Short Story: The Actor as Stalker and Other Anecdotes

April 14, 2008 at 12:45 pm (Acting, Theater) (, , , , , )

The trail had gone cold sometime around June.

We were forced to admit defeat while skulking around the US Embassy. The Man had vanished into thin air and taken his office with him. We were just trying to get out of the rain, plotting our next move, but the nervous soldiers did not seem amused. As well they might be. The perimeter had been breached only that month by an anarchist with superb sniper training. Or so they would have us believe.

At any rate, the result was the same. Precious parking space was taken up by the most paranoid embassy in town, and yesterday’s meeting with the Supreme Being taught us to expand on the axiom “If you want to get something done, you’ve got to do it yourself.” I now add, “(semi-colon) the satisfaction of knowing you shot yourself in the foot is unparalleled.”

“This is it,” I announced. “Prepare to bask in the sunlight of his godliness.”

“Wipe your mouth, you’ve got crumbs everywhere,” my partner-in-stalking answered. I frowned. How could she be so practical about our meeting with holiness incarnate?

“Like he’s even going to be in.” I said nastily. “We’ll be lucky if a secretary opens the door.” Her downcast face made me feel sorry. Perhaps I had gone too far. This was our dream, after all. Besides, cynicism would get us nowhere. We were here because we had decided to Seize The Day. No more waiting for a role to land in our lap; we were going to go out and grab ourselves one.

So, I wiped myself carefully. She brightened up. We fixed our hair. It was no better than before. A junkie on his way to the Square watched us suspiciously. Clutching our CV’s like votive offerings, we rang the outer bell. Immediately, someone buzzed us through. Success made me cocky; she became slightly breathless. I waltzed in and knocked on the Supreme Being’s door, eager to see just who had been chosen for his Ganymede.

A dog immediately went berserk inside, barking as self-importantly as only the most kick-worthy canines know how. My friend’s breathlessness gave way to gasps of fear. She backed away from the door that separated her from the monster inside. I was not in the mood for her – otherwise amusing – fear of dogs. “Calm down, dammit,” I snapped. “Can’t you tell its one of those shitty small ones?”

Before she could answer, the door opened.

The Supreme Being – all five feet of him – looked up at us with terror in his eyes. “Caught!” they seemed to say. A white fluffy mop ran in excited circles around itself.

Silence.

Call us imbeciles, but we had not thought of this eventuality. Sure, we had imagined him seeing one or both of us and shouting, “Eureka! Call the production crew! We’re ready to roll!” Yet, the case of him simply opening the door and waiting for us to state our purpose had never crossed our minds.

So, we gazed at each other for awhile. I don’t remember which of us managed to croak out a greeting. At this point, he realized he had control of higher ground. And quickly worked it to his advantage. He deftly relieved us of our CVs, (“Are these for me?”) and said, “Thanks, goodbye now!” The door started to shut. Destiny was shutting the door in my face.

“Ahh… Sir?”

Crimson-faced, but unwilling to let him get away that easily, “About your new movie? It’s about Greek-Americans in Canada, isn’t it? I just wanted to tell you that I actually am a Greek-American, and…”

“Actually, it’s being filmed in Siberia. In Russian. Goodbye.”

Oh.

Huddled together under the rain the next day, we realized there was to be no next move. No one we respected was left on our list. We had done all we could do. Which was not much, admittedly; just a few CVs scattered in the general direction of possible productions. Skirting the embassy barriers, we ran, giggling, hand in hand towards the metro. Our phones never rang.

After that, we gave up our search for quality directors. And then directors in general. The winter of our discontent passed with some of us quitting the scene by becoming chemists, and others entertaining snot-nosed children whose only desire in life was to wreck the scenery and pass on every childhood infection known to man.

Spring came again. And with it, chances to shine (or at least twinkle).

Lying on the filthy red rug of the Rialto Theater, waiting for our turn with more patience than Vladimir and Estragon combined, we regaled the others with the story of the pint-sized actor/body builder who craved testosterone. What else was there to do? We had already chatted to everybody in the room and ascertained that no important information was to be gained from anyone. Inside, only 6 people had been examined in an hour. It was going to be long night.

The audition with the body builder had started out badly. Upon arrival, i saw it was strictly C-quality. My more intellectual audition-buddies were nowhere to be seen, and miniskirts topped with blond heads were everywhere. Every non-talent in the business, upon attaining a role on TV, forms their own production company. In fairness, these people may recognize talent, but they have no use for it. And we run to their auditions. Well, I do. Or, did. I felt (correction: used to feel) guilty whenever I missed an audition. Each audition brought with it the freshness of morning dewdrops. Each one was The One. They all turned into soggy acid rain by afternoon, but tomorrow? And the next day?

At what point does optimism turn into foolishness, you ask? When you start to feel like a fool.

Which brings us back to our charmless chunk of manliness. He was more self-important than Napoleon and ruder than a sleep-deprived truck driver. Up and down he ran, list in hand, muttering like truffle-hunting pig. Napoleon the hog. And definitely not as quick on the uptake as Orwell’s Napoleon; I mean, OK, artists are not renowned for their IQ but this was ridiculous. All he had to do was call out our names in the order in which they appeared. Nope. Too difficult. He kept getting mixed up. And sweating. (As pigs do.)

Glory and he had gotten off to a bad start; he had actually folded her head shot in two. She bristled, and (extremely Lady Bracknell-like) said curtly, ” Please refrain from folding my picture. ”

“Huh?” said the genius. “Why?”

“I simply don’t like it being folded. It makes me uncomfortable. Please straighten it out!” Imperio!

Proving his genius, he turned to me and made the motion we used in school to imply someone was a head job. Glory’s mouth started twitching.

“So you’re the director’s assistant?” I asked.

His eyes bugged out in horror. Extremely insulted, “Shit, no way! I’m an actor. I don’t do that shit.” A little more magnanimously, I’m just helping the guys out.”

“Oh, are you going to be in the cast?” Should I even bother to audition?

“In both productions,” he said proudly. “I don’t understand why you people go to auditions. I’ve never gone to audition in my life and I’ve never been unemployed. You guys are totally crazy.” Glory flexed her manicured nails.

“And how, exactly, do you find jobs?” she asked icily. The “you disgusting slab of overripe munchkin” tone was not noticed by Napoleon.

He leaned over (and up) and said, “Girlie, I just go up to the people I want to work with and my powers of persuasion do the rest.”

My stomach cramped with suppressed laughter. This guy just killed me. I wanted to crack up on the floor, but we could not afford hysterics. It was almost our turn, and Glory’s cackle is the one of the most infectious you’ve ever heard. Desperately, I said, “So, did you hear, Glory? Tina’s quit show business!”

“No way,” she said, wiping tears from her still-laughing eyes. “Unbelievable!”

“I know. She’s gone back to being a chemist. She’s working crazy hours at a pharmaceutical company.”

“Who works at a pharmaceutical company?! Do you work at a pharmaceutical company?” We were interrupted by a rabid Napoleon. “GIve me your phone number now! Can you make me some testosterone?” Gone was the smugness of before; I was looking into the eyes of a psychopathic junkie.

“No, no, no not me! ” I backed away in terror. “A friend!”

“Where is she? Is she down there?” He made to go downstairs.

“No! She’s at work,” and thank Dionysus for that. A minute later his watery junkie eyes were inches away from mine. A drool-drop coyly hung from his lower lip. The stench from his piggy mouth was indescribable.

“You tell her I’ve got a business proposition for her. Promise me you will tell her!”

I promised from a safe distance. I fully intended to keep my promise – over a few bottles of wine and an audience.

“Listen, ” he said seriously, “It’s a really good proposal, I’m not shitting you. I’m into body building, for like, a hobby, you know?”

“I thought you might be!” Glory exclaimed. She beamed at him. “It really shows.” I glared at her. Didn’t she realize we were dealing with a madman?

He reddened. “Um, yeah, well, anyway. If she could make us some testosterone at the lab, we’ll do a, uh, deal thing, and she’ll definitely like the terms. We’re talking big, fucking huge money here. Do you know if she can make testosterone?”

“I have no idea, but we’ll find out,” I assured the mad munchkin pig.

“Today!” he insisted. “She’ll be rich, tell her. And don’t worry, I’ll protect her from the mean fuckers, she’ll only deal with me, she won’t even meet the others, OK?”

“As soon as I get home,” I told him. And I did, after telling a funny story for my audition instead of Euripides. It seemed more fitting, under the circumstances.

I kept my promise to Napoleon. I argued in his favor, opined that it would be a great story for grandchildren, but my chemist did not want to hear of it. She is way too cerebral at times. Later, I wondered how long the poor fuck waited for her phone call. How important a thing had we mocked? Was his fury the reason for my not getting the acting gig?

Nearly a year later, we’re all living in a Chekhov play – nothing has changed.

“See? If you’d made the drugs for him, you’d have made a shitload of dough! More than teaching chemistry to brats, that’s for sure.” Tina, that artistic spirit, had lasted three months of misery, hate, and exploitation before quitting the pharmaceutical company. “And you wouldn’t have ditched last night’s audition to go teach. And they would have hired you and we would all have been hired together!” This was true. Our resident chemist was far better at dancing than us; dancing as if the wind was blowing her around would have been a piece of cake.

Why had they hired us? God knows. That’s the funny thing about acting. When you do get hired, you always wonder, why me? But, I didn’t do anything special! I totally screwed up my lines/songs/acted like an idiot…

Why? There is no why. If they want to hire you, they will. Even if you don’t fit the prerequisites of a role. It really makes no difference. 95% of the time you lock down a role before you even open your mouth. This is often called “the magic of theater” by those not inclined towards cynicism.

Our bonny chemist pondered on the perks of a life spent cooking testosterone for the millions of short men with inferiority complexes who inhabit the gyms of the world. Our turn was approximately 4 hours away. Someone had popped off for a class at university and would return shortly. There was no fear of missing their turn.

And then- a lead, burning red-hot was thrown onto our lap! The Man had been found. Cynicism went out the window, and hope bloomed magenta. There is nothing like the hope of an artist; we may grumble and groan and complain that all auditions are rigged, that all directors are assholes, that everybody falls from their pedestal once you get to know them; but hope never ever dies, and at the carrot of a chance to get up on a stage you dump your weekly paycheck, tell big Pharma (well, medium-sized) to take that Bunsen Burner and shove it. Before long, in tears, you print out some more non-actor resumes.

But tears were for later. In a hushed voice, the Cretan explained at length how he managed to get a hold of the Man’s email address, how they replied immediately (!!), and how he triumphantly auditioned at The Man’s new offices.

They were located somewhere in the wilderness of the Eastern Provinces. We debated the reasons for such a move. Was he ecologically minded? Did the sirens keep him up at night? The Man was old; perhaps his doctor had sent him there, far away from downtown’s cancerous atmosphere.

We gleefully planned our new and improved excursion to The Man. To explain: he is one of two people that can make television shows look like art in this country. Two. That’s all. And when I say art, I’m not being an intellectual snob. My Name is Earl is art, too. Are you beginning to get the picture?

The eastern provinces of our city are a shitty place. Roads form, sputter, die, and then turn up over the hill somewhere beyond the goats and the garbage. I parked carefully between two potholes. The stalking had begun.

We were looking for a two-story house somewhere on this road. We had no address, phone, email (the Cretan had accidentally deleted it in his joy) or office hours. Sweat started to form on my lips. School-age children walked behind us, curious and whispering; old ladies stood ready with their brooms, daring us to approach. Ignoring them, we meticulously checked mailboxes. We already had three possible contenders, and all afternoon to kill. Our only problem was our rapidly melting bronzer.

But knocking on strange doors was not to be necessary. The Man had been so confident about his newfound seclusion, that he had recklessly put his real name on the mailbox. Busted you are, my friend and victory is ours. The window was tantalizingly open, the gate unlocked. I grinned, and went for the stairs.

“Where are you going?” Kat whispered. “Let’s just put it in his mailbox.”

I shook my head. “Oh, no. Uh-uh. The trees that made the paper that my CV rests upon will not have died in vain. This time, we’re not leaving until we film a reel. Come on.”

I climbed the stairs, knocked on the door and we were ushered into a small, unkempt office-kitchen-whatever kind of place. A girl came up to us, “Are you here for the casting?”

Kat began to say something about dropping off CVs, but I cut her off.

“Yes, we are,” I said firmly.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, but Helen isn’t here, so I didn’t know people were coming,” said the girl worriedly.

“She’s not?” I said disappointed. Who the hell was Helen?

“Oh, but I can shoot a reel for you, it’s no problem!”

I smiled kindly at her. “That would be fine,” I said. She went to get the camera ready. Kat and I could barely look at each other; the excitement was more than we could stand, and the butterflies in our stomach were feeling expansionist. We were going to finally film a reel for The Man.

Our hearts were full of joy that day. Grabbing life by the reins, forcing dreams to come true, and other such nonsense filled our brains. Oh, what happy, silly children with such fragile hopes! They won’t be dashed until filming begins, and perhaps even not then.

I never switch off my phone.

We wait.

And then we wait some more.

If there is a tree to wait under, so much the better.

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Athens, Barcelona, and the Civilization of it All

April 4, 2008 at 4:43 pm (Politics, Travel) (, , , , , , , , , , )

“Come on, they’re not gonna step on you! Zebra crossings are sacred here!”

“Absolutely not,” I retorted. Madmen. Maybe in England they don’t run you over, but a speeding Spaniard? My mad friends tugged at my unwilling hand and lo! the speeding Spaniard slowed to a perfect stop. Not a wheel over the sacred white lines. They all did so. All week! Was this because it was Easter? Which they don’t even celebrate in Catalonia anymore – I was assured of this by all of the South Americans I met – but, perhaps, an innate feeling of piety and goodwill remains nonetheless? Ha. Fat chance. The definitely un-Christian gleam in the Vueling Check-in Girl’s eyes as she demanded 16 euros because I was 2 kilos over the limit (BItchBitchBITCH! I breathing-exercised) killed that thought.

A real Greek would have brought his carefully chosen Monestir de Tallat merlot over her head, (It is our Right as the Cradle of Democracy and/or Civilization to bring as much shit from foreign lands as we can carry… often buying an extra suitcase in the process) but I am an emasculated, overly polite, faux-EuroAmerican, resigned to being conned and bullshitted and saying Thank You Very Much…

So, the only rebellion I managed was to make her repeat everything she said in English. Now, you may not think this is much, but she fumed as I (who had previously conversed pleasantly in ItaloSpanish with her) kept saying, “What? Where? What?” with an idiotic cow’s gaze. Take that, you crypto-Teutonic bitch! Retaliation came swiftly. I was punished by 3 hours of turbulence.

Angrily certain that the baggage compartment was being flooded by the litres of Iberian wine being brought over, I sulked, pushing my chair as far back in the lap of the unfortunate gentleman behind me as it would go. Leg room is not a Spanish word. Neither is belly room. No wonder there were no Americans on board. The bottles, I knew, were being broken on purpose by the pilot; he was most certainly in on it all. No doubt he is banging the small-eyed Prussian behind the check-in counter.

It is all a conspiracy at the expense of our highly developed Greek consumer culture. You came, paid handsomely for the fun our city has to offer – now really pay for having vastly superior olive oil. Sneaky little buggers. Didn’t see that one coming. I actively enjoyed hunting down the edgy boutique I knew must exist somewhere in Raval. Most victoriously did I lay down my euros when I discovered it. Funiculars, museums, and restaurants did not satisfy my lust for purse-drainage. I needed Stuff. There is Stuff everywhere in Barcelona. Traveler, you have been warned. They have lots of Stuff and they are very civilized. (Quite unlike the Parisians. Cue gnashing of teeth at the recollection of Isle S. Louis’s devil-in-a-cheese-seller’s-guise.)

I constantly marveled at how civilized the Spanish (or, Catalans, more precisely) were. They have solved their transportation problems so efficiently that they were even left with a budget surplus. And thought, what should we do with it? Put it in our pockets? Give some to our mistress for a pied a terre in the Barri Gothic? Keep it for The Party? A yacht, perhaps? (All perfectly natural ideas to a Greek.) Nope.

They did this:

Feeling like i was in Sweden, I watched, amazed, as a bus went by. It was normal, yet not quite. It had plush chairs with armrests, little tables, and large, living room lamps. It looked like a posh bar on wheels. My friends explained that it was a normal bus; you simply pay a little extra for that added comfort. Mostly used by senior citizens. Cruelly unaware of their masterplan for all tourists, (especially those blessed with better olive trees) I was enthralled, entertaining the idea that perhaps I, also, deserve to live in a civilized city. Do I not have the right to cruise Panepistimiou Avenue in an armchair?

After never being run over once, I figured it’s because they’re northern Spaniards, they must have a little more Saxon blood in them than is Mediterraneanly acceptable. I became sure of this when, in even the most underground bars, the music was abruptly shut off and every light in the place was turned on at 3am precisely. The first time this happened, I was ready to flee, certain the police were on to us. Later, I cursed the UK flashbacks (ding-dong – last drinks – please leave the premises) this caused me. I waited to join in a drunken backlash with the rest of the customers. In vain.

These indefatigable Catalans had even changed the driving persona of my friend. One year in civilization, and he was driving like your grandmother. When he gave me his car to play with he was nervy, urging me to stay on the right and to not cut people off. This, from the man who taught me to run red lights and u-turn wherever I wished!

I felt like a third-world citizen, whose friends had moved on to running water and I was still lugging buckets from the well. The day before I arrived in Barcelona , upmarket Athenian salons and restaurants were being berated by their clients for not having thought of buying a generator. Tightly-lipped maitre d’ apologized profusely instead of screaming, “How the fuck could I have imagined the (government-owned) electricity company would strike for weeks and cut our power at regular intervals??”

Panic and hate prevailed on our traffic light-less streets. Hunching forward, hand on the gears, I assumed battle pose and dexterously avoided destroying my vehicle, leaving my unlucky co-citizens to cry and sue over their own scattered debris.

We don’t have night buses or enough asphalt to fit us all with our 4 cars per family, we are destroying what is left of clean rivers and forests, our fake fast internet chucks us offline at whim, inflation, government MIA, and so on and on and so on, and “po-tee-weet!”, sings the bird in slaughter-house 5; the only news fit to print in the months of December and January were the failed suicide attempt of the portly secretary of of the Ministry of Culture and his saucy DVD.

It requires a daily column and a bottle of raki to rue the woes of this land, but still. I can drive any way I damn please, and I’ve got the best raw material in food in the world. Ok, the divine mango is to be found only in Egypt; but that is not strange at all, for they are as uncivilized as we, and more so, for their fruits are the equivalent of celestial harps playing in heaven…. but I digress. It is a proven fact that the more civilized a nation is, the less tasty is their food. The question really is: how much “civilization” am I willing to take? How much privacy and individuality shall I trade for Comfort? Can’t I have my cake and eat it, too?

But, to put some things in perspective, Miss Landmine 2008 of Angola (dream job, “anything”) surely cannot feel my fake existential angst; she has the real deal. Hopping like a lunatic on her one remaining leg, she cackles, juggling her tomatoes and watching our national obsession of obstructing pension plan reform at all and any cost.

“H gh 8a tremei, o ilios anatelei!!” is belted out by 15-year-old supporters of PaSok in the metro; a lively debate between two grannies ensues. I curse at not having my camera on me as I leave, smiling.

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Pathetique? Obama gets a few tips from Dajieblack…

March 5, 2008 at 11:23 pm (Politics) (, , , , , , )

I admit it! I’m Obsessed. Capital O, with a capital P for get-a-fucking-life-Pathetic-much??

I can’t help it. This is better than the Sopranos. ZZZZZZZZZing!! Giuliani down. KAPUT!! Romney bites the dust.

What the fuck am I going to do until Pennsylvania??

I have never been so excited by a living political persona ever. I actually believe all the crap he says. I want to give him some acting lessons so that he can be even better. (He’s got the monologue thing down, but his dialogue skills could use a little honing.) Change, working together, transcending race, bigotry…..sigh! I think it’s because I have always wanted to be an 18-year-old in 1968, the last time this country felt the “sweeping inevitability of change” – I know, I know, only to be squashed by the existence of the Moral Majority. And 1972.

I think I would have committed suicide if I had been working for George McGovern back then. (By the way, there is no greater socio-politico-counterculturo-o-whatever book than Hunter S. Thompson’s On the Campaign Trail ’72.) And then the 1970s in general. Let’s not even talk about the 1980s. No, scratch that. Perhaps I’m being unfair. Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” was quite exciting. Ah, fuck it, I can only speak for my own experiences, and apart from a wide-eyed and ignorant excitement in fourth grade’s 1988 election, my adult life has been thoroughly disgusted and/or left indifferent by politicians. Even my admiration for the debating skills of the British Parliament (which put Americans to shame; where do they learn all those words?) did not translate into admiration for any particular politician.

But now?

Completely and utterly immersed Dajie is. So much so… that….um…. well…. I wrote to the official Obama headquarters!!!!! (at least, I think it was official.)

I’m so embarrassed. And excited! Stumbling, bleary-eyed into my father’s office this morning, before drinking coffee or even washing my face, I growled to him, “What happened in Ohio? Did we get Texas?” Slight hysteria ensued. My fever helped keep me from doing anything serious, so I read and watched everything I could find on the Hillary and Barack Show (with a foray into Afghanistan as seen by Bill O’Reilly).

I am taking this campaign personally for some reason. Shrugging her shoulders, her newspaper persusal left her with a sense of dread. She had the uneasy feeling that Barack was not doing enough to counter the amazing – welded with diamonds, pyrex and titanium – Mrs. Clinton. Not content with commenting on a NY Times article, I googled Barack headquarters and wrote the following.

I feel better now.

Dear Sirs:

It is patently obvious that being nice gets you nowhere. John McCain was lucky this year only because the Bush Dynasty Machine was on hiatus; otherwise he would have been as clobbered as in 2000. That year he should have been the GOP candidate, as well as possibly the president. Now, it’s a little too late for that.

He’s a sweet great-uncle (who secretly gave you your first taste of whiskey) to Hillary Clinton’s wicked stepmother (who can manage to send you crying into your closet with just a smile). Who, in their right minds, would not prefer to vote for him? (I can’t even imagine drinking a beer with Mrs. Clinton.)

Now, McCain was free to Straight Talk this year, but Mr. Obama is not. Niceness will get you nowhere when you are up against the Orwellian Mrs. Clinton, who, by gaining a last gasp of air in Ohio, thinks she has a mandate; she reminds me of Greece’s PASOK party, who lose an election and manage to convince us that they won it.

I believe Mr. Obama would be the finest president America has had in a long time. Someone fresh and new and untainted. What’s more, America is bleeding on all fronts; She doesn’t deserve any more incompetence and hypocrisy and jadedness.

But that is moot. Ideology is insignificant when the uneducated-i-believe-in-tv citizens can destroy a man’s campaign by believing that he has an illegitimate black child! To me, Clinton is the Antichrist of false feminism, the fakest (Romney come back, all is forgiven!) politician I have ever seen, the 5th grade teacher I managed to elude. But she seems to have an ability to tap into and exploit the inner masochist inside many ordinary Americans.

For Mr. Obama to win, he must play and beat Mrs. Clinton at her own game. Hold your nose and wade in the mud with her; else, be left on the pier wondering, where did it all go wrong?

And he must convince the people of his party of the truth:

There is no chance in Bible Belt Hell that Mrs. Clinton can beat Mr. McCain. None. She has won the very states that the GOP will carry with ease come November. If she wins the nomination, the entire GOP will feel like the second coming has arrived.

While incomprehensible to me, it is very possible that after the disaster of this Bush Administration we will have another Republican president. Mind-boggling, that the GOP can be so canny as to let the only untainted member of their party win the nomination, and the Democrats are whining about sexism, racism, media-ism. Wake up! It is not about that. Don’t get mired in the 1960s politics you bash.

Be practical. Flirt with Brutal Realism.

How can you be so silly as not to hit her with her “35 years of experience” from the very first moment it left her mouth? I was dying of laughter on the floor when she first said it; now it’s the main theme of her campaign!! The hypocrisy of her Florida/Michigan delegate comments? She “delivered” Florida and Michigan? Kind of hard not to, seeing as you’re the only name on the ballot?? The way she changes her positions (Poor Romney was but an amateur) in order to pander to the Democratic Party establishment, Bush, the working-class, feminists, her own “I’m not a stand by your man kind of woman” statement; how quickly the promise of a Senate seat dissipated those feelings! Her calling in of Hispanic favors, gamely squeezing out a dry tear, anything at all, in fact, is ok in order to fulfill her unfulfilled craving for power. Being ambitious is not the problem. Augustus knows, I have always admired Livia’s ruthlessness. But someone so power-hungry as the leader of such a broken country? Thanks, but no thanks.

Me? I’m voting for Nader, if Clinton get the nod. My Reagan-worshipping-Wall-Street-Journal-Economist-adoring Daddy? He’d love to vote for Barack Obama; otherwise, he won’t even bother to.

Yours,

Dajieblack

P.S. To fire you up, I propose boogie-ing to Edwin Starr’s “War” for your new campaign song… never fails!!

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Late Night Malarkey: Musings upon a Counterfeit Coin

February 27, 2008 at 4:24 pm (Movies, Travel, Uncategorized) (, , )

How is it that some movies, no matter how cheesy they are, reduce you to a sniveling wreck?

I mean, the I Love You portrait?? Please!! It doesn’t get any cheesier than that. So, after realizing I may be the only person on the planet to have disliked Sweeney Todd, (and feeling rather self-righteous about it… ready to go out naked with a sandwich board and and a bell if that’s what it takes…WAKE UP!! -ding-dong, ding dong- THE END IS NIGH!!) I found myself feeling rather weepy watching The Counterfeit Coin (H Kalpiki Lira, 1955, Greece).

Four simple stories, a few classic characters (the starving painter, the sweet orphan, the stingy rich landlord, etc.) and ta-da!! I felt guilty for every time that I haven’t given the thousands of beggar children their coin; felt like a total witch, in fact, for every time that I turned on my windshield wipers after firmly saying, “No, no, thank you, NO.”

Sniff. (sip.)

How can I be so cruel? And how can I laugh at Elli Labeti’s fluttering, “Sagapw,” while at the same being incredibly, unreasonably moved? (down.)

Perhaps it’s because the movie is in black and white.

Ah. Nostalgia. Ain’t nothing like it.

You may have had no friends in elementary school, been teased mercilessly about your name and reading habits, but thinking about it now?? Such a lovely, unspoilt childhood I had, you say. So pretty. Wish I could go back. Flutter your eyelids.

Knowing you can’t go back just makes it all the more painfully beautiful.

Even better than the nostalgia you feel for your own memories, is the nostalgia you feel for an era that you never experienced in the first place. Gone with the Wind made a fortune out of that. As did the Swinging Sixties and Roaring Twenties. Were they even close to our “memories” of them? Probably not. But just an inkling that they may have been so, seeing a sign of their existence gives you a gripping physical sensation.

Sitting in Groppi’s Cafe in Cairo made me want to swoon. And for what? A few small tables, ripped chairs, and a general musty decadence (not the fun kind) all around. No famous ice cream in sight. But there I was. Sipping my asir lamoun where countless pashas, dames and People of Importance have sat and plotted. Yet, in the incredibly dirty sand surrounding the Pyramids – arguably, a far more magical and historical place – all I wanted to do was take a pot shot with an AK-47.

All those tourists (as if I wasn’t one of them) just ruined the atmosphere. Let alone the outrageous prices at the Cataract Hotel in Aswan. Let me live out my Agatha Christie fantasy in peace, damn it! (By the way, Abu Simbel?? Much more impressive in the movie, she says, fleeing the stones being wielded by rabid archaeologists, and directed at her curly head. What can I say? The prayer mark on our guide’s forehead fascinated me much more than the umpteenth Ramses statue before me.)

Where was I? (slurp.)

Nostalgia is a personal thing. Too fragile to be placed out in the open. It works best at 2am when you’re all alone on the couch drinking homemade liquer, watching a black and white movie and snuffling like a snufflupagus.

And the Counterfeit Coin? Film it now, and be laughed out of the theater. Try and revamp it? Somehow, the little orphan girl selling pirated CDs just doesn’t do the same thing to me. If it isn’t far removed from your own reality you don’t even notice it. Booooooooring! But a few years down the line, we’ll wistfully recall a time where Africans fresh off the boat peddled CDs (What are seedeez, auntie? Oh, honey, i forget how young you are! In my day….) and DVDs in every cafe in the city. We’ll sigh with the same nostalgia that we do when gazing at the unrecognizable city of 1955, whose inhabitants never gave a second glance. Who can blame them? It was just there. It still is, isn’t it??

Here’s to cheezy old movies! (chug.) And to cherished moments that were never really special until they disappeared!! And to humankind’s ability to mull over lost time for centuries, ignoring the current time that they are currently losing, and losing even more time in the process!!

At this crucial point in my non-existent argument the bottle has been emptied of its contents.

So I must bid you adieu. To you, and you, and you in the back.

Au revoir.

P.S. in 50 years will I be singing along, deep in the throes of nostalgia, I’ll fiiiiiiiiiiind you Jooooooaaaaaaaaaannaaa in a gravelly smoking old lady’s voice?!

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Flip, Flop & Glide: An Excercise in Post-Punk

February 16, 2008 at 4:27 pm (music)

So there I was, driving downtown and sulking big-time.

I wanted to dance. TO DANCE. All damn week. And you ask where I was driving?? To a “post-punk” party. What the fuck is post-punk, anyway? Anything after 1977? I mean, are we talking Madonna here, or Pearl Jam? Considering the venue, I was certain we were in for a night of nasal, Placebo-like navel-gazing.

So I sulked.

My not-so-subtle hints of cruising by a certain funk and soul-loving bar were not appreciated. But we’re going to the post-punk party, I was patiently reminded. My second suggestion was more enthusiastically received, however. A friend was playing old Greek songs with an electro twist nearby, so went to check it out before post-punking.

Naturally, there was a huge queue. Cursing trendy Athenians, we went next door for a drink while the crowd dispersed.

That was when the sun came out. The moon twinkled and spun, the stars started shooting in unison. (And so on.)

DUSTBOWL were playing!! ( http://www.dustbowl.gr )

I had no idea who they were, but it was obvious what they dug. Beautiful, jangly country music, old-style. A love that I had forgotten, spurned for other genres, suddenly reminded me that the best damn music in the world was written in the 1950s.

The guys and gal were absolutely amazing. They were dressed like the Man in Black down to his retro silver mike. Big George was channeling Johnny Cash’s larynx with the utmost success, and I heard live (LIVE!!!! whoda thunk it?? I certainly didn’t) Folsom Prison Blues and Ghost Riders in the Sky, (I happily raised my hand to his query, are there any cowboys in the audience tonight?)

When they played the theme to Rawhide, I started shrieking, jumping up and down in delight, trying to keep up with Big George who sang it a lot faster than Dan Ackroyd. (Kudos to their amazing drummer.) Country music really brings out the child in me, yet its themes are so blue; that’s where its attraction lies. Who doesn’t love to wallow in gorgeous self-pity with a rollicking beat?

And then came the post-punk moment of the night.

A friend of the band’s came up onstage and sang the Stooges’ No Fun as if he were Johnny Rotten. We pogo-ed accordingly, feeling increasingly as if we were in junior high as the concert progressed. I was in bliss. Big George thought for a bit, and then sung the entire song again, completely straight-faced, rockabilly style.

And you know what? It sounded just right.

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Utter Lack of Genius: “Sweeney Todd” Butchered

February 14, 2008 at 5:01 pm (Movies)

Is there a point in fame that, once reached, you can never fall from again?

I watched Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd last night, with the sweet anticipation I have whenever he releases a movie; I have been an avid fan since I was eight and saw Beetlejuice. At the time, I believed it was the best movie ever ever made. It had everything. Love in the Afterlife!! Color!! Deathwishes!! Humor!! Surrealism!! Incredible Music!!

And damn if it still isn’t his best. Ok, it’s in the holy triptych along with Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands. (And Batman is the best Hollywood blockbuster ever.)

Well.

Sweeney Todd? His worst movie ever.

No way, you think. She’s probably some bitter actress who screwed up her Burton audition, you’re thinking. It’s gotten rave reviews, right?? Awards n’ stuff, no?? So, it’s got to be great!! Everybody says so, after all.
Not since Big Fish have I been so disappointed with Burton. I nearly left in the middle. Where was the quirkiness?? The seamless mixing of dark humor and childlike fantasy? Most importantly, where was the ART? Was anybody actually looking through the camera?? There seemed to be no direction whatsoever, and all the actors walked through what they know how to do in their sleep. Alan Rickman (who normally I melt into a puddle for) was a complete nonentity; I think he was too bored to even try to make a character for himself. I am certain that more thought went into how he spits out the word “Potter!” than the entirety of his scenes in Sweeney Todd.

And, truth be told, I can’t blame him. He had nothing to do. No one did. The characters were as one-sided as cardboard cut-outs.  Honestly, it was one of the most boring movies I’ve ever seen. Oh, Depp tried to glare as blackly as he could to show his dark desire for vengeance; but for two hours? And he gets accolades for this? The effort of glaring so much stuck to his face, poor boy, and he couldn’t get it unstuck for the ending to show remorse for accidentally killing his wife.

Sadly, Burton’s relationship with Helena Bonham Carter has been an artistic disaster for both. Where’s the mysterious girl that played Ophelia? In Room with a View you can’t take your eyes off her. But in practically every movie they’ve done together she is a study in mediocrity, emptily sneering at the camera. And this time, her emptiness has permeated throughout the entire movie.  When you yawn when when somebody is pushed into a burning furnace, you know there’s something wrong.

In short, it’s a complete hack job. We do what we know how, give ’em Johnny in his Kabuki make-up, and let’s not sweat it too much because we know that know we are now considered geniuses; just you try ‘Enry ‘Iggins, to say anything bad about us!

I feel cheated.  I love Tim Burton movies. I would like more than anything to go for cotton candy and ride the ferris wheel with him on Coney Island. So what the fuck happened??? How on earth could he lose his humor?? Where did it go??

Let’s get one thing straight: I love splatter movies as much as the next person. It’s Pavlovian; the bigger the geyser of blood, the harder I laugh.  But in Sweeney Todd, it was empty laughter.

The simple fact is, this movie is a spoof. But the director didn’t get it. They should have given it to Mel Brooks. The entire theater would have been crying with laughter. The characters are meant to be one-sided nutters.  I see a girl sewing in a window?? OMG, I’m just gonna grab her and live happily ever after!!! But Burton decided to ignore that and make yet another gothic fantasy.

But a gothic fantasy needs a good story with twists and turns and capital D drama. Sweeney Todd has no suspense, no twists and turns; If it was a twenty minute short that would be fine. But it’s a farce!!! Sweet and Benny Hill-simple.

A farce, and with the worst, most repetitive and unimaginative music to ever grace a Tim Burton film. So strange for someone who actually seems to have an ear for catchy tunes, to watch straight-faced the horrendous “I’ll fiiiiiind you, Joooooaaaaaaanaaaaa,” and not leave it on the cutting room floor.

The biggest farce of all?

That this is “Tim Burton at his Best!!” “Johnny’s Best Acting Ever!!!” 5 stars!! 4.7 stars!!

No, it isn’t. By far. So just admit it.

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