21 December 2012

Is Nigh / Is Not Nigh

Found here.
The world's always just about to end in New York City. It's not just a staple of our cinema, but a strange background noise to all the on-going construction and planning for the future. We traded in our "THE END IS NIGH" wearable placards a long time ago for ones that read things like "CASH 4 GOLD" and "Flashdancers - 2 4 1!" Because we're used to the idea. So much so, that when this date finally rolled around, we just hoped it'd be something interesting, like a giant creature or zombie plague, rather than the plain ol' typhoons and militant citizenry.

I've entertained an apocalyptic fantasy or two in my time. John Hodgman sums up this type of fantasy pretty succinctly when he describes it as one in which we envision ourselves not only as survivors, but special survivors - the ones too wily to wilt in the face of Armageddon.

I honor today's date over at one of the Tumblr 'blogs I oversee with Friend +Dave Younce - Post-Apocalyptic Fashion - with the kind of pragmatically light-hearted look that comes natural to a naturalized New Yorker: A Very Merry End-o-the-World to You! Please enjoy, and if you've gotta go - go out with some style...

13 December 2012

How To

These words are not mine. Well, these words are, sure, of course. But the ones below? The ones in quotes? Those ain't. They're very, very good words of advice about 1. sustaining an organization (an arts organization, in particular), and 2. integrating with a community in a meaningful way. These words, this "How To," if you will, come from Ms. Natalie Brown of Alternacirque and Delirium Tribal Bellydance fame.

I first became aware of Natalie and Anternacirque when high school chum Kate Fox noticed she had two friends (at least) through Facebook who posted pictures of themselves doing things in crazy circus contexts. Since that time I've watched Alternacirque flourish, so much so that it's made me wish I lived a little closer. Today, Natalie was inspired to leave a lengthy post on Facebook about their success, and graciously permitted me to quote it.

This is it, in its entirety, with no editing on my part. Down with form letters, emails and phone calls...

"I seem to be having the same conversation over and over with various people about Alternacirque, Delirium, and our success among the muggle population. And it's pretty basic stuff, really: go invest in your community and they will invest in you.

"And I don't mean send out a bunch of form newsletters or emails or phone calls. Go out and actually shake their hands and put your business cards in them. Go see art gallery openings. Go see shows. Go attend festivals as a spectator and strike up conversations with people holding clipboards or badges. Go to mayoral political debates (especially if they're having one centered around the arts), stick around for the rope line, and then go have a drink with everyone around you to analyze the candidates. Know what your legislators look like, so when you pass them on the street, or they come through your line at the coffee shop, or you're standing behind them in line at the coffee shop, you can tell them what you think or what you need. Know their right and left hand henchpeople, too. When you meet them, get their cellphone numbers. Ask to go to lunch and pick people's brains. Go hang out where other artists, producers, entrepreneurs and people with power and resources drink, and drink with them. Go see the ballet, and local theater, and take the playbill home and friend every single name in it on facebook, from the cast to the stage crew to the marketing department down to the interns. Know the name of everyone working at your local arts council and state arts commission. Do enough research to know which of those organizations are fairly useless and which actually care. Keep up enough to know when things turn over and they might start being useful. Talk about your art passionately. Listen equally as passionately about their projects. And don't stick with your people. Don't talk to just dancers, or just weirdos, or just artists. Talk to restaurateurs and tech people and the organic/urban food movement in your areas. Share advice and resources as often as you ask for it. Make friends. If your community isn't close-knit, see what you can do to encourage it to be so. As you grow and figure things out, reach down to the kids coming along behind you, and see if you can't make their struggle easier.

"Don't be afraid that people will think you're a freak. A few will. But really, you're probably the most interesting and fascinating person in the room. People would rather hear about what it's like to be a bellydancer than about spreadsheets and conference calls.

"Everyone's town is going to have a different pulse, heartbeat, radio frequency. It's your job to figure out how it functions, and join the flow. You can't do that from your living room. It's much more interesting out there, anyway."

02 November 2012

New York, NY

Hurricanes are threatening to become passé. Last year we had one, plus an earthquake. Of course, we're now hearing that Hurricane Sandy may be followed up by a nor'easter (which, in my head, is already named Annie - as in, lil' orphan). Just imagine if that proves to be a repeat of "Snowpocalypse," the storm that rocked the whole of the east coast not that long ago. At this rate, weather systems seem increasingly likely to cause another enormous blackout, like the one we had back in 2003. And even if they don't, with the pressure they've been under lately I suppose it's also possible we just might have another transit workers' strike before the end of 2013. But I don't mean to be pessimistic! Over the past decade or so, our police force has successfully foiled under a dozen proven terrorism attempts. Sure, they also clashed with our own citizenry over the Occupy Wall Street protests, but.... Hey! At least no one's flown any planes into any buildings here, lately!

I'm not aiming to make light of any of this. I'm just tired.

I used to consider it a cliché, the way that movies concerned with monumental American events (including, of course, disasters) so frequently feature New York as a landscape. After living here for over a dozen years myself, it seems more apt than anything else. Even when we set aside the iconography so necessary in film, wherein a subset represents the larger culture, the fact is that a lot befalls our fine 'burgh. Manhattan is set on some ley line intersection of fortune and desperate fate.

This event-riddled lifestyle of living amongst "the five boroughs" used to be a way of life I relished. As a kid, I used to run outside when it was windy. I wanted the world to be an exciting place, dramatic and narrative, swirling and swift. I still do. I still entertain survivalist fantasies and pursue the occasional unnecessary speed. It's just that last Monday night, as I prepared to huddle up for the night with Darling Wife and Tempestuous Twelve-Week-Old on an air mattress in the most central room of our railroad apartment, bags packed and boots by the makeshift bedside in case of a sudden evacuation, it all seemed suddenly a bit too ... well: disastrous.

And not a moment later, it seemed too familiar. I'm tired.

We've fared among the best of all the locations where Sandy laid down her land legs. We're in central Astoria, and though not five miles hence our friends in Long Island City have a quasi-war-zone on their hands when they step outside, here plenty of people are having food delivered and getting far more drunk than they generally would on a weekday. Personally, the storm has had the following effects:

  • A paid week off from work, for the most part (OK: I have worked, but from home, and as the email server went down so did the list of tasks I could reasonably accomplish);
  • Hours upon hours of more time with my family than I could've otherwise expected;
  • Clean laundry and apartment; and
  • More Facebook, Google Reader and Tumblr than any one man ought to have thrust upon him.
There are people whose lives are at risk, and those who've lost their lives already over this latest storm. I have nothing to complain about. The spookiest thing about our Halloween was that we're hardly exercising enough these days to justify some peanut-butter cups. Instead of power failures or looting, we've had to confront the fact that we were just too baby-encumbered to do anything adventurous for our four-year anniversary last night. We're incredibly fortunate, and I'm very grateful.

And I'm tired. Tired of the risk, the threat, the struggle of living here. I'll always love New York, and always miss it once we've had enough and moved on. I'm sad even now, with no special deadline for leaving, at the thought of no longer living here. I have been sad for years - when I happen to think of it - years over which the option of leaving NYC for greener (but NOT by definition more lovely) pastures has grown increasingly practical. I've been subliminally preparing myself for the day, because in the midst of the uncertainty involved in calling this city my home I've had complete certainty about how I will look back on it: with little else but longing.

But just maybe we should get going before the Mayan calendar ends. After all, we've already got our "go bags" packed.

10 October 2012

In League with Liars: Storytelling and the Actor

Photo by Andrew Lloyd-Jones.
Last Wednesday, I was a bad husband and father. Well, maybe not a bad husband and father, but an absentee one. But only for a few hours. But it was in the evening. But it was for a cultural event. But it was at a bar. With a bunch of professed liars. And it was my daughter's nine-week birthday.

I am the lowest of the low, and have done little-to-nothing to earn the understanding of my wife.

The Liar's League is a very cool organization that specializes in public readings of short fiction. Their motto: "Writers write. Actors read. Audience listens. Everyone wins." It is, in my opinion, the perfect venue for someone of my stripe - thirty-something, recent father, pragmatic (somewhat) actor who nonetheless occasionally needs to stretch his performing legs. This, too, is how I justify my flagrant negligence of wife and child. The household's psyche is better off for my occasional jaunt back to the boards. Plus: the venue is relaxed, the work of high quality, and the time commitment is very reasonable.

I was introduced to the Liars by Friend Natalia Zubko back in July, mere weeks before Daughter J. would enter the world. Natalia was prescient enough to realize the perfection of the League's match with my new time and mental-space restraints, and when we attended their Public & Private themed reading she took it upon herself to introduce me to the organizers. We enjoyed the evening, and an interesting discussion began about finding the balance - as a performer - between presentation and representation. Or: telling the story versus embodying the moments.

This is a classic conundrum for an actor, in large part because it has so much to do with that horrid convention of casting - the audition monologue. Most audition pieces list toward storytelling, having as they generally ought a beginning, middle and end. Conversely, the point of an audition piece is not actually to tell an effective story (though that can only help) but rather to demonstrate an active, intentioned character who is experiencing things in the present. It is most important that the actor know who they're supposedly talking to - their invisible scene partner - and that said actor is trying clearly and convincingly to persuade their opposite of something. The story if there is one is actually what's happening in the room, not the narration it may involve.

I've a long-held fondness for actual storytelling. That and stand-up comedy were my first real performance opportunities as a kid. Along with reveling in what John Ritter could do with a long phone cord, I spent many an early-eightes Saturday morning watching this one storytelling series on UHF channel 50 (the name of which is long-lost to the annals [ew] of my gray matter). Just a guy with that distinctly awful grooming of the time talking to some kids in a carpeted "activity room," with the occasional prop or puppet. I ate it up, and continue to admire people who are adept at unwinding a good story at cocktail parties and the like.

Fortunately for me I had good, written material on Wednesday last. Don DeLillo, by C.D. Rose, is a slightly abstracted, but generally straight-forward story of a romantic couple who may - or may not - fall apart over certain personal failings; not the least of which might be the fellow's intellectual insecurity. I love the story and the writing, and felt like I could uniquely identify with its narrator in a way that would help the performance. (One of my favorite little things about of the approach of the League is that when they emailed me to ask if I was interested, they attached the story; it should not be as rare as it is to be offered the opportunity to survey the material when someone is asking something of you as a performer.) But here I was, presented in fact with the formerly hypothetical problem I discussed so idly with Natalia months before. To embody, or not to embody?

The answer is of course: To embody. Everyone wants some in-the-moment transportation, even from a cocktail anecdote. If only it were an on/off gradation, however. The difficulty is in choosing the right timing and intensity for capturing the moment. It's a balancing act. Keep both eyes straight ahead. That way, at least if you fall you might be aware of it for a few seconds fewer than you otherwise would.

I'll save some suspense and report - and this is after a week's time, feedback and listening to my own recording on the League's podcast (possibly several times [possibly not solely for critique purposes {how's this for allaying suspense?}]) - that I believe I did OK-fine. I'd say I was in the neighborhood of 75% on-target. That's safe, I'd say. I'm saying. I said.

It's tricky. It takes precision, and it's a precision that can't even be complete after months of rehearsal, because the final information comes from the audience and how they're responding to particular moments. This can be said of acting in any live respect, but the consideration takes on such a unique dimension when it's a little more layered as it is with storytelling, involving a kind of meta-balance of story and moment. As an actor in a play, you generally have this rule to guide you: Believe in it, no matter what, and live there. As a storyteller, you're something of an actor/director, steering as much as riding, based on the charts you sketched out in your rehearsal. And you can get lost.

I got a little lost, I must admit. It was disorienting; a new medium. I never lost my place in the words, but there were certainly moments in which I thought well I'm not sure where we are just now I think this moment needs a little examination no? no we have to keep going? all right then we're going and I guess hey when did I last inhale...?  My tendency, and it shouldn't have surprised me (but it did), was to revert to being the actor, feeling the moment. If anything, I over-did on that side. Somewhat. My priority was to serve the writing, which kept me from going overboard outright, but my tendency was to be an actor. Interesting conflict, that.

Also interesting, coming from my experience, was just how effective it was to detach from the material at the right moments. Perhaps it was the audience, who were made up severally of writers, but there were several times when I reported something written and the words did the work better than I could have with any special interpretation. And - in spite of what Mamet may posit - this is not the general rule.

Also fun was the audience interaction. In this milieu there's a blend between what an actor does, and what a stand-up or orator can do. Even before I learned about the commedia dell'arté, I was obsessed with effective moments of breaking the fourth wall, and at one particular moment toward the beginning of my tale I got to do that with a facial expression in response to an audience member's applause. It was a moment in which none of us could be sure I was in character. My reaction was appropriate to the voice of the story, but obviously there was no [Pause for silent response to audience.] written there. It doesn't carry over on the recording, having been visual, and I rather savor that. A gentle nod toward the ephemeral nature of live entertainment.

I think serving the words as best one can is probably the closest thing to advice we can offer an actor stepping into the storytelling arena, at least when it comes to scripted storytelling. (Perhaps aptly enough, this is also popular advice for performing Shakespeare.) That's subjective as all get-out, but getting much more specific risks hampering the unique abilities an actor can bring to the story. I might rephrase it, though, to give it a little more impact for types such as myself:

The story is for you, but not about you, and similar to something as unique and rare as a piece in a museum the story is to be shared. You are the one who gets to share the story with the rest of the world. Be sure to be moved by it, be sure to explore it to the breadth and depth it merits. Do not drape or gild it, though. Let it speak for itself, through you.
Something like that. It really is a precious thing. Fun too! But precious. If they'll have me, I think I'll be back.

Photos & layout by Andrew Lloyd-Jones.

24 September 2012

Bang! Pow! Zwounds!: Richard III as "Graphic Novel"

Editor's Note: Once again, I'm adapting personal email into 'blog posts. I shall mutlti-task, and you shall dig it. This comes out of a discussion with a director friend of mine who was tasked with considering a production of Richard III based on a graphic-novel approach.

Found here. Grisly remains found here?
So: "a pre-1700's graphic novel story," eh? First of all: Do we mean a graphic novel written and drawn in the "pre-1700s"? A graphic novel set in the "pre-1700s"? And why the "pre-1700s"? Do we set Richard the Three in 1699, or Roman-occupied Ireland, or dare we make it 1485? {Ed.: I've since learned that the particular audience in discussion rejects any Shakespeare set later than that as being too much a departure from historical accuracy. Hilarious.}

But my greater confusion here is what on earth we mean by "graphic novel." That's a little bit like saying, "Let's produce a Richard the Third like a pre-1700s movie story." Graphic novels are a medium about as varied as cinema.

But not everyone knows that, and were I to assume (thereby making an ass out of you and ume) a thing or two, I might assume we mean a sort of highbrow comicbook approach. Somehow. Which is still about as clear as the mud from which one might need a horse in order to extricate oneself.

My assumption however is based on the following facts:

  • The most commercially viable and well-known printed graphical storytelling of the prior and current centuries has been "comic books"; and
  • "Graphic novels" is a popular term for comic books when you're trying to lend them prestige, or raise people's opinions of them from out of the pulp.
The term "graphic novels" also frequently refers to works that have a little more length or over-arcing story to them than some, but that usage is a little reductive as it implies all "graphic novels" were written in one go (like a novel) when in fact the majority were originally published in a serial manner. Comic books, in other words, then collected into the so-called graphic novel.

So what are we to do with a concept based on highbrow comicbooks? In short (HA HA HA) there are too many different kinds of graphic novels to know what we mean when we use that ill-defined term, and the differences traverse everything from art to layout to content. A few varietals:
  • Maus - seminal in raising the reputation of comicbooks; it casts mice as Jews and cats as Nazis in a true story of one family's experience of the Holocaust
  • The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen - in a fit of zeitgeist, Frank Miller and Alan Moore both eschew/satirize the bubblegum aesthetic of superhero comics; Miller by taking a classic hero and giving him hard-boiled moral ambiguity, and Moore by taking superhero archetypes and subjecting them to a dystopian environment and socio-political realities
  • From Hell - Alan Moore here again, this time writing an exhaustively long "graphic novel" that delves into one possible explanation for the identity of Jack the Ripper
  • Sandman - what began as a pitch by Neil Gaiman to revitalize some of DC Comics' forgotten characters evolved into an epic story with a beginning, middle and end that chronicles the king of dreams (and his family: Death, Desire, Despair, Destiny, Destruction and Delirium [formerly Delight]) whilst tying in extensive details from the world's mythology, literature and religion
Ma' humps, ma' humps...
And those are fairly conventional examples, as far as just form goes.

I suppose the thing I can't quite wrap my mind around yet is why exactly to apply this concept to this particular work of Shakespeare's. As I see it, there are other plays of his - even other Histories - that might be better fits.
Henry V is a pretty good Superman/superhero analogue. Hell, the Henry VIs have those constant turn-overs that would make pretty interesting structure for exploring "serialized" storytelling on stage. Richard III may be episodic enough for serialized storytelling, if that's the angle, but I can't quite make it work without adding layers.

Recently it has been tremendously popular to adapt graphic novels into movies and, even more recently, television.
The Walking Dead, for example, is an on-going serialized story that's perfect for television. But they also adapted Watchmen into a film, which tried to do too much and with so much flash that the vital humanity of the story was lost. Even Ang Lee made a superhero movie with the first Hulk Hollywood blockbuster, which in my opinion is practically a lesson in what elements NOT to take from graphic storytelling when adapting from it.
Is there a better reference? Nope.

When they go wrong, what many adaptions have done is adhered too closely either to the content or the form of graphic storytelling (or both). When a graphic-novel story is transported cross-media, it's an injustice not to re-conceive at least a little. Two Frank Miller comics have been adapted into what most consider to be quite successful movies - his Sin City and 300 - and both with a keen eye on staying loyal to the aesthetic of the source material. I would argue, however, that as graphically similar as these movies are to the artwork from which they came, they are in fact very thoroughly re-imagined into a cinematic landscape. Miller went on to direct his version of The Spirit, which copped Sin City's look and failed miserably, lacking the originality of the other two adaptations.

Graphic novels, or comicbooks, work because of the spaces between the panels and how our minds fill those in. They give you some of the interpretive freedom of books or radio, with more of the visual fireworks of TV or film. It takes a certain amount of mental coding to read them, but that can be learned intuitively, and when a good unity between the words, layout and illustrations can be achieved, the story-telling is enhanced.
Simply sliding that on top of a film, the languages do not converse. Movies are all about seeing change, seeing it very closely. Just because one of the steps to creating them involves story-boarding doesn't mean that a medium that utilizes frames and composition will automatically translate. You're still filling in the white spaces. You're still animating the iconic.

When it comes to adapting a live show into a "graphic novel" context, there are a few examples from which to pull, but most of them take a fairly satirical (or lightly tongue-in-cheek) slant and have more to do with traditional superhero comics than more varied graphic storytelling. I was in a production of Stand-Up Tragedy in college for which the director brought the main character's comicbook imagination somewhat to life on stage with enormous puppet cut-outs, but that was for one sequence only and functioned rather more as a simple staging element than as anything functional. Vampire Cowboys here in New York have done many a popular show using comicbook tropes, but these are largely original productions and focus on the combat elements (not a bad notion at least by the end of Richard III). I don't know of any examples specific to only the medium itself - not the characters within them, for example.

So anyway: why Richard III in this context? Perhaps we are thinking of him as a character similar to superheroes like Marvel's X-Men mutants, who are ostracized and persecuted for being different, said difference being what makes them special and powerful? Perhaps Richard's story is episodic enough to remind of serialized story-telling - there is a strong procession of scenes of mounting ambition and stakes. Perhaps we're thinking aesthetically of something that utilizes iconography, or stained-glass windows, both of which comic books owe something to.

Yet in discussing all this, what I'm struck by is a very different idea. Richard III reminds me of nothing so much as the trend in television over the last five years or so for highly successful, critically acclaimed shows to feature a main character who is morally flawed. Don Draper of Mad Men is a philanderer, Walter White of Breaking Bad is someone we've watched become (or simply come into being) a ruthless criminal, Dexter is a fracking serial killer, and a host of other shows have followed suit - Damages, Boss, etc. In other words, tragedy makes for great television. In terms of a contemporary hook for RIII, that's where my mind goes. Those shows are incredibly effective, and we root for some of the worst characters in them the hardest. Did this begin with Tony Soprano, or Richard the III?

I have no ideas, however, about how to invite those influences on a production. That's an entirely other conversation. One we should have soon!

18 September 2012

Chewing the Fat

Editor's Note: The following is expanded from a recent, personal email exchange that triggered some specifying thought on my part. I've left it in direct-address form because it's a personal subject, and I believe it will resonate with many more people than I may even have in mind.

You're not fat.

The trouble with the word "fat" is that it inevitably implies certain things about lifestyle, be it laziness, genetic permanence, social status or what-have-you. It's self-limiting, even when said with loving kindness. So, while some may insist it's just bluntly accurate, to my mind the word is way too laden with bias and implication (not to mention far too unspecific) to be of much use as a description. Heck: it's not even a description - it's a state of being, reducing a person to just the actual, biological element: fat.

I have seen things (I have seen such things!!!) in Italy that have convinced me that the difference between a hot person and an ugly one has way more to do with carriage and knowing yourself than it does with fitting a so-called standard of beauty. My personal adviser in all things Italian used to tell me this - that the Italians just knew how to carry themselves - and I assumed he was simply enamored of them in general (and so he is). But once I went there myself, I saw what he meant.

The old, the infirm, the pre-adolescent - nearly everyone there seemed to look me straight in the eye, and present themselves with a complete lack of shame. Even when we say "lack of shame" here in the U.S. of A., we're implying shamelessness. As in - that's a bad thing. Why do we value shame {ahemPuritans} {ahem1950s} {ahemFEARBASEDOBEDIENCE}? Shame is very ugly and insidious. It's a message too many of us carry around and broadcast: Do not give me what I want; I am unworthy; anything good I receive is a miracle. Ugh. Presenting it as a virtue is one efficacied-up thing about this country, for sure.

The Italians (generalizing here, I realize, but:) The Italians somehow learn to work what they've got, to believe that there are people who will want what they've got, and perhaps they'll never find those people if they don't put it out there all the time. Not showily, and not with tremendous effort - just as a way of being. You don't walk into a room. You WALK INTO a room. A public square isn't something to be gotten across. It's someplace YOU are CROSSING.

We way-Westerners reduce this to saying that sex appeal is about confidence, but that doesn't cover it. A) It's not just confidence, but a larger perspective, and B) it's not only sex appeal! That's just what we put on it! It's bearing, man. It's your moment-to-moment engagement and communication with the world at large.

This is a radical idea for me, in spite of what people who've only known me in my adult life may assume. Sure, maybe a positive attitude and outgoing approach should be easier for me, with my hair/weight/sex/uality. But it isn't. And it isn't easy in part because I can still feel my 14-year-old belly folding around my jeans waist, or rubbing against my gym shirt during "running" the mile, as though it was this morning. The abject shame of that lives, one of those insidious ideas that once imagined can't be entirely eradicated. Should I just get over myself? Yes. Sure I should. I'd love to. And in some moments, I do, and those are awesome moments.

Perhaps the idea would seem less radical, or my feelings would be less inextricably entwined, if it was only the angst of my youth that gave me my perspective. Maybe if it had only been that elementary-aged kid following me as I walked home from high school, daring me to respond by laying every fatness adjective across my soft back that he could think of, maybe if the bullying was all, then I could embrace this release of shame after all. But I also have a mother, who has struggled with herself over her weight her entire life. Who, in photos from her youth was certainly somewhat full-figured, but also beautiful. Who sacrificed her body utterly for the sake of bringing me and my sister into the world, and never gave up trying to "improve" that body afterward through senseless diets. Who detached from her body, and its sensations and responses, so thoroughly that she was amazed in middle age to discover that it had some important information to communicate with her brain about her mood, and her health, and her overall being.

Now too I have watched my wife throw her body on the circumstance of motherhood, watched it transform itself and be wrenched about by doctors, watch it knitting itself back together and watch her work at accepting where it is, where she wants it to be, and where it may not be able to go. I see much more work and will, not to mention intelligence, go into those transformations than ever I was capable of in my small struggles. And I see the grief endured by both women that I love more than almost any other, as the rest of the world casually maligns them, assuming a standard imposed on it by wish fulfillment and power fantasies. People will call them by this word, "fat." I see this, and I see my baby daughter, and I want so much to be so different. Right away, right now.

Maybe we'll all just move to Italy once our lease is up. Ci vediamo!

Found here, which is just...wow.
So, where does that leave you and I, in our wonderings about body image and making sexy duck faces in Facebook photos? I take all that baggage and the stunning Mediterranean example, and just try to present myself with a little pride, while keeping my self-perception as accurate as possible. That's not the same thing as our "Italian" ideal, but it's the closest I can come so far. When we were in our circus days, training regularly, I used to comfort myself with regard to my physique with the mantra, "It's not about how you look, but what you can do." As I've gotten older, that's no less true, but frustrating at times - because age, dang it, makes me have to work harder to be able to do the same things.

So my suggestion is that you boost what you already occasionally do, depending on circumstances - take an unapologetic approach to presenting yourself to people day-to-day. In fact, I think that's the concerning part for me - hearing you fret over anyone else's perception. Try to let go of your concern about how some one person preconceives your physique. Own it. Focus on your attributes positively, sans B.S. You can't do a thing about what this or any person likes. Like yourself.

Sometimes that's about losing some weight or gaining some strength, so you feel good. But it's always about how you feel, and perceive yourself.

12 September 2012

Gotham's Reckoning: My Own Personal "Return of the Jedi"

Editor's Note: I started this response to TDKR two months ago, and then I had a baby. So anyways...

There were two opinions from the time of my childhood that I was shocked to learn late in life: first, that not everyone loved President Reagan; second, that many people considered Return of the Jedi to be the worst of the Star Wars movies. Living in an affluent suburb and having (at the time) a fairly conservative father and teachers, I thought Ronald Reagan was the cat's pajamas - charismatic, reassuring, grandfatherly. I was 8 in the 80s, so political discourse was for the most part a long, long way away from me. So too was any narrative criteria from my movie-going experience. Certain facts had a stronger influence on me than the storytelling in Return of the Jedi. For example, that it had debuted in my accessible memory, and included such bad-assery as a black-clad Luke and enormous set pieces.

My perspective on these weighty issues changed, but not simply as a result of growing up. I also had to hear from other people, and experience other cultural influences. I didn't read Frank Miller's seminal comicbook, The Dark Knight Returns, until I was eighteen, and even then I was a little shocked to see someone so openly satirizing two of my long-assumed heroes: Superman and Ronald Reagan. It probably wasn't until I had worked at a few theaters that I connected the dots to realize that Reagan was a republican, and that typically I wasn't terribly aligned with that side of the aisle's perspective. Then of course I read more about his term in office, and found a better understanding of why his love of jelly beans didn't have a tremendous influence on the opinion of people who hated his civil and economic policies.

I should probably be more ashamed to admit that my grounding realization about the relative quality of the second of the Star Wars sequels took even longer. I don't think it was until on the cusp of my 30s that I managed to see those movies with a fresh pair of eyes and realize - all personal bias aside - that Return of the Jedi was a weak successor. I don't hate it; how could I? If there are any bitter feelings toward a film, they are 1) a result of misplaced priorities, and 2) usually a response to the supposed promise of its predecessors. And make no mistake: No one promised us as an audience anything but to do their best to entertain us for a couple of hours.

Or two hours and forty-five minutes, as the case may be.

So, I do not hate The Dark Knight Rises. In fact, there is much that I appreciate about it. I saw it a couple of months ago (not in IMAX, which I understand is the preferred format this time around) and, fortunately for me, with a friend. So the moments that would have been crushing were instead fun, their misery shared. Because, in confession: I believed in Harvey Dent, and I believed in the promise that I interpreted in The Dark Knight for its sequel.

In summary, I think the movie wanted to be big, enormous, but with too little at stake creatively to justify its excesses. The seeds of its downfall were sown in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, but they found better balance in those movies, not blossoming fully until the budget got bigger than the impetus to make the movies. But I'll flesh out this argument after some nerdery. Skip to the final paragraph if you are of low nerd tolerance.


  • The acting. This may seem a silly point, but dang it if this ensemble isn't amazing. I'm not even in love with Bale's interpretation of his character(s), but I'm impressed as hell with his consistency and how well he's heeded a character arc through three epic and vastly different movies. TDKR would have been truly unbearable if it didn't have such an engaging and serious cast. Loved Hathaway's approach, and thought Hardy did all he could; and maybe then-some. I believed his unwavering love for Talia at the end - and God knows Nolan's style isn't exactly conducive to empathy.
  • The design and cinematography. I mean: Come on. That's plainly a big priority for every Nolan movie. It was visually beautiful, with some genuinely inspired moments, such as the use of a stepwell for the base of the pit (there's something about water imagery in the movie - haven't quite put my finger on it yet) or the way the camera enhanced Batman's weakness and Bane's dominance in their first fight. These movies always feel nice and tangible, thanks in no small part to a careful aesthetic balance between form and function.
  • John Blake. It might've been very easy for me to hate this character, yet I didn't. Even leaving his surprise identity aside for a moment, he functioned nicely as a person who represented the next generation of Gothamites, someone whom Batman literally inspired through his example. His arc, too, was a satisfying journey through the moral ambiguities of Batman's world. I loved watching his response to shooting a couple of baddies (insane ricochet shots aside) and thinking to myself, "Uhp. He'll never do that again."
  • The eight-year gap. This was a good - if not great - idea, in spite of what the fanboys may complain. It made complete sense for the character as the movies have developed him (even if it means he was only a fully-formed Batman for maybe six-months-to-a-year before "retiring"). I wanted to see Batman fighting cops as badly as the next guy, but this choice was dramatically interesting, bold and surprising, and in keeping with the battered, traumatized, overly-selfless man we left in TDK. Plus it has the bonus of meeting the audience halfway in our wait for the movie and our need to join with Batman on his struggle to return.
  • The grandiose civil unrest. I thought it would play out somewhat differently, but overall basing the story on A Tale of Two Cities was bold, thematically appropriate to the entire trilogy, and weirdly, wildly relevant. There's something very observant going on in these scripts, and it's important to remember that the Nolans are observing America from the outside. The panicked crowd in the narrows in Batman Begins were not unlike we terrorized, war-hungry citizens of the time, and in addition to providing a crisp clue about Harvey Dent, the ferry-boat paradox of The Dark Knight was awfully reminiscent of a country defined by intense ideological dichotomy. In addition to echoing the Occupy Movement, civil unrest was a great backdrop for a vigilante who is ostensibly trying to save the people he's fighting. Problems arise (har har) with the unrest used specifically as a backdrop, but those are for the next section.
  • Bat "EMP." How apt is it to give your billionaire creature-of-the-night vigilante a device that enshrouds him in a radial darkness? Science be damned! That was a cool idea.
  • Strategic, explosive concrete. Science be damned, I say! Effective, because it visually (and blockbusterly) echoed the notion of the rebellion coming from the very infrastructure of the city, or society. Maybe Ra's al Ghul was right. Maybe Gotham wants to be destroyed.
  • The dénouement. Yes, okay, it was the super-happy ending, with fairly predictable "twist" fodder. Still. I can pretend Alfred's encounter was a cinematic suggestion of what he wanted to see, not what happened, and if I do that the rest of it's pretty fantastic for this fan boy. Good graveside scene. Nice idea about what Bruce's legacy would be, plus I love the implication that someone else can and will take up the mantle. Even if it is ersatz Robin. I can get down with a Robin (or Nightwing?) starting as an adult. Plus, that gives us our only ultimately satisfying character story in this movie, really - Blake's whole progress leads him to belonging in the Batcave.
  • Disregard of Unity. Wholly insubstantial narrative, Batman. If you dislike Nolan's films in general, this is a standard reason. They very much play with the rules of narrative unity. But see, I like that. I get and dig it. I am just that meta and po-mo, and I still found this film to be a hot mess of time and space. Batman Begins was well-served in its anachronistic unrolling, keeping us off-kilter even as it laid out an insistently linear plot. The Dark Knight was all about chaos and uncontrollable momentum - what we did not know - and the editing and plotting worked together to make the whole experience herky-jerky in a synchronous way. This editing style does not translate to broad-spectrum plots such as the one in TDKR, especially when it's only being used for the purpose of cramming in as much stuff as possible. Add to that a few incomprehensible story fractures (Batman falls how many times before he learns to pick himself back up? Your constant need to remind us that five months are going to transpire doesn't give you just a little hint that maybe you need to rethink that particular choice?) and you have got one anti-Aristotelian gumbo on your hands.
  • The grandiose civil unrest...as backdrop. IF your story is going to address economic disparity and civil rebellion, it would be wise to have something to say about it. It might also be wise to clearly delineate the specifics of that something to say. It might also be wise to avoid muddying the issues so God-blessed thoroughly that at the climax we seriously have to wonder if we actually care about anyone involved. The cops, who are established to be corrupt throughout all three movies, said corruption reinforced by some callous conversation in this movie's introduction? The civilians who embrace Bane and a puppet court? The civilians who hide in their apartments and do nothing? The wealthy? The bad wealthy? Who profit from the powerless and but wait, then stick around in a building, not fleeing...because they're helping? Or they can't flee? Or, aurghh, GUHHHHHH. All that, plus it's all incidental to what is essentially just a hostage plot. Completely incidental.
  • The ol' switcheroo. Do we ever trust Miranda Tate? Certainly not. And when the protagonist hands a weapon to someone with instructions to guard his or her back, and we are not granted even a single shot of that person's face in that moment (do we even see her HAND?), do we come to expect a reversal? Why, yes. It is called the ol' switcheroo for a reason, and we are tired of it. Especially when it happens at a point at which there is no mystery, and nothing critical to the story about the impending revelation.
  • So much murder. I had enough difficulty with the line in the first film, "I won't kill you. But I don't have to save you." Yeah, OK Hollywood, we'll keep your morality tropes in place, since you gave us such a nice Batman movie this time around. But in TDKR, I lost track of how many times Batman slaps Catwoman (sorry: Selina Kyle) on the wrist for the murdering she does. But, listen: Maybe the murder thing is just not a big deal, you know? Maybe it just tends to get a little played up, what with the very genesis of Bruce Wayne's quest and fractured, obsessive personality resulting from the gun-murder of his parents in front of his little eight-year-old face. So I have to imagine that the excessively dangerous and punishing hand-to-hand combat in which he constantly engages is mostly for bravado's sake. 'Cuz he has guns on ALL his vehicles. And when Ca-, er, Selina Kyle not only straight-up cannons Bane to death with one, but is glib about it, Bruce decides he'd like to take her on a Mediterranean trip. So, to recap: Gun violence and murders - not a big deal to Batman, at all.
  • And hey, on the issue of guns: What, the trapped police officers went underground unarmed? They spent all their bullets hunting rats? They didn't want to use them on civilians, despite being faced with a couple of tanks? But logic clearly has no place in this movie, and I really do hate when people lean on that in their criticisms of superhero movies. Even if said movies are claiming to be "grounded" ones.
  • Orphans. Jeebus Cripes. Really? Okay. But really? A bit on-the-nosey, Nolan. Maybe more forgivable, had they not been used for our sole emotional hook in the climax (did not work, BTW). Oh and hey: Why were they the only people on the only bridge that wasn't blown in this epic conclusion? And why was there a bridge not blown? And if so, why hadn't the military...sorry. See above. (Sorry.)
  • Energy source "solutions." I don't care. In the movies, I really don't care. Let this hot-button issue go, Hollywood. It is terrible, and I would rather have a Maltese Falcon, please and thank you.
  • This:
Thanks to Midtown Comics.
  • Aerial shots of New York. Don't do that. Just...don't. Automatic not-Gotham.
But enough already. I have gone on too long about the details. There are more. (Oh, are there more.) But listen: I didn't hate it. It was just the Return of the Jedi of the series. Most well-funded and anticipated, most lacking in innovation or fulfillment.

If you'll bear with me for a very fan-boy summing up, I have an observation about how an element of these movies neatly parallels their various strengths and weaknesses. That element is the vehicles. Observe.

Batman Begins
Vehicle: Batmobile (the Tumbler)
Here is a movie that does a remarkable job revamping and intricately reconnecting us with a well-worn story. It takes identifiable elements and, with the influence of all the innovative comicbooks in recent memory, updates them with an eye on keeping them connected to tangible reality. The movie itself is good as a movie, not just a "superhero" movie, and arguably does its best work when it leaves well enough alone to focus on character and plot. When it gets into action, or set pieces, it quickly becomes overwrought. It's not excessive all the time, and you can forgive some excess because it's grounded in the character work and often for the sake of something really cool. And the Tumbler is great! It takes the tank concept from Miller's Dark Knight Returns, but tones it into a rather viable street vehicle. They casually justify the signature jet engine, there's a really cool yet accessible notion of the seat adjusting for combat mode, and they even own it enough to call it something unique from the comics. It just, you know, occasionally does something like driving over what looks to be century-old rooftops, off of a jump with no ramp. But, I can forgive it that, just like I can forgive the movie its overwrought elevated train climax. Because it's a good vehicle.

The Dark Knight
Vehicle: Batcycle (the Batpod)
The Dark Knight surprised just about everyone by turning out to be a vastly superior sequel to a movie that had already been widely enjoyed and rather well reviewed. It came out of nowhere, in a  way, writing a check for its follow-up even as it played encores in the fall after its release. Gotham itself went from elaborate, ornately Gothic, to stripped-down, recognizably urban even as the story presented itself more like a Michael Mann thriller than a comicbook stock play. Everything in the movie seemed to interconnect with less effort than the first, and this included connecting the characters to the action. So when the Tumbler is seemingly destroyed, only to burst forth with a vulnerable, but fast and agile-as-hell motorcycle that the rider hugs close, similar to the posture he has in the car's combat mode...well. You may laugh at how it all goes, but you'll also cheer, and part of your laughter will come out of how complete it all is. By creating something simpler and more connected to the character, the designers made a vehicle that was in many ways more unique and self-sustaining than its source inspiration.

The Dark Knight Rises
Vehicle: Batgyro (the Bat)
Well, perhaps I've gone on enough about the problems with this movie, and I should just focus on the vehicle. The connections may be clear enough. It should be a fantastic creation. It's the next logical escalation of transport, pragmatically connected with Batman's return to Wayne Manor and his need for utter mobility. The designers created something technically very unique, opting for a sort of inverted, militaristic design based on one of the very earliest elaborate vehicles from the comics. It's possible that the fans (no pun intended [swear]) would have complained if they hadn't gotten what they asked for for Bat-Christmas. However: "the Bat" is emblematic of creating something huge and technically gratifying, but without any true originality or expressive urgency. Even the name - presumably aiming for simplicity - comes out simplistic instead. It's not even that the vehicle is hard to believe (it is), it's that it's unsatisfying, for all its wizardry. It creates a hero who is distant, removed, over-equipped and uninteresting in action. Someone should have the good sense to ground that bat. Perhaps, say, with a comically over-sized revolver.

My mantra with regard to the first movie of this series was that it wasn't the movie I was hoping for, but in this context few movies could have been. The Dark Knight was that movie, improbably, and I can not complain about having gotten what I wanted out of one in a trilogy. Plus, you know I'll be buying The Dark Knight Rises - but perhaps that money will go toward a return-to-form for Mr. Nolan. I hope so. I don't believe his heart was in this movie. And that's okay! That's okay.

So long as he doesn't go back and add CGI to Memento.

25 July 2012


I've been waiting for you. We've been waiting for you, of course, for months, weeks and weeks and with rampant research, speculation and apprehensive love. But I've been waiting for you too. I've wondered about you most of my life, imagined you in a thousand ways and continually checked in with myself about whether I'm ready for you. I can't wait to meet you. Literally - I'm failing at waiting, which feels awkward as all hell, given that there's close-to-nothing I can do to speed your arrival. And today's the day.

Well. Today isn't actually the day. Not necessarily. I've made a lot of jokes in discussing your arrival - jokes about being punctual and taking after your parents, and jokes about you getting an early start on your teenage rebellion. (Ok, so really: Two jokes. But I've made them many, many times now.) In actuality, today is just another today. I've gone to work. Your mother's working at home - lucky her - and it's a rather beautiful summer day in New York.

Tomorrow they're predicting storms and a heat index of 103°. So we also expect you exactly then.

Here is another line I've laid out a lot with regards to the experience of you: Childbirth is an ongoing lesson in unpredictability. And: ...And probably will for the next eighteen years. As in: "She's making her mom really nauseous tonight...and probably will for the next eighteen years." We've had to learn a lot about flexibility of expectations over the past several months, from when we yelped in surprise upon hearing you were a girl (subliminally and separately, we had decided otherwise) to our uncertainty about how much room we thought we made in the apartment, versus how much stuff we drove up from the baby shower.

So all I can really do is ask. Throw myself on the mercy of my daughter. Please come out soon. I'm dying to meet you.

I've never really considered it before, but I knew I wanted to meet you before I knew much else that I wanted, before even I was aware that I wanted to act. It didn't take me long, either, to realize that I wanted this for myself; not for the expectations of my family or society, for example. So for nearly my entire life, I've pondered you, hoped for you, imagined you. You've been some pretty wild permutations of a person in my mind over the years, let me tell you. That narrows somewhat once you actually find the mother of your child, but I'm certain you'll still surprise us somehow. Like, as in, say, just for example: By starting this entrance-to-the-world thing right on time.

Some things you should know about me up front:
  • I'm bad with planning, math, organized sports, making the bed and colors. (Your mother more than makes up for the first one and the last two, at least.)
  • I'm decent with words, emotions, imagination and organization. (So's your mom, but somehow in almost opposite ways.)
  • I'm the one who cooks. I've no reason to expect this to change within my lifetime.
  • I am a very deep sleeper, and very irrational when I get much fewer than seven hours. So: apologies in advance for my personality during at least the first two years of your life.
  • I'm a performer, try as I might to occasionally fight it. My best hope is that we can take turns as audience for one another.
  • I am, rather by default, rather high-strung - but I have developed numerous feints and coping mechanisms over the years!
  • None of those feints or coping mechanisms are working for me today.
So you can count all that as fair warning. I am sure you will have your fair share of quirks and idiosyncrasies to share. Hopefully you will not have inherited too many of mine ... though actually, go ahead and take the sleeping thing. That's good for all concerned, ultimately.

As my day ticks on, I come more and more to accept the notion that perhaps after all I will not meet you in a matter of hours. You'll learn that as you mature, that awful skill of dampening your hopes and excitement a little at a time to avoid cataclysmic crashes of disappointment. Just remember that the hope is always there, no matter how successful a dampener you may prove to be. The excitement is up to you to protect, so don't get carried away.

Today there's little danger of my over-diluting the excitement. The promise of you is too great, too inevitable. So I'll wait. And you'll arrive. If not today, then the next today.

20 July 2012

To All the Jokers Out There

I don't yet know if it was a killing in any way inspired by the content of the series. It's too early in the news cycle at this point for us to be sure of anything related to the gunning down of 12 people at a midnight premier of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado. As of this writing, it could be religiously motivated terrorism, it could be indiscriminate or a crime of passion. What's difficult to ignore (for those of us millions who know the movies, and the tens of thousands of them who know the comicbooks that contributed to those movies) is that a man took it upon himself to murder an audience for a story that's laced with issues of copycat vigilantism, violence, morality and ethics. Not to mention: Justice.

I can't effectively weigh-in through one post on any of these topics individually (heck: I can barely suss out the distinction between morality and ethics without a self-conscious Google or two) much less the lot of them, entwined. I mean, does justice even exist? Or is it, rather like "honor," one of those old-fashioned ideals that seems a little too black-and-white to a contemporary society? Are our societal ideals rife with concepts that just appeal to our baser natures? Or are they ideals, in earnest, and we just need to keep striving to conceive of them in a truer sense?

There is one thing about which I do have something unique to contribute. Maybe it's wrong-headed, or too soon, but every so often we each and all have a reaction to something going on in our society that we need to work to process. This definitely falls under that category for me.

I was in college by the time Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on their spree in Colorado, but freshly so, and the crime held eerie echoes for me. In early high school, with certain friends, I planned crimes all the time. Those plans never involved murder, but were closely related to new feelings of rage that I didn't know how to handle. I played, and loved, the video game Doom. On the birthday before my freshman year of high school, my mom took me out to get me the black trench-coat I so desperately desired, and I wore it regularly - even in terribly inappropriate climates - right into college.

I also possessed an obsessive love of Batman, the character. I described him as my idol. That may seem unconnected, especially when you hear my rationale for this idolization: That he represents someone who not only survived trauma, but turned it into powerful motivation to excel and strive to make things right. That was an earnest rationale. It just leaves out that I also idolized the character because he could and did powerfully destroy other human beings with his bare (all right: gloved) hands. Is Batman's moral (or ideal) that he take no human life justification enough for his methods of achieving "justice"?

One thing I greatly appreciate about the recent trilogy of Batman movies is that the writers and director seem to be aware of the moral ambiguity of one person deciding what is right, and using violence to achieve that determination. They utilize and glorify that for our entertainment, but I appreciate the awareness nonetheless. After the first film, the media was already drawing comparisons between this Batman and American foreign policy in general, George W. Bush in particular - "You tried to kill my daddy, I'ma come out there with all my wealth and might and end your reign. Means and United Nations be damned." And in The Dark Knight, Batman literally eschews international extradition law. The writers then up the ante in the film's climax, showing our hero as a hunter willing to massively violate the rights of citizens in order to catch his prey. It seems to me they know that this is what they are doing, and that they want us to experience ambiguous feelings about it.

I suppose the great dichotomy between the iconic hero and villain of these stories - Batman and the Joker - can be a confusing one. Both are vigilantes, both rely on fear to achieve their ends, and both are flamboyant as all get-out. One is supposedly moral, the other amoral, but I've already pointed out that their ethics are not nearly as easily distinguished from one another. That leaves us with order versus chaos.

Who doesn't love a little chaos? I suppose for me it's been something of an acquired taste, but it's one I've definitely acquired as a performer and an audience member. Chaos can seem more sincere, frankly. Life does not readily present us with reasons - much less reason - and particularly in the contemporary age there seems little justification for a belief in a greater purpose, much less power. Purpose itself seems a hollow construction, under these circumstances. So, there are those of us who embrace a character bold enough to take that notion to the logical absurdity. There are some who just want to watch the world burn.

I'm not implying that the man who committed these murders was in any way inspired by the character of the Joker. Lord knows, we're likely to have more than one piece of unoriginal news coverage in the coming weeks that points out connections between this criminal and Joker's callousness, or Bane's paraphernalia (never mind that the cosplay an opening night inspires is a perfect cover for someone who already has destructive designs). What I am saying is that these characters have come to represent certain perspectives and behaviors of contemporary Americans, the same way the character of Batman has, or any ongoing archetype. The causation of it can not be sussed out with a few Googles, and odds are that culture in general exists as it has for all of human history: a sort of feedback loop between how we are, and how we portray ourselves in media.

So, causation aside, who has the right idea? Are human beings meant more for order, or chaos? Is it all so meaningless that the only true justification for action is how it affects the individual, the self? I acknowledge the possibility. Maybe we're all just too frightened of it to face it.

Maybe. But I'm disgusted, both by the incident early this morning, and the notion in the abstract. What utter selfishness. What a nauseating disregard for or ignorance of anything outside of one's own perception. Little wonder that we are eager to ascribe part of the cause for such actions to youth and/or mental illness - these are the two handiest explanations for such inward-obsessed, disconnected personalities. Regardless of the cause, and even regardless of the question of chaos versus order, even the Jokers of the world must admit that theirs are essentially selfish acts.

I have one argument to make to such people in such a debate, one thing to suggest that they're fools beyond even the kind of fool their worldview suggests they ought to be. If none of it matters, if life is indeed as meaningless and people as insignificant as in your philosophy, why do you have a purpose? Why must you do what you do, be it for personal gratification or illuminating the rest of us to your perspective?

You might just consider the possibility that your commitment to nihilism is best expressed in the same direction as your attention is. On yourself.

26 June 2012

Guys On Film

Photo by Libby Csulik.
Or rather: guy. Or rather: me. Last Sunday I attended, in a little bar in Williamsburg, the screening of Android Insurrection. You may recall my experience filming Android Insurrection a little over a year ago (see 5/11/11). In that time the director has dropped us completed acts here and there through Vimeo, and the whole thing was off to the presses (They use presses still, right?) in the spring, but this was my first time really seeing the fruit of our labors. This was in fact my first time seeing myself die on screen.

Actors often mention in interviews that they are loathe to see their own performances. The reasoning is often offered that all we can see is the mistakes, but I think it goes a layer or two deeper than that. There's a dissonance between what we perceive of ourselves, and what is objectively observable by a camera. It's similar to the response most people have when they hear their recorded voice. The view from the inside is just too subjective to immediately match with what other people perceive.

So there was a lot of that. I did, I have to admit, come out of the screening vowing never, ever to have my mouth open in performance again unless I was speaking. There was also a more positive response, here and there. I may not have a face that sucks one in, but neither is it loathed by the camera (if only I could slice out this weird, Willsian slope to my neck/chin [my nin; my check] area) and once or twice during filming, I fancy I managed to contribute something useful to the storytelling with my eyes.

There was also the more introspective consideration, as I sipped my vodka tonics and laughed at the sheer balls-ery of some of the movie's moments. I was watching myself of a year ago run around a warehouse in new Jersey, before I acted in Sacred Ground, before I had been to Seattle, before I had this new job and a baby girl on the way. The idea that you can never step into the same river twice felt very real indeed during this experience, which proverb stands as a lovely contrast to such lines as, "I only care about you and me making it out of here alive. Me, because I only care about me. And you, because I'm gonna kill you once we get out."

And the movie? Well, there's one word that describes this movie, and that word is: Art. Pure art. Which would of course be two words, so you can choose either - "art," or "pure." One of them is the only one to describe Android Insurrection. Well, also "movie," I suppose. I mean, if you want to be technical about it, there are probably several words that can, together or of a piece, describe my cinematic debut. At some point soon, I may have a private screening for a select few adjective-makers, and leave them to label it.

The thing that's great for me about doing this movie is that it fulfilled something for me, a childhood fantasy, and it not only did so but it did so with a positivity and lightness of which I consider myself very lucky to have been a part. When the screening was over, Friends Nat and Virginia and I, and eventually Joe and Libby, enjoyed one another's company for as far as we could manage on the trips to our respective homes. It was a fitting reward for a job...well: fun.

Sadly, in spite of having acquired an American distributor, Android Insurrection is not yet for sale in these United States, and so I can't link to it for you. If you'd like a copy dubbed into Thai, I understand that may be possible at this time using something called an "Internet." Happily, there is the "party video," edited by the inimitable Maduka Steady. I emphatically encourage you to enjoy:

Android Insurrection Party Video from Andrew Bellware on Vimeo.

19 June 2012

Be a Hero

When I was in high school, one of the first stories I wrote - the one that started the creative-writing ball for me in earnest, as a matter of fact - was one set in a not-too-distant future. Now-a-days the half-finished story would be an easy fit into the all-too popular "dystopian" niche, but at the time I wasn't thinking of it as such. I just imagined a world in which priorities had aligned a bit differently. It was about a reporter who goes to live amongst a secret leper colony, established on an island off the eastern seaboard, but the thing that sticks with me the most these years later was an idea I had about the culture of the city from which he came.

The idea was that everybody smoked. Everybody smoked, indoors and out, and they did so because the popular opinion was that air pollution had gotten so bad that it was safer to inhale through a cigarette's filter. Something like: the smoke conditioned one's lungs to handle the much-worse stuff in the air, and inhaling through the filter helped keep the majority of that worser stuff out. I justified it by suggesting the "doctor recommended" smoking ads of the '50s had won out, but it worked for me as the storyteller by making everyone a little distant, a little coarse and plenty short-sighted.

Now occasionally I wonder if I just got the wrong orifice. Ray Bradbury, may he rest in peace, in 1953 imagined these far-fetched tiny "seashells" the folks wore in their ears to hear entertainment anywhere. These were all a part of an imagined, self-isolating technology that we were irresistibly drawn to, which included wall-sized television screens and self-prescribed medication, and I'm ashamed to admit that I willingly use so-called "ear-buds" as such every single day. Nothing's so good an excuse to avoid survey-takers and the homeless - heck, even normal people! - as those handy, dandy ear-buds. And just look at how pocket computers help with eye contact!
Found here. See how happy they are not to see you?
 I indulge in this side-effect willingly. I'm grateful for it. Thank God, say I, for my iDevice, and its music and pod-casts and games and even occasionally sometimes if I can be reminded of it connectivity to productive tasks. Furthermore, I'm not writing here to lament this turn in human interaction. True, there are plenty of trade-offs. Yes, I fantasize about a badminton racket reserved solely for knocking the device from the hand of anyone trying to walk and tweet simultaneously. Yes, I'm reading less and have a shorter attention span. And, yes, I want more people than just the local lunatics to hear me if I scream for help. But also: Music! Games! Blocking out the God-awful continuous hammering of street construction! I am fervently all-for the critical resource of my mobile device.

However. There is a finer point of urban etiquette for which I make exception to my electronic enthusiasm. It has to do with a naturally artificial social situation we call The Subway.

I am not going to tell you to turn down your salsa music. Blare it out of the vibrations of your skull! I am not going to tell you to stop hugging the pole to maintain balance while playing Draw Something. Get that palate enormous, and three coins for Gryffindor! I am not even going to tell you to start taking your seashells from out your ears. Leave your seashells in. You are a beautiful mer-maid/man, and you glisten with the rapture of this week's Epic Meal Time.

I am going to tell you this: Open your eyes. And one more thing: Especially if you are fortunate enough to have a seat.

The Subway is a miserable solution to a miserable problem. No one - apart from the aberrant tourist - is pleased to be there when they're on The Subway. The best solution, the only and final solution, is to zone right the heck on out. ZONE, SON. You can get miles away, especially if you have those magic ear-shells. And maybe you are on there at five in the morning, and your hour-long commute is going to make the napping difference between a good day and an impossible one. And maybe you are coming off a fourteen-hour nursing shift, and the only thing that makes sense is bending your legs, just for a few minutes. And maybe it's just the stress (God, the stress) that makes you want to hold yourself and rock during the one period of your day when no one expects anything from you. I get it, and I'm with you, and I'm in the ZONE.

But open your eyes. This isn't the zombie apocalypse, despite what you've heard on the news lately, and the dog-eat-dog world isn't applicable to mass, underground transportation. Here is where the humanity is needed most. Here is where you can toss a token (so much more poetic than a MetroCard) and it will be quickly caught by someone looking longingly at something about the bounty of your position. Because we're all lucky to have what we have, and we're all here for one another. It shouldn't take a catastrophe to remind us of that - just a little gratitude, held in your heart for these moments when you have a chance to help.

So, please: Keep your eyes open. For the nurse, if you're a napper. For the napper, if you're a caffeine addict like me. For the guy on crutches, who'll argue with you for a little while about it. For the lady in heels (maybe she has to wear them for some reason). For the elderly. For the family. That makes you a hero, for the littlest while. But who knows? It may also help you reconnect a bit before you go back to conquering the world on your cell phone.

And just one final and specific point I'd like to make in closing. Some might argue that it is the entire purpose of my meandering exposition, and some of those same may accuse me of out-dated modes of thinking, but I will have my point made regardless. If you are male, between the ages of 13 and 60, and of reasonable fitness, and have the benefit of a seat when a pregnant woman enters the subway car, give up your seat. Right. The fuck. Now.

03 May 2012

I AM IRON MAN on Fighting Monkey Press

Photo by Jimmi Kilduff.
Image by Dave Youmans.
Yesterday the second of my guest posts appeared on Pavarti's site. This one is significantly less spiritual in content, but still speaks to my heart and holds a connection to the debut of Pav's novel, Shadow on the Wall. She invited anyone who was willing to ruminate on superheroes to write up a bit of an argument for the supremacy of a particular one, and initially assumed I'd contribute something about my dear Batman.

What no one (I mean - no one) knows is that the first superhero comic I owned was actually an Iron Man one. I thought it would be interesting to make an argument not for Bats, but for the closest thing Marvel has as an analogue to him. A bit of my case for Tony Stark:
"On his own, Tony Stark is the power fantasy even without his miraculous suit – rich, brilliant and irresponsible. Robert Downey Jr.’s irrepressible id in a nutshell. Ah, but that shell! The added armor of Iron Man actually strips some of that power away, even as it introduces the ability to fly and repel bullets. It turns Tony into so much the archetype of a man, it’s astonishing that we tolerate such blatant analogy, much less hunger for more."
You can read the full, but brief, argument here: I am Iron Man. While you're there, check out the other arguments thus far for the likes of Wonder Woman, Wolverine and, yes, the Batman himself.

01 May 2012

Was I Naked? Did I Speak?

These are the two questions I immediately ask anyone who tells me they've dreamed of me. I've been asking them since college, though I can't remember exactly why I started. (In all probability, it had to do with someone once dreaming of me as a silent ninja [true story {I used to wear a lot of black}] and the other bit . . . because, you know: college.) At any rate, it's been quite a while since anyone other than Wife Megan has mentioned to me of a dream-me paying a visit, but last week someone did. And I was quite taken with the dream.

I'll leave the analysis to you, Dear Reader, both of the dream and of my particular affection for it. I will say this about that, though - I'm certainly in a place in my life wherein I am coming to appreciate a good plan.

Without further adoobie doobie do:

"You dominated a dream of mine last night. 
"I was holding a party in my apartment, although, as dreams often do, the apartment was larger and more elaborate and in fact looked nothing like where I now live.  Anyway, I was 'holding' it, but you had organized it.  And it was remarkable what you did.  There were teams of enthusiastic helpers and functionaries, none of whom I had seen before.  They all had specific jobs in rooms with specific purposes.  There was a dessert room overseen by a very beautiful French woman and her very handsome boyfriend who was not French, but only ever spoke French so I didn't get an idea of where he might have been from.  There was a beverage room with very jolly bald men in charge.  There were rooms upon rooms of buffets manned by unfamiliar actors, except that [NAMELESS DEAR KOOKY FRIEND] somehow snuck in amongst them.  The entire scheme was so elaborate that you had painted arrows and directions wittily worded onto the carpets with some kind of durable but removable spray paint.  Then behind all this in a small room with a window, you sat with sleeve garters and a humorously improvised visor, like from some Dickensian novel, with electronic gear in hand that communicated with your empire, and another one of those jolly bald men as your assistant. 
"The only thing the party seemed to have lacked were guests.  But maybe I woke up before it started. 
"Thanks for all your hard work. I hope you got some sleep in spite of it." 

30 April 2012

Where Is My Mind?

A couple of Saturdays back, our aerial silks teacher held her second student showcase. Wife Megan being in a maternal way, she was unable to perform, but she choreographed, and I was lucky enough to be subject to her whims (and thus, you have her to blame for my provocative costuming). Along with my scene partner Jeanne Barenholtz I enacted a Fight Club-inspired routine to the Pixies' angsty classic Where Is My Mind?. All photos compliments Seamus Maclennan.
A miasma of silky warm-up.

We were aiming for right-angled awkward, but this just looks flat-out weird.

Just don't ask about the fabric burns. For, like, at least another week more.

Don't worry - there's actually at least three layers of undies there.

This is all Jeanne.

This, less so.

I wasn't eating chocolate. That was a jellied smear of stage blood, until my sweat took over.

Our silks were not rigged that close, hence our bulging guns (OK: Jeanne's bulging guns).