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November 28, 2002

The War Against TWOT

Legend has it Preston waited two whole days after unveiling the name "Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance Party" before conceding it wouldn't be politically prudent to have CCRAP for an abbreviation.

What I love is that he enjoyed this epiphany with a 48 hour delay, courtesy the muscularity of his own ego. It took circulating articles across the nation, all flecked with the word CCRAP, all expressly about him, before he was returned to his, um, senses.

I like to think if there is a God, abbreviation-landmines are strategically placed in our language to illuminate the stupidity of those who want control, but lack the foresight to think up a decent sounding initials. And just as there was such a landmine awaiting the pioneer of any alliance between the Conservatives and The Reform Party of Canada, there was a daisy cutter on high for the moron who would wage war against terror.

Not only did "TWAT" blur the ever evaporating line between Dr. Srangelove, a good Onion Article, and the front page of the NY Times, it also introduced into the public domain a word no anchorman could even speak.

It's funny to me that our aversion toward this simple dirty word has led us to favour such lesser offerings as "War On Terror", or "America's War On Terror"-- whichever you prefer-- both sounding distinctly to my ear like slogans tweaked for better sounding initials. I see good reason in sticking with the orginal: After all, we must know that in the mind of the man in charge, it is us "against" them-- it is "the" war, (of both his, and all our lives,) and let us not forget, of course, that it is "War" against "Terror".

So I looked-up the word "Against" along with the word "On" and "With" for a more balanced sense of which was most fitting, (yep, this is the kind of in depth analysis I'm all about). As my eyes breezed over the italicized examples under the definition of "against", my mind was somehow made up...

row against the current.
waves dashing against the shore.
leaned against the tree.
struggle against fate.
against my better judgment.
race against the record holder.
dark colors against a fair skin.
food stored against winter.
protection against the cold.
drew a check against my bank balance.

So it's TWAT then, The War Against Terror-- the war of our lives.

Posted by at 02:47 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

November 22, 2002


Lap-top owners be warned.

(Thanks go again to Beans, for both the link and the concern.)

Posted by at 07:11 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Pulled from the Rubble

William Langewiesche was unable to read from his new book "American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center" in NYC a few days ago, due to firemen and their wives chanting "LIAR" outside the bookstore. Fire department Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta accused the author of "tarnishing the memory of our city's heroes with foolish, absurd and unfounded accusations."

Langewiesche has written a lengthy account of the 'unbuilding' process with a couple of offending paragraphs: he recounts what happened last fall when construction workers located - some 50 feet below street level - a fire truck filled with jeans that were apparently pilfered from a nearby Gap:

"The workers began jeering firefighters at the scene after concluding that 'while hundreds of doomed firefighters had climbed through the wounded buildings, this particular crew had engaged in something else entirely'".

The theory from the Fire department is that "the merchandise was blown into the truck by the force of the towers' collapse." It didn't look that way to those who discovered the fire truck, and according to Langewiesche, it wasn't the only time looting became an issue. He writes of firemen, cops, and construction workers alike being "implicated in a widespread pattern of looting that started even before the towers fell, and was to peak around Christmas with the brazen theft of office computers."

(Excerpted from this article.)

Difficult to know how "foolish" and "absurd" Langewiesche's accusations are. I do think the Fire department's demand to have him remove the description of an event he witnessed with his own eyes (and I refer here to the discovery of the truck) does more to tarnish them than the story itself ever could. He was one of the few writers to have access to Ground Zero, we should hear what he has to say.

(Thanks, Beaner.)

Posted by at 04:59 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

November 20, 2002

A Link From Mutante

A few days ago My Mexican film-school friend Mutante sent me this link (but probably better to just click on 'MORE' and save yourself the headache of having to scroll right and left with every line).

At first, as I was reading it, I was like: What the fuck did you send me this for? This is old news and it's about a God-awful subject. But as I got toward the end of the thing I found myself marveling over the beauty of the writing, and the astuteness of the argument. After all, we can't blame Spielberg for everything.

Don Simpson - Jock of gold

The Innovators 1980-90

A prince of Hollywood vulgarity, producer Don Simpson demonised himself, but he also invented the modern blockbuster, argues Shawn Levy

To love Hollywood movies you must embrace vulgarity. Pneumatic actresses, unctuous executives, loud music, obnoxious machinery, legions of supernumeraries, mountains of food, oceans of drink, excesses that would give pause to Caligula - and that's just the wrap parties. Nowhere is hedonism practised as an aesthetic form so excellently as in Southern California, and it's therefore little wonder that the region's most prominent industry sometimes seems little more than an ongoing riot of over-indulgence.

On the one hand, you have the annual product: ten months, more or less, of horrifying lowest-common-denominator indulgences of violence, sex, slapstick and freeze-dried plotting, followed by two months of breast-beating sentimentality and sobriety, after which everybody turns around and gives the person standing next to them a prize, the most coveted of which is a golden statuette of a naked bald man covering his genitalia with a sword. On the other, you have the people involved: vainglorious, pampered, spottily educated and indifferently mannered, making their stupendous livings on the basis of the public's mercurial tastes and coating their inevitable insecurities in eccentricity and bullying as though to make their status seem in some way their due - royalty, in other words, without the sanction of primogeniture.

It's easy to decry what Hollywood is all about, but when you consider that entertainment, after aeronautics, is the chief US export, it also seems hopeless. People like what's vulgar about Hollywood. And though cineastes and cinephiles rail against the industry's characteristically low-brow products, it's like the geeks at a posh high school holding an anti-pep rally before the big homecoming football game: the sideshow becomes part of the larger spectacle that the paying crowds enjoy, a bit of a laugh before the serious business of escapism. Hollywood has, in fact, been compared to a high school - one with lots of money.

Extend that metaphor to individuals, and the late producer Don Simpson would have been a good bet to win the class vote for Least Likely to Succeed. He had the tools - he was a keen shaper of stories, had a sharp eye for new talent, and understood the spasms of the popular marketplace almost viscerally. He was, too, an Olympian of vulgarity: his life story (as recounted in Charles Fleming's 1998 biography High Concept) reads like a police report, filled with hair-raising sexual episodes, astounding escapades with booze and dope and crass and cruel fits of temper thrown at employees, waiters, maids and friends. He hired publicists to throw parties for him and verbally abused screenwriters in front of crimson-eared journalists. His vanities included plastic surgery, crash diets, new-age retreats and the purchase of multiple wardrobes, the better to match his ever-fluctuating weight. The toxicology report filed with his autopsy detailed a pharmacopoeia that would stagger a Scrabble champion: chlordiazepoxide, desmethydiazepam, trimethobenzamide and a few other unpronounceable goodies. He lived a life mixed of equal parts Monroe Stahr, Fatty Arbuckle, Robert Downey Jr and Harry Cohn: a perfect Hollywood animal, in other words.

So you wouldn't say Simpson was an unlikely mogul because of who he was but rather because of where he came from. Born in Seattle, Washington, in 1943, he grew up mainly in Alaska. That he emerged from this background to serve as president of production at Paramount Pictures and gross billions of dollars as an independent producer is akin to being a little boy from Reykjavik and becoming the most celebrated matador at the Feria de Sevilla. In the unlikely gap between his origins and his achievement, Simpson resembled far more the moguls who built the Hollywood movie industry - furriers and butchers and handglove salesmen and undertakers with names like Goldwyn and Warner and Mayer and Zukor - than he did his peers, the film-school poseurs who parlayed jump cuts into first-look deals and the MBAs who learned to stab one another in the back in talent-agency mail rooms. With his cocksure attitude, his self-made past, his instinct for the jugular and his ability to turn shit into gold, Simpson must have struck the old-timers he met as someone more like themselves than any of their own offspring, biological or corporate: his arrival on the lot at Warner Bros, where he got his first real Hollywood job in 1972, might itself have made a nice, if familiar, scene in a movie.
Top Gun

It wouldn't, however, have been a Don Simpson movie. From the time he first got on the payroll at Warner Bros, through his brief tenure at the top of the Paramount mountain and his high-flying days as a partner, with Jerry Bruckheimer, in the famed (and self-dubbed) Visionary Alliance, to his death by misadventure in 1996, Simpson was interested in only one sort of movie. A Don Simpson movie was a riot of motion and noise, focused on a comely young star, crammed with trendy music and fashions, and built around an underdog-makes-good story - with a few setbacks thrown in to stretch the drama out to the optimal 100 minutes. Simpson's oeuvre reads like a litany of the worst sort of Hollywood drek. Between 1983 and his death he co-produced Flashdance, Thief of Hearts, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop 2, Days of Thunder, Bad Boys, Crimson Tide, Dangerous Minds and The Rock.

How could anyone go forth with such a slate of projects and not carry with him at least a sliver of self-loathing? It's partly because Simpson's movies were an extension of the man and his tastes. (As proof, consider that he cast himself in Days of Thunder as an Italian racing-car driver named Aldo Bennedetti.) He liked big, obvious women, cars, homes, offices, clothes and, perhaps most of all, movies. "I buy my popcorn," he once said, "and watch a movie and want to feel something." And, as his personal life attests, it took quite a stimulus to trigger a sensation in him.

But Simpson's body of work was not only a sensational act of self-expression. It was a concept that imposed itself on the whole of Hollywood movie-making. Simpson worked high in the corporate structure of contemporary Hollywood, and as an affect of his obsession with the smallest details of his films he not only codified his mini-genre, he made an industry template of it. Love or hate him for it, Simpson was a key inventor of the high-concept film, and his ability to blend together fleeting cultural fancies, manufactured celebrities, adolescent wet dreams and expensive effects machinery into excellent schlock - billion-dollar schlock - was a kind of genius. It's no exaggeration to claim that Simpson invented the modern Hollywood blockbuster - though whether he's being rewarded or punished for it in the next life is open to debate.

In the late 70s, working under Michael Eisner and Barry Diller at Paramount Pictures, Simpson drafted the most influential statement of purpose in recent Hollywood history, a document that validated the sort of film-making which sets the Andr Bazins of the world gnashing their teeth but which lines up the civilians outside the multiplexes from Tulsa to San Remo to Rangoon. "The pursuit of making money is the only reason to make movies," he declared. "We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. Our obligation is to make money." But surely prestige counts for something? "To make money, it may be important to win the Academy Award, for it might mean another ten million dollars at the box office."

Simpson's memo was a mind-blowing rejection of every ounce of Hollywood treacle and cant about higher purposes and the public good, a naked embrace of the marketplace as the rason d'tre of the studio system. It's almost disappointing, then, that he went on to explain that what makes money is good movies - or, rather, good ideas for movies. "A powerful idea is the heart of any successful movie. The creative premise is what first attracts people to the product."

The concept, in other words, is the medium, not the cast, not the script and certainly not the director. Though the first could enhance the film (as long as it wasn't too pricey) and the second could sharpen it, the last held considerable potential to destroy it. As he told a journalist some years after writing his treatise, Simpson took exception to those who saw the director as the chief transmitter of meanings: "I don't believe in the auteur theory. The movie is the auteur. It tells us what it needs to be. We're here to serve the movie as mistress. No one person, director or writer is above the call of the final result."

Again, it's no shock to hear a producer denigrate the contributions of writers, directors or even stars to the finished film. Producers come aboard with the original idea, and the best never lose sight of that idea throughout the picture's inevitably arduous passage to the screen. This was as true for Gone with the Wind, Simpson knew, as for An Officer and a Gentleman, which he rescued from the Paramount slag heap. But close examination of the films Simpson produced demonstrates that his formula only worked if it was implemented on a grand, gross scale. Top Gun, the epitome of his technique, with a total worldwide gross of $344 million, reads like a haiku written on the side of an elephant.

The film actually opens with a music video: a montage of aircraft carrier action shots choreographed to Kenny Loggins' infernal song 'Danger Zone', one of the two hits digested whole by the film. (The other, Berlin's 'Take My Breath Away', won an Oscar for Best Song.) Immediately our swaggering hero Maverick (Tom Cruise) is established as both reckless and gifted; throughout the film the twinning of these traits is his simultaneous blessing and curse - a touch that must have struck the producer as positively Shakespearean. It gets him into Top Gun school, on the one hand, but dooms him to continual trespasses that eventually cost him the Top Gun trophy; it catches the eye of a comely physicist (Kelly McGillis) but reminds her to keep a prudent distance from him.

Indeed, despite everything that happens to him through the course of the narrative - losing the trophy, winning the girl, causing the accidental death of his only friend - this ambivalence never shifts or changes. Maverick starts out cocky and gifted; Maverick ends cocky and gifted. A similar consistency characterises the protagonists of Beverly Hills Cop, Flashdance, The Rock and, indeed, all of Simpson's films. Built around movies stars, they do nothing to violate the audience's expectation of what those stars are like. Casting, in the Simpson formula, is a form of narrative. As for the narrative, it moves with the clockwork certitude of a tide table.

After the opening sequence establishing Maverick's duality he moves to Top Gun school and meets his antagonist Iceman (Val Kilmer) and his indulgent commander (Tom Skerritt). Out cruising for skirt one night, he meets Charlie (McGillis) and fails, in his arrogance, to woo her. Voil; plot point one: Charlie, as fate would have it, is a Top Gun instructor. Maverick's lust and work are now intertwined.

The film alternates sequences of Maverick's flight work and his romance almost systematically through the next hour, on opposing trajectories: as he does better with her, revealing his tender side and, finally, scoring, he does more poorly at school, continually losing out to the flawless Iceman and, finally, costing his flying partner Goose (Anthony Edwards) his life in a mishap. The death of Goose is, of course, plot point two. In a script that more closely paralleled events on planet Earth, it would be a life-shattering event. (And, to be fair, Maverick spends several minutes racked with ambivalence about it before zipping off to the Indian Ocean to shoot down three Russian MIGs in the film's hysterical and frightening coda.) But if Maverick didn't emerge as himself at the end of the film the audience would feel bamboozled - as would Simpson himself. His 100-minute foolproof methodology was based, he always insisted, on his own taste - and nothing in this film indicates he wasn't telling the complete truth. Top Gun is entirely repellent, without a single saving performance, storyline, joke, bit of dialogue or even action sequence, yet it made a superstar of Cruise and cemented Simpson's formula as the Hollywood gold standard.

The 80s were dominated by the sort of static, three-act storytelling exemplified by Top Gun. Simpson may have been among the first producers to make a religion of the format, but it was quick to spread through the industry and beyond, bizarrely, into the public. Screenwriting gurus, long attached to Hollywood like somewhat shameful barnacles, emerged into the light as stars who could help make you rich, like realtors or stockbrokers: Syd Field, Robert McKee, Linda Seger, Richard Walter. Their seminars and books reaped millions; every adult human being in Southern California seemed to be working on a screenplay - often with the likes of Top Gun as a model. If McKee, with his emphasis on "turning points" and "inciting incidents" and his careful deconstruction of film scenes, seems like Aristotle in comparison with the authors of such works as How to Write a Movie in 21 Days and 500 Ways to Beat the Hollywood Script Reader, he is nevertheless trafficking in formulas and truisms that mesh comfortably with Simpson's from-the-gut approach. Both seek validation in the big idea that instigates the film, and both look to previous successes to figure out "what works".

But consider that Simpson came to formulate his position at the end of a decade in which Hollywood most openly embraced directors as artists and you see another strain in his thinking. Simpson was one of the key forces of the establishment in the era during which the studios regained their autonomy over the world of movie-making. He led the counter-revolutionary charge against the Coppolas, Friedkins, Bogdanoviches and Scorseses of this world, revoking their licences to create costly, personal works of art with corporate dollars and reasserting the pre-eminence of conceptualisation, departmentalisation and marketing - all traditional purviews of the producer and the studio.

Simpson's bold assertion of the power of money and the marketplace would have seemed common sense to the likes of Darryl Zanuck and Hal Wallis, but it sounded positively unreal in the 70s. And when his beliefs yielded billions in box office, he killed off the industry's most indulgent decade for good and all. Why dither around with temperamental and unreliable artists whose films could lose millions? Better to knead a concept into a script through multiple drafts, throw in some inexpensive young faces (Eddie Murphy, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Beals, Will Smith), hire a malleable young director, preferably from television or advertising (Tony Scott, Michael Bay, Adrian Lyne) and go public with something calibrated to satisfy a demand that you're already assured exists. Simpson's treatise made it OK again for Hollywood to embrace both an old-fashioned production-line mentality and sheer, guileless greed. No wonder executives like Eisner, Diller and Jeffrey Katzenberg were prepared to put up with his shenanigans.

But Simpson's notions, after proving initially fruitful, wound up metastasising into a gargantua that had itself to be tamed. By the end of the 80s Katzenberg, who learned the business in part beneath Simpson at Paramount, was parroting Simpson's own dicta back to the world in another famous memo, this one aimed at cutting back on the sort of behemoth pictures Simpson specialised in. It's a measure of Simpson's vision - not to mention his stature relative to Katzenberg's - that his ideas could be mistaken for a refutation of themselves and still dominate the industry's thinking a decade after their codification. Even in its passing, the Simpson philosophy was the given against which such contemporary phenomena as the American independent film movement would posit itself. It is what we currently mean by 'Hollywood'. (And it wouldn't exactly get laughed off the dais by the honchos at Miramax, either...)

But it wasn't all there was to the man. If Simpson's taste for vulgar gestures drove him to success in Hollywood, it also helped make him acutely aware of exciting cultural currents that first bled into Hollywood movies through his works. He is universally credited, for instance, with being among the first film-makers to recognise the power of MTV, not only as a marketing tool but as a font of new aesthetic ideas. He realised that his films could include wholly self-contained music videos that would then air on the cable music network as, in effect, free advertising. And he was sensitive to the fact that an audience that had grown accustomed to a steady diet of briskly cut three-minute pop promos would demand similarly hectic pacing from movies.

More intriguingly, he discovered in the gay subculture of the 70s and 80s a series of signifiers and motifs that he would allow to infiltrate his works - perhaps unconsciously, raging heterosexual that he was. Top Gun is, famously, the subject of a Quentin Tarantino rant about latent homoerotica, but Flashdance and Days of Thunder have their curiously ambivalent moments and themes as well. As Peter Biskind puts it: "Simpson was to gay culture what Elvis Presley was to rhythm and blues, ripping it off and repackaging it for a straight audience." In this, as in his embrace of MTV, Simpson was yet again a pioneer, if not exactly an outright inventor.

These aspects of Simpson's work serve as proof that the man wasn't only about money-making, philistinism and crudity. His first movie job, after all, was publicising Performance in San Francisco, at which he succeeded splendidly by providing free wine and reefer to a preview audience that, not surprisingly, embraced the movie as a masterpiece. He was a counterculturalist at heart - in his fictitious past he depicted himself as something of a child outlaw - and if he didn't express as much in his movie-making, he screamed it out loud in his private life. Hence the irony of his being the one who came to close the door on the great Hollywood auteurs of the 70s - bearing in mind, of course, that it wasn't as if they themselves hadn't already done much to presage their own mass demise.

Along with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, two coevals whose private lives and aesthetics would seem utterly opposed to his own hedonism and macho, Simpson was one of the handful of 60s people allowed to hold on to power after the indulgent 70s had given way to Reagan's 80s. To pull it off, he had to recant certain 60s values, to see in moneymaking the greater good and in arty self-expression a betrayal of mass desire. But then, the only hippies who suffered at his hands, truth be told, were the ones who felt they were entitled to make movies with $75 million budgets in the first place. Simpson never told the 70s auteurs they shouldn't make movies - he just didn't think a major studio should invest in them if they weren't money makers. (He refused even to entertain any of the projects brought to him by Pauline Kael when she'd been co-opted into working for Paramount by Warren Beatty.)

So he wasn't exactly Stalin, then. But you half-suspect that Uncle Joe - no stranger to vulgarity himself - would have liked him and his way of thinking and, maybe most of all, his films.

Posted by at 05:18 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 18, 2002

The Fischer Complex

Once upon a time, I spent whole summers playing chess in public places with complete strangers as often as possible.

I liked the atmosphere, loved all the muddled logic: "People say there's nothing to fear but fear itself but that's wrong cause if all you ever fear is fear you'll be afraid of everything and then where'll you be?" It was hard not to notice, in these chess arenas, the implicit equation with one's game and one's over-all goodness as a person. It was all about being able to grasp the significance of a back-line rook move, or spot a fork, it was about mating your opponent, and didn't have anything to do with eating well, having a family, being employed, or making sense. The game was The Greatest Game There Ever Was-- about this there could be no question. It was worthy of the enigma it possessed, and that chess hustlers in turn imagined they possessed, while doling out idiosyncrasies for the Sunday shoppers, who tended not to linger long.

Sampling the opening sequence of the corn-ball 'Searching For Bobby Fischer' on tv the other night I was reminded again of how astonishing it was to look at the games Fischer played when he was still a boy. There is something about a kid who can kick a wisened old grand-master's ass before his voice breaks that lends itself to legend. But a genius at chess does not a genius-at-everything make, as Fischer and too many other chess players seem to believe. You can listen to his 9/11 radio rant in the archives of MeFi-- if you care to-- but you shouldn't do this if you are at work, and certainly not if you're in a good mood (or, for that matter, a bad one). Alternatively, you could go here and read a balanced account of what went wrong.

It's sad, really.

Posted by at 05:58 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

November 15, 2002

8 Mile

(there are no spoilers here)

Firstly, and by way of explanation, if you haven't seen 8 Mile, and are planning to, don't read the fucking mini-review in this week's NOW magazine. Not only does it allude to the film's climax - which might well be a foregone conclusion - it spells out its ingenious aftermath in a single, breath-takingly unnecessary sentence.

Writing out these 'plot descriptions' might allow a critic the vicarious pleasure of summarizing in a matter of minutes what has taken someone else years to refine, but I don't see why we should allow for it. It's time we demanded more of our critics. It's time to say 'Death To The Plot Description!', as they're useless anyway. Read in advance, they ruin expectations. Read afterward, they're nothing more than a synopsis of what you've already seen. They bug the shit out of me, and are the reason I don't read film reviews anymore, save for those appearing in backissues of The New Yorker.

Now, to the flick- not to its plot, but to the cutting-edge phenomenon it is a part of: this whole trendy cult-of-personality thing. It has manifested in Howard Stern, a radio creep, Chris Issac, a country singer, John Malkovich, an actor, Jerry Seinfeld, a comedian, Larry David, the writer of Seinfeld, (and way too many other self-reflexive cameos to list,) all playing imaginatively veiled versions of their 'actual' selves. This is perhaps to be distinguished from Prince's turn in Purple Rain, or Gary Shandling's Larry Sanders, Tom Green's Freddy, or Eminem's Rabbit - all performances that advertise the star persona (and predicament,) but at least take the liberty of changing the name. In a much more mundane and by now distant third category, you got your Marky Mark, your J Lo, Jon Bon Jovi, your Britney-- artists who use established fan bases to segue into acting careers. Lyle does this best, for my money, because he simply awaits the call from Altman. Madonna, I have to say, should at the very least know that her husband is living proof that those who praise her genius are out-of-it: if she was to have a career in film, she might have thought twice about marrying a director who brags about his disregard for sub-titled movies. I'm inclined to think the two of them could still become 'hot' again, were they willing to make a film about how their failed attempt at collaboration resulted directly in divorce, but here I ask too much.

Mr. and Mrs. M. are a perfect example of the dilemma behind the star-vehicle: if the person behind the persona doesn't completely trust the person behind the camera, (and for solid reasons,) both the project and the relationship are destined for failure. Mariah Carey went with... um... what was his name again?-- who directed my very favourite ER episode?-- but I fear I'm putting you to sleep.

Eminem trusts Curtis Hanson, and you can feel it. Just as Dr. Dre helped define his sound, Hanson puts the polish on Eminem's persona-- big time-- and in a deeply sympathetic way-- to the point where I would have to wonder how anyone could leave 8 Mile without a heightened respect for the current heavy-weight champion of popular culture. I say this assuming the story is not authentically or even essentially the story of Marshal Mathers, (though-- let's face it: the impetus for this film was creating for the public an image of who Marshal was before he figured out how to hide behind facades of his own devising.) The great thing about this film is that it works as a film, entirely apart from, and in the face of, its inseparable relationship with its star.

The structure is something to marvel at. Scott Silver, the screenwriter, is the unsung hero, nailing the scope of the story superbly and then fusing it so densely with event that the formula vanishes. When it comes down to it, I'm hard-pressed to think of anyone who has orchestrated the making of a movie about their hungry days so deftly, and so soon after arriving at the doorsteps of iconoclasm.

And though he doesn't do it alone, he certainly carries the show. It's his borderline prodigious acting chops, his surprising vulnerability and lack of ego, and his flip-of-the-switch anger - in conjunction with his established craft - that drive 8 Mile into catharsis. It's strange to think this, but it seems to hold its own alongside just about any other mainstream movie about alienated youth in American film history. It is even somewhat distinguished in that it integrates - instead of glossing over - aspects of race and class that are generally anathema to Hollywood.

Some will say that the female characters lack strength, and that the black characters border on caricature. Indeed, the intellectual activist (who is perhaps the most under-written character in the piece) could have been a little less one-note, and Britney Murphy could have been a little less of a ho, but we should remember we feel this way about people in our own lives, too.

On the whole, there are more solid roles for black and female actors in this film than there have been in the last fifty or so Skanky-town movies combined. And to those who think Eminem's "Rabbit" is too evolved: too anti-homophobic, too aware of the flawed logic behind reverse discrimination, too in-tune with the loaded relationship of power and openness, too loving toward the children, and also just too darn incapable of rapping so well off the top of his head, I say: Go Tell It On A Mountain. His fictional character is way more complex than star vehicles normally permit; a real a feat when you think that - in lesser hands - 8 Mile would have been nothing more than a cringe-inducing vanity project.

My dream is that Eminem will take the Oscar for best-actor and crap all over the first ten rows - Jack included - in bitchin' free-style-verse, yo.

Posted by at 09:37 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

November 11, 2002

killin' mockingbirds

Yesterday, hanging out with my teenage cousins, we watch To Kill A Mockingbird during a thunder storm.

When I get back to the west side I learn there's been a power out. My computer has re-set the time and date to January 1st, 1970, which feels about right.

Posted by at 04:01 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 09, 2002

goin' all right

This is the type of idea_______________________.

Initially I wrote angry things in the middle of the night here about oil men and their propensity for bombing brown people. The irratic kind of thing I have to do to realize I shouldn't. For awhile I thought I wouldn't ever change a comment. It seems like a dumb trap to get caught in - re-writing. I don't know - the comment I made at the time just bugged me to think about and it seemed to be festering so I've changed it to a blank line. So, you know, there.

I will probably try never to do this again, then do it bi-monthy in spite of myself.

Posted by at 06:35 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 08, 2002

Heti, Bejar, Axl

Toronto-based Sheila Heti writes nicely. She is to have her first collection of short stories published at McSweeney's, and she's been translated into four languages, and she was born in the late 70s, so all things considered she's doing just fine, thank you very much.

She dreamed up Trampoline Hall, and has started into a collaboration on a musical with Dan Bejar that - if there is a Canada - will be getting some attention from the press.

At The Knitting Factory show, my second in a week, the people behind me leaned forward and asked: "Where are these guys from?". They laughed out loud when I said "Vancouver". I thought, wait a minute, I'm from Vancouver, What's So Funny About That?, even though I'm not from Vancouver, and would hate for people to think I was. I did live there though, and fortunately for me, during that time I was imbued with enough humility to not even blink when the place was mercilessly run into the ground. Most of the time it deserves it (via textism) but that aside, its hard for anyone with an urban sensibility to grasp the audacity of the dreams that have been percolating in the margins of sleepy-town (see here, here, here and here). Or, if the fineness of these dreams begins to register, it seems near impossible not to display a little knee-jerk Big-City-Bravado to restore one's sense of The-All-Mighty-Urban-Self.

Later on in the night when the set was finished and I was still championing it as Canada's response to the dreaded Celine/Bryan combo D advised me to picture Dan taking a crap (sorry about this-- but it comes from a New Yorker I was introduced to in a bar and is therefore all the more pertinent/excusable), saying such an exercise would do me a world of good. I found the image horrendous, but I take his point-- one must, at all costs, avoid the pedistal effect.

Unless we're talking about this guy, who we should all love, and who should never be visualized on the crapper (though that's probably where he came up with his best ideas).

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November 06, 2002

they rule

I was convinced a site like this existed-- but it took pickin' D's brain to locate its whereabouts. Pickin' D's brain = fun times.

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November 05, 2002

In Praise of Love

Jean Luc Godard's 'In Praise of Love' was a good time. I stood by the door afterward and listened to people leave. "Of course he hates America-- he's French," "I'm sorry, but that movie was soooo boring." "You can't even die from tuberculosis-- it was just a mistake in the writing." "Maybe Mark will be able to explain it to us-- Mark, can you tell us what that movie was about?"

"You mean you don't know?" [big laughs]

"No, we have no idea-- what was it about-- tell us?"

"It was about love." [some inaudible crack-- another burst of laughter].

I like Godard-- though I had a hard time understanding him as he descended into the late 70s. I think you can actually pin-point the moment in his career when audience comprehension levels stopped being a concern. Why would anyone fault him for this though, really? He proved he could make people laugh and cry, construct a taut narrative, dazzle the critics, and now he wants to show us what he can do when we're not even in the theatre. Personally I had a lot of fun not understanding a single thing about his movie. What mattered was that there were a few sublime moments sprinkled throughout, and for me, the quips about Spielberg alone made it worth the price of admission.

I mention those theatre goers who were miffed at the Frenchman's gall because I think I saw them all again, two nights later, when I dreamed I was in a bookstore in the upper west side. It was a bookstore where I had finally found a copy of Nicholas Mosely's Hopeful Monsters, a book that has been oddly unavailable in Canada, which will make a fine Christmas present for someone somewhere/God knows who. Anyway, in the dream I was back in the bookstore and everyone was watching Friends. I have never watched Friends, as I have always been afraid that if I did I might like it, and then I would have to deal with what that meant about my character. In this particular episode, Jennifer Aniston was upset about Brad Pitt and she was sobbing in the kitchen and before I knew it my eyes started getting misty too. I had to check myself: I was not about to let an episode of Friends make me cry. "Isn't this supposed to be a bookstore for Christ's sake what's wrong with everybody here!?," I said, in a near suicidal tone that affronted the roomful of Friends-loving New Yorkers. I braced myself for the worst, but as they looked up from the tv screens with traces of scorn in their eyes I realized none of them knew how to be as indignant as I was, and this somehow enabled me to wake up in a good mood.

Sorry-- this is really too self indulgent. From now on I promise to keep all my crappy dreams about Jennifer Aniston (and otherwise) to myself.

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November 01, 2002

harvard halloween

When the T comes to a hault everyone assumes the guard has arrived to escort off the three assinine drunks who have been desperately trying to pick a fight since they boarded.

Instead he moves to a homeless man passed out at the far end of the car, checks his pulse, pulls out his walkie-talkie, says something in a hushed tone, then quickly exits.

A guy gets on in a golden one piece suit with a bouncey spring protruding from the top of his head, and a tail. He's got the Boston accent and the attitude down pat. Someone asks him what he is and he responds "I'm YOU! You like what you see here, huh?" He's the only one in costume, but he's not about to let that make him feel uncomfortable. He takes everyone on: "Where's your costume? You don't like Halloween? What's the matter with you?" He goes from one person to the next working his way through the crowd of averting eyes. "You know you're not supposed to ever smile on the T, don't you? It's a rule. You gotta learn all the rules, you know that much at least?"

Now I can tell my Grandmother "I went to Harvard". As I expected/hoped, I saw someone who had a chemical compound made out of tin foil attached to their skull. I somehow thought all Harvard costumes would possess some special degree of brilliance, but there were many of the same old offerings: witches, devils, and quite a few guys dressed like seventies night club prowlers in afro wigs. About these afro wigs-- I don't know if they cut it. But then who am I to talk? I had no costume, and neither did my sister. We sat in some bar, impressed by our waiter, who was dressed as a boy band. We tried to figure out why it took us so long to figure out who are parents are. We took the T back to North Quincy theorizing along the way about what course of events led to the great smattering of raw beef all over the train floor.

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