Monday, March 27, 1995

10 Movies that Changed My Life

In tribute to tonight's celebration here is a list of the top ten movies of all time. Please don't bother to disagree, for there is no dispute. This is the definitive list, the final word.

10) Do The Right Thing- Spike Lee's greatest effort all but predicted and spelled out the ensuing L.A. riots. The simmering summer day plot of the movie leads up to but doesn't give away the violent explosion of the ending. What really got me about the movie was the debate about whether or not Spike's character of Mookie acted in the proper manner, calling out for violent solutions or whether the point being made was how we must do something before this conclusion plays itself out. This movie got its audience to argue and like all good pieces of work, got its audience to think. The most poignant cinematic commentary of race relations ever made in America.

9) High Noon- Gary Cooper shows its harder to stick by your principles than it is to please an idyllic woman in the Old West. Contemporary political messages abound and when he throws his badge down in disgust, the power of the moment sends shivers up the spine. "It's possible to become so defiled in this world that your own mother and father will abandon you. If that happens God will always believe in your own ability to mend your own ways."

8) Singin In The Rain- The most entertaining musical ever, spoofing and paying tribute to a period in history when Hollywood was wrestling with its own past, reconciling the transition from silent pictures to talkies and all that was lost. The famous title tune scene is the third best musical moment in the movie and that says so much about this movie. The film takes risks and succeeds at every turn.

7) Pulp Fiction- All that is written about this year's best picture is criticism over the extreme violence that emanates from the story. What can't be overlooked is the brilliant dialogue, (sadly missing from movies since the heyday of film noir), the entertaining non linear structure, and the love of movies that Mr. Tarentino clearly demonstrates. This movie isn't about killing, it's about foot massages, Royales with Cheese, and how silence can measure the strengths of our relationships. This picture is unique, out of time, and classically made.

6) Treasure Of The Sierra Madre- Many people would pick Casablanca as their favorite Bogie film but this one is more fun as he plays the goofiest bad guy ever. That was one of Bogie's biggest and often overlooked strengths, being the bad guy and still making us admire him.

5) Ikiru- Kurosawa made his name making brilliant samurai flicks yet this memorable film was about a dying Japanese bureaucrat who decided to make a difference in his final days by building a park to improve his community. This was the film I watched the night before I began working for the state which didn't influence its inclusion in this list.

4) Chinatown- "Forget her Jake, it's only Chinatown" neatly summed up Roman Polanski's most complex and inscrutable film. The artist seemed to be making some sort of personal statement about lost love, politics and how history rolls over us in an atmospheric fog. Jack Nicholson's performance is spellbinding; that he handicapped himself by hiding behind a grotesque Band-Aid on the bridge of his nose shows his remarkable talent.

3) Schindler's List- How can anyone make a picture about the biggest atrocity humans have ever perpetuated against each other without being overwhelmed by the depressing subject? The most remarkable thing about this shadowy film is Ralph Fiennes' Goethe is the most evil character ever depicted yet is portrayed as something entirely believable. It shows how good the film is that the giver of such contemptible pain and hatred is portrayed in such human terms. This movie has so much to say and says it so powerfully. Spielberg never lets us forget that the events portrayed really happened, yet he uses the beauty of filmmaking to add to the story. Rather than just be tragic, the end message is uplifting, moving and one of those rare moments in movies that just has to be experienced and it makes this a movie that everyone must see.

2) Citizen Kane- This movie makes everyone's top ten list and for good reason: it's one heck of a movie. Every time I watch this movie, I see something, a shot, a snippet of dialogue, the way the camera moves, that I never noticed before. The use of shadows; the wonderful pacing; the ingenious mixture of current events and fiction; the story and message which gets more and more relevant (about the growing influence and overwhelming dominance of the effects of mass media in our life, and the notion that one's life can be somehow neatly encapsulated in a simple one word statement), makes this movie more rewarding every time one sees it.

1) The Third Man- Joseph Cotton was an underrated and unappreciated actor. His character in this movie finds himself lost and the victim of uncontrollable circumstances. Orson Welles makes the all time great movie entrance The music and how every intertwining element in the movie both stands alone and adds to the whole is filmmaking at its best. The tone the music sets, the loss of faith Cotton undergoes makes this a brilliant piece of work. Every time I watch this movie I remember how good it really is.

The Great Runner-ups: Dr. Strangelove, The Last Emperor, Sunset Boulevard, Hoop Dreams, Monsieur Hire, A Hard Day's Night, The Fabulous Baker Boys, My Dinner with Andre, The Player, King of Comedy, Notorious, The Sting, Casablanca, The Misfits, Amadeus, Birdy, Duck Soup.

Monday, March 20, 1995

Goin Down Highway 61

This week we moved further down that super information highway, merging into the CD-ROM lane. New from the folks at Graphix Zone, the same folks that last year brought us a CD-ROM from the artist formerly known as Prince, comes the Bob Dylan Highway 61 Interactive Music CD-ROM.

Technology wise, it's an impressive package. The makers claim it would take ten plus hours to navigate through the whole program, and the impressive graphics themselves ensure the time will be entertaining. And it is. It's fun to play with the relatively new technology, and be dazzled by what you can do, the places you see, the clips and the music. But heck, even Pong was fun when it first came out.

Thus to review this product, it becomes necessary to distinguish between the technology and the actual content of the material. That Dylan was chosen as a subject of this type of collection has both its pluses and minuses.

On the plus side is that while people can argue Dylan's worth as an artist, no one can argue about his proficiency at turning out work. During the thirty plus years of his public life, Dylan has produced a remarkable amount of material that this package sums up for the uninitiated, and also adds something to for the hard-core fan. After exploring the many choices presented, one can't help but be intrigued by the collage of quotes, the images and the music (kind of like our weekly newsletter itself).

On the down side is the strange marriage between an artist who is at his best strumming an acoustic guitar producing simple yet stimulating music and the dazzling array of special effects. (Another minus is that this package really requires 8MB of RAM which is more than many people have.) One of the problems of the package is there are so many places to visit, so much included that at times it is frustrating that some of the clips are so short. One wishes to hear the whole song rather than just a snippet. Like its featured artist, the quick clips and scattered images add up to something enigmatic. Still, it is fun to explore the different areas, and there is no other medium available that much of this material could be used for. If musical CD-ROM's have a future, one has to wonder whether it will be as a fancy art tool to assemble an artist's lifetime worth of material or whether it will be used as a technological step and give contemporary bands yet another forum to sell their product.

The way it all works is interesting unto itself. The beginning of the program brings you to the "main collage." Here you click on different pictures to get to different areas: Greenwich Village (where you get a wealth of posters containing information on Dylan's early career); the Coffee House (where one can hear some beat poetry while viewing some of Dylan's artwork, or hear an early version of Blowin' in the Wind); backstage at the 30th Anniversary Special (where there are interviews with various performers like Rosanne Cash, Eddie Vedder, and Lou Reed); and a Columbia recording studio (where you are treated to demo versions of Mr. Tambourine Man, Temporary Like Achilles, Like a Rolling Stone and an electrified version of House of the Rising Sun).

Once you visit all the areas, you are given a ticket where you get to see clips of a 1993 New York City supper club performance. This is essentially the game element of the package. Rather than have just an encyclopedia of information, the makers decided to provide a challenge/reward system. I was unable to negotiate my way through the entire maze so I was unable to see the featured conclusion to it all.

Other things included are a complete discography which also includes the cover art, liner notes and lyrics to material from all 41 official Columbia releases; news clips and interviews with some of Dylan's friends; a new video of Masters of War developed specifically for this project; and the entire Subterranean Homesick Blues video.

As a whole, the Highway 61 Interactive Music experience was a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon, especially for a self confessed Bobhead. It's a worthwhile addition to any Dylan collection. There is so much to view, and the scattered shoebox full of stuff style of the program somehow seems both innovative and artsy.

MORE BOB NEWS: It was announced last week that Dylan's Unplugged performance will be released on CD on May 2. Included will be four songs not shown on the MTV broadcast- Desolation Row, John Brown, Love Minus Zero/No Limit, and Tombstone Blues. For those of us who have seen playlists from the two shows taped for the broadcast, one has to say whoever made the final decision on what was shown, made some perverse decisions. What was finally shown probably contained the weakest choices in almost all cases. Among the gems that will take a great deal of effort to ever see are performances of Absolutely Sweet Marie, Hazel(!), I Want You, and Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You. Where's K-Tel when you really need them?

Monday, March 13, 1995

Tree Fallin' in the Forest

Here's a philosophical question the pundits have pondered for years: if someone says something and no one hears it, do they make a sound?

90% of all life's troubles can somehow be traced back to a problem in communication. Miscommunication is as common as Minnesota snowstorms in March. Wrong as they often are, most people trip and stumble verbally, but it isn't hard to find people who will share their opinions with you on just about any subject at the drop of a penny.

Often he was awoken at night by the sound of falling trees. It was a sound as loud as if the trees were in the same room. The crash echoed for hours after the fall.Big redwood trees, small pine saplings, the snapping of their twigs, the crash of their trunks filled his head with thunder.In his mind's eye he could clearly see someone's face.

Thus the real culprit in the communication gap more often than not is on the other end of the pipeline. More and more it is hard to find someone who has good listening skills. Whereas talking is an active activity, listening takes passive skills, which are much more difficult to develop.

Fewer and fewer children are taught good listening skills. Without good listening skills it's natural to become self centered, focused on how the universe revolves around just the things important to you. The hardest thing to unlearn is that perhaps the world is bigger than that, and perhaps the needs of other people should be considered just once and awhile if for no other reason than common courtesy.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Bill Monroe who once said that he got his best thinking done while other people were talking. It's the interchange of ideas, the collaboration of feelings and thoughts that can spur us and inspire us to get in touch with our own inner voices. Yet how many times have you been in a conversation with someone who looks you in the eye, nods at the appropriate moments and still doesn't hear a word you are saying? Isn't that annoying?

If the simplest of statements can be misunderstood between two people, how is it suppose to survive in front of a mass of people?He found the times he was heard best was when he chose his words carefully and spoke softly. He had to admit he was guilty of not wanting to hear what other's had to say all the time. Good conversation was as rare as an unforgettable musical experience. The occasions they occurred were to be cherished and enjoyed.

To listen to someone means you have to have some kind of interest in what they have to say. Too many times a dialogue consists of people who are so concerned about articulating their own point of view that they don't have the brain space to think about what the other person says. People are used to hearing the perfect sound bite so they are becoming conditioned to respond and think in scripted language that prohibits true communication and thus doesn't require listening.

As our collective attention spans shortens and as our culture is saturated with quick cut images, our ability to focus on other people lessens. Go to a movie, a concert, a play, and it is remarkable that inevitably you will sit near someone who maintains a running commentary with complete disregard for the people around them. It's like people think they are always in their own living room in front of their own television sets and the entertainment in front of them isn't an actual live performance but some show provided solely for their own enjoyment.

Technology doesn't help matters either. With each passing development, the fax machine, the Internet, voice mail, people no longer have to deal with each other face to face and thus the ears become little more than decorative instruments to prop up one's glasses or hang one's earrings.

Even the development and proliferation of CD digital sound over vinyl analog sound plays cynically on people's ability to listen. Now we have sound so clear that the subtle nuances of musical performance are sterilized. More and more everything starts to sound the same. Since everything sounds the same, people take less time to listen and interpret what they hear. This is a scandal, a conspiracy bigger than the Communists contaminating our drinking water with fluoridation.

They sat on a desolate balcony over looking the smoggy city of Los Angeles. Behind them a crazed cat tore apart his suitcase. Down below they could hear the voices from a pickup basketball game. She looked at him from behind her dark shades, puffed on a Virginia Slims and said, "You can talk at me if you want." He was deeply offended.

Those in our company can probably do little to stem the tide of this epidemic. Perhaps though by just being conscious of what is going on, we can all be aware of the problem, and take the time to listen to our customers, our co-workers and those inexplicable voices coming from the middle of the Easy Listening section. Take the time to hear what is being said. At the next concert, movie, play, lecture you attend, don't blabber and offer personal insight or interpretation on what you see until after the show is over. Be aware of the people around you. Be conscious that you are not alone. Do the hardest thing to do these days: listen.

Monday, March 6, 1995

Postcards from a Pen Pal

Tonight I found myself back at my old stomping grounds on Goodrich Avenue. A nostalgic glow flowed down from the air as heavy as the snowflakes that fell to the ground. This was where I lived when I turned it around and got myself back on a track (maybe not a great one, maybe not the right one, but a track nonetheless). These were the streets that Max and I first took our walks together, strolling the neighborhood, on the lookout for other cats. He sometimes enjoyed a nibble of grass. I often times enjoyed a puff from my pipe.

The little castle that housed my very small efficiency was dark tonight. But I vividly and somewhat wistfully remember looking out my front window, full of anticipation as my friend would drive up in her little sports car and we would zip off destined for the Bad Habit.

But what I learned tonight is that I no longer have any interest in retracing old footprints. I have changed a lot over the years and I wouldn't go back for anything. The glow of the memories masks the struggles of the times. Those weren't the best of times for me but the heartaches have somehow faded more than the things I miss about that time remain with me. I have probably learned less than any other person during my thirty years in this wacky world that surrounds us. But one thing I have learned is that the fear that influences and ultimately guides many is the fear of the unknown. We all like to be put in situations that are familiar where we stand on firm ground. It is facing uncertainty, and lacking a sense of security that terrifies and influences the paths we all take.

Years back when I lived on Goodrich, and we had our massive Halloween snowstorm of '91, I was at a crossroads in my life, professional wise, personal wise, and other wise. I decided that night to walk home from Cheapo, to my humble little abode about three or four miles away. I was wearing boots that rubbed up against my heels, and through the muck and trudging through nineteen inches of snow, blisters developed. My feet hurt like hell and as I went to work the following week, I had a noticeable limp. A very kind person gave me Band-Aids for my wounds. I have always appreciated the kindness of strangers. It was a small gesture but a significant moment of my life. I had made a decision that would have a hard time qualifying under the wise category. I was paying a painful price for my mistake. But it all made me stop and think. Something we don't always take the time to do. The lesson I learned was all that I needed to do was keep on keeping on and when the chance came up, make sure I understood all I had learned. Thinking of what might had been, or what I wished would be was a waste of time.

These days, unfortunately, I get all my news about our company through the contributions to the newsletter. I haven't been able to get out to any of the stores as much as I would like. Obviously as we face changes, certain anxieties are bound to crop up. One of the odd things about my other job is that I often am approached by other employees who ask my opinion, my advice on problems they are facing. Part of me feels like saying, "if you are coming to me looking for answers, you are beyond help." Few have the history of squandering such as I. But you know, I have gained enough personal wisdom to at least have the feeling that I am doing OK these days. Maybe a false feeling but better than a fearful feeling nonetheless.

Change and chaos, as documented elsewhere, is what makes us all grow. It is those that can be innovative, be visionaries and lead during testing times that are to be admired. Those are hard traits to develop and nurture. Things don't always work out the way we had them planned, but those that can deal with disappointment and turn it into something positive, are those that find their work to be rewarding and live a textured life. This company possesses creativity in abundance. That is something we really need to tap. But we need to remain focused. The newsletter is now nearly three years old. One thing we have always tried to do is to improve communication, pass on information, entertain, and above all do it all with a smile. Personal anecdotes may not mean much to many, but all that we write about and share is hopefully done for a purpose.

If the past is crippling and prevents one from moving forward, yes, you have to do what you have to do to get around that. Not all changes work out but you do learn that the challenges of change are ultimately more useful than relying on the familiar and taking things for granted. At the same time, it is important to recognize that change and uncertainty are part of our nature. It is familiarity that often deadens us and stops us from asking questions, probing and moving ahead. My best friend recently gave me an avenue to contact one who is sadly missed, but definitely part of my past. While the temptation is great to call, just to find out how this person is doing, what they may or may not be up to, I question what we really have to say to one and other that would make any type of difference.

Cheapo has a unique and well developed identity and reputation in our community. As long as our vision remains true, good things are bound to occur. I am proud to be a part of this company. The people I know, the experiences I've had are truly appreciated. These are stressful times, but they are also exciting times. If you want to make a difference, you really can. That is all anyone can ever ask. Pep talks and blind assumptions aside, this is a time to make the changes and decisions that can really influence a fairly large group of people for a fairly long time. Cool. So go out there and win one for the Gipper. God Bless, good night, and drive safely everybody...