Sunday, March 27, 2005

One Flew East, One Flew West...

My friend Adam and I, have spearheaded an attempt to mount the stage version of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in Vancouver for sometime in the autumn.
I've known Adam for about two years now - a bit less - and we had a chance to work together at the beginning of this year. Although, while we were in the same play together we were only on stage once together and we didn't actually interact. But backstage we hung out and yakked and watched videos in our downtime from the show itself. One day the video of choice was "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Each for our own reasons, we both totally grooved on it.
I read the book in highschool and saw the movie as a kid - which had a tremendous effect on me.
I was perhaps too young for the film at the time, but who is to tell? I recall that I was entranced by Brad Dourif's performance as Billy Bibbit. I don't think I knew up until that point that there was such a thing as taking your own life, and the concept of it was terrifying to me. Billy's suicide is pretty shocking in the film - particularly to a 7 year old.
I had never read the play. I went out and found it and read it. Each format - novel, play and film are each uniquely different - as they should be. Before the play we were working on was done, Adam and I were discussing putting together a co-op to do a production of 'Cuckoo's Nest.'
Before we had committed to each other, it dawned on me that Eden is perfect for the role of Nurse Ratched, and of course I wanted to take a crack at McMurphy
Adam, rightfully as he was going to direct, wanted to have a chance to feel that out. We also felt we needed a reading, just to get the feel of the piece, before we truly committed to it.
Last night was the reading.
The play is old enough that it has quit being quaint in it's time frame and has become an artifact of another era - albeit an interesting artifact. There is a question as to whether it says anything that is worth saying - whether the themes aren't so much an accepted part of the fabric of our modern society that it's no longer worth considering as any sort of valuable statement.
But it remains an interesting play - and could be very interesting in a theatrical sense.
I got the feeling from Adam, post read that he thought Eden and I had effectively sold ourselves - although we do have to actually talk about it, all discussion last night was rather cursory.

But an interesting thing happened - something connected to my biggest fear and challenge with the piece...

But first I'll rewind. Just over a year ago I was in 'Of Mice and Men.' (Coincidentally I was offered the role the same night I first had any sort of significant discussion with Adam, ever.) I had the honour of playing Lennie, the hulking imbecile. The catch there was that I am a fairly average size - 5' 10" 175lbs, not at all hulking. Not at all the image of Lennie. In the end, I am glad no one ever expressed concern over the distance between the expectation and the actualization. But I never really made that a big concern of mine. I just did my job and played the part.
What I was concerned about was having to fill the shoes of a role that has SO much attached to it. From as recent as Malkovich to as far back as Lon Chaney Jr. and of course a Loony Tunes treatment that is seared into the minds of several generations. How the fuck do I say "Tell me 'bout the rabbits, George?" without walking a path marched a hundred times before? How do I say it without eliciting a snicker that is attached to something entirely separate from myself?
When all was said and done, I felt as though I had pulled it off. Two things happened. One was that my size took the character in a different direction - it became more about Lennie being strong and bull-dogish in his focus than big. I also determined that Lennie is/was autistic. Back when Steinbeck wrote the book, 'crazy' was a pretty broad term - applied generally to a wide variety of afflictions. I am convinced, based on Lennie's behaviour, that Steinbeck based Lennie largely on someone specific - someone who was autistic. It's consistent with most of Lennie's behaviour - and to the degree that it isn't it is easily explained by Steinbeck not having a clear definition of the affliction to be consistent to. I don't claim to be the first actor to come up with this idea - I just claim that it ended up working well for me.
The first thing I ever saw Adam in was Cyrano deBergerac wherein he played Cyrano. For me Cyrano is Gerard Depardieu - big, bulky, dextrous beyond his form. Adam is far from big and bulky. Wiry and slight would actually be my physical definition of Adam. But within the first 20 minutes of the play, I had forgotten Depardieu.

The same problem exists for 'Cuckoo's Nest.' Jack Nicholson is all over that role. He is the challenge that any other actor needs to face. Not that I can out act Jack, but I feel up to the challenge. The trick is to deflect it. Do something that is undone. Perhaps even easier with McMurphy than with Lennie - there is only one template of note for McMurphy. Do a good job and do something that is justifiable and absolutely NOT Nicholson and you've got it made... I guess.
So what is it? Reading the play, McMurphy is a bit more of a brawling good ol' boy than the anti-hero miscreant that Nicholson plays in the movie. There's your start. More will follow as we push into production.

After the read, Eden and I hung out with Adam and his girlfriend, Julia. Adam's roommate was having a party. We stuck around for a portion of it. At one point, the roommate came and chatted with Adam about the read through. The one question he asked was "Who is Playing Nicholson?" He is SO much the prototype of the role, isn't he?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

King Jeremy, the Wicked

While I don't think we as a nation should go out of our way to antagonize the U.S., I do think that we ought to take every opportunity to firmly state our national opinion.
Case in point. The majority of Canadians support Paul Martin's rejection of the Missile Defence treaty.
I think it's safe to say that the majority of Canadians oppose the war in Iraq. I suspect that the majority of Americans oppose it too, for that matter - despite the result of the 2004 Election.

To that end, I believe that we should be allowing Jeremy Hinzman refugee status. Open the door for other deserters to come here... it's not like we'd get a Vietnam level wave of draft dodgers as there is no draft.

Actually, no. I take it back. Send Jeremy back - it will be bad for him. But it will send a message to any other potential American refugees that they must stay put. We don't want them here.
Truly , they really would be welcome in my eyes, but we've got to keep them contained to where they can do the most benefit to the people of the world. If they are kept State-side then they will be forced to oppose their own government - a power they have by simple effort of democracy if nothing else. Americans can vote against their government, we cannot directly participate in the American democratic process. (As quaint as their last little experiment in democracy was.)
Jeremy may be a criminal at home, but he's taking one for the team. Acting as an example that will keep the counteractant of dissent firmly in place below the 49th parallel.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

One Year Clean

Okay, that's a somewhat facetious title.

It's been a year today since I left Mia. Or did Mia leave me?

I said "You are an alcoholic, and if you aren't willing to deal with that then I am leaving you."

And she said "Bye."

I paraphrase, but that is it in a nutshell.

I wasn't surprised in the least. Everything I ever witnessed of her, Mia virtually never had the initiative to help herself when it came to her well being.


She always claimed she wanted to do something about the first two.

Smoking: She actively refused my help - specifically asked me not to push her on that front. She quit no less than four times in the two years we were together. The longest it lasted was about ten days.
Anti-depressants: She didn't reduce her dose in the last 9 months we were together - she may have even increased it. I asked her repeatedly to talk to me about how she felt. She did once... two nights before we left our apartment - over a month after we agreed we were finished. She asked me to work to understand her position as a Paxil addict... I did have an extended conversation with a licensed medical practitioner about it - one with personal experience. I also asked Mia to direct me to some relevant literature... it never happened. The reading that I eventually did on my own was critical in my determining her alcohol problem. Virtually any book that discusses the problems of depression and/or the side-effects of the drugs that are used to fight it has a section warning about the concurrent use of alcohol. Apparently Mia wilfully ignored those sections. In our final arguments I was accused of never trying to appreciate her problem, and that when I finally set out to do so, what did I do, but go directly to the A.A. literature. I know she wishes that that were true. I know that she wants to believe that I was desperate to find an explanation for why things fell apart.

She's right. Just take out the word desperate.

I've been over this a thousand times in my head, a dozen different ways. I've left a lot of my reasoning out of this. I am totally confident in the essential analysis of my position - the exact specifics are up for debate for anyone who cares.

We don't talk anymore - at all. I tried.

The first two months we lived together I paid her rent in full and never saw a dime of it back. I had no issue with that at the time. No less than four other times in the 15 months we lived together I paid all or a portion of her rent and she paid portions of it back... I don't know that she ever paid 100% of any single month's back.

At least once she made issue of me not supporting her by giving her money. Being virtually broke at the time myself not being an acceptable answer. I often loaned her money and struggled to payday as a result - while she brought home bottles of wine each night.

Care to guess why she couldn't pay the rent?

I was totally willing to lend her a hand on the rent when she was strapped - in my mind it's part of a relationship, helping each other with no expectation of return. I have never specifically asked for the money back - except for when she specifically promised to pay me back, which happened a few times... as I said before, I don't recall her ever paying all of any one month's rent (or other loans) back.

In October of 2003 I lost my job - I was fired for not agreeing to sign a new contract which would cut my pay by about 25%. My settlement covered my November rent. My Unemployment Insurance failed to come in until Christmas Eve. For December rent, it was Mia's turn to cover me. When we started living together, when I paid the first two months rent, we had a discussion about how that was simply part of the reality of a pair of actors in a relationship - there would be times when each of us would have to cover for the other when they were financially down. She actually initiated the conversation. I think she was feeling guilty.

Mia borrowed rent money from her father.

In July this past year she phoned me - the ONLY time after we split that she ever phoned me without me initiating.

"Jody (her roommate) is in financial trouble. Can you pay me back that money you owe my Dad?"

If her father ever phones me for the money I'll consider paying him back. But not until he's heard why he should be asking his daughter for the money, not me.

He's never called. Neither has she.

How much you want to bet that Jody was, at worst, no more financially strapped than Mia?

I've never called her since. Too mad. Too insulted. Too much time wasted on her already.

Now it has been a year.

When someone dies, it is said that the hardest time is the year after - the first time you have to go through all the various benchmarks - birthdays holidays - without.
I suspect the same holds true to relationships.

A few days ago I told Eden that I felt like she wasn't having to compete with a memory as much as she was when we began.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Let Terri Die

Imagine this.

You have control over any of your bodily functions. The best you can manage - with effort and concentration - is a twitch, perhaps even a trace of a smile or a frown.
You cannot speak or communicate in any significant manner apart from the smiles and frowns mentioned above.
You cannot feed yourself.
You cannot voluntarily turn your head to change the view. You cannot choose to open or close your eyes - if you could, you could learn to use morse code or a similar binary function to communicate.
You can't make it end.
What a scary place to be. What a useless place to be. What a boring place to be.
Imagine it goes on and on for fifteen years.

Terri Shiavo's Mother, Mary Schindler, expects the world to believe that Terri would prefer to be in this state.

What a load of shit.

For starters, I have severe doubts that Terri is cognizant enough to be able to register the living nightmare she is in. Her body is simply going on without her. And if she's not got the mental capacity left to understand that, then what is Mrs. Schindler holding onto? A lump of meat.

Either way, Mrs. Schindler has got to come to terms with her grief. Either she is holding on to a daughter who has long since gone by any realistic measure; or she is torturing her by keeping her trapped in a body no longer able to function. It's selfish. If she were answering herself honestly as to whether she would want to remain if the positions were reversed, her daughter would have left this world entirely years ago.

Possibly the most obscene element of this issue so far is the action of subpoenaing Terri, so that she had to be kept alive in order to testify in court. How utterly ridiculous. It is a despicable abuse of power. Terri can not, will not testify in court. It is disingenuous to keep her alive for such reasons. It is disgusting.

And any religious grounds for keeping her alive equally crumbles. If we hadn't the technology to keep her alive, Terri would have died when she had her heart attack 15 years ago. Out on the plains, she would have been wolf-food by nightfall.
"But what about babies? They can't feed themselves either." Don't bother. We were designed to be fed by our mothers until old enough to feed ourselves. If you're going to start arguing the Jesus-view, you're going to have to start with a stance of consistency if I'm going to give you an ounce of creedence.

Let her go. No sane person would want to live on like that. Terri said she would want to die if she were in that state. Honour that if you love your daughter. If you love your daughter, show some common sense, let her pain end.

As it stands, forcing the issue by putting the feeding tube back in on a technicality, is simply making it necessary for some one - probably her LEGAL GUARDIAN, her husband Michael - to pull a Million Dollar Baby and make a criminal of himself in the name of love.
A more righteous love than that of her Mother.

Not that her Mother doesn't love Terri. Her love has blinded her to the reality if Terri's horrific state.

Friday, March 18, 2005


I've been avoiding this for a bit now. Trying not to think about it. But two nights ago it really went to a new level, so it's time.

Where to start...? I guess in chronological order...

Rewind 12 years.

I was roaming the country with The Juanabees Comic Theatre Company. It was fun. Good for a 20 something to go out and play rock-star for a bit. I recognize now that the lifestyle can be a real trap though. Nothing revolutionary about that. Lot's of drinking and drugs... never harder than LSD and frankly, I didn't even find that (acid) very much fun. Late nights... often into the morning... and sleeping well into the day. Passing time on tour is a bitch. I never saw so many bad movies in my life... just to pass the time. Otherwise I'd have spent a lot more time drinking and doing drugs. It's a slippery slope.

One July in Winnipeg, I was hanging out after a show at a bar that we regularly hung out at - Mother Tucker's (sadly no longer there). I had just found a new woman to hang out with... Bhama. My God, she was hot. I knew there was a lot of jealousy surrounding my being with her. Lot's of guys thought it was pretty unfair that the goofy guy in the comedy troupe got the hottest chick. But that's peripheral to the story.
Bhama and I were hanging out. And there was this young girl - certainly too young to legally be in the bar - making rounds. Every five minutes she'd be back at my table cooing and being all groupie-ish.
Eventually Bhama whispered to me... "I am going to make that little girl cry." If she was successful, I never heard about it.

Fast forward about 10 years. I am engaged. But it's not going well. My fiancee is an alcoholic - although I hadn't figured it out yet (denial is an amazingly destructive defensive tool.) And who should re-appear into my life? ...That 'little girl' who Bhama wanted to make cry. We have a mutual friend... and they are doing a show together. (It actually took months for us to figure out that we knew each other from way back then, but it came.) She was still living in Winnipeg, with her husband... but now it was her turn to be on tour and my turn to be audience.

Half a year later, my relationship with Mia (my fiancee) is essentially over. She's a drunk, I'm not having any of it. She's in denial. And my negative attitude to her drinking has pushed her into the arms of another man.

I have to give thanks to a pair of friends of mine, Husband and Wife, who are among the most genuine people I know. I kind of suspected that they had a similar issue in their life. But I knew that they had survived it. The day I attended my first Al-Anon meeting, my fellow lover of an alcoholic supported me with excellent insight and kind words. The next day, the recovering alcoholic, did the same - the perspective was very welcome and enlightening. Sadly it was too little to late for my marriage.

(Although this is a largely separate issue - I need to say that my friend, the alcoholic, proves to me everytime I see him that "alcoholism" is not an epithet. I wish Mia had understood that. That I wasn't calling her an evil person. I was trying to help.)

And then that "little girl" (and she's still a fairly small person) reappears in Vancouver... in my circle of friends. Go figure. Her marriage is over too. We start hanging out. Regularly. Nothing sexual. Just two people who have similar issues to deal with, similar interests and who happened upon each other at just the right time. Angela and I.

Oddly, we found that a number of people we knew all left their spouses around the same time. We, as a joke, formed a 'support group' - which was really more of a social club. It didn't last long. I ended up sleeping with two other members... that kinda killed it. The good thing is that I am still with the second one. But you could just as easily argue that we got together because we worked on a show together. Angela was involved in that show too. She and Eden became close during that time as well.

In the year since then Ang and I have done three shows together, as well as a few one-night gigs. We've hung out, we've drunk, we've smoked-up together. It's all been good.

About two months ago Angela and a few other ex-pat Winnipegers mounted a show at a small local theatre. Included in the group was my friend the wife of my friend the recovering alcoholic. They asked me if I'd be in the show. I had to turn it down. I had just completed practically six-months of constant theatre work. I had promised Eden that I wouldn't take anything new until something else was off my plate. That and that I've boycotted the theatre they were working in, caused me to say 'no.' My friend and co-worker Jonny took the part instead.

With little more than a week until opening, Jonny informed me that Angela was dropping out - actually they'd asked her to do so - and they were pushing the show back. I refused to get into the gossip mill to find out what was up, but inevitably pieces floated my way.

Eventually, my friend the recovering alcoholic who had had direct involvement in things via his wife, told me the tale as close to first hand as I knew I'd ever get it.

Angela had been behaving erratically. Not showing up for rehearsals. Showing up late. Sleeping in the middle of rehearsal. Not coming prepared.
They had to have a talk with her - sort of a shape-up or ship-out chat.
Then, in the middle of a rehearsal at Angela's apartment, some strung-out junkie practically breaks into the apartment and crashes out on the kitchen floor. Jonny was there - apparently this fellow - a 'friend' of hers was 'accidentally injected with heroin' and just needed a place to come down.

Of course the question is "how the fuck does someone get 'accidentally injected with heroin'?"
This was about when I first started hearing about things. It was immediately after that that they decided that they needed to cut their losses and replace Angela. They cancelled the first week of the show and recast her.
I was starting to feel very pleased that I had turned down the offer.

Around the same time - without really knowing the exact sequence of events - a few other things happened...

Theatre Terrific - a local company that does theatre with special needs people - was looking for a new Artistic Director. I noticed this posting and sent it to Ang. She's worked with special needs folk for practically all her life, and she's in theatre. The only thing working against her was her relatively young age. She applied. She did the first interview and got short-listed down to three candidates... obviously I wasn't too off in thinking that she's be a good candidate. When the second set of interviews occurred some one (I'm not clear on who.) asked her how it went. Ang replied that the date of the interview had been changed... pushed back. Well, unfortunately for Ang, another friend of both of ours works with someone who is on the Theatre Terrific B.o.D. The dates did NOT change. Ang never showed.
Another mutual friend set Ang up with a fairly low functionality joe-job at his office. She quit showing up for that one almost immediately.
And (big time rumour here as far as I can tell, but it fits all the other events) she's been seen with the aforementioned junkie.... er, guy who was 'accidentally injected with heroin'... arm in arm and otherwise acting all boy-girl-friendy.

An intervention was staged. Ang's Mom came from Winnipeg. Ang's best friend came from Toronto. Ang promised that it was all going to get better.

One of the small honours in my life is that a group of friends from Winnipeg (a place I have never lived) who have all gradually migrated to Vancouver, have somewhere along the line decided to count me as one of their own. There must be close to a dozen of them in the core group, and at least as many peripheral 'Peggers. And somehow, I have been accepted as a part of the core of that circle of friends.

One of the things that that core do, is have a quarterly (probably more) birthday dinner for those of us in the group whose birthday happens to fall close to it. It's actually a fairly new thing - not quite a year now. And others are welcome - usually based upon who the guests of honour are. It's actually new enough that we've only recently realised that it's a 'thing.'

This past Wednesday was the birthday dinner for Angela and one other ex-pat-'Pegger. We all arrived, except Ang.
We all ordered. Ang phoned Karen's cell. (Karen directed the play I turned down.) She was waiting for a cab and would be there shortly.
Our dinner arrived. Ang phoned again. Her cab hadn't arrived yet and now she was 'waiting for her landlord' - why? We don't know.
We finished dinner and dessert and were waiting on the cheque. Ang phoned again. We all listened as Karen, rather impassively went through a conversation that we could all fill in the blanks of. From our end we could practically tell the leading question that preceeded Karen's response of "You're right, we will all be gone by the time you're here. Yes, you're right, you shouldn't bother coming." Apparently she was calling from Burnaby (a suburb nowhere near where she lives). So much for waiting for the landlord and/or a cab. I assume she was looking to score. We all assume that.

It was odd. Sitting around that table together. All of us knowing that our friend, while still alive, is gone. We've done what we can. If she wasn't going to respond to an intervention, she's not going to respond to anything except her own decisions. She will only seek help when she's ready to get help for herself.
I experienced this with Mia's alcohol addiction. (Somewhat ironic that I lived through it with Ang's friendship as a major crutch.) And of course our friend's, husband and wife*, have gone through it together as well - and he was ready to help himself. He knows best of all. We, as a group, know what we know largely because of his personal insight.
No one actually directly addressed it. There was nothing to say. We all knew.
It was sad, but yet no one was willing to let it ruin an otherwise pleasant evening. There was no point in wasting more energy and effort on something that is out of our hands. I feel confident that if Angela came to any one of us asking for help - genuine help - we'd all be happy to do so. But no one is willing to hurt ourselves any further. No one is going to give her the opportunity to take advantage of us for her own sickness.

I had a friend - about a decade ago - back in Victoria, who had a cocaine problem. I watched as he took advantage of one after another of our friends. Through a combination of luck (he never came to me in a fashion that could be exploited, until I had witnessed the way he treated other friends he did that to) and observation I never let him close enough to me to take advantage of me. We haven't heard from him for close to a decade.
I do miss him in small ways from time to time. But I'm glad to be free of the hassle of being his friend.

I expect I'll feel the same about Ang in time too.

*I'm avoiding using their names for a modicum of privacy. They don't really make it a big secret. But they don't advertise it. I only figured it out through observation and comparison to my own experience. All of us in that group do know. If you know me and are reading this and you know of whom I speak, then there is nothing lost. If you know me and don't know of whom I speak, please try to turn your mind from it in the name of discretion. If you know me, don't know of whom I speak, but what I've said makes the proverbial penny drop, please do exert the same level of discretion. If you don't know me, then it doesn't matter at all.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Un-fAIR India?

Every newspaper in town has it splashed across the front page in enormous font. I expect every daily across Canada has it so. Probably many newspapaers around the world have it front page.

The Air India Bombing suspects were found NOT GUILTY.

I was watching TV at work yesterday morning (yeah, it's a tough job), when the re-broadcast of the Daily show was interrupted for breaking news... Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri were found not guilty.

My oh my are people upset. Of course they are. They want justice. They've wanted justice for two decades.

The Canadian justice system failed to give it to them.

I have to side with Judge Josephson on this one. The evidence failed to rise to the standard required by Canadian law. Malik and Bagri may well have been involved with the bombings. Who am I to say? The evidence certainly has a strong surface indication of such. But that is not enough. We have standards of reasonable doubt in Canada, and in oprder to meet them, evidence must be solid and consistent.

The evidence in this case simply wasn't. We cannot fault the judge for that.

I hate the thought that these two men may well be guilty, but I hate the idea that we would compromise our established rules of law and order in order to convict them despite the failures of evidence collection... what would htat mean for the future? It's a slippery slope. And while it's never going to satisfy the families of the dead, I would rather live in a country where it's difficult to convict an innocent man than one where justice is served on a whim. Those whims are easily corruptible.

So... how did we fail to succeed in this case? Assuming that these men are guilty?

We need to look to the RCMP and CSIS, the two bodies responsible for collection of evidence in the bombings. I am in no position to say how they may or may not be culpable in this presumed failure, and there is likely no way to turn back the clock in order to effectively collect the information needed to effectively appeal the decision. All we can do is bolster our practices for the future. Without an idea as to where they fell short, I can't begin to fairly postulate upon effective solutions.

Questions I have...

Why, exactly is this case being tried in Canada? Because the flight originated here? Because the defendants live here? Because most of the victims were Canadian?
Why not Ireland? The debris landed off their coast.
Why not England? London was the destination.
Why not India? It was their plane.

(And not to trivialize the disaster by equating the trial to a relatively minor trial...)

But if you REALLY want to convict these men, why not put them to trial in a country where they are more likely to be found guilty? Steve Moore pulled that one in the Bertuzzi civil trial!

A few links...

The Canadian Press article on the verdict
Air Disaster.Com

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

No Pun Good Enough for CAKE.

I've programmed an auto playlist into my media player which I've labelled "True Believers," which is the collected works of the twenty bands that have most affected and anchored my listening habits in my life. It began at 10 bands, but the "I couldn't possibly leave out 'X'" factor quickly doubled the number.
Some of the bands are by now rather embarrassing - Queen and Van Halen. Some seem almost too easy - U2 and R.E.M. A few border on self-righteously obscure - Soul Coughing and Juluka.
And then there is Cake...
I love Cake. Everyone I know who likes Cake, loves Cake. Anyone else it seems hates Cake. I had no idea.
John McCrea's ironic wit and the genre-bending musicality of the band is, in my world, hot sex for the ear. But aparently, it's not good sex for everyone. It seems that it's kinky sex.
Just look at the reviews on All-Music dot com. Both the band as a whole and the albums in general fall victim to the the inexplicable snobbery of a "you think you're so hip that it's not cool" elitism. Now how bizarre is that? I do think that Cake puts up a bit of attitude - especially having seen them in concert... which I admit was a somewhat tepid experience. But I think that even that attitude is part of the joke.
The scope of Cake's musical prowress mixed with their defiantly limited instrumentation, make for a sound that both knows no boundaries as far as what it can embrace stylistically, but also is instantly recognizable - the distinctive cheap acoustic guitar sound, the near-ubiquitous trumpet and the unique vocals of J.M. ought to - in my mind - make for an easily digestible aural meal for almost anyone. There MUST be a song in the Cake catalogue for practically everyone, no?
Aparently not. Aparently the smug irony gives Cake an air of 'being above everyone.'
But I don't see it. I really don't. I think everyone is invited along.
In my world, Cake made a world where it is safe for small town straight boys who have only mostly got over their nurtured homophobia to sing "I Will Survive." But aparently I'm wrong, and it's one of the most egregious examples of an empty cover-tune. It's "belittling" and "off-putting." I beg to differ. I never recognized the anger in the song until I heard Cake play it. Andre Mayer bemoans the failure of most covers to find something new in the songs they are covering - and generally I agree - but to include Cake's take on Gloria Gaynor in that list is strained. The original celebrates in it's defiance, Cake simmers... almost sinisterly. While the Gaynor version bears an attitude of "I'm over you so much it's a party" that at it's roots speaks of "the lady doth protest too much"; the Cake version takes a seething air that hints that the subject of the song's wrath ought make a point of only meeting the song's protagonist in public places. And musically, the two could not have instrumentation that is much more different. There is no disco in the Cake reading.
All Music's ranking of the five Cake albums makes little sense to me either.
Motorcade... - 2 stars
Fashion Nugget - 3 stars
...Magic - 2.5 stars
Comfort Eagle - 3 stars
Pressure Chief - 3.5 stars
I agree. Motorcade of Generosity is the weak-link.
Prolonging the Magic is certainly second, but by a matter of 10% of the scale? (Five stars.) I'd give it at least twice that leap.
I can buy Fashion Nugget and Comfort Eagle being tied... I might put Comfort Eagle ahead of Nugget though, and again I would widen the distance by an additional 1/2 star... at least.
Pressure Chief as the stand-out? That's where I really have to think that the reviews could not possibly have been done by anyone with a real appreciation for the band. While I think Pressure Chief is a fine album, it just doesn't reach the level of Fashion Nugget, let alone surpass Comfort Eagle.
The weirdest part of the entire rating comes when one reads the written portion of the reviews. Comfort Eagle is said to "come{s} dangerously close to simply remaking its previous release, Prolonging the Magic." So... if it's that unoriginal, why does it get a better rating?
I just don't get why there is such a hate-on for what I think to be one of the more original and quirkily-interesting bands of the past decade...

If I were rating the albums, it would probably look more like this:
Motorcade... - 2 stars
Fashion Nugget - 4 stars
...Magic - 3 stars
Comfort Eagle - 4.5 stars
Pressure Chief - 3.5 stars

Before I continue with the "let them eat Cake" fest...
I should turn back to my previous comment that the Cake concert I attended in November was rather tepid.
Yep. As great as I think they are. The concert was a bit of a let-down. I could blame one of their two opening acts...
The first, Heiruspecs - a hip-hop/rap act from Minneapolis - was a delight. I'm not a fan, generally, of the genre. And the moment they hit the stage, my reaction was... "uh, oh." But they were so tight and so fresh and original that by the end of the first song I was giving them a chance... and by the end of the second song I was fully won over. The live rhythm section was a big selling feature, and the main rapper (Is that an M.C.? I'm SO un-hip to hip-hop.) was both affable, and witty and the messages the group was putting forth in their music was far more positive than I have come to expect from the archetypes of rap. But that wasn't all... The second M.C. was - for lack of a better way of putting it - the Eddie VanHalen of rap. He mostly contributed a classic record-scratch type sound - that was totally vocal, but he also imitated other instruments and when he rapped he took off like a formula one. His lines were coming off with a remarkable clarity combined with a speed that seemed almost inhuman. How is it possible for someone to talk that fast and yet be perfectly understandishable? That night Heiruspecs opened a door in my music library and stuck their foot in the jam.
Up next was The Walkmen. Excellent name. But yeesh! They deserve a big Vancouver 'Fuck You.'
Aparently they were on Letterman the night before. A fact that became unavoidable as they mentioned it about 19 times in their 30 minute-too-long, three quarter of an hour set. I assume that being on Letterman the night before meant that we were obligated to like them. That they were the next Beatles. That fortune favoured tham and thus, so must we. They were the chosen ones. It seems that no one happened to mention to them that Vancouver audiences are notorious for not giving a shit. And that EVERYONE has to earn our respect - in person. Furthermore, being mad at us for not liking you the moment you cop an attitude is just going to garner more attitude back.
Admittedly, it was clear that they were less than happy with their sound. They were literally yelling into the wings about it. In the front row, the noise was next to unbearable. I would be willing to give them the benefit of doubt about that, but it occurs to me that the two bands they were sandwiched between sounded fine. So either... their own sound guy sucked ass; or they copped attitude to the local guys during sound-check (because they were on Letterman the night before) and they local IATSE guys decided that they were going to be the proud recipients of crap-assed performance sound. Either way... whose at fault?
The sound was so bad, that two of the folks I came with decided that they were going for drinks on about song number three of the set. As I mentioned, we were front row - the Walkmen could not but have noticed.
I've been at concerts where the artists cop an attitude before. I recall in 1990 when The SoupDragons (Remember them? I barely do.) opened for INXS. Their cover of "I'm Free" was at the top of the charts and they too thought they were deserving of our unfettered adulation. My god they were lame. Zero personality. And THEN the lead singer had the temerity to declare "Usually when we play people dahnce. I guess they haven't invented dahncing in Vahncouvah." It's quite a sound when 25000 people simultaneously shout "FUCK YOU! You weak Manchester knob! You didn't even write your only hit!" That effectively killed that concert. Even Michael Hutchence was barely able to lift it to a level of 'worth the price of admission.'
While the Walkmen didn't quite go so far as directly insulting the crowd, they were clearly so pissed off at how 'well' the concert was going, and taking it out on us that they might as well have. It was OUR fault that we didn't like them, and their sarcasm was nearly hilarious in it's short-sightedness.
I am a performer myself. I've travelled the continent in a comedy troupe. I know how hard it can be when a show just goes wrong. And I know that the LAST thing you can afford to do is make it the audience's fault. If a show is is going poorly. You just have to do your best to do your best, and have fun in spite of all adversity. Doing anything less is the biggest insult to the people who ARE PAYING TO SEE YOU. It's practically a crime to give up on them. Stay the course. Perhaps they'll 'get it' eventually and things will turn around. Perhaps they won't - but at least then you've done the right thing regardless. That is the higher road.
But that was beyond the Walkmen. I was so pissed off at thier attitude that I decided to fuck with them. Because I could.
There I was, front row. All of 15 feet from the lead singer. He could not but help see me. So I sat there and gave him absolutely nothing for a reaction except an air of "c'mon impress me - I bet you aren't up to the task." Which was exactly how I felt, so it wasn't much os a challenge to exude it. I sat, front and centre with my arms folded across my chest, slumped in my seat, with a look of complete disinterest and stared down the lead singer for the rest of the set. Actually, it was pretty damned entertaining for me in the end. The challenge of not cracking - not moving a muscle in my face except for what it took to keep my eyes fixated on him and his frustrated posturing - was in the end as entertaining as Heiruspecs had been. Mr. "We were on Letterman last night, now love us or else" stood on stage trying not too look at me, getting visibly more irritated as the set wore on. I suppose I was being an asshole, but if you ask me, they had it coming.
Finally, Cake took the stage. I suppose I was expecting magic. But the magic was forever prolonged. Don't get me wrong, I was happy as a clam to see one of my favourite bands of all time. But their stage act just didn't achieve the same level of excellence as their albums. Too much of the same stage gimmicks over and over. Hey, John... the audience can only handle so much singing back up for you. And when you threaten to not end the song until we satify your artistic needs, we get bored even faster. During the opening song - "Sheep Go to Heaven" it was fun and felt spontaneous... but by the encore (about 12 songs of audience sing-along later) I couldn't possibly have had any interest in joining the rest of the men in the building in trying to sing "No Phone" louder than the ladies.
I was happy to see Cake, and I wasn't going to cheat myself out of one second of their stage time, but it will never make a 'best concert I've ever seen list' unless it's a particularly long list. (I felt the same way about The Who Quadrophenia tour in 1997.) And on top of it all they played almost every song I wish they'd sing... I would have liked to have heard 'Italian Leather Sofa' though.

And before I call 'er quits for this long,rambling, largely pointless, post... here's a few thoughts on quintessential Cake:

From "Motorcade of Generosity"
Comanche - hard not to get it stuck in your head at some point
Jesus Wrote a Blank Check - A harbinger of Cake wit to come
Rock & Roll Lifestyle - the hit that started it all

From "Fashion Nugget"
The Distance - one of the songs non-Cake fans usually know
I will Survive - I've written enough about this one today
Stickshifts and Safetybelts - insanely catchy - one of my absolute faves
Italian Leather Sofa - near epic and all awesome - the final line of the chorus became a euphemism for "I can't hear you" between me and my ex-fiancee... a story longer than it's value, I assure you.

From "Prolonging the Magic"
Never There - another Cake song for non-Cake fans
Guitar - I gained a greater appreciation for this song at the concert
Sheep go to Heaven - not chanting the chorus is nigh impossible
Alpha Beta Parking Lot - I've had many of these days myself

From "Comfort Eagle"
Opera Singer - hysterical... and having a best firned who is an Opera director, I have some insight to it's truths
Shadow Stabbing - so lyrically clever that I couldn't leave it off... even if I didn't think it had a killer hook
Short Skirt/Long Jacket - another Cake for the non-Cake... one of the best videos ever
Commissioning a Symphony in C - the epitome of the Cake quirk - how can you hear this song and feel like you're being excluded from the joke?
Comfort Eagle - Another nominee for the best Cake song ever
Love You Madly - this album just keeps on giving... I'm having to deliberately leave songs off the list

From "Pressure Chief"
Wheels - one of their better lead tracks on any of their albums
No Phone - another single, than needs to be cited -though possibly their weakest
Dime - again with the clever lyrics
Carbon Monoxide - "Car after truck after car after bus after this my lungs will be so fucked up" - one of their best ear-worms ever
End of the Movie - Largely on this list because it's the best example of the lighter end of their musical spectrum... almost unique int he Cake canon

And that, is all I have to say about that.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Fine Art of Dropping Out...

As soon as I wrote that I realised that it has more than one meaning in the context of where this blog has gone.

Really what I was referring to is that it has been five days since my last post, and that the reasons for that were that in various ways I have dropped out of the world for a few days. Filming "Men's Only" was this weekend. Friday after work I went direct to the location to do some early prep. I was home by 10 and managed to get to sleep by midnight which is a rarity for me no matter how you slice it. I was up and out the door early the next day and off to set. It was roughly an 18 hour day. Once done, we cleaned up some and then went to bed. I slept there, knowing that I was going to have to finish the cleaning in the morning. Which is exactly what happened.
I then had breakfast with my Mom and Eden. Then Eden and I went back to my place until she had to go to work. When she left I told her to take my keys 'cause I wasn't moving until she got back... which is pretty close to true. When the sun set, I had to close the french doors 'cause it was getting chilly.
Yesterday I lay about - Eden had to go and teach again. I normally would be working, but due to a change in the schedule at work I went from having my days off at the end of our work week to having them at the beginning - which resulted in a well timed four day weekend. I did do a few things - I wrote a thank you to everyone who worked on the film, and I started to look at editing "Godot" again. I need to finish the fine cut by the end of March. I also talked to John - the producer - about it. He may come over today to see where I am at. We want to be done in time for the Vancouver Film Festival entries.
Mid-day I went rollerblading with Eden.
Last night Ian came over and we commisserated about cheating wives and had some beer, watched Mr. Show and played some video games. I did a bit more work on "Godot" and was asleep before midnight - again.
Today, more "Godot" - except my computer is behaving poorly which is making it annoying, so I'm taking a break from that.
Probably a movie tonight after meeting with John. But generally, I'm still revelling in this rare occurance of little or nothing pressing to do. No work, no immediate deadlines. Lovely!

The shoot went pretty well, generally. We had some snags getting started... a crew member was late (and then later had to leave due to a family emergency); another got merely 4 hours sleep the night before - which became a bigger issue as the day wore on; a lamp wouldn't stop burning - zoiks; and one actor was on site, but not on set due to a miscommunication for two hours before we knew he was there.
We started 90 minutes late and then had to start over when the master got screwed up by someone hitting a light switch in the middle of it. By the time we were finishing the master, the extras were arriving - we were supposed to be about 4 more shots further into the shoot before the extras showed, but we were behind.
Something went wrong. One extra never got called. One had the wrong times and couldn't make the actual times... nor could the others he was to bring with him. One arrived on set just as the line "He's a rod-gobbler!" was recited. He took immediate offence and left. He was gay. Funny thing is, if he had stuck around to pick up the context, he would have seen that the film is taking his side... crazy.
If we had lost one more extra we'd have been fucked. As it was we were replacing extras with crew members who we needed for the shoot. It was pretty funny by the time we were shooting big tracking shots that required all of our extras. The only people behind the camera were the D.O.P. and the cameraman. The sound guy had the mic on a boom stand as close to the action as he could place it. The dolly grip was in front of the camera too. (The D.O.P. was doing that as well as his own job and the job of the cable-puller.) The cable-puller... well, you know. And so was the transport captain.... and my 1st A.D. Hysterical. We only had three extras show. We were looking for 8 to 12.

Through the shoot I took a lot of flak from the experienced actors and crew on the set. Because I had failed to clearly explain that we weren't going to waste a lot of time getting multiple takes - I was focussing on getting more coverage - and that any thing that was less than ideal in one angle we'd pick up elsewhere (with a few exceptions that we had to be careful of getting in specific places.) So much grumbling was done over "but we've already got lots of coverage of this" technically true... but just because I only took one take doesn't mean that it was perfect.
The upshot of that mis-communication is that we were scheduled to do multiple takes, but we rarely did - the master being a significant exception. By dinner we were caught up. By the end of the shoot we were close to two hours ahead of schedule... which the sound-guy (who had only got 4 hours sleep) was thankful of. He mentioned that he was supposed to be working at 7am the next morning too... Christ.

I'll get to see the footage in a few weeks. I'm not even bothering looking at the rushes until "Godot" is off my plate.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

What's Your Problem. Ireland?

In the news today: A host of news about troubles for the IRA.

Disband the IRA? The mere thought is absurd.

It might be possible to get the pseudo-military nationalists to do so in an 'official' capacity. But the deep-rooted feelings that gave rise to the IRA in the first place will remain in the hearts of the most fervent nationalists of √Čireann.

It will only be a matter of time before a splinter group operating out of a basement in Belfast, bombs a parade. The only real question is "who will be the first?" Which pocket of angry nationals will get to lay claim to being the first to lash out in violent protest? In fact, the idea of being first may even serve as a carrot and rush the process along once the idea of 'being the ones to righteously break the peace' has seeded.

It is only a matter of time. Take the most recent cease fire in Palestine. All well and good. The Palestinians and the Jews laid off each other for how long? Weeks? Did it get to months? I'm too lazy to do a search to find out. In any case, it only took until the other week before someone decided that there were still violent points to be made. Someone whose agenda was functionally, but not ideologically divorced from the powers that be. Someone who COULD NOT BE CONTROLLED.

I have strong Irish blood, and of the various nationalities that make up my personal weave of DNA, the Irish portion is that which I connect with the best. But I constantly find myself having to turn my back to any connection to the violence. The Irish have been rising in proto-military fashion for centuries now and it has yet to actually solve anything. I know that much, but it repulses me to have that as part of my heritage, so I have had a tendency to avoid the depth of the history about it.

Yes, all nations pretty much have some sort of violent history to be ashamed of, but Ireland's is on going to this day. "We" have never got past it. We aren't alone in that, but there are numerous nations that are doing a pretty good job of living in an enlightened state beyond violence... the country I live in strives valiantly to do just that - not always successfully, but the point being, Canada tries. Perhaps, I'm being a hypocrite here - disbanding the IRA constitutes 'trying.' But the definition becomes rather specious in this case.

Again with the self-criticism: Germany is among the best examples of a country with a violent history. A violent, recent history (with the prime examples being from the last century). But really, the past 50 years have been pretty tranquil - at least on this side of the one-time Iron Curtain. A lot of the peace can be attributed to the vociferous education of the populace - the young - of their historical transgressions. Which probably means I should go and read Trinity... Hmmm. I think I just convinced myself. (Maybe not Trinity exactly, but read up on the history in any case.)

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Oh for Christ's Sake! The real way to drop out.

So, yesterday put a few years on me...

I was feeling good about the prep for the movie. Everything was falling in place nicely. All was under control.
I was feeling so good - cocky even - that when Final Draught called and asked if I could be on the panel on short notice, I said 'yes' against my better judgement. But I knew that they were really strapped. I was already booked to panel in two weeks time, after the film was done. I knew they knew I was busy and that they wouldn't call unless they really were in a tight spot. On top of that, I used to be a member of the Final Draught executive. I used to be in charge of assembling the panel. I was sympathetic to Bob's plight - and further, Bob has agreed to be an extra in the film, so I owe him one. I even figured that it night be a good place to recruit more extras. So, I said 'yes.' Bad choice.
Yesterday afternoon, around 4pm - WAY too late to cancel on Final Draught without being dead - Jeny called. The film that she is being paid to work on has changed it's dates. It CONFLICTS with ours.
Well shit.
It needs to be said that the day she agreed to be my First A.D. she also told me that she was involved in this project (as a puppeteer) and that it could conflict. They finally set the dates to about two weeks from now, weeks ago. No conflict. We all relaxed about it.
Then last week they wanted her for some advance rehearsal that conflicted with our rehearsals. The shooting dates had not yet changed, nor was there any indication they might but somewhere in the deepest recesses of my sub-concious I heard the clarion of the harbinger...
But point being, that unlike who bailed last week, she let me in on her possible problems and conflicts. Perhaps we should have acted upon the warnings more proactively, but we didn't.

Jeny was a superstar about it though. She was excellent before there was an issue and even better after. She found a replacement inside of 2 hours. Someone who she vouched for. I met both her and him during my munch today, and we (Brandon and I) will meet again tomorrow.

All is well, all is back in control. All that is at issue at all is that I now lose time to bringing Brandon up to speed.

On the plus side, I did find some more extras at Final Draught last night. Including one of the writers. His script needed a lot of work and I wasn't breaking the news gently to him. But he was a big enough person to come and offer his services as an extra anyhow.

Good on him.

Monday, March 07, 2005

In the time of Chimpanzees I was a Monkey

Mmmmm bananas...

I've never bothered to look deeper into the rumours I've heard about bananas dieing out. I originally heard of it from one of my more learned friends
It scares me (in tiny ways, I'll get over it) to think of a banana-less world. I love bananas. They are my favourite fruit. I was eating one when I started this post! Of my recommended 4 servings of fruit a day, I am willing to bet that (when I do achieve all 4) that half of them are bananas or banana related. When they released banana Snapple, I was in heaven.
The idea of spending the rest of my life eating proto-banana plantains and banana-reminiscent flavour substitutes is genuinely a depressing thought... and that's before I even begin to consider the concomitant enviromental issues.
But I also caught a flash of a debunking of the idea which has lifted my heart... but can I find it?

Googling "banana extinct" get's a whopping 7 hits - including the above link. Whereas "banana hoax" only serves up one. So, I don't know what to think.

"Tra la la, Tra la la la, Tra la la, la la la la la... One banana, two banana, three banana, four. Four bananas make a bunch and so do many more." - The Banana Splits Theme Song.

This is cool... we've dug a little closer to our roots.

In University I started as an anthropology major - because it was the closest thing I could get to Archeology and I had it in my head that I wanted to be Indiana Jones... I was a bit deluded. I also took minors in mythology and theatre... ...I'm shooting my second film next week - any guesses what happened back in University?
I dropped Anthropology by the end of first semester - at first year level it was merely one course anyhow. We were expected to fill out our first year with all our required electives... I took three theatre courses and ended up switching my major, 'cause anthropology was SO BORING!
But I kept up a bit of an interest in it... perhaps we all have some interest in where we all come from.

Kinda flips the bird at the ghost of William Jennings Bryan, eh?

Friday, March 04, 2005

Back to Jack

Well, that sure looks bad...

Sister's Testimony

What leaps out is the editing and prompting on the tape of Michael Jackson. The fabrication of a public statement about how wonderful Jackson is to kids... not cool.

I suppose that it's clear that Jackson obviously needed to do some image cleansing after the Bashir tape came out... and it's also clear that the family is not pleased with the nature of the Bashir documentary. Obviously they were willing participants in the making of the tape, but the prompting that was going on from off-screen... bad. No matter how you look at it.

Ugly ugly ugly.

It's a far cry from ultimately damning, but it certainly is not looking good.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Evidence of a Distinct Lack of Character

I could be wrong...
But I think that one of my cast members has shown evidence of a distinct lack of character.
My co-director suggested him several weeks ago. It was a slow process to get the script to him and to get him to accept. Matthew (my co-director) indicated that he - the actor (whose name I will not use as I don't really know that my suspicions are correct.) - was keen and was 'in.' He apparently also wanted to suggest some changes to the script to make it more suitable to him. As the writer, I actually think that that is awesome. I love the idea that the character's voices are more distinctively separate because the actors are bringing their own interpretation.
So I awaited the actor's response... 3 days, 5 days, a week ... I was getting a bit pissed off, but Matthew assurred me that the actor was in. 10 days - we have a production meeting where I had hoped to have the 'final' script to distribute. No such luck - the actor had not yet called, had not responded to my messages.
Then, yesterday at about 6:30 - about the time that there was little we could do about it that day by way of calling agents and so forth - he leaves me a message. He got a part in a paying gig. (Our film is on Union-waiver... in other words, the actors get money if and when the film makes a profit.) He 'just found out' and was 'sorry' and 'really liked the script.'

My interpretation: When he said 'yes' to our film he either already knew he had a possibility of paid work, or he found out VERY soon thereafter. He didn't want to scotch his chances of doing our film if the paid work didn't pan-out, so he never told us that there was a chance that he might have to drop out. He was scared that if we knew there was a chance he'd not be able to do it that we'd find someone else.

If that is what he was thinking, he was most-likely wrong. If he knew that he'd know with two days to go before we started rehearsals, I admit it would have been close, but I think that what we would have done is be prepared to replace him if he dropped out... so that we'd experience less stress if he did drop out.

Well thanks , it was VERY stressful to have you drop out.

Perhaps if he didn't know when he would find out, or if he knew that he'd find out in the week between rehearsal and the shoot - then we would likely have had to replace him, and furthermore - could you blame us?

So, I spent (luckily only) three hours aging at triple my normal rate before we found out that the actor who originally played the role inthe stage version was available to do the part, and that he wasn't holding a grudge for us not selecting him in the first place... very big of him.

We really should have just picked Dean originally obviously. Lesson learned.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Enemies List - I

I suppose that if I were to be perfectly honest about it, this list would start with names like:

COLIN POWELL - although I often find that I have as much respect for him as I could ever imagine having for anyone in the current regime.

But, I think that ideologically, the enemies list should more be directed at the opinion-mongers of the world. (As would an Allies list.) Certainly my nominal opinion is but a drop in the bucket compared to anyone I will list here - and most of their opinions will be more focussed than my shatter-shot of rants on various subjects. But that is exactly why I'm starting my list - to identify the a patchwork of opinion that exemplifies my own.

There has never been a doubt in my mind since I originally came up with the idea of an Enemies and Allies list, that the first name on the enemies list was going to be...


Her opinions are generally so outrageous that I can't possibly take them seriously. What really irks me about her is that really, she's made a business of it. I don't think she even believes everything she says - I have no doubt that she is in the deepest parts of her blackened soul a devout right-wing daughter of Mammon - but it's really often just too far to take with anything but a laugh.
Really what I see, is an attractive woman, who has discovered that there is a market for a babe to say outrageously, willfully blind, right-wing things. And that she pushes that as far as she possibly can. What is offensive is not so much the things she says, but that she is saying them with the disingenuous purpose of capitalizing on them, not that she believes they are true. Of course she would deny that if accused of it. She has to, right? If she admitted the game, there would be no game.
I can just imagine her lying in bed at night thinking "What's the most twisted thing I can get away with saying about... Senator McCarthy? I know! I'll say that he was a patriot and that he was right! And that he has been unfairly vilified by traitorous with an agenda of hatred towards their own country and freedom! Hey! That's so fucked up that I could write a book about it!"

I really cannot believe she believes so much of what she claims to take to be the truth. Her twisting of reality is mind boggling at times. And the weirdest thing is, it's often accompanied by her claims of the same thing on the part of the people she is attacking.
I read her column regularly. Often I can hardly even find, let alone see, her point - I guess it's THAT hard to make a point when it's so tenuously grounded in reality. But I can't help it. It's a bit like watching a train-wreck. "How can you possibly think that!?" But also, it's the idea of keeping in touch with what the enemy is doing/thinking. This is the epitome of the enemy's insanity - it MUST be monitored.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Quest for Oscar

That's just a little bit facetious.
Had a production meeting last night for the film I'm shooting in ten days. Jesus it's scary how quickly this is coming up.

Couldn't help but be at least a little bit aware of the fact that the Oscars had been given out the night before - that I watched them from the exact same seat I chaired the meeting from. I did fairly well in predicting the winners, in fact in our little party-pool, I was winning until the last two categories changed my fortunes and dropped me to second. Usually I suck at predicting the winners. I also tied in the Oscar trivia contest. (I should have come first, but I made the mistake of second guessing an answer that I originally had correct- dumb.) That accomplishment is not too surprizing. My trivia knowledge is embarassingly good - particularly where film history is concerned... There are only four films that have ever won Best Picture that I haven't seen - one of which is Million Dollar Baby.
But anyhow...

Just wanted to muse on the making of a film.
This is my second as director. The first is still in editing.
The two are markedly different. The first one, I made a point of keeping it simple in as many production ways as possible. One location. One actor. No dialogue. This was countered significantly by the fact that we had TWO 12 hour days to shoot it in and there were a whopping 140 shots. My team was awesome. We totally flew - we had to. For the most part we kept the takes down, lighting was kept simple, and we rolled with the magic of the moment as often as possible. It's far from perfect, but when all my experienced director friends heard we planned to shoot 140 set-ups we were told we were nuts and that we had to plan to book more days. Now, it should be said that I DID get a time lapse shot, one reshoot, all the ambient sound and about three inserts on a third day - but that's neither uncommon nor unexpected. Point being, we DID get the 140 shots in two days. It was intense and fun.
This next time, there are entirely new challenges. It's virtually all dialogue - a challenge to make interesting in a visual medium. It's one location again. A dozen extras. Five actors, all sitting around one table, which means HUGE axis issues. (If you don't know about the concept of crossing the axis, try this.)
The plan for conquering the axis issues is three-fold.
1) Taking a page from the Reservoir Dogs approach and having a lot of shots where the camera is in motion - this allows us to effectively MOVE the axis with the camera.
2) Taking a page from Steven Soderberg in Ocean's Eleven - pin pointing a number of places in the script where adherence to the axis is going to be absolutely necessary.
3) Taking a second page from O's 11 - making certain that very early on there is a shot which clearly lays out the geography of the table - where everyone is sitting. And when it suits our needs, abandoning the concept of the axis entirely. Framing the camera from the centre of the table on the subjects a-la That's 70s Show will also aid this approach.

It has been said - by people much more talented than I - that film-making is like waging a war. No doubt that's an apt analogy in many ways. The logistics of mounting a film and waging a war are both hugely complex and both at the mercy of so many X-factors that the laws of chaos are in full effect.
I would go on to say that film-making is not only a war, but it is a war of attrition. Time and circumstances wear away at the integrity of your artistic vision. Planning and ingenuity pick away at the puzzle that is a film. But there is only so much planning that can be done. A certain amount of vision needs to be left for the set circumstance of the moment. Inspiration, innovation, ingenuity are your greatest weapons in the moment.
I think it was Winston Churchill who said that "In order to succeed, planning is not sufficent. You must also improvise." (I paraphrase.) Never more true than in film-making.

I believe that we are winning many of the battles. A few key early skirmishes are still being fought. We have a cast member who is very hard to get answers back from - the same can be said for our camera-op (who was our D.O.P on "Godot"- my first film), and our 2nd A.D. We only have one confirmed extra, my co-director stepped up to the plate yesterday about set-dressing... a long battle that has been. And he and I have disagreed on a number of points along the way. There are things I less want to skimp on - like back-ground details (although I think we've found a happy medium there); he is crankier about the schedule than I am (I understand that it is often necessary to shoot through the night - and rarely made issue of. But I grant that it would be nicer to not be shooting at 4am.) These two things are actually connected. I would rather spend the time (we have the location for 48 hours) to cover ourselves by dec-ing the background as fully as possible - something we can't go back on retroactively and do, and if it looks like hell, the movie sucks. Luckily the impact will be minimized by the choice to desaturate the image to Black and White, but still... spending one night a bit sleepy- fine by me. Especially seeing as we can be prepared for that and everyone can try to come in as well rested as possible. Anyhow... we're aiming to get started as early as possible, but the time has not yet been fixed - currently we're expecting a 3pm start.
Last night I was (doing a poor job of) sharing one of my planned shots (he is directing the actors I am directing the camera) and I could tell he didn't like it. Later when we were alone he said he didn't think it was focusing on the right thing. That may be so. But that's assuming that there is no other coverage of the same moment. I like the idea of the shot. It's not going to require much additional work (the camera will already be in that position.) and it provides an option that will change the pace of editing at a key moment in the film.
We may never use the shot - that's not the point. This project is (as was the last one) about learning. I think we learn more by shooting something interesting that we never use than by not (especially if we find we could have used it). I think this is one internal struggle I will win - not that it's about winning. I just think that what we have to lose doing the shot is minor compared to what we could lose NOT getting it.

To call up another combat metaphor - this one my own - film-making is an art of triage (battlefield medicine.) What do you sacrifice in order to save the most and best of what's left?

Anyhow, we're getting down to the wire. The next ten-days have alot of work to fill them. This is really where it all gets exciting.

Anyhow - these artistic differences are ultimately trivial. They're even necessary.