.  I found Weitz's film to be pretty unwatchable.  American Pie box-office aside, he is hardly a risk-free choice.  This makes no sense.  I hate to be a shrill feminist scold (actually that's a lie:  I fucking love being a shrill feminist scold), but please name one male director who has been removed from a film series when the first installment was a massive, money creating machine. Right, never.

I really have to see this film.  Damn.  And read the book.  I do have some news.  I ordered the book from Amazon.  It has arrived, in fact it's sitting here in my lap, still in its brown cardboard shipping box.  I'm going to open it right now.  Hold on.  Okay.  Here it is, all 498pp of it.  Damn.  I guess I should read it, right?

Stay tuned for Twilight Watch Part 3: The Reading