Thursday, December 25, 2003

Sleepy.
I'll be brief because tomorrow I've got a day at the LACMA and possibly right into a poker night. And I'm already exhausted from the past two days.
This morning I spent with my folks. We opened presents. Some of the loot highlights are an Alton Brown cookbook, the special edition DVD of Fear and Loathing, the two disc Neverwhere DVD, the extended Two Towers, a five DVD set of documentaries on the Marx Brothers, a digeridoo dance band from europe type of cd, Tori Amos' new cd with the bonus DVD, lots of european chocolate bars, a folk cd, a Dr. John cd, a celtic folk cd, and two really interesting looking teas (one from australia and one from the meditarranean. And sorry I'm not spell checking tonight). And two jams, one is Loganberry which I know I like and one is rhubarb apricot which I'm a little nervous about.
Then I went to my loopy grandmother's. Nuff said.
Then my folks and I decided to go see LOTR:ROTK. I won't go into that right now either because I could go on for a while. Maybe some other day. I'm going to try and get an early night's sleep here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

In short, I'm hanging on just fine, but the knuckles were white today.
I don't understand why things get so heightened when you're an adult. It's really hard to enjoy these days of the year because responsibilities compound on top of work, which even during the rest of the year tends to take up 75% to 95% of your energy when you're an adult. No wonder I've never grown up.
When I woke up, about forty minutes too early, I had one order to go out. "How dumb" I thought. I ended up taking a crock pot to my mom who needed it at her work for some reason and then rushed to the post office because I figured that it would either be empty or teeming. It was the former.
I came home and there was one more order to go out. "How dumb" I thought. That one was so dumb that it's just going to wait until Friday. I've been really good at getting all the other orders this year out quickly. Scroom. Friday's fast enough.
Then I had a credit card bill larger than I'd remembered, a mess of paperwork for my loan, and figuring out when I should schedual my traffic school date. Plus the usual work and my grandmother getting under foot. I boxed some books and then crashed around three. Just laid down for those forty minutes I'd missed at the first part of the day. Just succumbed to peaceful slumber instead of getting a good walk in before it started raining. I just didn't care anymore. I just wanted sleep. That's all I wanted for Christmas.
I woke up and drove my grandmother home right at rush hour.
Things got a little nicer when I made dinner for my folks. We had breaded cod, peas and rice, which I just remembered that I forgot to put a little hot sauce on. Phish will understand. Ever since Nissa broke up with me I always put a little hot sauce on my rice.
Look at me. The holidays have frazzled me so much I'm doing in jokes now.
After dinner I took a long long walk. Long walk. In the drizzle. That was nice.
When I came back I got a call from my brother. He supplied me with some brand new misgivings about how I'm toying with the idea of moving up there. He told me about how he's trying to change my father. He told me about some things he wants me to learn. I don't know. I'm really scared that if I move up there I'm going to become a project for him. But I really want to move out of this place before I turn 27.
But I don't need to make that decision tonight.
My folks and I also opened a few presents together tonight. It's our tradition to open one present each on Christmas Eve. I have no idea why. I got a very comfy looking t-shirt from my brother.
Right now I'm unwinding and feeling pretty good. It's gently raining outside. When I look out the back door, the neighbor's white hanging lights are shimmering in the puddle in my backyard. The Cambodians are having a party and they brought over some form of kebob that was tasty. I think it was chicken.
Right now I've got the Projekt Christmas albums on random on the stereo and the little blinking lights on the tree reflected on my computer screen and my glasses. It's a nice, calm night here. Now the trick is to keep that. Or maybe the trick is to just keep moving until the next peaceful moment.
One thing I'm proud of is that I didn't get depressed or have an anxiety attacks this year. I usually do sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas and it'll stick with me until after the new year. Last year it was so intense and so drawn out that I went into counseling. It seems to be one thing after another that should lead me to the conclusion that the global ship is sinking.
When I was out walking and I saw a kitty, a fat kitty, waddling across the street to get under a car and out of the drizzle. I went by the car and said what I always say when I see a kitty when I'm walking. I said, "Kitty!" Kitty looked out at me and I saw that somebody had tied a ribbon to kitty's tail. Kitty didn't look like kitty trusted me enough to have me take it off kitty's tail. So I kept walking and for a minute I thought about inhumanity. Then stopped thinking about that and I kept walking. I just kept walking.
EXISTENZ

Or rather "eXistenZ" in the title's pathetic attempt at being interesting. Okay, maybe I'm getting off on the wrong foot here, but there was a lot of hackneyed hacker speak in this film and it bugged me.
This should have been a better film. It had Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law, both of whose work I've enjoyed (although I can't say I've seen the majority of either of their work.) Jennifer Jason Leigh did a fine job. Jude Law did a fine job with one of the worst American accents I've ever heard. Worse than Michael Caine. The film kind of uses bad accents as a running joke, but it wasn't clear to me if Jude Law's bad accent was part of the joke or not. It just came off as sloppy to me. Willem Dafoe was in it for a few minutes and gave a performance consistent with the high bar he's raised for himself. It also had Iam Holm feasting, yea glutting himself on the scenery. Good Gravy. What was in the catering on this film? The cast acted so odd.
Maybe it was Cronenberg. Maybe he's lost control of his casts. I can tell you that he hasn't lost control of his fresh reinventions of horror. This film was gruelingly disturbing in its exploration of the exploitation of genetic engineering. I have to give Cronenberg credit. He can really gross you out in ways you hadn't been grossed out before. And he doesn't do it in the same way from film to film. So, there was some freshness to this film, which may have been its most redeeming quality.
This film raised a lot of questions for me that I'm not sure the film meant to raise. The main thing was that it made me happy that Philip K Dick is a name that more people are starting to recognize. Besides the literary value being discovered, one of the main points of PKD becoming more well known that I think it urgently needed is that it might prevent more people from so obviously ripping off his ideas. I remember when I saw Fight Club I was angry because Palahniuk's big surprise plot twist that the story was hinged on was ripped straight out of Philip K Dick's "Valis." People were saying what a great plot twist it was and I agreed. It was a great plot twist. WHEN I READ IT FROM PKD'S TWENTY YEAR OLD NOVEL!
Existenz (because I refused to continue the quirky capitalization), in my humble opinion, stole its major storyline from PKD's "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch." They use gaming connections rather than drugs, but that's really the only major difference. Oh and there's no Palmer Eldritch character in Existenz. I only mean to say that Existenz uses the disappearing into an alternative reality for long periods in short amounts of real time, the false reality bleeding over, and it gets dodgy as to what terrible things are happening in the false reality and which in the real. Three Stigmata is the craziest book I've ever read and I'm a fan of William Burroughs and Robert Anton Wilson. PKD himself said that when he re-read the book it occured to him that it wasn't so much that the story was psychotic but that the book itself was psychotic. Existenz was a pale rehash to me. It might have been a wild ride for others.
Somebody might make the coincidence argument. The nothing new under the sun argument. That maybe they just happened to make the film and never read PKD. We've all done it, right? We've all thought up something and realized how much it's like something else. Sorry, but I'll eat my hat if Chuck Palahniuk and David Cronenberg are unfamiliar with PKD.
So, the question the film raised for me was "Is it okay that they borrowed liberally from PKD?" It seems wrong to me. Why it seems wrong is a much harder question to answer. It's a question of where you draw the line. I myself have just written a retelling of an old Russian folk story to make it take place in Orange County in 1972. What's the difference?
What immediately springs to mind is that I just told you that it's a retelling of an early Russian folk story and I say it under the title of the story. Existenz and Fight Club at no point say that they are "retellings of an idea by Philip K Dick."
I don't know. Maybe I'm not cutting them enough slack. Maybe I'm tacking on a larger disagreement with films that were mearly disappointing. I myself also recently published a chapbook of poetry (which you can purchase through the email address at the top of this blog.) One of the poems is a ritual for getting over lost love and one of the lines says "3) Ask the gods if it is time for you to sleep with somebody else. If you don't hear from them, take it as a yes." I was in the bath the other day and it hit me, that's a joke from The Simpsons. Homer's praying "If you want me to eat these cookies, give me no sign."
I really don't know. We get so flooded with information and entertainment that these things sit right at the lip of our brains and slip out into our own work sometimes. I want you to know that I'm not saying that having ideas like PKD in these films makes them bad films. It could be totally by accident. It could be stolen outright. I don't know. I'll never know the intent of the writers. Even if I asked them, they could be lying. I will say two things for sure. One is that this is exactly why I focus so much on the editorial process in my work. In hopes of weeding out other people's ideas or giving them due credit if they seep in. The second thing is that Existenz wasn't a good film, but it wasn't a bad film either. I kept watching it and I got a lot out of it and it put ideas in my head and made me think about art (I suspect I was being led to ask questions about reality though.) It was a question that I don't have an answer to and there may not even be an ultimate answer to. That's what I enjoyed about this film.
It says on the video box "Makes `The Matrix' look like child's play." I agree, but that's not hard to do. It's not hard to make The Matrix look like turd.
In the end, it's a film that I'm glad I saw and I hope I never have to see it again.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

I spent the first half of my day working and the second half with Nissa. It was... strange, good, much more comfortable than I had anticipated, some fun, strange, heart wrenching at points, very pleasant, and strange (I'm using every quark of my will power to avoid saying "bittersweet.") She got me a scarab made of some beautiful stone that looks like some great item of power, like the kind of item that Indiana Jones would be after. It's got the Egyptian character for the letter "T" on it. I told her, "I love tea!" She also gave me a nice warm hoodie that's the same color as my other hoodie, but warmer and doesn't have a picture of Pigpen and Phil Lesh on it. I gave her a pen from the Ukraine (proud to say I spelled that right on the first try) and a very rare acting book by Jerzy Grotowski that I'm going to read too and we'll meet up later to cuss and discuss.
We finished her shopping. I seem to be doing a lot of that this year. I seem to be going along with people who need to finish their shopping a lot. We laughed and had fun and caught up. We went to the packed mall, the pet store and the Psychic Eye Bookstore. It got a little difficult for me when we looked through a Japanese erotica art book together and she started talking about people at her meditation center getting married. But then, over a large dinner at Mother's, I unburdened myself to her and told her some things that I'd been wanting to say to her since the last time she was out here and a few things I didn't know I wanted to tell her. I felt much better and on we went.
I might see her again on Friday when Phish, Chas and the gang go up to LACMA. Nissa might go with us, but none of us are counting on it. We know how the holidays work.
I have nothing to ship tomorrow, so I might... to be honest, I don't know what I'm going to do. Maybe I'll finish the film I'm working on and put out another review. I didn't end up doing one of my favorite films or the last Scorsese in my series. Instead I did another film I'd never seen before that I'll have a lot to say about. Really I just follow my nose as to what film to watch next so I should probably stop saying that I'm going to do one film or another next. I never know what's next. So much like life.
Now I'm home and the large lentil nut loaf dinner from Mother's is not unlike a large party of angry gnomes with pitchforks in my gut.
Oh, and it rained today. That was nice. I was just thinking about how nice it'd be if it were to rain.
A lot of people don't realize, but A Christmas Carol was originally written as a political pamphlet. Dickens wrote it as an indictment of greedy business men that he saw around London in his day. You know, the kind who hold profit more important than things like giving their employees a livable salary or, in some cases, even more important than the lives of their employees and customers. It's true.
I wonder if London wasn't bustling with rude, wealthy greedheads in oversized carriages who would sooner run you over than greet you with a "Merry Christmas."
But that's just me.
I also used to love it, secretly, at South Coast Repertory when people would come to the ticket window and yell at me about the prices or their seats or some such nonsense about their tickets to A Christmas Carol. Which, by the way, was a production much like I was warning against in my Sound of Music review. It's point for point a basic phoned-in walk-through of any production of A Christmas Carol you've ever seen. It has no life.
"Where'm I supposed to park my Hummer in them small spaces? I got $100 tickets for all my kids right up in front where everyone can see them and I can't have them walk down a flight of stairs to get to the show. I'm gunna speak to your manager about this."
Every night I praise the Lord that I'm out of that shit house.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Shipped more this morning. No more orders today so maybe the lull that I've been anticipating is upon me.
Got such a backpack full of books at the library that it hurt my back all the way home.
Got a letter from my loan people that almost meant that I missed my payment for the first time ever due to their incompetence. But I called them and straightened them out. Assertiveness!
Seeing how the day was going I decided that I'd save the larger portion of inputting inventory for tomorrow and go to the comic book store. I'm two collections into the Scary Godmother series now. It's dark fun, just how I like it.
I took Charles to work, then came home and made my version of Surf and Turf. Elk steak and shrimp with Tabasco soaked rice and peas.
At the Liquid Den reading tonight Lob called out for me to read a poem about Elvis. I didn't have one about Elvis, so I wrote one for Lob right after the reading.


Elvis
for Lob
By Reverend Paul Mathers

Most people don't know this, but Elvis sold something for his talent.
He sold his non-existent time.
He sold the time betwixt his death and his judgement
which is why he has staying power.
He's reliving his life in a loop right now
Or most of it anyway.
The parts we remember.
Every time he takes the codine and sits flab on 1977 toilet
he remembers that first televised appearance when the cameras bisected him
and he starts over from there.
Tonight he just happens to be reliving the worst night of his life.
Pricilla had drifted into cold fish eyes
before Elvis enters limo for late performance
and tiny Lisa, when told she couldn't go with once again,
stamped her foot and said, "I hate you, Daddy."
His disciples are asleep in the next room.
Elvis flops on televise lit bed
and acts like praying
while he waits for pill to hit king blood
and tries and fails to pass out again
before he remembers that it's all uphill from here.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

THE SOUND OF MUSIC

This was a strange hole in my film watching experience. I go around singing Edelweiss all the durned time. I also sing it with different lyrics. I often sing it at 8:05. But I'd never seen The Sound of Music in film or on stage. Never.
The first surprise of the film was that I knew every song except the one that Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer sing in the gazebo later in the film. Many of them I didn't realize were from Sound of Music like Climb Every Mountain which I always assumed was an old hymn. They used to sing it in the church where I grew up. So it turns out I grew up in a church where they sang show tunes.
There are a few tried and true themes for musicals. The musical is a popular entertainment with a specific form that tends to unfold in a certain manner. Other theatrical forms of old would often produce many plays with simular themes, freeing them to focus on putting variation in the story, within the form as well like Greek tragedy or mystery plays or Gilbert and Sullivan's work. For example a Greek tragedy would usually go "There's a heroic figure who is nearly god like. They have one failing to their character. That one failing makes them fall from grace."
There's also a form of theater that reacts against this by making plays that comment upon themselves, but let's not get off topic here.
The stock theme that The Sound of Music falls into is the one where life is beautiful and people are happy or at least content with tiny squabbles until some great, exterior, tyrannical force comes in, destroys the lifestyle of the happy people and they're forced to pull themselves up by the boot straps. Two other examples of this theme right off the top of my head are Fiddler on the Roof and Cabaret. I'm sure there are many others.
I liked The Sound of Music. It's got everything you need in it to be entertained. Puppets, nuns, singing, umm... mountains.
And Julie Andrews is right up at the top of my list of greatest musical actors (and singers) ever. Right up there with Zero Mostel.
I only had a few criticisms of the movie. I thought that the story of the Nazi telegram boy was weak and poorly executed. I thought the actor who played him was indicating his internal life way too much and didn't let the story tell its self. Also the Baroness part felt a little tacked on to me, a little flat. I really don't think it would have taken away from the film to have cut either or both of those parts and make it run under two hours.
I also think that The Sound of Music is a historical document. I have a big problem with the overwhelming number of theaters that produce musical after musical in the same manner, the same staging over and over just to get their coffers glutted. The classics MUST be explored in new ways constantly to keep them alive. We know that Hamlet has been done straight up, in period. We know what Olivier found in the role. People need to find life within the role, within the script and within the story constantly. Make it new or it's boring. This film was not boring because it was the first time it was done that way. It was new and full of life and still stands as such. Therefore an artist cannot remake the musical in the same manner without it being stale.
If I were putting on a production of The Sound of Music, I'd do something jarringly different because otherwise anybody in the audience could just go and rent the movie and wouldn't have to sit between an old lady wearing too much perfume and a child with the flu. I might have the entire set be long hanging white fabrics that changed colors in the lights in accordance to the tone of the scene. The actors could play with the drapes, maybe even build houses, boats, convents, or hills out of the fabric. They could be the drapes that the play clothes are made out of!
Or I might do a production with gender reversal. I think it'd make some neat statements on the androgyny of the nuns and the raging masculinity of the patriots and the fascists. This occured to me during the "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" scene when the nazi boy was leading the sixteen year old daughter around the benches like a trick pony. I thought, "Wouldn't this be great if the nazi was a girl and the daughter was a boy in a dress?"
Anyway, part of the reason I like these old musical films so much is that they teach me about the past. I see the great art of history and, in seeing and appreciating them, it both informs my work and prevents my work from becoming replicas (ideally.)