And the winner is…

This morning, at the asscrack of OMG-it-is-way-too-early-o’clock-in-the-morning, the nominations for the 81st Annual Academy Awards were announced. Why they announce it at such a time, I will never know. But it is a time that a very dear friend of mine has made a habit of being up for, each year. “Why do that?” one may ask, “The information is not going to change within a few hours. Why not get that extra few hours of shut-eye?” Perhaps he does it because he wants to be the first to know. His dedication to the cinema is one of the strongest I have ever known, so this would not be unthinkable. Perhaps he does it because he wants to see if his guesses were right. Perhaps he simply wants to see if the movies/actors/film stuffs that he loved so dearly during the year get recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Frankly, it’s probably all of these things and more. However, there is one thing that prevails above and beyond all these other things-something that speaks to me in a very similar way regarding this particular social institution- and that one thing is ritual.

I’ll tell you something about ritual.  Ritual and the cinema go together like…well, popcorn and soda?

We all have our ways of interacting with the screen, but the important thing is that we do it. In a world where Netflix is the rule and not the exception, I wish to argue for the beauty of the cinematic experience and all it entails, and not just for the visual content. It is as much part of the film as the narrative itself. I am not the first to suggest this, of course. In essays written for the seminal film journal Close Up, a quarterly published between 1927 and 1933, there was a particular concentration on the experience within the theater. In no uncertain terms, the writers in this magazine sought to underscore the consequence of the folks sitting next to you just as much as they worked to point out the influence of the actual visual stimulae.


One writer, Dorothy Richardson, even went so far as to describe the cinematic experience in religious terms. She calls the audience an “increasing congregation,” and the employees religious figures like bishops.  More importantly, she labels the interaction between said congregation and the movie screen “prayer.”  Richardson wrote that the theatrical experience was one of “universal hospitality,” welcoming anyone and everyone to come into the pews. This depiction of cinema as both communal locale and religio-cultural spawning ground only makes the ritualistic aspects of attending an actual theater to see a film even more pronounced.

Thing is, its expensive. I know that. And right now, that’s hard. But when you have places like the New Beverly Cinema, where you can get two movies for $7 most nights, and concessions even cheaper…well, its silly not to go at least every once in a while. If you’re in LA, that is. But I refuse to believe that there isn’t at least ONE theater in most places that most people could afford to go to every once in a while. Because, see, I also believe that we can’t afford not to. The minute that we start fully staying at home, the moment we lose our sense of the “universal hospitality” of a movie theater, the VERY MINUTE we forget what it’s like to be bugged by the laugh of the guy two rows over or the slurping sound of the teenagers making out behind us, or the bawdy drunks who snuck their liquor in………then we lose ourselves and we lose a piece of history. And we are stuck with Netflix. ONLY. Do you really want that?

Pardon my language, but what a boring fucking concept! Not to mention the fact that we will then lose all ability to see the brillilance of a film like the recent Let the Right One In, with its exquisite shot structure and blackest-of-black nights against whitest-of-white snow on a big screen. The experience, while still nice on a small screen, would be just that- “nice.” In a theater, with people, larger than life…its beyond incredible.

I’m not willing to part with that. Are you?

Now what does this have to do with this morning’s announcements?  Well, if nothing else, religion has a hellova lot to do with ritual. In fact, since I’m not sure where I am on the actual Higher Being issue, I think that sometimes a good cinematic experience can be just as spiritual to me as a good night in synagogue, since I feel drawn to both in a very deep way. But to a certain extent, that could also be considered cultural. But that’s neither here nor there. Back to Oscar.

Oscar is a holiday for me. And more than that, it’s a ritual. I have preparations. I have guacamole. I spend the day getting ready, watching the red carpet, getting all prepared. Like it was some weird form of Christmas. It’s like my Superbowl. My Personal Day.  And I DO like to celebrate it

So many people I know “don’t believe in awards shows, man, they’re such a pile of crap.”

And you know what? Sometimes, um, they’re not the best. Ellen kinda sucked as a host. But remember this?

crystalYou can’t tell me that that wasn’t AWESOME.  I mean…can you? Honestly?

So while I’m aware (or have been told) that “award shows don’t really mean anything” and that the industry is JUST THAT- an industry, I still love the show and it means something to me. I grew up with my Grandmother voting on the damned things. First time I saw a lot of movies was through screeners that we got. OK, ok,  so I saw Naked when I was a little too young, but I got the Footloose and Flashdance soundtracks on vinyl, when they used to send out vinyl!

Ritual. It has to do with history and with precedence. It has to do with importance and belief. It has to do with a process.

All of the above terms would apply to my experience with film, I believe, and what place Oscar has in my life. This will be the first year that I can remember where I have seen practically every film nominated (for most categories, too) on a big screen.  That fact alone makes this year extraordinary. Clearly, this is more than slightly due to my amazing housemate Cathie, but even so…good job me!

Throughout my film education, I have had many love affairs with many different directors, writers, cinematographers, genres and time periods. As I have gotten older, I have learned that what my love affair truly consists of is a undying lust for the experience of cinema. Writing about film does that for me, reading about film does that for me, sitting near the front or IN the front row of a movie theater does that for me.

So you don’t have to get up at 5:30 in the morning to find out if Mickey Rourke got nominated for The Wrestler if you don’t want to, and you don’t have to even watch the awards. And, to be perfectly honest, I’m not certain how I feel about the Hugh Jackman-host thing. But I would implore you to do one thing- think about the fact that for the last 81 years we have been celebrating what the industry has considered the Best of the Best of what the Big Time Cinematic Industry has produced.It may not all be good, it may not even be passable at times, but its an interesting reflection of where we are and where we’ve been.  And that ritual, in and of itself, is worth at least a few moments of your time.

Don’t give up on the boom box…

Got to work early today. It was nice. I was proud. Last week was a roughie…except for Friday.

For some reason, Friday decided to be its own personal rendition of my favorite song by Elvis Costello, Indoor Fireworks, with all of the heat and passion and sensual amazingness that he describes in that song and none of the sadness. And not in any explicit X-rated manner, it was just an evening that was full of Sky Flowers, in a very Land of the Dead manner (provided you’ve seen that film. If not, just ask…I’ll explain further). In other words, Friday ROCKED.

So the glow was still there, and lemme tell you- it’s been a while since I was a-glow. But I digress.

Flipped on the computer, put the internet radio on, feelin’ great, started my work. Then it came on.

In this proud land we grew up strong
We were wanted all along
I was taught to fight, taught to win
I never thought I could fail

It was “Don’t Give Up,” by Peter Gabriel, with guest vocals by Kate Bush. My god, I love this song.

No fight left or so it seems
I am a man whose dreams have all deserted
Ive changed my face, Ive changed my name
But no one wants you when you lose

Used to listen to this song OVER and OVER and OVER on fucking VINYL in college. Which, mind you, is no easy task. Sure, putting a track on repeat is simple on a CD, but you have to really want to hear something a great deal to keep getting up and down and moving that needle back and forth and all that madness. And, boy oh boy, did I. But hey- I was younger, overemotional, and it was Speaking To Me!  I mean, c’mon, things were rough, man! I was in my late teens/early 20’s, also known as your second adolescence only…this time you gotta pay RENT.  And social things? Boys? Fuggetaboutit. So when Kate Bush’s gorgeous voice came in and reminded Gabriel

Dont give up
cos you have friends
Dont give up
Youre not beaten yet
Dont give up
I know you can make it good

It meant the world to me. This morning I realized that it still does, just in an entirely different way. I continued to listen, and reinterpret it, because, after all, it was My Song and it was still Speaking To Me.  Gabriel talks about moving, things changing, trying to be steadfast against it.

Though I saw it all around
Never thought I could be affected
Thought that we’d be the last to go
It is so strange the way things turn

Drove the night toward my home
The place that I was born, on the lakeside
As daylight broke, I saw the earth
The trees had burned down to the ground

He is clearly heartbroken. But Kate is there, once again, to remind him of the important things, and that there are important things.

Dont give up
You still have us
Dont give up
We dont need much of anything
Dont give up
cause somewhere there’s a place
Where we belong

Rest your head
You worry too much
Its going to be alright
When times get rough
You can fall back on us
Dont give up
Please dont give up

And then… happens. The turnaround. It happens musically, it happens narratively, it happens vocally, and it happens to me physically every single time I listen to this song. My heart does this strange twisty-tight-soaring thing. It’s very difficult to explain. And the only thing that causes that physiological reaction in my body is certain songs. It’s the sheer brilliance of music. It’s why it pains me to no end when I hear that people will only let their children experience certain musics, or that certain cultures deny music in total to their inhabitants. If I didn’t have music as part of my existence, I would not exist period.

And Gabriel sings

got to walk out of here
I cant take anymore
Going to stand on that bridge
Keep my eyes down below
Whatever may come
And whatever may go
That rivers flowing
That rivers flowing

It is as much an affirmation as it is a throwing off of shackles. It meant something completely different to me this morning at 30 years old in Los Angeles than it did when I sat listening to it at 20 years old in Santa Cruz. And I couldn’t be more ecstatic about that fact. There’s more to the song, but that is the meat of it.

See, it was a really funny experience, y’know, listening to this song…HAPPY. I was so used to listening to this song abjectly miserable and imagining that there was some amorphous “them” out there, being there for me, telling me not to give up, voiced by the incomparable Ms. Bush, that I’m not sure if I was ever able to conceive of Gabriel’s quiet pain, realizations, eventual synthesis and resolve.

Life is funny like that. See songs are kinda funny things. They share a surreal mirror-like quality with books, films and other media objects. You will never truly experience the object in the same way twice. Especially not years and experiences apart. Every experience you have, every country you visit, every person you meet, every person who hurts you, every sickness you endure, every rebirth you enact…they create a new self-reflection in that mirror that will, in turn, allow you to re-experience your chosen media object.

So go ahead- reread that book you haven’t read for a few years- see what you think!

That album that you used to adore, but you thought you had to shut away because it reminded you “too much” of your ex? There’s a reason you had that album in the first place. You liked it. Sometimes there’s a certain joy and sweetness in the tender memories of former pain. I’m not saying rip open newly healed flesh, by any means, use your best judgement. But these things touch you for a reason. And they should continue to.

I guess, to a certain extent, what I’m saying is…don’t give up.

Peter Gabriel = music to perservere by

Peter Gabriel = music to persevere by

Gaffs, Gazoonies, and Geeks

Let’s talk about carnivals, shall we?

I Love Them. Everything about them. The games, the sounds, the feel, the taste, the smells….well- maybe not *all* the smells, but hey- cotton candy fresh outta the machine? Who can resist THAT smell? In any case, I love carnivals.

The reason I bring this up, has to do primarily with my previous entry, which you may recall, about The Neverending Story. See, I read this book. And it was about carnival life, and joining the circus, and…..I just didn’t want it to end.

No, it wasn’t Geek Love, although I have read that book as well. No, it was much, much better.

Many months ago, my mother handed me this book called Water For Elephants, and she insisted I read it, saying (as my mother usually does when she finds something that is off-beat, wacky and just “out there” enough) “This is just your speed.” While this sometimes that makes me feel like I am driving the short bus, I have come to realize that this particular vehicle happens to be chock full of incredibly intelligent, quirky, sometimes misanthropic but always engaging humans, and I don’t really *mind* going that “speed.” So I keep driving.

So I read Water For Elephants. And, as usual, my mother was spot-on. This book was BRILLIANT.  It really isn’t often that I add things to my favorite books list. In fact, I think the last time I did, I got a line from it tattooed on my arm and I was 19 or 20 years old.  I’m adding this to the list.  Maybe someday I’ll post that list here.  Books are one of the only areas I am very confident and have an incredibly limited scale of favorites. When you get into other media….forget it. At any rate, I digress. Back to Water For Elephants.

In my living room, on one of my many bookcases, I have an entire shelf that is overflowing with “carnival content.” From fact to fiction, photography to posters, I have collected books and studies on freakshows, canivals and circus life in general. While I am most certainly no expert, as I have not yet memorized the entirety of carny lingo, I have most certainly tried my best and am still trying to know as much about the midway, ten-in-one’s, and the rest, as I can.

As a fan/lover/carnival aficionado, I can tell you the historicity on this book was…exquisite. There were a few areas where the language was a bit clunky, but the protagonist himself was clunky at those times, so I think that perhaps I was just being a bit too nitpicky at the characters being “overexplanatory” in ways  and things that I already knew. Of course, one must always recognize things like this to be a hazard of the trade, I suppose, when you do school yourself/specialize  in a subject like that. But in any case, unlike Keanu Reeves’ attempt at a British accent in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this little point did not prove to be very distracting or obnoxious.

Gruen did her homework. That much is for sure. Even moreso, she was able to write a believable male character…in several stages of his life. I believe that one of the most striking things about this piece of literature, beyond centering, quite literally, on the more animalistic arenas of circus life, was that it didn’t just cover, didn’t just delve, but it bathed in the muddy process of aging, and what that might entail.

circus-sells1This isn’t an easy book. And it doesn’t have the kitsch or the camp of some of the more popular carnival fare (pun intended), like She-Freak or Freaks. In fact it bares a more consistent thematic to something like Nightmare Alley, and yet even that is an unfair comparison. No, this book is unlike any story I have seen or read before. Thus…I have to read it again. I haven’t said THAT about a book since……well, probably that same one I got the line tattooed on my arm!

If you decide to read any piece of fiction in the near future, might I recommend that you give Water for Elephants a try? It too might be just your speed, too…..

Written on the pages is the answer to a never ending story…

I remember the first time I saw the film and I imagined….the concept.

The film was released in 1984, so I was a whopping 8 years old, full of curly brown hair and Rogers & Hammerstein tunes.  With a bit of Culture Club and Michael Jackson’s Thriller, for good measure of course. After all, what goes better with terribly effeminate British pop-stars and Carousel than Vincent Price discussing the undead, am I right or am I right?

But the idea of it- a never ending story. A book with endless pages.  A nonstop, interminable narrative, filling my eyes, mind, heart, imagination and, well…everything with words and images. Needless to say, I was in love.


And the film……..well, to this day, it holds up. I will defend that to the nth degree. But actually, this post is not really about the film. This post is not entirely about the fact that I still, to this day, have NO idea what the hell Bastian’s mom’s name was and what he shouts out, and this post is not about how much I adore Falkor, or how much I wanted a racing snail, or even how the Rock Biter makes me cry. Every. Single. Time.



No, instead I’m going to tell you about how I thought about how I wished that The Neverending Story really existed today, when I finished one of the best books I have ever read. I wanted the book to continue. I wished it would just make like the Energizer Bunny and keep going and going and going…BUT NO.


And I was……sad.

Because I’ve never read anything like it, and it lead me up, up and away and I was running and I was breathless and oh my god look at the view and wow holy cow check it out, ma, top of the world and and and…..then it was all done. But that is the sad beauty of these things. There is no such thing as The Neverending Story, nor should there be. It would ruin our appreciation of the unique & exquisite taste of each morsel of culture-visual, aural, sensual or otherwise.

Every season turn turn turn and all that mishegoss.

But somehow, with literature, it just seems all that more poignant. Perhaps because I find so few fiction books these days that make everything that is “me” stand up and say WOW! Now that’s what I call good readin’!!   So finishing this book ends another cycle, until the next one comes along.

Keep your eyes out for an actual review of said book….Will be coming along shortly…