Monday, February 28, 1994

Reality Bites (Because Life Can Be so Tasty)

Roseanne Arnold's (not the bald one, the fat one) criticism of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List is the "League of Their Own" ending, where the actual people behind the characters are brought out so we can see the actors and actresses are playing real people.

In the case of Schindler's List, this criticism is not fair. The documentary style of the movie, the very point seems to be to emphasize that this was an actual event, one we should never be allowed to forget. When we see the survivors, the people that endured the tragedy, the point is driven home in such a powerful way, that the emotion from the rest of the movie turns from depressing to uplifting. We leave the theater marveling at the resiliency of the human spirit. Like all good movies, we are enlightened, and the moment one steps from the darkness into the light, the whole experience of time stopping for the past few hours, is magically enforced.

Spielberg took a huge risk ending the movie this way. If the rest of the movie didn't depict the horrors of the Holocaust in an honest way, the ending would have seemed cheap and undeserved. Thus, he set himself up for failure by having to live up to such a horrible moment of history in a fictional setting. That the ending works, that the blending of fiction and reality comes through in a powerful way, speaks volumes for the movie.

Another of our directors has addressed this very issue, combining fiction with reality, fact with emotion, in two of his recent projects. James Brooks' Broadcast News and I'll Do Anything ask related questions about the way the media and Hollywood depict and cheapen real human events and emotions. In Broadcast News, the story revolves around whether or not a network news anchor crossed the line that exists between acting and the news, whether or not he faked a tear after hearing a woman's story about being raped.

In I'll Do Anything the fulcrum balances on whether or not a little girl can learn to cry on cue for the camera in a TV sitcom. "I don't like that word," she says to her father when he asks whether or not she is sad. In this, Brooks' latest effort, the wasteland of American culture is called into question as to whether it is causing the decay and the deadening of people being able to feel their feelings or whether or not we've reached the point where everyone is sort of faking the feeling and justifying it in their heads at a later point. Self help and instant analysis in the form of mixing modern day psychiatry, poetry, music and the media. One of the characters in the movie is on so many antidepressant drugs that a side effect is she can't lie. The mixture of medicine is acting as a truth serum. Her honesty in confronting people is seen as refreshing and the irony is one knows such straightforward answers wouldn't work in today's society, it makes us all too uncomfortable -the feeling to be avoided at all costs.

The most gripping scene in I'll Do Anything involves a group of smug, young, upcoming casting people making cruel remarks on the physical shortcomings of many of today's actors. The main character, Nick Nolte takes offense to the lack of human decency these people are displaying yet at the same time, he throws his hands up realizing how common it is for people to have contempt for the ones they have power over. (Note: Christian Laettner should be forced to view this scene over and over until he understands that decency is one of human nature's saving graces.)

Unfortunately, Brooks fails in both of these movies because he betrays himself with their endings. Broadcast News commits a sin worse

than a League of Their Own ending. Instead of being true to the rest of the movie, Brooks tacks on one of those deadly "ten years later" endings where we see how the characters changed yet remained the same. The story of Broadcast News was crying out for uncertainty. News, and dare we say life, rarely wraps itself up in neat little packages. Any journalist knows to call a piece of journalism a "story" is a misnomer since one of the qualifications for most stories is a beginning, middle and end -something news rarely has.

The story to I'll Do Anything is even more of a sell out. Originally intended as a musical, Brooks cut out the musical numbers after the picture didn't test well with audiences. Since much of the movie is about Hollywood and a director who makes "popcorn" movies to please his audience, Brooks' decision becomes even more bizarre. It would have been interesting to see the original version to see how the combination worked (or didn't). To incorporate music into a story generally means you have to suspend the line that exists between what is "real" in a movie and what is "fantasy". It would have been fascinating to see the mix. After having enjoyed most of the rest of the movie, I felt cheated as if Brooks didn't believe the message of his own film. Yet the message did stick with me. I left the dark warmth of the movie theater and walked into an open parking ramp. The light dilated the old pupils as the wind caused the snow on the roof of the ramp to swirl down in a magical sunlit way. Indeed I felt like breaking into a song.

Suffering in the name of art. And the girl always ends up with the wrong guy. Winona Ryder sure did in Reality Bites, the latest in the line of generation angst pictures, movies about alienation and disillusioned youth. Rebel Without a Cause, The Graduate, The Rivers Edge, growing up can be hard to do. Looking at my generation, dubbed "Generation X" by either Billy Idol or Douglas Copeland, it is becoming clear that the more we try to state our independence and our differences from previous generations, the more we become like them, and the more confused we all become. This isn't the way it's supposed to be even for a kid from the suburbs. It's like we feel like we were promised more, deserve more than we are getting. The norm is to function dysfunctionally; broken homes are more prevalent than broken phones. Coffee too often substitutes for actual sleep. You can be a stripper or you can be a performance artist extraordinaire at Solid Gold. Wear a tie instead of a hat. Sit with someone or sit in the same room. Same difference.

Winona is such a convincing actress and in Reality Bites her character remains likable while being frustratingly directionless. The mark we leave. She has a sunny disposition that suffers from an occasional eclipse. He likes to moon people. Her life is full of familiar scenes and people. But she ends up with the wrong guy. I've seen that guy up close and personal and the other one too. We are, after all, who we are with. It's easy to brand another as a sell out, or try to remain true while sitting on the couch and groaning, moaning about how life sucks and how futile it is to try and play by their rules, to compromise one's integrity by taking a nine to five, and working those forty hours needed to pay the rent and miss the car payment while calling the psychic hotline looking for answers. It's harder to do something about it.

In Reality Bites the alternative is a yuppie, who wears fancy suits but doesn't mean it, who destroys Winona's documentary, prostitutes her statement and still doesn't get it. But at least he tries. His is an encouraging spirit who cares about people and decency (see I'll Do Anything, Nick Nolte) whereas the guy she ends up with, the artist has long passed skepticism into cynicism. He sees the joke in life but he stopped laughing long ago. That Ben Stiller is the director and plays the yucky yuppie says that while this movie is making a statement for its generation, it's a generation that better clue itself in. And fast. We are after all, what we make ourselves to be. Maybe the rebellion doesn't work, and it's time to acknowledge this era's act , the most abused drug/escape of all, is what it is: make believe.

Monday, February 21, 1994

Where the Kids Are

I've recently discovered something the kids seem to be "in" to, and really enjoy. It's a wacky sort of revolutionary concept yet beautiful in its mere simplicity. These rock groups combine two mediums, film and radio and make little vignets about their songs. These are called "videos" and there are even some cable stations devoted to showing these mini-movies. Putting music together with visual images goes all the way back to my Go-Go dancin days but this is different. Quick camera cuts, fancy textures are featured over and over as the video becomes separate from the music while adding to it.

Being at the cutting edge, the newsletter has decided to devote time in watching selected videos not really reviewing, but more reacting towards these two minute powerful candy for the senses. I don't have what the kids have come to call MTV (Music Television, a fancy name for one of the cable channels that devotes time to playing this forum), so I may be a few months behind what's hot at the moment but we'll keep as closely in touch with the help of our friend, Jake the Weather guy, who sits in his basement and makes tapes of selected features for us. Please feel free to recommend videos I should keep an eye out for. It must be noted that my favorite video I've seen is Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson's Say Say Say which was about two hucksters, two con men, two quacks selling a magic potion to unsuspecting customers while Michael runs off with Latoya. The video had nothing to do with the song, but the song was about nothing so it worked in a quirky kind of way.

First UP: Catherine Wheel's Show Me Mary. The setting is a cab. A young black cab driver picks up a potpourri of fares including an inter-racial couple, a jazzman, a drugged out woman, the band, and many other colorful, wacky characters. All the while the band plays against the wall crying for Mary. Message: People are strange. Does the video stay with you and haunt you with its flashy images? About as long as the song. B

Monday, February 14, 1994

Valentine's Day

I'm nothing if not contemplative. It occurred to me that we are all in the business of love. That's right Pedro, we're talkin' DIGITAL AMOUR. A lot of music after all, has its roots in the most complex of emotions, so perhaps its time for the newsletter to take a look at the basis for what's behind much of our stores' product. People want something that can express in them or vicarously for them that feeling, that familiarity that makes them shake their body in a rhythmic fashion, or makes them bounce up and down while doing their best impression of Mario Lanza. "When you sing the song that I love, I can't stop the beating of my heart, I don't know why." Lucky for them (and us) we got aisles and aisles full of the toe tappin stuff. Drop down fifteen bucks and it's yours. Take a scroll down Cupid's alley and you'll find on one side Meatloaf singing that he wants her, he needs, but there ain't no way he's ever going to love her, and two out of three ain't bad. On the other side Bonnie Tyler croaks that she's having a "total eclipse of the heart." What do these two songs have in common? Same writer, that's all. He must be a bit moody. Sometimes love can lead to that, I guess. Cupid can also misfire, sometimes his radar is a bit askew, but love is not like a light, you can't just turn it off and on. It ain't just there for the fifteen hours we are open. It takes effort, it takes different forms: I love my sweetie, I love my mum, I love Max, "He gets his kicks from a tiny toy, a green frog filled with catnip," I love the cool refreshing thirst quenching taste of Lemon Sunkist. "I drink tomato juice every night. Why don't you get out of my sight before I go to sleep in my bed. I only wanna be like TOMATO HEAD." All in different ways! That special lady I love most drinks an occasional whiskey seven and sneaks a smoke every now and then. Maybe she existed once before, maybe she still exists in a Japanese geisha house. Stabbed by a Shonen Knife. I wanted to find her that perfect two minute song that would encapsulate all I feel in a pithy poppy tune. But there was too much to remember. "The summer sun disappears behind the sea. And the shadows grow longer with the passing days. Colors fade as the time goes by and I'm looking for the reason why our beautiful summer had to end." I love time. What's ahead, what can be, what was, what made us what we are man, that's something I can appreciate. The mind forgets but the heart always remembers. Read that in a fortune cookie once. In my heart I love another, on the outside I search for the other. Trying to be me acting like me nervously at ease. Yes, we must all search for the woman who put the "ELF" in Philadelphia. Sometimes love means walking away. Sometimes it means staying. Ambassador Barry said so. "Oh Mandy, well you came and you gave without taking. But I sent you away oh Mandy. Well you kissed me and stopped me from shaking, and I need you today oh Mandy." A familiar young couple I know, struggled and decided to go their separate ways. Physically but not exactly emotionally. You combine their ages and all you get is 55. Combine the two they turned to and you get something closer to 90. That could be a sign of love I suppose. And all these people wheezing about the winter. loving those Coca Cola Bears. "We sat in an empty theatre and we kissed, I asked her please to cross me off her list." Love leads to other emotions. And sometimes Justine Bateman. "I found the happiness I waited for, the only girl that I was fated for." So what is this newsletter about? It's about time. A tribute to all the love that surrounds us, that we sell, that we encourage, that engulfs us, consumes us, and lights an occasional match or two. You may not contribute but you can feel. You may not read but you can recycle. Wrap a fish, write an article. Both take an effort. Only the bait on the hook is sharper than Cupid's arrow. Happy VD.

Monday, February 7, 1994

Like Dreamers Do

Freedom:So this is the way it ends. The streets are on fire; the whole town is one big inferno. We've been attacked by aliens or Nazis as if the distinction matters when the destruction is so hopelessly complete. They're coming to get me and despite the terror in my heart, I accept that there is no escape. This is the way it has to be.

I pick Max the cat up underneath his belly. I stroke his forehead and say goodbye. The heat of the fire and the intensity of the moment become stronger. They're getting close. I open the door and give Max his long sought freedom, figuring his chances are better if I let him go. They're after me, not us. Max scampers away all the while looking back over his shoulder to see if I'm going to come after him. As he reaches the end of the yard, he flips some snow in my direction. As it leaves his paw it is a pile of un-massed flakes, but as it gets closer to my face it is a hard, icy snowball. Max playfully smiles as it hits me squarely in the honker. I wake up with a shiver, and Max is sleeping peacefully by my side.

The Gift Of Accepting Me As I Am: My best friend phoned me up and told me she had a dream about me the other night. In her dream, we were spending one of our quiet evenings together in my apartment. She was sipping on some wine, and smoking a cigarette. There was a knock on my door and I got up and opened it. Outside stood a plain looking woman with shoulder length brown hair. Beside her, stood my five year old son. My friend wasn't at all surprised.

Can't Always Be What They Want: My other best friend shared a dream she had the other night. She and her male friend were inside a huge, impressive mansion. She picked up a kitty and held it in her arms. Her friend told her the cat could do tricks. He told her to pick up a paperback book, toss it and the cat would play fetch. So she did. And the cat looked at her without an inclination to respond in any way. Her friend burst out laughing.

Painful Pursuit of Another Dismissed Dream: Dear Mr. and Ms. Olympic Sized Holier than Thou, Stand in Judge(ment), Jury and Executioner, Dream Spoiling, Committee Member: For years one of your justifications behind the existence of figure skating was your claim that it is one of the few sports that combines athleticism with artistic expression. Though the current scandal is ugly, here is the chance to put your lyre where your lips are. This is an opportunity for one artist to put aside the adversity and either shine brightly or fail miserably. Tonya Harding has begged to be given the chance to fulfill her dream and give the performance of her life. The spotlight of such a performance will be intense, the pressure tremendous and the hopes of many that she fails and falls flat on her fine fanny, will be enormous; but to deny her of that opportunity let alone deny history of that moment, would be tragic. This is Tonya's chance to create from the craziness. It is her biggest challenge to express herself in what she loves and does best. As those ever caring sensitive folks at Nike pointed out, if she is found to be guilty of a crime, you can always take away her medals in disgrace. But if she is found to have no connection with the corruption around her, then you can never give back the opportunity that 23 years of hard work has prepared her for.

Just What Did It All Mean? "I close my eyes when I drift away. Into the magic night I softly say, a silent prayer like dreamers do. Then I fall asleep to dream my dreams of you."