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Thoughts in Search of a Unifying Topic…

In arts, Just Because..., Think About It on November 3, 2013 at 10:39 pm

It seems to me a sign of the impending Apocalypse that, while one person goes through drastic, frantic, almost unthinkable procedures to fight a cancer that seems to be entrenching for the long haul, another person makes herself ill, gets admitted to hospital to get attention, get waited on, and to get opiates that she doesn’t want to admit she’s addicted to.

This second person is of the mindset that she should feel absolutely NO pain whatsoever. What I know from experience is this… the only time you feel no pain is when you’re dead.

The ironic part? Both these people are longtime friends of ours.

Go figure.

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There are times when I wonder if the creativity I have apparently been gifted with — I am not the best judge of this — should be classified as a blessing or a curse.

I have many interests… I do many things at a journeyman level of proficiency, at least. But is the creative bent of my mind a hindrance to sustained effort in any one discipline? As an example… I begin to write an essay, or a story, or a screenplay, or something. Something else catches my attention, and I lay down the initial piece I’m working on, and start work on the new thing… this happens again and again, leaving a stack of partially completed work in its wake.

I own tools and supplies to support many of my multiple disciplines, such as drawing, photography, film, building models, visual effects… The list goes on.

Is this grasshopper-like behavior, hopping about from one project to another, the unleashing of creativity? Is it a sign of a character flaw? Or, perhaps, is it an indication of a basic personality disturbance that goes deeper than has been thought?

I couldn’t say… I may be too close to the matter to see it clearly.

Then again, I may just be mistaken about the whole thing.

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I just watched a bargain bin DVD last night – Nine. It’s a musical adaptation of Federico Fellini’s from 1963.

The singing, the dancing, the bevy of beautiful women, the crisis of confidence of a successful Italian film director, played here by Daniel Day-Lewis (Shades of Abraham Lincoln!), modeled on the original portrayal by Marcello Mastroianni.

Whipping between reality, fantasy, and some never-never land in between the two, the director struggles to find his way, his inspiration, his muse, his bearings, his soul, and his next film.

Penelope Cruz, Kate Hudson, Marion Cotillard, Fergie, Judi Dench, Sophia Loren… the above-the-line women are beautiful, and are photographed that way as well. The rapid, close cutting between black and white and color helps to both heighten and blur the distinctions between reality (Rome, its environs, and Cinecitta Studios, a city unto itself, surrounded by the ancient yet bustling urbs Romanae) and fantasy.

This sort of movie is not for everyone… But if a look into the tortured, wildly spinning mind of a Fellini-esque filmmaker is what you’re looking for, then find this movie and see it.

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I shouldn’t wonder why more people aren’t creative… it’s a wonder to me that there are any creative people left in the world at all.

The entire societal system we’ve built up, from the peer pressure to the educational system, seems to me to be designed to stifle, blunt, and eradicate creativity. The homogenization of society, stigmatizing intelligence and creativity by “ghettoizing” them, the same way it stigmatizes cognitive disabilities, among others.

This is not a viable option for the advancement, or even the stabilization, of society.

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I started writing this near the end of September, and here it is, the beginning of November already. Where the hell did October go?

Until sometime again, then…

The Universal Pantechnicon…

In arts, Film and Related, Just Because... on April 13, 2013 at 10:53 pm

This post promises nothing… it’s going to be a little bit of this, a little bit of that; sort of like potluck soup, or hobo stew.

Jonathan Winters died this past week… He was an inspiration to many of the comic performers of today, such as Robin Williams (who acknowledged this perceived debt loudly and often).  He was an unpredictable performer, letting his prodigious imagination lead him on comic flights of fancy that left us all the richer for having heard them.

He was also a cousin (to what degree I’d have to figure out) of my wife’s mother’s family.  His name was Jonathan Harshman Winters, and my mother-in-law (rest her soul) was a Harshman.  Another coincidental thing, it seems.

On the subject of comedy…

I was revisiting the Kevin Brownlow/David Gill profile of Harold Lloyd on YouTube the other day, after I had reblogged the post from swingstatevoter on silent comedy.  Brownlow and Gill produced, to my mind, some of the best profiles of silent film personalities extant; Brownlow’s book The Parade’s Gone By… was a textbook for my old history of silent film class, back in the mists of time.  I appreciated his bringing back to the fore the (up to that point) overlooked French director, Abel Gance, and his tour de force, 1927’s Napoleon.  Sometime in the 1980’s, if memory serves me, (and it didn’t… the first restoration by Brownlow was in 1979, I just found out) Francis Ford Coppola sponsored a series of viewings of the then-major restoration with a score by his father, composer Carmine Coppola.  There is a more complete restoration by Brownlow, with approximately thirty additional minutes of footage and the Polyvision (Gance’s predecessor of three-screen Cinerama) in full bloom, which was shown almost a year ago in Oakland, California.

Abel Gance’s Napoleon from SilentRobet on Vimeo.

This is the trailer.

Back to Harold Lloyd…

Lloyd’s character was the most “normal” of the three top comedians of the silents… Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” was a Victorian-era creation, full of pathos and bathos, trying to ensnare the audience in a struggle between the “little man” and the heartless, cruel well-to-do of society.  Keaton’s frozen-faced automaton was freed of the emotional baggage of the Chaplinesque view, the chilling whiff of nihilism wafting out from behind the slick mechanical façade of his gags, the unsmiling man against an uncaring universe.  Lloyd, on the third hand, was the smiling All-American Boy we thought typical of that time, bright enough, determined enough, but lacking something essential to win through to the final victory.

Lloyd was never a “comic”, doing jokes and gags for the sake of doing them, but had gag men spooling out things to do in the context of the story and the character.   (The parallel was drawn in the Brownlow/Gill profile to Bob Hope having a staff of gag writers providing him with jokes for his monologues; Lloyd’s gag men provided gag bits for the picture.)

Of the major silent film comedians, Harold Lloyd was the luckiest (or most foresighted, if you prefer); he bought real estate in Los Angeles when it was cheap, saved and invested his money wisely, and retired after 1947’s “The Sin of Harold Diddlebock”, also known as “Mad Wednesday”.  (The failure of the film at the box office probably hastened this decision.)He died in 1971, prosperous, away from the hurlyburly of  “the business”, and mostly forgotten by moviegoers of today.  Quite a change from Keaton’s death from cancer in 1966, Chaplin’s fading away in self-imposed exile in Switzerland in 1977, Harry Langdon’s death in 1944 (Langdon deserves an article to himself, and there are many out there), Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who never really recovered from the scandal surrounding the death of bit player Virginia Rappé at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco in 1921, three trials, and the inability of the public at the time to accept his acquittal by the third jury and his death in 1933, or the lesser lights of silent comedy, such as Lloyd Hamilton, Lupino Lane, Raymond Griffith, Snub Pollard, Ben Turpin, or the ones who are nameless to us but still enjoyed when silents are played again.

[Whew!  LOONG paragraph!]

It seems a pity that, with the exception of 1976’s Silent Movie, from the fertile mind of Mel Brooks, and Michel Hazanavicius’s Oscar™-winning The Artist, silent film is a curiosity from a time gone by.

It seems to me that dialogue, while helpful, is not a necessity for a movie.  Besides, I think it’s a good way to flex some creative muscles making a film without relying on dialogue.

I think I’m going to try that myself.

Stringing It Together…

In arts, blogging, Just Because..., no excuses, writing on March 22, 2013 at 10:11 pm

Words, and the way they fit together to make visible our thoughts, have been a preoccupation of mine for most of my life, even before I knew how to do anything of the sort.

The visions that the proper combination of words can produce verges on the magical; in fact, as I’ve heard it defined, magic itself is produced or controlled by the proper combination of words, placed in the proper order.  Like computer programming and magic, writing is entirely dependent on the correct choice of terms, placed in the correct sequence.

“It was a dark and stormy night.”  How often has that phrase, the first in the novel Paul Clifford by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Baronet, been quoted, misquoted, and misattributed?  But it is remembered.

Words can weave a spell to transport the reader to Middle Earth… or to the cradle of the Foundation… or to the outer reaches of a red giant star… or in a General Products hull in a hyperbolic orbit around a neutron star.  Words can create vistas in your mind that a Super-70 mm Ultra Dolby 7.1 3D Imax extravaganza couldn’t match, even with a budget the size of the Gross Planetary Product.

And yet… Reading is becoming less and less popular, from what I hear.  Twitter limits posts to 140 characters, which I exceeded in my third line, if I’m not mistaken.  Attention spans fall dramatically year by year.

Few there are who would even try Nova or Dhalgren by Chip Delany; and I couldn’t think of anyone who would try reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, or Dostoievski’s Crime and Punishment.  Dickens’s Bleak House, one of his more acclaimed works, is a doorstop in paperback, and even more recent works, like William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, approach it in sheer volume.  Reading tomes such as these is hardly considered as entertainment anymore, and even the shorter-form writers like Fitzgerald and Hemingway get shorter shrift.

It is a crime and a shame to ignore the writers of the past; the stylistic flourishes of a Dickens give way to the spare prose of Hemingway, which inspired writers of more recent times like Capote, Ken Kesey, Thomas Wolfe, Mailer, Gore Vidal, and some we see in magazines today.  Only by reading the words of others with your own “inner ear” can you find the “voice” that informs your writing.  It’s akin to learning to talk by listening to those around you.

I do not condemn others for their lack of breadth in reading, but invite them to widen it on their own.  Read J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, James Joyce, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sir Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Mark Twain, Garrison Keillor, Dave Barry, Woodward and Bernstein, Nora Ephron, Erma Bombeck, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, or any number of other authors I could name.  Expand your horizons.  Question your thinking patterns.  Question your choices.

It could be an illuminating experience…

 

Seth MacFarlane: Oscar Threat Or Menace?

In arts, film, Film and Related, Just Because..., screenplays, writing on February 25, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Well, Seth Mac Farlane had his turn at hosting the Academy Awards® ceremony last night.  The reviews were, to put it generously, mixed.

Personal opinion?  I didn’t much have a problem with him.  He did better than Letterman (remember “Uma… Oprah.  Oprah… Uma.”?)  did.

Critics are going to find fault with everybody… even if Bob Hope or Johnny Carson came back from the dead to host the awards, there would be people criticizing.

So be it.

The surprises of the night (for me, at least) were the wins for Anna Karenina and Life of Pi – and Argo winning Best Picture.

Jennifer Lawrence?  Christoph Waltz?  Anne Hathaway?  Okay… I can deal with that.  Searching for Sugar Man?  A happy time… since Rodriguez, the subject, actually lives here in the D.  Skyfall as Best Song?  Sure.

Argo winning Best Adapted Screenplay?  Tarantino winning Best Original Screenplay for Django Unchained?  I can deal.

Ben Affleck getting shut out of the Best Director nominations?  Spielberg losing to Ang Lee?  Hey, these things happen.

The Best Sound Editing tie between Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall was a surprise… there usually aren’t ties in Oscar® voting.

It just goes to show you that award shows are funny (not in the sense of humorous, but in the sense of odd)… they don’t always listen to the same “conventional wisdom” that gets put out in the hype for these shows.

Discuss among yourselves.

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