Thursday, 31 December 2009

Chasing Pavements

The decade closes.

Thinking back to 12.31.99, I am struck by the fact that time is the most mutational of forces.

I was in New York. It was the eve of the millennium (if you weren’t literal about it); it was the threat of Y2K. It was just another day in Manhattan. Quiet as hell. I remember how nice the dry cleaner was when I went to pick up my outfit. People showed no signs of fear. New Yorkers don’t scare easy.

That night I was at a black-tie party at my mother’s Upper East Side apartment with a great view. I don’t remember much. Bernard was there and there was a lot of champagne and family friends and I think we watched the ball drop on TV and, no, I don’t remember. What I remember mostly are the pictures. The last thing I really remember was the dry cleaner.

Go figure. But time is like that. And champagne.

I only know that on that day in the past, had you asked me my future, had you asked me where I would be on this day, ten years later, I would have been completely wrong. I would have had no idea at all who or what I would be or become. I could not have predicted at all the events and course of this period of time.

I would have said that I’d have directed at least two feature films by now. I would never have said that my primary art would be poetry or performance. I would never have predicted the string of bad boys and boy toys (yeah, I said it). Never have said I’d spend 9 years in that apartment by the sea that needed new carpeting and paint job when I moved in. Never have said I’d watched the Yankees sweep the Mets in a dreamed-for subway series in a grip truck in the middle of a field in Iowa or that I’d fall in love with someone before I’d even met him and then he would do the same and it would all be impossible because of circumstances. Never would’ve predicted so many compromised positions.

I’d have probably said that I’d own a house in L.A. and probably have a dog and maybe a husband or at least another live in boyfriend – the kind who pays his own bills.

If you said, you’ll be known for poetry, and performing, and for presenting artists, you’ll be known for working with kids, that your spirit will wander you as far as your finances will allow – farther sometimes. That you will test your safety net over and over again and find out it is elastic, though stretched thin, that you will never ever compromise your creativity or your vision and you will help many many many others fulfill their own, often to the at least temporary detriment of yours. That artists from all over will be willing to come out and do their thing just because you asked. They will enliven the stages you set, and back you up if you ask and that your favorite band of all time would be a bunch of guys you met at 40’s night when they were undergrads or that one of your closest friends would be in prison for half the decade for the kind of tragic mistake that should just never happen.

That some of the people you feel are family now, you hadn’t even met in 1999, though many of them came to you in dreams before they entered your reality. That despite being raised an only child you’d have nieces and nephews everywhere. That you would find inner beauty in yourself and others you had never imagined and employ it to protect yourself from the evil that is present. That sometimes you would let the beauty trump the protection and get yourself in trouble.

If you said any of that in 1999, I would not have believed you.

In 1999, I had no cell phone. There were no digital cameras taking pictures of that celebration. In 1999, I wouldn’t have predicted that a Writer’s Strike would wreak a kind of final havoc on my financial life. I would have never predicted I’d have the courage I must now possess in order to have lived through this past decade. I would have never told you that it would take me this whole decade to find my brother, and that when I did, it would be on a “social networking site.” (Remember The Well?)

I wouldn’t have even come close to predicting I would be writing this from a room in NW5. That while the people who’ve betrayed stand out, the ones who stand by are a longer list by exponential multiples. That people and their art sustain more than air and food, more than anything except light.

In 1999, I would have imagined women would be a lot further along in our struggle for equality and that the racism that fuels so many fires would have dissipated in the face of firmer knowledge of humanity. I would have had Ann Richards as our first female president, instead of passing untimely.

In 1999, I would have been just plain wrong about the future.

So here’s the important part. Whatever you or I think today, December 31, 2009, about the next decade, we are most likely wrong. The highs and lows of it, the joys and pains we foresee – we are wrong. Think back on your decade. Was it anything like you expected or imagined?

In 1999 would you have predicted George W. Bush? Amy Winehouse? Barack Obama? Katrina? Hulu? Survivor? Sadly, the events of September 11, 2001 might be the most predictable part of the decade. That and the folly of the Time Warner/AOL merger.

Are we solely creating our own destinies? I think not. I think destiny is collective. Can we create a path, or find a path or stay on it? With diligence and energy, yes.

Are we all just chasing pavements? Maybe. Good for us. Because you never know. Whatever you think you know, life will tell you that plus more plus different. Life will show you things you couldn’t envision. Things that can’t be measured right alongside things that can.

Never count yourself out.

Never succumb to boredom.

Never think in dead ends.

Time is not linear. Neither is life.

huge oversight on the music list!

This would and should be pretty high up on the list:

Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros - Streetcore

I don't know how I missed that one.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Top 31-derful Albums of the Decade (but no Ani DiFranco)

Yeah, this list is Deejay Mikecheck's fault. I hope this is the last list. It was hard to make. Hard to choose which ones to leave out, how many from certain bands and all that.

  1. Sigur Ros – Agaestis Byrnjum (I hope that’s spelled right!)
  2. Bjork – Vespertine
  3. Sigur Ros – ( )
  4. Radiohead – In Rainbows
  5. Eels – Blinking Lights and Other Revelations
  6. Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning
  7. Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
  8. Elevaters – Rising
  9. Animal Collective – Feels
  10. Boards of Canada – The Campfire Headphase
  11. Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
  12. The Roots – Game Theory
  13. White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan
  14. Fiona Apple – Extraordinary Machine
  15. Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head
  16. Outkast – Speakerboxx/The Love Below
  17. Rufus Wainwright – Poses
  18. Cinematic Orchestra – Every Day
  19. Elbow – Leaders of the Free World
  20. Erykah Badu – Mama’s Gun
  21. Radiohead – Kid A
  22. Once – Soundtrack
  23. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
  24. Dave Douglass – The Infinite (Includes covers of Rufus Wainwright's "Poses" and Bjork's "Unison")
  25. Jill Scott – Who is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Volume 1
  26. Kanye West – Late Registration
  27. D’Angelo – Voodoo
  28. M.I.A. – Kala
  29. Jurassic 5 – Power in Numbers
  30. Broken Social Scene – Broken Social Scene
  31. Hella – Hold Your Horse Is

Top 10 Series of the Decade


(But it goes to 11!)

  1. The Wire
  2. The Shield
  3. Battlestar Galactica
  4. Arrested Development
  5. Six Feet Under
  6. Chappelle’s Show
  7. Dexter
  8. Nip/Tuck
  9. Slings and Arrows
  10. Damages
  11. Curb Your Enthusiasm
(Does not include any series that started BEFORE 2000 - i.e. The Sopranos, The Daily Show, etc.)

My Top 25 Faves of the Decade

Some people were upset that I didn't rank the films on my Best of the Decade list. So here are my top 25 -- in order. Are these the best? To me they are the best of the best and my personal faves - movies I'm happy to watch again and again, movies that served as cultural or filmmaking reference points or ones that are just fun and great examples of successful moviemaking.

  1. A History of Violence
  2. Almost Famous
  3. Lost in Translation
  4. Lord of the Rings Trilogy
  5. Adaptation
  6. High Fidelity
  7. The Devil’s Backbone
  8. Y Tu Mama Tambien
  9. Motorcycle Diaries
  10. Knocked Up
  11. The Royal Tenenbaums
  12. Kill Bill Vol 2
  13. O’ Brother Where Art Thou?
  14. In the Cut
  15. Inland Empire
  16. Cache
  17. Children of Men
  18. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
  19. Ghost Dog
  20. Good Night and Good Luck
  21. In Bruges
  22. Into the Wild
  23. The Pledge
  24. The Squid and the Whale
  25. Wall-E

Monday, 28 December 2009

my best of the decade movie list

TOP 69

No – I’m not trynta be funny. These are the movies that make my brain just say YES as I pass through their titles in the list. No qualms, no hesitations.

My entire list has over 100 – the rest are below. The best I could do was split my list into two alphabetically arranged “halves”. Sorry, but I just couldn't manage an actual order of preference, which, I think, is as it should be -- movies are subjective things and times and moods change, and with them preferences. Suffice it to say I'd be happy on a desert island with just the top least, for a while.

Most of them need no explanation as they are on a lot of lists (if I think an explanation or encouragement is needed it’s there); some of them were slept on and some of them other people don’t like at all. That’s okay with me. If there are movies you think are missing, I might not have seen them (yet) or I might just not think of them the same way as other people.

So here are my best movies of the decade – alphabetically:

  1. 28 Days Later
  2. 40 Year Old Virgin
  3. 8 Mile – Yes, I mean it. This is a super-tight, old school Hollywood underdog movie. With the best pop song ever written.
  4. A History of Violence
  5. Adaptation
  6. Almost Famous
  7. Amores Perros
  8. Bad Education
  9. Before Night Falls
  10. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead – Slept-on – Netflix this!
  11. Cache
  12. Capturing the Friedmans – This was a tough call, having grown up near the Friedmans and remembering them, I felt that maybe I was including it because I knew them, or maybe including it was in some way exploiting them. I believe it’s on the list because it’s a great documentary that explores the ways that people and truth can be tragically unknowable.
  13. Children of Men
  14. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
  15. Dodgeball – This movie is hilarious every time I watch it.
  16. Elf – Brings magic back to cinema – yes, totally a best.
  17. Ghost Dog
  18. Good Night and Good Luck
  19. Gosford Park
  20. Hero
  21. High Fidelity
  22. Hunger
  23. In Bruges
  24. In the Cut – Ah – slept-on and forgotten, Jane Campion’s sexy thriller features Meg Ryan in her post-divorce image-changing role, Mark Ruffalo on the cusp of all those great parts and yet another perfectly-pitched turn from Jennifer Jason Leigh. For a non-NY-er, Jane Campion gets New York completely right.
  25. In the Mood for Love
  26. Inland Empire – This is my choice for David Lynch of the decade – complex, testy, difficult, puzzling, and ultimately fulfilling.
  27. Into the Wild
  28. Iron Man
  29. Kill Bill Vol 2
  30. Knocked Up
  31. Kung Fu Hustle
  32. Lord of the Rings Trilogy
  33. Lost in Translation
  34. Man on Wire
  35. Me, You and Everyone We Know – There is something so delicately wonderful about this film – it is the best of what we used to call Independent, when we meant it.
  36. Memento
  37. Michael Clayton – I think this was robbed of the best picture Oscar.
  38. Motorcycle Diaries
  39. Notes on a Scandal – Goes down as one of the great two-handers – two fine actresses playing great roles with mutually assured destruction in sight. Brilliant.
  40. O’ Brother Where Art Thou?
  41. Once – A little indie movie that brings magic back to filmmaking and revitalizes the musical.
  42. Pan’s Labyrinth
  43. Secretary – Comedy, and black comedy, have made huge strides in the 00’s, and this may have jump-started that process. Maggie Gyllenhaal becomes a star and James Spader regains his title as loveable-but-sexually-odd-and-compelling indie guy.
  44. Shaun of the Dead
  45. Sideways
  46. Slumdog Millionaire
  47. Team America
  48. Tekkonkinkreet – Thanks to alfienumeric I got to watch this fantastic animation. Find it. Watch it.
  49. The Aviator – I avoided seeing this one for ages, because I thought it wouldn’t be interesting. This portrait of a brilliant but fragile mind is devastating and so well-handled. This has my vote for Scorsese of the decade. The Departed was staid, plodding, and run of the mill in comparison.
  50. The Darjeeling Limited – For sure I wrestled with putting two Wes Anderson’s on the list, but this movie feels like a companion piece to Royal Tenenbaums and hits an emotional place his other movies do not.
  51. The Devil’s Backbone – The movie that made me fall in love with Guillermo del Toro – if you haven’t seen this RUN to see it. On a screen, if possible.
  52. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Beauty and perfection.
  53. The Door in the Floor – Gut-wrenching, sexy, emotional, dysfunctional, wealthy writer and family angst. With a little Cougar action thrown in. Jeff Bridges is fantastic and Kim Basinger hasn’t been this interesting since L.A. Confidential.
  54. The Incredibles
  55. The Man Who Wasn’t There – Def slept-on for a Coen Brothers movie. Great Billy Bob, ScarJo, fantastic b&w cinematography, haunting, often amusing, and dangerous.
  56. The Piano Teacher – Haneke is cinema’s great genius and Huppert is at her absolute peak.
  57. The Pledge – Jack Nicholson sheds all his Jack Nicholson-ness to become a haunted and tortured man undone by his own loyalty to justice. Sean Penn’s direction is bleak, intimate and masterful. Robin Wright Penn creates moments on the screen unparalleled by any actor.
  58. The Royal Tenenbaums
  59. The Squid and the Whale
  60. The Unloved – Samantha Morton’s directorial debut. Slept-on.
  61. The Wind that Shakes the Barley – This movie thoroughly undid me to the point that I couldn’t actually finish watching it. And it’s still on the list.
  62. Things Behind the Sun – Allison Anders creates something fragile, intimate, and very close to real life in this movie. Understated, slept-on. Great cast including Kim Dickens, Gabriel Mann and Don Cheadle.
  63. This is England – Masterful.
  64. Training Day – Despite my problem with the third act of this movie, I put it on here. For the level of performance and craft, for its dark soul, for getting L.A. right and for seeing Denzel go for broke.
  65. V for Vendetta
  66. Waking Life – This movie is like a book you can always come back to with new secrets – shocked this is not on more lists!
  67. Wall-E
  68. X-2
  69. Y Tu Mama Tambien

And the bottom “half” which isn’t really half or bottom – also alphabetically:

  1. Across the Universe
  2. An Inconvenient Truth
  3. Bad Santa
  4. Batman Begins – Yes, that’s right. And no, I didn’t like Dark Knight better.
  5. Blood Diamond – I’m not an Ed Zwick movie fan, but this was his best for me so far, with great performances.
  6. Blow – I think this movie should be remembered. It’s got great actors and performances, tells a killer story, is still stylish and doesn’t shy away from its material. RIP Ted Demme.
  7. Broken Flowers – Jim Jarmusch and Bill Murray is a nice combination. Add to that the cameos by great actresses and the meandering spirit of the story. Lacks the intensity of Ghost Dog, but has heart and whimsy.
  8. Collateral – Michael Mann. What a troublemaker. He’s the best of times and the worst of times, but this film is a gem of a two-hander with great performances, great craft, and just enough intrigue.
  9. Downfall
  10. Far From Heaven
  11. Frida – Did everyone forget how lush and exciting this film was?
  12. Friends with Money – Nicole Holofcener cuts both ways for me. She sometimes chooses material that is too light and airy, but I thought this one really brave in examining an issue that heretofore I think was only examined in the Friends episode about splitting the check at dinner (oddly, also starring Jennifer Aniston).
  13. Hedwig and the Angry Inch – Slept-on. I liked this movie BETTER than the actual show.
  14. Hotel Rwanda
  15. House of Flying Daggers
  16. I’m Not There
  17. Igby Goes Down – Did everyone forget Burr Steers’ fantastic directorial debut?
  18. Juno - Yeah, okay - this may be the one instance I've succumbed to peer pressure. TC and I did have a kinda "so what's the big deal" moment in the theatre after seeing it. I think it's iconic, though, and I like it for the way that people behave like people and not like headless reactionaries with big mouths. I like it for J.K. Simmons, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman and Allison Janney's humanity and humour. For the soundtrack. For Michael Cera. And yeah, it's this close to not being on the list.
  19. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – Shane Black’s killer return with smooth as silk dialogue, slick performances and sexy everything.
  20. Life as a House – I don’t know what it is about this movie, but, yes.
  21. Little Miss Sunshine
  22. Man on Fire – This movie gets better everytime I see it. Has that In the Line of Fire feel, but with grit and real human stakes.
  23. Maria Full of Grace – This still stands out among the wave of movies dealing with immigration and the wave of Sundance movies.
  24. Munich – Yeah, I’m kinda surprised, too. But it is a great film.
  25. Nowhere in Africa – Slept-on despite its best foreign film Oscar.
  26. Nurse Betty – Bet you forgot how much you dug that movie!
  27. Paris, Je T’aime – Yeah, an anthology – weird, huh? But what a great one.
  28. Passing Strange - How I wish I'd seen the show, but Spike Lee's filming of it is almost as good - in fact, if it were any better, I couldn't stand it. Stew has revitalized the one-man autobiographical show genre by making it musical and letting the other characters speak, sing, and dance for themselves.
  29. Pirates of the Carribbean
  30. School of Rock
  31. Something’s Gotta Give
  32. Spanglish – Unfortunately-titled dramedy that captures the L.A. dichotomy between rich and privileged and poor and immigrant. Great performances by Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, Cloris Leachman, and the radiant Paz Vega .
  33. Stranger Than Fiction – I like this movie better now than when I saw it. Go figure. There’s something charming about it.
  34. Superbad – McLovin it.
  35. Sylvia – Allow me one chick poet with a cheating husband personal bias movie on the list. Please. Thank you. Plus great Daniel Craig performance when he still acted.
  36. Synecdoche, NY – I found watching this movie absolutely excruciating. It is, however, a great film. Not for everyone – you have to really love Charlie Kaufman.
  37. Syriana
  38. The Anniversary Party – Yes, they are slightly evil, spoiled, childish people. They are also completely exposed by this film in ways that make them just like everyone else. The spirit of collaboration that made the project happen cannot be ignored, either, as it brings to much of the resonance of personal histories into the mix.
  39. The Hangover – Inventive, raucous, silly, wrong wrong wrong. And thoroughly entertaining from start to finish.
  40. The Others – This movie should be on more lists, I think. Haunting, visually stunning and probably the last Cruise-Kidman collaboration.
  41. The Quiet American – Slept-on. Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser in a Graham Greene adaptation with a screenplay by Christopher Hampton and Robert Schenkkan. Directed by Phillip Noyce.
  42. The Science of Sleep – Delightful over and over. Don’t take life so literally and you might just get what you want. Gondry is the genius invention of the 20th Century and Gael Garcia Bernal a perfect muse.
  43. Tropic Thunder – This movie was LOUD! And funny as sh*t.
  44. Venus – Unexpectedly touching – Peter O’Toole is still an actor with fine craft. Vanessa Redgrave is wonderful. Roger Michell's direction restrained and in service of the text and actors, as usual. Script by Hanif Kureishi.
  45. Vicki Cristina Barcelona – I found the first ten minutes of this movie EXCRUCIATING. And the rest sheer bliss. Tribute to Javier Bardem and yes, Penelope Cruz deserved an Oscar.
  46. Wet Hot American Summer
  47. Whale Rider
  48. White Oleander – Slept-on. A great adaptation of a truly fantastic book. Strong actresses in a strong story, well-told.
  49. Wonder Boys – I loved the book so much, the movie fell short, but it still has a place in my heart. I’d always imagined Jeff Bridges in the part, but Michael Douglas is alright and it’s the best of Kaite Holmes we’ll ever get.

What you think is missing from my list that I haven’t seen: Persepolis, Waltz with Bashir, Avatar, The Hurt Locker, White Balloon (and other late 2009 releases), Inglorious Basterds, The Lives of Others, Gladiator, The Departed, Oldboy, Audition, Up, Best of Youth, Spirited Away, Gomorrah, the Harold and Kumar movies, and probably some more.

I just wasn’t that into them: There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Traffic, Crash, Brokeback Mountain, Dark Knight, Ocean’s 11, The Bourne Ultimatum, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Mulholland Drive, Erin Brockovich, et al. Yeah, I know they’re on everyone else’s lists.

The trends I saw in the aughts that were interesting:

The gradual death of American Independent film. As directing became a default choice for a generation of film school graduates, the actual vision associated with independent film became more and more diluted, the voice and vision that made American Independent cinema rise has given way to a bunch of people who want to direct, but are lacking point of view and stories to tell. There is no next Tarantino, as there was no previous Tarantino. Around the world, compelling stories are happening every day, and in places like Iran, Israel, Palestine and Mexico, directors with vision are rising to tell them. While there is always room for stories of true intimacy and identity, the day-to-day stories of cushy American life can’t hold a candle to the struggles going on daily around the world from which amazing stories emerge – at least, not the way they are currently being approached.

The return of Funny (or Smart and Funny?) – Maybe it was the times, the wars, the post 9/11 angst, but funny movies haven’t had it so good since the first crop of SNL stars got out of their contracts and hit the big screen. The handover from Farrelly Bros to Apatow is complete and welcome. The stakes for comedies have been upped, the subgenres remapped and one hopes the hits keep coming.

George Clooney – Not the best actor. Yet invariably involved with great material as an actor, director, and producer. Uses his star power to consistently get great things made and out to the world. Much respect.

New Mexican Cinema – Not so new anymore, but directors like del Toro, Cuaron and Gonzalez Inarritu are not only doing challenging and beautiful work, they are helping others to do the same. (If you haven’t seen Cuaron’s 1998 version of Great Expectations with Gwyneth Paltrow,Ethan Hawke, Chris Cooper and Anne Bancroft, you might want to check it out.)

That's it. That's all I got. Unless I remember some more. Feel free to take issue, take me to task, or send me iTunes gift certificates so I can watch your favorite movies that I might have missed.

P.S. I've done my best to mitigate spelling and factual errors, not confuse Chris O'Donnell with Brendan Fraser (close call) and generally be on point. Feel free to point out errors and ommissions in a kind fashion.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

the first female director to win an oscar goes to...

Kathryn Bigelow?

There's a better than good chance that she'll be nominated for THE HURT LOCKER, which seems to be on every critics year-end best list.

There's a good chance she'll take it home, too.

The fun part?

There's a good chance James Cameron will also be nominated - for AVATAR.

And therein lies a good-old Tracy-Hepburn Adam's Rib kinda showdown. (Written by husband and wife team Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin!)

Exes battling for the same award.

Martin Scorsese never had to have a showdown with Julia Cameron or Isabella Rosselini.

Strong women? Yes. Creative? Yes. Directors? Not really.

What next -- Sofia Coppola and Francis Ford Coppola nominated against each other?

It's not that they mind us making movies, or playing instruments, or even sports. As long as they don't have to have us around the tour bus, the locker room, or cutting into their share of the glory.

Is this some kind of first step? I don't know. Is Kathryn Bigelow the best female director out there? I don't know. Are prizes and art inherently suspect? Absolutely. Does it hurt that it's a war film instead of a chick flick? Rhetorical.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Angelenos and Art

Angelenos and Art.  We are supposed to be oblivious to art – distanced from art – completely absent of art.

And yet – how many artists – working artists do I know in LA?  Tons.  How many do I know in NY, London, San Francisco and other supposedly art-strewn cities?  A handful.

So it’s maybe no surprise that when my LA friends head to London their first stop is the museums. 

Thanks to their excitement, I’ve been much more active in viewing lately.

When my friend Larra came to town, the Tates were on her mind.  So we started at the Tate Britain and viewed the Turner Prize exhibit.  I was intrigued by this whole concept of a sort of pre-fab “controversial” prize-conferring exhibit.  It was pretty packed.  People here seem to get really into the discussion of it.  For me, the exhibit itself was rather thin (and pretty expensive!  Museums here are “free” but most of the exhibits cost to get in.).  A couple of conceptual works by each artist.  The films were more interesting, though coming from the film side of things, we both felt they were tremendously weighted toward certain artists.  In the end, as in now, or even the day after, I don’t really remember any of the work in any real way.  I don’t feel they had any great impact.  One artist was beautiful and ephemeral, one completely escaped me, one was funny and very Italian and one was sort of interesting from a theoretical point of view.  All of their names have gone from my head.  I could look them up.  But more to the point is that I simply don’t remember.

After that, we decided to walk most of the way to the Tate Modern.  It was a  pretty cold day and it’s a pretty long walk and upon arrival, tea was definitely called for.  We had a nice long tea and then realized we had come to see Baldessari.  I was going to sit it out and see the “free” art, but in the end, we both went in.  I’m so glad I did!  I’d seen isolated pieces in LA – but seeing the whole exhibit, the evolution and the geography of it was fantastic.  Coming from LA, but seeing it outside of LA, the art took on its own context – or rather its own world.  In some ways completely informed by cinema, in other ways, he is completely oblivious to it.  What Baldessari is interested in is the frame and how frames go together, the elements of moving images, the components of aesthetics, of opinion, of collective ways of seeing.   You could see where he left the party, went off on his own and came back to throw his own party.  You can see a life devoted to finding out, with no actual ability to find out because none of the questions have any static answers.

Totally recommended.  And for those of you into LA art, there are also two Ed Ruscha exhibits on at the moment – one at the Hayward and one at the Gagosian.

I think I wouldn’t have known about any of these if it weren’t for Edward Goldman’s newsletter.  I’ve no idea how I got onto the list, but I love it! 

After Larra’s visit, I was feeling pretty arty, but then Tiffany came and wanted to go see art!  So I suggested the National Portrait Gallery, which is always a favorite place to go.  It turned out the exhibit there was Beatles to Bowie and she way way excited to see it.  Again, not “free” but I was treated to it!  Thanks!  It was amazing to see how finite our American knowledge of 60’s British pop culture icons really was.  Tons of people with hits and long careers were completely unknown to us.  Some we truly thought were American (Dave Clark Five anyone?).  But there was something really wonderful about looking at The Who, or The Stones or The Kinks or The Beatles and realizing them as just a bunch of kids.  Growing up, they always seemed old.  But now you look at these amazing photos and realize they were just kids thrown into a vat of cotton candy, being spun around in sugar until the whole world would eat them.  I admit it’s a strange analogy, but it does kinda work!

With hindsight, you can see the playfulness of the times, the machine that began to grow up around these bands, as well as the chaos in which they became huge stars.  It’s astonishing to think that some of these have survived decades of what must seem like insanity to still be producing music and touring.

We also took in another prize-oriented exhibit for photographic portrait of the year.  Many of the shots were owing equal debt to Irving Penn, Mary Ellen Mark, and Annie Liebovitz – as if everyone  had taken gritty, neo-relistic glossy photos of regular everyday icons.  The photos themselves feature the high resolution of the digital age, which gives even crags and sweat a kind of gloss, yet the subjects were often those battered by society.  Many directly addressed the camera.  There were standouts, but overall, it seemed as though the portraits were all challenging by design, which, in the end made them fairly unchallenging.

My favorite picture of the day was the full length portrait of Dame Judi Dench.  

She is on a white background, dressed in white and light colors, but her piercing gaze meets you.  On t

he back wall of one of the galleries, she grabs you as you are approaching and won’t let go.  Fantastic.



Monday, 19 October 2009

i've seen that face before

I saw him again.  Just over a week here and there he was, like me, on a laptop, Saturday night, amongst the cinema-goers and dates.  We still haven't spoken.  I wrote this back in April.

with poet’s face

and dancer’s feet


he’s everywhere I go

like my conscience

with a fresher laptop



I greeted him with smile

like he knew

that what I saw when I looked

was part phillharmonic

part bamuthi

with a little monk-type goatee


sockless in black jazz oxfords

his feet spoke to me of

the build-up of rosin on callouses

his face

like he was about to step to the mic

has become my local familiar


we’ve never spoken

his tongue could reveal

brixton or chicago

montego bay or mali


but everywhere I go

there he be

smallish frame



reminding me

of people who bring their messages

dressed in humanity’s best

he tests my artist

demands gangsta get a coat check


he’s wire




like new versions

of old software

into my synapses

til I wonder

is he real or imagined


he haunts all my spots

looks up when I walk by

always wonderin why


maybe there’s some two people

I remind him

somebody loved

or somebody left behind

somebody taught him some steps

or somebody sang lyrics to his beat


now I don’t know next

pretend we’re old friends

or walk on by again

keep the mystery deep

or find out he’s an out-of-work

software designer?


maybe just the reminder is this:

see the best of what we know

in every face we meet

see movement in even planted feet

imagine the lives behind the eyes

and pick your spots carefully.



Saturday, 17 October 2009

say goodbye to hollywood

Poetry was gone within the week.


Maybe it was the bleak terrain.


The concrete sunshine.


The stench of nothingness.


This was no Sartrian exercise in stomach disorders.  This was where inspiration came to die.


After trudging itself up winding ribbons of asphalt, it came here, to this place, expecting to sit pretty atop the hill.  Instead, the hills tended to crumble underfoot, or slide down themselves like kindergartners at a water park and pretty was for sale at the corner store.


Not for the feint-hearted.  Though inspiration never thought of itself that way.  It had tended to thrive even in the darkest corners.  It had a way of finding the crack in the crevice where moss might grow.  It had made its living off resilience.  Its bread and butter was how it sought shine even when buried beneath layers and layers of bland, or banal, contrived or cowardly.  Its prowess lay in its navigational dynamics – it seemed always to be on a collision course with hallelujah whether at storefront Baptist Church or the Mount of Olives or Leonard Cohen’s exhale.  It knew where it stood.


Until today.  Until here.  Until what had happened.


It didn’t seem like much.


A simple whimper.  A laying down of trowel.  A momentary giving up on the task to wipe brow, sip cool lemonade in 120-degree sun that turned into siesta that transmogrified into hiatus that ended it all.


No one will tell what it is.  No one can say.  It can’t be put into words, not in any way that has meaning.  In fact, it is the end of meaning.  There is no context for this; there is no context left.


What buried here today itself so ephemeral so ephemeral

yet so eternal

that we cannot say

we simply cannot say.


It sure happened quick, though.

Best be vigilant, ever get a chance again.


There was once an expression for that,

but no longer.





Friday, 16 October 2009

10,000 hours

It keeps coming up.  It went from concept to meme.  10,000 hours haunted me all of a sudden – showing up in a friend’s poem, in conversation, in print – everywhere.

I haven’t read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, but it was on my list.  Someone mentioned the 10,000 hours concept – that you achieve mastery over something after having dedicated 10,000 hours to it, and after that, it was everywhere.

I immediately began to think of my 10,000 hours list:






film production

event production


The list would go on.  It scared me, the list, to be honest.  I felt I should have achieved more status after all this hard work, training, practise and rise to mastery.

 Maybe there’s a loophole.  Maybe I should read the book.



Wednesday, 14 October 2009

stealing broke

Who do you have to be to try to steal from me?

It’s a funny concept, really, if you know me.  The amount of money I’ve usually got in my bank account is hopefully enough for me to foresee food and transportation for the next, oh, week or so.

I’ve been a vegetarian, for a long time.  A vegequarian for a shorter time.  Imagine my surprise when logging on to check my bank balance and finding I had spent money at McDonald’s.

I’m a pedestrian, having left Los Angeles specifically not to have to have a car.

Imagine my surprise when logging on to check my bank balance and finding I had spent money at Exxon.

Yup.  Someone somewhere, well, in Chicago, IL, had gotten hold of my debit/credit card number and was using it at the most unimaginative of places:





If you’re going to steal – be creative.  Buy yourself a Hello Kitty mountain bike and take it Utah for a spin.  Book a flight to Seattle just for a really great coffee and a walk around Green Lake.  Get box seats to the Metropolitan Opera.

Mind you – you might need to steal from someone with a bigger balance for all that.



the brave experience

I so hate writing anything negative, especially not secretly hidden in one of my notebooks, but instead in public -- especially about artists or people trying to present them or their work.  yesterday’s blog didn’t sit well with me, but I did feel it warranted saying.


Tonight I was privileged to go to a screening of Samantha Morton’s stunning film The Unloved at London Film School.  Additionally, the directress was present for a Q&A after the film.  (Why  not directress??)


The Unloved is the diametric opposite of The Girlfriend Experience.  It’s a piece of cinema created to fill a need – a need in an artist and I daresay a need in her community.  A need in my community.


I volunteered with foster youth for about 6 years in Los Angeles.  Long enough to know that this safety net presents so little safety it’s daily frightening.  Long enough to know we need to do much better.


When coaching youth poetry, I became close to a small group of teens – mostly girls.  That birthed a spoken word piece, but despite the number of times I related my experiences with and feelings about the foster care system to people to hear that that was a movie I should make – I could never do it.  It never felt right.  It never felt real.  It felt like there’d be no way to write a movie about these lives without inviting exploitation into the process.


It just wasn’t my story to tell.


It is, however, Samantha Morton’s story to tell.  Not only because she’s an actress of depth and quality, not only because she’s a director of fortitude, but because it is a partially autobiographical story.  She lived to tell it.


This film needs to be seen.  You don’t need a review; just a recommendation.  Made originally for Film 4 and screened first on television, it plays like the best kind of art film – one that puts people in the centre without sacrificing any of the craft elements of film.  Sense of place, or rather sense of displacement, is used brilliantly here, and the sound design is some of the best I’ve heard in an indie since, oh….Laws of Gravity.  In the Q&A, when Morton cites Wim Wenders’ American Friend, there is a loud clicking sound in my brain – the use of colour and landscape harp back to that masterpiece.


Morton was insistent on shooting film, insistent on not appearing in the film, insistent on her moral and aesthetic commitment to the material.  She spoke on the need to use real, working, trained actors – especially in the roles of these at risk youth – because they would be prepared for the real emotions the story brings up, would know how to deal with them, process them, and hopefully leave them at work at the end of the day.  A film set is a place for professionals; otherwise it’s all just psychodrama.


Magic can happen when you don’t condescend to your subject.  A master like Soderbergh should never have missed that point.  Morton, a novice directress, approaches humbly, with caution, yet certainty, and in my mind achieves magic:  she simply translates the untranslateable.


The two LFS students in the lift at Covent Garden station didn’t agree.  They seemed to feel about it much the same way as I felt about TGE:  why didn’t she show and tell more, reveal more, why wasn’t it deeper.


Is this just the beginning of the gender split in this century-old medium?


When men can’t place themselves even for 90 minutes in the shoes of a female protagonist and women finally begin to address storytelling from our own perspectives?


Will it be necessary to just give ourselves a different title – say “directress” – to differentiate our ways of seeing and processing?


The other night, I had a dream.  A dream that I was accepting the Best Directing Oscar – the first one presented to a woman.  It was presented to me by Barbra Streisand.


In lieu of an acceptance speech, I just held the heavy (yes – it is really heavy) statuette aloft and said the names of those who had come before:


“Barbara Streisand, Sofia Coppola, Ida Lupino, Lina Wertmüller, Allison Anders, Jane Campion, Martha Coolidge, Amy Heckerling, Adrienne Shelley, Diane Keaton, Kathryn Bigelow, Elaine May, Darnell Martin,  Gillian Armstrong, Nancy Savoca, Penny Marshall, Nancy Meyers, Deepa Mehta,  Andrea Arnold, Maya Deren, Julie Dash, Angelica Huston, Maya Angelou, Julie Taymor, Joan Chen, Joan Micklin-Silver, Claire Denis, Agnieszka Holland, Catherine Breillat, Agnès Varda, Antonia Bird, Susan Seidelman, Euzhan Palcy, Chantal Akerman, Niki Caro, Jodie Foster, Maggie Greenwald, Lynn Ramsay, Nicole Holofcener, Miranda July, Sarah Polley, Mira Nair, Beeban Kidran, Allison Maclean, Maria Maggenti, Kasi Lemmons, Mimi Leder  Randa Haines, Dorris Dorrie, Shirley Clarke, Joyce Chopra…the list could go on.


We are here.  And we are going to tell our own stories now.”


Add Samantha Morton to that list.


And Sasha Gray.  Maybe when she’s done with all the glamour, she’ll stop letting men write the story they think is her and open her pretty lips to speak for herself.


I’m so grateful The Unloved was made.  Other than White Oleander, I’ve never read or seen anything that so accurately portrayed this system.  I’ve recently learned that someone close to me was placed into foster care while very young.  It’s hard for me to process his experience, except in light of my own experiences growing up and working with youth, yet seeing this film somehow made it clear.  The only safe place is a tiny light inside you that you try beyond trying to give harbour to.  Not everyone makes it without that light blowing out. 


But it’s the artist’s job to keep relighting that flame.



Tuesday, 13 October 2009

the girlfriend lack of experience

What can be said about the Raindance closing night film and party?  Not much, really.  I shouldn’t be too much of a hater as a film I worked on won a big award, but….

Someone once told me you shouldn’t be late lest people start to question what they are waiting for.  So with a 25 pound ticket (luckily, I didn’t have to pay for mine), the festival chooses to start the closing night film, Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, an hour late.  An hour.  Not one announcement, no festival staff anywhere.  We all just sit in the theatre and wait. 

When the festival staff arrive, there is no apology.  Minor explanation – the screens are interlocked – and then a ridiculously long intro which amounts to thanking every volunteer who worked at the festival individually, as well as all of the sponsors (whose names have been on the screen for the entire hour we’ve been seated there).  They also announced the awards and then left.  No intro to the film whatsoever.

The film.  The digital, rather.  Soderbergh’s work with 2929 can be brilliant and it can be exasperating. I actually liked Bubble, despite falling asleep while viewing.  I found it compassionate, bleak, touching, grounded and original in context.  I found my patience with Soderbergh’s process rewarded.  The Girlfriend Experience, on the other hand, plays like the soggy tissue on the floor near the bed.  Yes, that’s what I said.

Soderbergh’s own cinematography continues to disappoint, as well as, here, his shot choices.  I really don’t prefer this new trend of filming everyone from behind.  I don’t find actors’ backs that interesting.  On the other hand, I’m not sure any of these actors would’ve been very interesting while filmed from the front.  Porn star Sasha Grey looks like a low budget porn star from the Valley pretending to be a high-priced Manhattan escort.  Her eyes say nothing, her lips say nothing, her voice says nothing.  The other actors and non-actors are equally uninteresting.  One of my mentors, Peter B. Cucich used to say, “when you’re bored; you’re boring -- when you’re interested; you’re interesting.” The actors are bored, the characters are bored therefore the audience is bored.


I don’t think this is an exercise in boredom, though.  Soderbergh directed Spalding Gray's Gray's Anatomy – being familiar with good NY downtown performance, I’m sure he’s equally familiar with the bad, the boring, the self-serving, reflexive conceptual junk.  Soderbergh has made two of my favorite films, The Limey and sex, lies and videotape.  He's made a handful of great films, really - check out The Underneath one of his most underrated.  This one just seems woefully off the mark.  I think this is an exercise with one man’s obsession.  Unfortunately, the rest of us are forced to sit through it.

The two women I went with felt similarly.  Several women walked out.  Many people groaned when it ended.  And yet at the after-party there were men who actually liked this movie.  Called it “brave” and “feminist”.  Excuse me? 

Wasn’t it so poignant about women’s experience with men?



Men seem to be under the impression that women actually have experiences this good with men.  That they get taken out, treated decently and well-paid to spend time with the jerky and not so jerky, attractive and blatantly unattractive, the caustic and the needy.  That they get picked up in car services and whisked away to weekend retreats.  That they are valued for their mystique.


Most women I know have much worse experiences with men in their personal life than “Chelsea” has in her professional one.  And instead of getting paid, most end up holding the tab in one way or another.

Brave is engaging the emotional moment, using the tools of cinema to reveal human nature, going beyond the stereotype to explore your themes.  This is filmmaking cowardice.  Using “non-actors” and faux-documentary techniques to make the films cardboard characters feel real.  Using the multitude of facile characters to hide behind the fact that you have nothing real invested in any of them.  Using improv to make up for the fact that as a filmmaker you’re really just interested in looking at this chick for a three or four week shoot.

Steven Soderbergh – go make a classy porn with her, and forgo the fake art film stance.  Please.

The Raindance after-party was notable for the fact that all the extra ticket money got us was in the door.  We bought our own drinks and there was no food.  So just a room basically.  With people milling about.  The place was cool, but I can’t imagine that It would have cost 10 or 15 pounds to get in on a Sunday night.

Overall, a disappointing experience.  Or lack thereof.  But thanks for the award.  ; )

Friday, 2 October 2009

Adventures in Health Insurance

I don’t have health insurance.  I haven’t for this entire century.

I was never one for doctors, possibly because I spent a good deal of my childhood riding in the backseat of my grandfather’s Cadillac while he and my grandmother went from doctor to doctor to doctor.  Mostly I just sat in the waiting room of the chiropodist, the optometrist, the gp, reading the same Highlights magazine over and over and over.  Occasionally it got ugly, like the time my grandmother chose to explain to me her entire cataract operation – how they removed her eye and put it on her cheek – when I was about 4 years old. 

There were lots of hospital visits and funeral homes, too.  The smell of the cherry-scented bathroom air freshener that covered the smell of the formaldehyde at the funeral home in Canarsie is etched in my brain.  As I’d descend the scary stairs into the bowels of the funeral parlor, the smell would get stronger and stronger until inside the empty tiled bathroom it was overwhelming and unbearable.  I always ran back up the stairs and into whichever room we were in that night for yet another Irish or Italian wake.

I put up raucous fights when told I was going to a doctor or dentist.  I remember from my earliest visits how much I hated the doctor.  How I had favorites and if I didn’t get them, I’d use all my force of will to make it impossible for the ones I didn’t like to examine me.  I remember the misery when my mother decided that my amazing and wonderful dentist, who looked like Mister Rogers and painlessly filled two cavities when I was in kindergarten, should be exchanged for a slimy adult dentist who was polite until parents left the room and then pointedly rude and patronizing from there on out.

As a teen, when I said I didn’t want to visit the doctor, and made it abundantly clear that I would put up a fight, I pretty much got my way.  I figure my parents probably didn’t have health insurance and would be just as happy using the money for something else.

The only time I remember going to the doctor was when I was too sick to care.  I was running a crazy fever and completely ill at 18.  I was diagnosed with mono just as I got better and then quarantined to the house for 3 more weeks in the summer right after graduating high school with nothing but a Woody Allen marathon on Bravo. 

My experience with doctors as a child was pretty basic:  people who went to doctors a lot got sick a lot and people who went into the hospital died; every time I went to a doctor, whatever I had would either go away with time or wouldn’t, and there was nothing they could do about.

I’ve pretty much been about nutrition and activity ever since.

As a college student, I had university health services.  When I got out, I was able to be on my mother’s insurance for a while.  When that was ending, I had a full time job in New York that came with health insurance.  It came with health insurance – we paid into it, we filled out forms – and we never once got reimbursed.  I was working for Menahem Golan’s post-Cannon company, 21st Century Films, and the rumour was that Menahem was diverting our health insurance money and funneling it into the budgets of his films.  If you knew Menahem, this wasn’t a big surprise.  But if you thought you were getting 80% back on that gynecologist visit, you needed to think again.

When that job ended, so did my pretend health insurance.  I went on unemployment, then went to grad school, then got back into production in New York.  The golden year – a job that included Oxford Health Plans.  An early HMO model – Oxford was a dream health insurance company.  My chiropractic was covered; all my preferred doctors were on the plan, and pretty much every other thing you could want was covered.  It was fantastic.  When I left that job, I had Cobra, and was still living the dream – albeit expensively.

A move to California left me high and dry.  Oxford didn’t operate there.  Cobra found me on a plan that was somehow affiliated or comparable, but I could never get a doctor.  When Cobra ended, I had joined a media organization in order to take advantage of their group health plan through the HIPC – health insurance plan of California.  It took me a while and a couple of seminars to wade through the options, but I finally picked a plan and got it going.  Continuous coverage.  It was a great plan.  It was 100% more than I was earning at the time, but I was covered.

The only problem was, I couldn’t find one doctor accepting new patients.  Not one.  The best I could do was a nurse practitioner in an ob/gyn practise 3 towns over.  A really condescending and annoying nurse practitioner.  For the two times I went there, I think I was paying over $200 month.

But health insurance isn’t about the monthly cost – it’s about the catastrophe, right?

Like the car accident I was in after my first year of grad school – a grad school that didn’t offer any health coverage, and the job I’d started a week before the accident (and would lose two days after when my bosses’ deal went belly up) wouldn’t offer me health insurance until I’d been there 3 months.

When I left Northern Cali for Southern Cali the health plan went with me.  Sort of.  Only here, the plan I was on had no reach and there were quite literally no doctors or practices available to me.  Pretty soon the monthly cost, plus the yearly membership fee seemed ridiculous.  I was working freelance and that kind of expense became impossible.  I let it go.

Freelancing would surely lead to Union membership and the amazing carrot of benefits.  Right.  Each time Union membership got close, something went wrong, until I suspected it just wasn’t going to happen for me.  Add to that the 400 (soon 600) hours you needed to qualify for health benefits, and the banking system for these hours and the way the hours are not at all translatable to hours worked and the fact that you’re still kicking in and Union initiation and dues….lose lose lose.

So, I am without health insurance.  It’s true.  And the truth is, I don’t make enough, and haven’t in some time to buy my own.  And it’s never seemed worth it to me because I’ve never really utilized this health care system and hope that remains the case.

And while somewhere in the back of my mind, I hope for some kind of coverage, it’s never been something I could shell out several thousand dollars a year for.

I sincerely hoped Obama got it.  I really thought he did.  I thought he got it sufficiently not to dilute it.  I thought he got it enough that I didn’t have to regret that Hillary wasn’t the candidate.  I thought he got it enough that I didn’t have to regret Edwards’ early exit.  Hillary knows health care and John Edwards knows poverty.  I believed either one of them would fight tooth and nail for health care reform.  I believed they had gotten through to Obama.  I believed that he knew this was where we wanted to draw a line, stand up and be counted, and join the ranks of the rest of the civilized nations of the world.

I’m afraid I was mistaken.  He never took the gloves off.  Single-payer health insurance already exists.  It is out of reach for most people.  Brokers exist who will find you insurance, plans exist that will offer you individual or family insurance.  Organizations exist that you can join and get health insurance for nominal annual fees.  But again, those fees, or broker’s fees, plus the costs of the insurance are out of reach for most people.  If Congress has its way, though, I may now be required to pay for what I could never afford before.

Someone somewhere needs to say out loud that there is a difference between health care and health insurance.  That health insurance does not guarantee health care – in fact often impedes it – and that what we need for our citizenry is available and highly subsidized access to health care.

The UK has this and it works just fine.  It works better than our current system, in fact.  People are starting to buy private health insurance there for additional coverage and perks, but it is still not at the point that you need to do that in order to get basic care.  That may change. In the meantime, any resident of the UK can just go to a doctor whenever they feel they need to.  The long waits and delays of the 70’s and 80’s seem largely eradicated.  It’s true – the buildings are not state of the art and they may under-prescribe where American doctors tend to over-prescribe, but overall, if people get hurt they get help and if they are sick they get treatment. 

It’s a shame we can’t manage this.  It’s a shame people are terrified of losing or changing jobs because the health insurance industry has such a lock on things.  It’s a shame that people make huge life choices about how they live and what they do with the majority of their time based on something so ancillary to that.  Of course health itself is extremely important, but getting access to care should not be the reason you choose your occupation or the company you work for or how you live your life.

Just writing all this probably means I may never get access to health insurance again.  Is that how we should be living, as a citizenry, in the 21st century in the wealthiest nation the earth has ever known?

But hey – transparency is the new privacy, right?