Monday, February 25, 2002

I Dreamed of a Land of Cloned Kitties

When David Lynch's Blue Velvet came out in 1986 I went with a bunch of college guys and was quickly ostracized by the rest of the group for being the only one who didn't like it. There was something way too self conscious and smug about the movie that really irritated me.

As a director Lynch seemed to be winking at the elite cinema-as-art crowd (many who happened to be male and college aged). It was as if he was saying "this movie is too deep, too arty for the general public who will only be disturbed by it and won't 'get' it." Well maybe I didn't really get it or see the point beyond a director getting his own jollies by making his lead actress appear naked on a lawn, spread eagled and crucified as we gawk and say how deep it all is. That the rest of the movie was this uncomfortable mixture of odd characters, images and campy humor made the intensity of the undeserved last scene even more unforgivable.

I am the unofficial list organizer of my office. As a way to get to know each other better and to entertain ourselves we do a weekly top ten favorites list. Last week's topic was "least favorite movies of all time." Deservedly Blue Velvet appeared near the top of my list and that elicited a familiar response: "Hey David! Blue Velvet?? Obviously you don't understand David Lynch's vision or the term tongue in cheek..." a photographer responded. The photographer went on to write that I needed to get the hate out of my heart and let the love in. I'd agree with the sentiment if only I still had a heart left. Plus I thought Lynch's foray into TV, Twin Peaks was a great series (at least for a while). The pilot was about as good a start to a series as I've even seen. At the time I thought that Lynch was the rare director who may have benefited from being boxed in by television's limitations. The commercial restrictions of the medium kept his excesses in check. Unfortunately the series quickly dissolved into being weird for the sake of being weird and it quite frankly didn't live up to its original premise.

I always thought the strength of Twin Peaks was the eccentrics somewhat based in reality: the Log Lady; the romance between the naive and dim deputy Andy and the naive and neurotic sheriff's secretary Lucy as opposed to the surreal plot interruptions: the dancing backwards talkin' midget and whatever Bob turned out to be.

Somewhat ironic in its timing and quite unintentionally after being criticized once again for not getting "it" the following day I went to Lynch's latest effort Mulholland Drive. I had been meaning to see the movie for quite some time after a couple of people whose opinions I respect most in such matters recommended the movie. When I saw it was playing at the neighborhood cheap theater I fought my way through my weariness and planted my feet firmly on the sticky floor of the most run down suburban theater in the area.

When the movie was finished I heard some audible snickers from the rest of the audience. I didn't know what to make of what I had just seen. Further I didn't know whether I loved or hated what I had just seen. So I went back and saw it again a few nights later. I can't think of another movie that made me go "huh?" more than this one. And while I've often thought that was the point of much of Lynch's other work, this one somehow intrigued me. I certainly won't forget it for a while. I'm still not sure but here are a few guesses what Mulholland Drive is ultimately about: a) a jilted lesbian b) a delusional loner c) a bright eyed and bushy tailed eager young Hollywood starlet who wants to be a film actress or maybe a movie star or maybe either one or both d) the place where dreams interfere with memories e) the place where dreaming outside the box can lead to the ultimate self fulfilling fantasy f) the place where dreaming inside the box can lead to illusions that you want to badly believe g) a movie director who isn't allowed to make the movie he wants to make h) all of the above i) none of the above j) who knows?

And yes, I think when all is said and done I do like this movie. It's everything that Blue Velvet wanted to be but wasn't capable of being. There is even a reference back to the 1986 film with a Roy Orbison song being sung (this time in Italian or maybe French or maybe backwards midget language). Mulholland Drive also reminded me of my all time favorite film, Pulp Fiction with its episodic structure of seemingly unrelated events being loosely tied up in the end (so to speak) and its humor based on discomfort. Both movies also have mysterious boxes that are either central to the plot or peripheral in every sense of the word.

Naomi Watts is terrific in the lead playing a dual role (or maybe it's just one or maybe she's not playing at all) with her perky pluck as Betty in her Debbie Reynolds's outfit (and derriere). Watts pulls off the complexity of the dual roles so well that when she shows up in the movie not as the perky Betty but as the spent Diane Selwyn I wasn't even sure it was the same actress (and check out the different nuances created by her reading of the cheesy script she's trying out for first in a practice run and then with the sleazy!? Chad Everett). And while it might be the makeup and lack of (a lesson learned from the unforgettable five wheeler who said she could knock the wind out of any man when she puts on the right makeup and believe me I believed seeing another irresistible devilish side first hand) I somehow think it's the fluid dreamlike ambiance created by Lynch's direction that causes the intentional disorientation in the shift of the storyline and our thinking of who the Watt's character is (and what we ultimately think of her).

The other leading actress, Laura Elena Harring, plays a woman who doesn't know her own name and steals one from a similarly fashioned screen vixen and has the same name as the villainous Connie Francis wannabe. The relationship between Watts and Harring is at the heart of the story and at first we may think it's based on curiosity and love and respect but later we think (maybe) that it's based on jealously, possessiveness and cruelty (and maybe all the aforementioned are one and the same).

There are the typical Lynch oddities included but in a movie that seems to take place in a dreamlike trance those oddities seem somewhat tolerable. We are left to wonder what is the deal with (and can appreciate and even chuckle at): the cowboy, the monster behind Winkies, the maniacally happy elderly couple, the wrinkled little guy in the wheelchair, the foreign film mogul who's more than a little particular about his expressos, the bushy mustached hotel manager who is moonlighting as an Italian Ed Sullivan, the Billy Ray Cyrus played character telling the husband of the woman he's caught in bed with "Sometimes it's good not to remember what you see" and Coco the apartment complex owner who complains about the tenant who had a boxing kangaroo who messed up the courtyard.

More than any of the others the cowboy seems to be at the center of things with his cryptic message of if we see him one more time the director did things right but if we see him two more times and the director did things wrong (of course we see him twice more). Mulholland Drive in many ways is Lynch's most personal story yet. After all he has a director in the plot who is being told what he has to do (to make his movie and possibly even live). Mulholland Drive is a movie about Hollywood or maybe with its person asleep under a pillow beginning it's a movie that's all just a dream (or set in Hollywood it is just a movie about a dream). It's about where dreams cross into delusion and fantasy and yet it really isn't about anything at all and it all gets under your skin (the cowboy asks the baffled director, experiencing the worst day of his life, if he agrees that a person's attitude can affect where they are going in life).

If there is one thing I could have changed about Lynch's rejected TV pilot made into a movie is its title. Mulholland Drive, where the movie opens, certainly is an important place in the plot but I think the movie could more accurately be titled: The Man Who Killed Laura Palmer; I've Been Lynched; Not Exactly a Straight Story; Mulling Over MD. Hmmm I still say.

Monday, February 18, 2002

Fp, The Sound of a Flying Arrow and You Are What You Eat

The first time I had Dim Sum was after my apartment had been Feng Shuied and I was getting back from Taebo class burning off the calories from a meal of Foie Gras. I had just jetted off to Los Angeles with my family to visit my sister. Sis took us to Chinatown and this huge gymnasium like place with hundreds of tables. The people walking the carts around were Chinese and they didn't speak any English. I've never had a more tasty delectable meal of unidentifiable stuff in my life.

Last Sunday I raced through a milestone production of the newsletter so I could meet up with the incredibly dependable witty spindle fixer and a Russian journalist to enjoy Dim Sum in a Little Canada strip mall. It was a most humorous (and somewhat enjoyable if not entirely memorable) experience to eat the somewhat mysterious food in the company of one who didn't speak much English and with another who did her diligent best to describe the food to him. At one point she tried to tell him what I do for a living (still a mystery to even me) and relayed the information that I had experienced in the past year the life changing event through my job of getting the chance to meet the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. The Russian looked at me earnestly and asked if he understood things right and if I was really the Dalai Lama. Oh the chuckles that were had and will I'm sure be had over the years over that one.

In deference to his Holiness and always on the lookout for good metaphors, or at the very least the meaning of life, the meal struck me in an odd way. There we were eating stuff that we weren't exactly sure the content of (example- sticky rice wrapped in some kind of leaf with some mysterious meat) trying to explain the food to someone who didn't speak the same language. If that's not a perfect microcosm of life I surely don't know what is. Life is about unexplainable uncertainty often with a language barrier burden to try and endure.

The composition of the meal may be just a coincidence but I'm not entirely convinced there isn't a cosmic connection involved somehow. See the next day was when all hell broke loose at the Olympics with the couples figure skatin' Canadians apparently out performing the Russkie pair only to have the French judge admit being intimated in determining the score she submitted. The spindle fixer speaks fluent French (of course); the Russian journalist enjoyed his meal (I think); and I've been to Canada a couple of times. You'd think I was at the center of the universe but I think I know better.

I've been around long enough now (giving away fountains as if they were candy) to know that I don't know a whole lot. But that I know that gives me a leg up on some people. The smallest things therefore can amuse me to no end. A couple of weeks ago I was at my desk at work when we got the sad news that Rep. Darlene Luther had died from stomach cancer. I had only a couple of exchanges with Luther but I liked her a lot because unlike many of her colleagues she was a genuinely nice person. I was told I was the one who would do her obituary. We were hours away from the deadline of our publication so I started calling up people to get some reaction and quotes. Many of the legislators were at a conference so I was having a hard time reaching anyone. I left messages with the speaker and the minority leader's offices. I began typing my story when my phone rang. "House Information, this is David," I dutifully said. "David... Steve." I thought for a minute. Steve who? "Steve Sviggum..." I hadn't realized the second most powerful person in the state and I were on first name terms.

The Speaker gave me some really nice comments on Rep. Luther and for a small point in time my faith in humanity got a needed boost.

Spirits raised I went and had my best Valentine's Day ever (or at least since second grade when I made sure to choose the most romantic card out of the bunch I had gotten at the drug store to give to Tracy Siegfried and she smiled when she opened it...). The only thing that slightly spoiled the evening was that I dripped some candle wax on my living room rug and wasn't exactly sure what to do to clean it up. That's when my TV viewing history came in mighty handy. Memory is a funny thing, you never are sure why you remember the things you choose to remember. I got out a wet towel, my iron and I was able to take a Martha Stewart tidbit to get the wax out of the fabric.

So as another week comes to a close, snarfing down some banana bread, I take an occasional glance at the cutest picture of all time (my friend dear and near, holding her three-year old niece with both smiling mischievously behind their shades) I think that maybe for the first time in a while I might just sleep OK tonight.

Monday, February 11, 2002

How Kmart Helped Me Become a Man (Albeit a Whimpering One)

The most enjoyable year of my life (or as the kids like to say "the funnest") was either fifth grade when I was the indisputable four square champ of the Central Park Elementary School playground, or my freshman year at Macalester College where it seemed so refreshing to be able to attend mind boggling classes, and have all night philosophical conversations where the possibility became more and more clear that there existed a whole world I didn't know a thing about.

Funny thing though whenever you are able to pinpoint with such precision the exact moment when something is "most" anything that whatever is to follow is by its very nature a letdown (or "bummer" as the kids say).

One of the things that become readily apparent my first year away from home was that all the high falutin talk about the true meaning of life and other grand ideas didn't exactly square with the real world where people had bills to pay and mouths to feed.

So my sophomore year of college I did what any boy with middle class guilt would do, I got me a job at the neighborhood Kmart.

This was my first actual job, one where unlike my college work study, I had to apply and interview for. When they called me up to offer me a job in the sporting goods I felt like I had won the lottery. They liked me, they really really did.

The contrast between my day life as a student at a prestigious (or at least it likes to think it is) liberal arts institution and my night life as a sales clerk for one of America's most storied retailers whose clientele is heavily weighted toward the blue collar type couldn't have been more stark. But I enjoyed my co-workers from the moody Ernie Gonzalez who taught me everything I know about fishing lures (which is little), to Steve Gelking who taught me everything I know about being smooth with the ladies (which is even littler).

By day I would write another solid B+ paper or sit silently in a journalism class with my then rather limited point of view ballooning just by the exposure to those from other cultures and upbringings. At night I would sell another shotgun to a frightening looking person or mess up drilling three bowling balls so I could sell the perfect fitting one to a customer who wouldn't know the difference. I liked the campus life as much as I did getting on the store PA and doing a Blue Light Special on golf balls with deference to Phil Collins, "It's a su-su-su-per deal!" And they paid us in cash every Friday leaving some with the temptation to wander through the store and buy that car mat that we had had our eye on for a long time.

The two worlds collided one spring semester when I was taking an American History class that actually had the audacity to question America's foreign policy actions and the Sunday I was busy straightening up a gym bag display located on the main aisle into the store. I was just about finished with the chore when a man, dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans stood at the display next to mine, a display that held men's underwear. He picked up one of the packages and said in a gruff voice I'll never forget, "Made in the USA" a reference I'm sure that had something to do with my puzzled Asian face.

The message was clear: I didn't belong in this most American of settings, and my ancestors had obviously wronged this man or this man's family in some harsh way. And there were still things his country (which obviously wasn't my country or our country) did better than wherever it was I came from even if it was just briefs making. My perceptions about being an American were rapidly crystallizing. It seemed apt that months later I would be fired from the store through a misunderstanding that to this day tears at my heart and afterwards my mom staged a personal boycott of the retailer not letting my dad shop at the store (not that they ever really did). And somehow it makes me feel both vindicated and sad that the corporation has now filed for bankruptcy.

A similar deflated feeling of community hit me like a storm as I watched the Super Bowl pre-game show last week. The corporate patriotic hype around the game seemed to represent all that is wrong with this country, or at least what this country would be like if Frank Burns had gotten the better of Hawkeye and Trapper, with all the fabricated heart tugging emotion and extravagance. It was a garish display capped by Paul McCartney singing the truly dreadful wannabe anthem "Freedom" that sounds as if it was written in five minutes. The whole thing was enough to make me want to check the label on the boxers I had on (purchased at Target). One day later Mee Moua, the first Hmong legislator in the nation, was sworn into her Minnesota State Senate seat leaving one to inconclusively wonder whether her election or the atmosphere accompanying the football game better represents what this country truly is about.

Monday, February 4, 2002

Six Feet Tall or Under

My most memorable television appearance naturally had to do with dancing and came during the 1975 Minnesota State High School Tournament Boy's Basketball Championship Game halftime show. It was the year that two of the state's all time best high school players, Steve Lingenfelter from Bloomington Jefferson and Kevin McHale from Hibbing High squared off against each other in a memorable final. I was in the fifth grade and thought it quite the privilege that I was chosen to be amongst a group of students from my elementary school honored to demonstrate our square dancing prowess in front of a receptive Minnesota audience.

Led by our knee slappin' professional caller (and my teacher for the year) Mr. Hauble, and decked in our best western outfits we had rehearsed weeks in advance for the big show. My partner Sue Loomis was in the sixth grade and quite an attractive young lass (though not my type not being anything near resembling the truly memorable Tracy Siegfried) and being a grade in front of me I was quite frightened to say anything to her. Thus despite the intimacy of swinging her around and dosey doeing around her afternoon after afternoon I barely said a word other than "I'm sorry" whenever I would mess a step up.

I don't remember a whole lot about our arrival at the Civic Center and sitting and watching the first half of the game. I do remember lining up with Sue, fourth in line to come swinging out front to back, back to front to midcourt. The adrenaline was pumping that night and I remembered swinging Sue with more force than usual only noticing that fact by her skirt flying higher than ever and her uttering, "You're really swinging hard..."

It was a whirlwind of a night. I arrived home and found out my parents had taken pictures of the TV screen (this kids, was before everyone and their mother even knew what a VCR was). For some reason the TV station had chosen to show me more than any of the other kids (perhaps it had something to do with me not looking anything like any of the others?). The next day at school Sue Loomis even made mention of the fact of how well I danced and how she had heard we were the couple most prominently featured on TV.

But none of that mattered. I was more thrilled I had gotten to see the game. McHale was a treat to watch and following him throughout his college career as a Gopher and his pro career as a Celtic I was such a fan that I patterned my own game after his. I had all the low post moves down pat, from the turnaround fadeaway jumper to the baby hook, I was among the best players of the 1977 Parkview Junior High b-squad team. Then everyone else grew a foot and a half and my game took a precipitous fall. I swear if only I was another two feet taller I'd be a star in the NBA right now. Instead I've had to resign myself to being an excellent dribbler of another stripe.

All this came clearly into mind this past week as I attended my first Gopher's basketball game this season. I was truly impressed by the star freshman, Rick Rickert's game. I've never seen a Minnesota freshman so polished since McHale. Everything Rickert does on the court is smooth and fluid and I marveled at his many moves as he poured in 28 points against a terribly outmatched Penn State team.

Having once been a season ticket holder it was a nice reminder at how fun going to a game at Williams Arena can be. Though all traces of the Clem Haskins era have been disturbingly erased from sight as if any of us can truly forget that magical final four run of 1997, watching a game in the Barn remains something to behold. The atmosphere is intimate and larger than life all at the same time. The enthusiasm is contagious. The history rings from the rafters as clearly as the singing of the rouser. From McHale to Rickert the dancing never quite ever can be quelled no matter what has gone down over the years.