Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Most Serious Comedy I've Ever Seen

When I saw the Pianist lo these many years ago, I had a peculiar emotional reaction that faded gradually over several days. I felt like if someone had given me a button capable of destroying modern Poland, I would have pressed that button.

That's a crazy impulse, especially for someone who doesn't even support the death penalty. But I wanted to press that button, I really did. I had never felt so bloodthirsty in my life.

The trouble with bloodthirst is you can never be sure what will slake it. One collaborator lynched? One village destroyed? One genocide? In the long run, of course not; I'm a progressive peacenik, for god's sake. I have white-guilt and Jew-guilt and privilege-guilt disturbing my sleep just from living my life day to day. The nice thing about a button is that I could press it from a distance and avoid the immediate implications of what I'd done. Still, eventually I would have to face the repercussions, like America with Hiroshima.

What I could have used was some celluloid catharsis in the form of a darkly-comic historical fantasy as imagined by Quentin Tarantino. (WARNING: SOME SPOILERS AHEAD) God, I wish this movie had come out in 2002 when I also had to digest Shoah and Night of the Shooting Stars in film classes. Not only does Tarantino deliver the active response I was craving back then, he does it in a way that is funny (to relieve the tension), clearly fake (to relieve any revulsion you may feel), and over-the-top (so that you realize you don't actually want what you think you do).

No one does vengeance better than Tarantino. In his hands, vengeance is not a mindless act of good against evil: in Kill Bill, viewers are encouraged to sympathize with the human targets, even Bill himself. Elle Driver is, I think, the exception, the only cartoonishly villainous character, and even she is so great that you don't want to see her die.

This is why Tarantino gently raises the question of whether even Nazis deserved to be gunned down, roasted alive, scalped, mutilated, and otherwise inconvenienced. Of course the Third Reich needed to be brought down (and what a job he does of it, too). But no one, no matter how despicable, should have their head bashed in by Eli Roth. Watching Inglourious Basterds, you simultaneously get to enjoy the fantasy and let the fantasy go.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Provisional hero worship: looking up to folks the responsible way

Folksinger Jill Sobule once asked, "Why are all our heroes so imperfect? / Why do they always let me down?" Of course, this was before she went nuttier than squirrel poop and let herself be quoted as saying, "Fuck you, Katy Perry," proving once again that even the people who should know better usually don't.

The sentiment behind her song remains true, even as its singer is tarnished. Heroes, man! What gives? Why, on closer inspection, are they so often fuck ups and losers?

In the spirit of good will & optimism, I am celebrating my temporary heroes, the people who haven't lost my trust yet, screwed prostitutes with socks on, or turned out to be health-care-opposing libertarians.

But, to hedge my bets for the long term, I will try to keep my worship in check.

PROVISIONAL HERO #1: DAVID REES ("Get Your War On"). In addition to humorous diversions during the Bush years, he's given us this new Anne-Frank-via-David-Mamet quote:
"Stupid anti-semitic seig-heiling cunt. You know what it takes to live in an attic for two years? It takes BRASS BALLS. ... Send me to whatever camp you want. I'll die of typhus and still wind up on top."
Gotta admire his verve, right? At least until we find out Rees poisoned his funnier twin sister when they were five.

PROVISIONAL HERO #2: MERYL STREEP (most recently, Julie and Julia). So classy, so talented, that she makes me consider getting Mamma Mia! from Netflix. Her rendition of Julia Child had me giggling and beaming at the screen for a full two hours. Sadly, rumor has it that she will be outed as a major internet troll who spends her nights starting flame wars.

PROVISIONAL HERO #3: DAN SAVAGE ("Savage Love"). He's smart and funny and may be getting his own show on HBO:
I'm hoping to bring a new kind of conversation to TV about sex--an honest conversation, one that's informed without being (too) wonky, funny without being (too) cruel, sexy without being (too) cheesy. Basically, my sex-advice column--but on the teevee!
No, he's not always sensitive; he has rightly pissed off numerous folks with flip answers about serious problems. Will he turn out to be a cannibal? Only time will tell!

PROVISIONAL HERO #4: ANNE LAMOTT (Operating Instructions). Would there be mommy blogs, or any kind of blogs for that matter, without brave, frank, wry writers like Lamott who've been letting it all hang out for almost twenty years? Too bad she delights in eating animals while they're still alive, just to watch them squirm, right? Or so we'll discover eventually.

PROVISIONAL HERO #5: MY BROTHER JUDAH. The boy watched the entirety of the Wire, from Season 1, ep 1, through the end of Season 5 in less than a week. I call that dedication of monastic proportions. Of course, it helps that his school year hasn't started yet and he doesn't really, you know, date.

More, more! Nominate your own Provisional Heros to round out the list.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lovin the Leos

Apparently I love Leos. I just can't get enough! Roughly sixteen of my closest friends were ejected into this world between late July and late August, along with my mother, my little brother, and of course the one to whom I pledged my troth (in August, natch).

Having been hatched on July 19th, I narrowly missed being a Leo myself, for which I can only thank the vagaries of fate, cuz have you noticed what strong and often clashing personalities you Leos tend to have? I'll take my Cancer oversensitivity any day.

On behalf of Leos and their special days, I have gone bowling, at which I played two games without breaking 50 either time. I did manage to drop the ball twice though while trying to aim! I have gone eating, I have gone drinking (without drinking), I have tried to go to Jon Stewart. Though I reserved the tickets eight months ago, that plan worked about as well as the bowling, thanks to circumstances beyond my control; I missed a banner episode, too. Oh well. I have traveled and I have stayed put. I have exhausted myself trying to think of semi-original things to write on Facebook walls.

But birthdays go round every year. Why does this August seem so intense? Usually there isn't news, at least not beyond Hey Look, Cute Kitten! stories, or anything worth seeing in the theater. This year, we've had to contend with heroics from mayors, idiocy from former mayors (Death Panels!!), Democrats actually having to respond to "Death Panels", the Middle East cracking down on women, pirates, clunkers, and lots of revelations of the obvious: Bernie Madoff was short where it counted; the Bush administration politicized national security.

Julie and Julia, District 9, and Ponyo are all out now, competing for my attention. Coming soon, to make matters worse: Inglourious Basterds! WTF, August? Will you let me breathe and process the fact that my dad is not getting better and my book is not getting published and --

Actually, you know what, maybe I'm okay with not having time to think. More birthday cake for everyone!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

So long, America!

After four long months of trying to sell my first book, my supportive and encouraging literary agent has conceded defeat. Well, partial defeat, I should say: there's still the rest of the English speaking world to be tried. Perhaps I'll be a Canadian cross-over smash, like Alanis Morisette or Wayne Gretzky! How's the economy in Australia these days? How do Kiwis feel about ambitious religious and political satire?

As dandy as it would be to do publicity tours through Stonehenge and Bath, I'm not counting on that happening. Failure is not falling down but staying down, right? Just gotta keep writing -- and try not to tackle something huge this time. I'll put out that pseudo-autobiographical novel everyone expects of twenty-somethings, and if it sells, then maybe it'll be possible to get the real book out there.

For the most part I'm doing well, though I lost it a bit last night when Mr. Ben came home with flowers. It has helped to remember that: a) I'm only 27; b) I loved the challenge of doing something difficult and creative; c) the book got me an agent; d) the agent got my book read by numerous editors I admire, and those editors now know my name.

Going home this weekend to see my dad will help keep my minor life setbacks in perspective. This is not to say that the taboo on asking about my dad is lifted, by the way -- he's still in bad shape, and he's fighting. But I come bearing gifts from Russ and Daughters, which will work their magic on everyone's spirits, if not my ego.

Okay, a new rule: you can ask about my book; you can ask about my dad. But please don't do both at once.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

You Killed 'the Time Traveler's Wife'!

You bastards! The movie version of the story presents a HAPPY ENDING because a focus group's reaction to the actual ending was less than positive. The perpetrators of this horror are castigated by Pajiba, in one of the most on-point rants I've ever read:
Oh blind fury, how I’ve missed you. It’s been a week or two since you last curled my hands into claws to rip furrows from my own flesh.

“Properly”? Really? You’re going to go there? You’ve directed Flightplan and a single episode of “Lie to Me” and you’re going to swap out the gut-wrenching final scene of a beautiful story because 30 people you found at a mall on a Tuesday afternoon didn’t like being sad? It’s a tragic love story you ignorant twat
Hear hear! I've read the Time Traveler's Wife three times and bawled myself into catatonia three times; that is the mark of a truly special piece of art.

Hollywood seems to have forgotten that a certain level of pain can be exquisite. Heather Armstrong makes this point beautifully in her final post about giving birth to Daughter #2. Juliet makes this point beautifully by dying over and over again all over the world. Terms of Endearment -- one of the few movies that can reliably reduce me to tears -- won an Oscar for Best Picture, for god's sake!