Friday, February 27, 2015

"Belated Fantasy Accolade Encounter"


After the Oscars, during which Birdman was selected “Best Screenplay”, “Best Director” and “Best Picture” and Boyhood captured a single Oscar for “Best Supporting Actress”, I imagined making my way over to Boyhood’s writer-director Richard Linklater during some post-Oscars “after-party”, tapping him gently on the shoulder, and saying,

Birdman is a winner.  But Boyhood is a classic.”

I meant every word of that fake interaction.  I am nothing if not sincere in my fabricated illusions.

(Note:  You know the interaction is fake because I would never be invited to a post-Oscars “after-party”, nor would I ever tap a complete stranger on the shoulder, either gently or otherwise.)

I had seen Birdman in the theater.  It made me, as I wrote earlier, extremely uncomfortable – a clich├ęd story of show business redemption gussied up with impressive camerawork and hyperventilated acting.  (That’s a little facile, but so, to a substantial degree, is the movie, so it fits.  Which, thinking it over, is furtherly facile.  I just think I’ll move on.) 

I watched Boyhood in my bedroom.  (Owing to my consummate mastery of the DVD-playing apparatus.  I never tire of bragging about my technological advancements.  iPhone-5 – you’re next!  Even though while amassing the courage to tackle it, I have already fallen one iPhone behind.)

One evening, because Dr. M was hosting a psychoanalytic event in our living room, I was summarily exiled upstairs.  Boyhood would be required to bear the brunt of my grumpy disposition, as I did not want to be exiled upstairs.  Who wants to be exiled anywhere?  It makes you feel sorry for Napoleon.  Poor little Emperor got exiled twice!

Also, Boyhood was reputedly two hours and forty-five minutes long.  That was my evening’s agenda  – being penned up in my bedroom, watching an overlong movie I may possibly not enjoy.

And I didn’t enjoy it at first.  As you are probably aware, Boyhood, the story of a family highlighting the younger, male sibling, was filmed piecemeal over a twelve-year period, allowing the actors to age naturally while continuing to play the same roles.  (So there was no six year-old “Mason Evans Jr.” played by one actor and an eighteen year-old “Mason Evans Jr.” played by a different actor because who would believe a six year-old playing an eighteen year-old?  Or vice versa.  This way, it was actor Ellar Coltrane playing “Mason Evans Jr.” the whole time.  And all the other actors playing the same characters the whole time as well.  Because you can’t do just one.)

I don’t know why I didn’t enjoy Boyhood at first.  Maybe it was because I had been forced into watching it and I am a vindictive old coot.  Maybe it was my unfamiliarity with the family, who lived in Texas and none of them was Jewish.

No matter.  It short time, the movie grew on me, and by an hour or so into it, I was hooked.  My favorite moment? – talk about unfamiliarity – Mason Jr., having turned fifteen receives two birthday presents from his divorced Dad’s new wife’s parents – a personalized Bible and a vintage shotgun. 

The thing is, these items were presented with such generosity and kindness that a non-shotgun-shooting Jewish man cooped up in his bedroom was viscerally affected by the gesture.  Who’d have thought that a scene bestowing a gun and a Bible on a adolescent boy who had little enthusiasm for either would be so unexpectedly moving? 

Why was it moving?  There was an identifiable humanity shimmering right through it.  They may have been misguided, perhaps, but these people didn’t have to give that kid anything.  And instead, they delivered from their hearts.

The entire movie – Boyhood often reminding me of The Graduate for its ability to accurately encapsulate a cultural moment – sparkled with meaningful interactions and reverberating surprises, like the disappointed-in-life patriarch turning out to be an excellent father. 

Conditioned to expecting cinematic hackery, I kept anticipating, “Oh, here’s where she announces to the family that she has cancer” or “Here’s where the unsophisticated country boy succumbs to hard drugs”, I was instead relieved – nay, delighted – to discover that Boyhood eschews hackneyed pyrotechnics in favor of chronicling the mundane realities, a choice which for me is unceasingly rewarding. 

Opting for the “every day moment” turns out to be a deliberate strategy.  Allow me to excerpt from the recent Writers’ Guild “Written By” magazine, in which writer Lisa Rosen profiles Linklater, and his idiosyncratic storytelling process:

“The drama feels completely lived in.  Things don’t escalate the way you expect in a film because the usual plot twists don’t apply.  Because there’s no plot.  ‘Somewhere along the way it hit me, I have dumped plot completely in favor of just character and story,’ he {Linklater} says.  ‘So many movies have a structure that’s built around satisfying plot and leave no room, or very little, for these real moments.  You hear all the time, What are the stakes, what’s the payoff?  That’s all artificial.

‘When you’re going for the rhythms of real life,’ he asks, ‘are you sitting right now thinking, What are the stakes in this thing I’m trying to do?  Naw, it’s something I’m compelled to do.  I thought maybe I could do a whole movie without a plot.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense.  It’s plot that’s fake.  What’s real is the way life unfolds, the way time moves, the way things don’t always pay off in big ways.  Because they don’t.  Your life doesn’t have a plot.  It has character and story.’”

No formal plotline, yet it remains compelling to the end.  Not all movies have to be like that.  But I am delighted that some of them are.  When courageous filmmakers like Richard Linklater can abandon formula and turn people’s ordinary existence into memorable entertainment…

For me, at least,

Those movies are classics.        

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Two Historians Tackling A Significant Issue"


Hitler has refused to retreat from Poland and an international conflict is about to begin.  Not saying this was the most important issue of the day, but recently released documents reveal that two eminent historians were instructed to meet in order to determine what to name it. 

We are fortunate to have the “minutes” of that meeting.  And here, for your education and enlightenment, they are.

Two superannuated historians, Cosgrove and Bumbershoot, assemble to discuss an issue of utmost urgency and significance. 

Cosgrove:  I cannot for the life of me see why they selected us for this assignment.  Can you?

Bumbershoot:  The important historian said “No.” 

C:  “You’re probably right.  Sparing their reputations due to faulty decision-making.”

B:  “Our decision today will be preserved for the ages, you know.  Muck it up and we shall be laughingstocks for eternity.”

“I never quite thought of it that way.  ‘Laughingstocks for eternity.’  Ah well.  At least we’ll be remembered.”

“It’s difficult to believe, isn’t it?  It seems like just yesterday they were naming the last war.”

“They did a damn fine job of it.  ‘The Great War’.”

“It suits it to a ‘T.”  Because it was in every regard…”

A great war.”

“The greatest.  Howitzers.  Dogfights in the air.  Mustard gas.  ‘Waterloo, by comparison?’ – a Sunday School picnic! ”  And yet, here we are, about to undo their magnificent labeling.”

“What do you mean?”

“We are at the dawn of a devastating conflict.  Better technology.  A more insidious opponent.”

“Worse than the Kaiser?”

“Significantly worse.  The previous war’s labeling is about to become obsolete.  I mean, what are the chances of the upcoming encounter being less great than the last one?”

“I see what you mean.  We are unlikely to go backwards.  (AFTER A BEAT)  We could call it ‘The Greater War’.”

“And breed competition between the respective participants?  (PROVOCATIVELY SING-SONGY)  ‘Our war was greater than your war.’  How insensitively unfair!”  

“I was just trying to preserve the previous accomplishment.  But I suppose we shall have to dig deeper.  You know, Cosgrove…”

You’re Cosgrove.”

“Am I?  Oh yes, I suppose I am – sorry.  You know, Bumbershoot, historically this upcoming war is to a great degree a consequence of the Treaty of Versailles which brought an end to the last war, making this war arguably a continuation of the last war.  Why then not label the upcoming war… “B.

“B?”

“Do you follow my reasoning?  If w label the original war ‘A’, the continuation thereof would then inevitably be called ‘B’.”

“You want to call a war ‘B’?”

“Signifying a continuation of ‘A.’”

“It doesn’t sound like a continuation.  It sounds, first, ridiculously inconsequential, considering the death toll.  Plus, as with your earlier suggestion…

“Which you most sensibly shot down…”

“Thank you… it, once again, makes the original war seem comparatively less important.  ‘What war did you fight in?’  ‘B.’  I fought in “A.” But I’m sure “B” was fine too.”

“I see what you mean.  Historically correct, perhaps.  But a psychological faux pas.

“Let’s get away from the comparatives.  I believe that’s what’s catching us up.” 

“All right then.  What if we renamed the previous war “Yellow”, and label the war we are about to embark upon “Red”?

“You want to name wars after colours?”

“Yellow is comparatively no more important than red.  So we cannot be called on the carpet for prioritizing.”

“Well why then restrict the possibilities to colours?  Why not call one war ‘Teacup’ and the other war ‘Chest of Drawers.’  Or one war ‘Omelet’ and the other war, ‘Suet Pudding.’  What about actual names!  No name is superior to any other name.  We can name the formerly-labeled ‘Great War’ ‘Harry’ and the impending conflict ‘Bartholomew.’”

My name’s Bartholomew.  I don’t a war named after me.”

“Nobody does.  A ‘war name’ must be epic.  Not colours.  Not furniture.  After, mistakenly it turns out, naming the last war ‘The Great War’, we now need to come up with something gigantic!”

“How about ‘Gigantic’?”

“‘The Gigantic War’?”

“It’s not a direct comparative.  The ‘Great’ in ‘The Great War’ could refer to its ‘moral significance’ while ‘gigantic’ for this one could refer to its sheer magnitude.  I like it, don’t you?”

“Keep thinking.”

THE ROOM FALLS INTO THUNDEROUS SILENCE.  FOR THE NEXT SIX HOURS.  YOU CAN HEAR A SUSPENDED WALL CLOCK TICKING, BUT THAT’S ALL. 

IT IS NOW MIDNIGHT.  A MAINTENANCE MAN ENTERS, SURPRISED THAT THE HISTORIANS ARE STILL AT WORK.

“Sorry, gents.  I could come back later.”

“No, no.  You are interrupting nothing… unfortunately.  Do what you must.”

“I’ll just empty these ashtrays and be on my way.  (AS HE PROCEEDS)  Terrible times, these is.  I mean, who would have thought that in the span of just a single generation, we could have one big war, and then Number Two.”

TWO LIGHTBULBS SIMULTANEOUSLY COME TO LIFE.

“‘War One’ and ‘War Two’!”

“Labeled exclusively in order of chronology!”

“I think we’ve got something, Pendrake.”

You’re Pendrake.”

“Come to think of it, I believe neither of us is Pendrake.”

“I shall leave you two to your business.  And apologies again for the inconvenience.”

THE MAINTENANCE MAN EXITS.

“‘War One’ and ‘War Two.’  (AFTER A BEAT)  Something’s missing.”

(DESPERATELY WANTING TO GO HOME)  “Really?”

“It’s just ‘war counting.’  One – two.  I don’t know, it needs some… pizzazz.  What in the world could we add?”

Ultimately hearing themselves, they appended the word “World.”  And from then on, the respective conflicts were known forever as World War One and World War Two, the superannuated not only successfully completing their assignment, but creating the template for all the international wars yet to come. 

We, of course, hope that there aren’t any.  But if there are, at least there will not be a meeting to name them.


Another Time, Maybe:  The Explosive Brouhaha Over Naming The Old And New Testament.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"The Anointed Ones - A Follow-Up"


As recently promised…

The top athletes, entertainment participants at the highest level, there is something remarkable about them, not to overstate as I shall provide further examples to diminish their exclusivity.

These people, though not special, if they are truthful, feel privately special to themselves.  (And I suppose to their fans, though I know very little about that.  I did, however, meet Jimmy Stewart once and felt detectably weak-kneed, and I followed Henry Fonda into a Baskin-Robbins just to hear him say, “I want Cheeocolate.”)

You had a dream, and you made it.  You have beaten enormous odds, gaining entry into “The Club”, becoming members of a select and elite minority – not the kind that is unable get a cab, the kind where a nice car (and a driver in a quality suit) seem always conveniently to be waiting for you.    

But it’s not just the perks that feel wonderful, though you, hopefully gratefully, take comfortable advantage of them all.  It is the irrefutable feeling of accomplishment.

“Look where I am!

the achievers rarely reticent about mythologizing their destinations.  Baseball honors my profession by nicknaming the Major League level “The Show.”  And I am not aware of chartered accountancy ever calling itself “The Business.”  (Though they might, and keep it quietly to themselves.)

Personal Experience Of Exaltedness:  I was standing in the lobby at the Emmys and a recognized comedian aware of my “elevated status” is trying desperately to make me laugh.  I felt uncomfortable, but also, you know, “Look what he’s doing!”, imagining, “I must really be somebody! To my immeasurable shock and surprise – and also secret satisfaction – I was the high school “princess” the boys were eagerly trying to impress.

Okay.

You have arrived at your destination and you are enjoying the benefits (here’s where I throw in paralleling examples in other arenas) – the CEO’s corner office, the principal’s office (as the principal, not a student miscreant sent in to see the principal, though if you’re a gang leader, you are in a similar situation), the United States Senate (or any other political office without term limits), a prestigious law firm’s founder, the chief surgeon in the hospital, the head coach or manager of any organized team. 

… and a list of other positions, too troublesome to accumulate.   

You are “Top Dog” in your respective profession.  (Or an accredited includee.  “Top Dog” merely accentuates the condition.)  You have a “team jacket” to prove it.

The next step – and it is never easy –

Is to stay there.

You do everything it takes.  You work hard, upgrading your performance, boasting a consistently winning record.

And they allow you to stick around.  Patting you on the back.  Regularly sweetening your compensation package.

But at some point, and it’s surprisingly soon…

You hear the proverbial “footsteps.”  Somebody is gaining on you, hungry to displace you, knock you permanently off of your perch.  The transition is breathtaking.  In the seeming blinking of an eye, you go from “Talented Rookie” to “It’s time for a change.”

The thing is…

You are not ready to go.

And it goes without saying why. 

You step down, hang ‘em up, or are intentionally moved aside…

And you are no longer an “Anointed One.”

With all that that banishment entails.  (Including being relieved of your jacket.)

In baseball, they say, “They’re going to have to tear off my uniform.”  I can imagine a corporate counterpart releasing with agonizing reluctance the key to the Executive Fitness Center. 

Due to its tangible and symbolic meaning to you, you are unwilling to give it all up, doing whatever it takes to tenaciously stay in the game.

I have witnessed this phenomenon.  I have experienced it myself.

Personal Observation:  I have watched a loftily regarded television writer stooping to easy laughs and transparently suggestive “low road” pandering, struggling desperately to hold on.  (It didn’t work.)

Personal Experience:  Sparing both you and myself the embarrassing details, I have seen myself subverting my integrity to prolong my career.  (And it did work.  Temporarily.) 

During a recent mealtime conversation, I was asked, concerning the activity I had aspired to, had participated in and was required to relinquish, “Do you miss it?”  I turned to a retired physician in the group and I said, “You know.” His look of longing and regret gave indication that he did.

I am unsure I can articulate that feeling.  And if you have been there, I don’t have to. 

There is little better than accomplishing your dream.

And little worse than surrendering it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"A Simple Point Made With Music And Prose"


I have been suffering from a cold for the past few weeks.  Is it a virus, or a bacterial infection?

I was invited to a hockey game by a friend who’s a financial adviser, and as we drove to the Staples Center, the man explained to me how bonds work, and how their value fluctuates with interest rates.  Or is it inflation?

“Do those paragraphs fit together?”

Indeed they do, blue-highlighted, gender-unspecified “Italics Person.”  And now, this:

“They sing of Yancey Derringer
On every danger trail
On riverboat, in manor house
And now and then in jail.
They say that Yancey Derringer had ruffles at his wrists
Brocade and silver buckles
And iron in his fists.”

“Okay, now, I’m really confused.”

Me too.  But in an entirely different direction.

The preceding assembled factoids land on opposite sides – the first two on one side, the third example on the other – of the Earl Pomerantz unilaterally uncrossable “Retention Line.”

How many times during interludes of bronchial discomfort has a friend generously distinguished on my behalf a virus from a bacterial infection and I still cannot for the life of me remember the difference?

How many times over the twenty-plus years that I have known him has my friend/slash/financial adviser patiently explained to me how bonds work and I am still unable to recall if the determining factor is interest rates or inflation?

And yet:

“Ringo, Johnny Ringo,
His fears were never shown
The fastest gun in all the West
The quickest ever known.”

(An equally obscure second example, to avoid boredom through repetition.)

The answer is easy, you say.

“You are interested in westerns so you remember their theme songs.  The other stuff does not interest you, leaving you unmotivated to assimilate the information.

Oh, really?  It’s that simple? 

I respectfully – though without scientific verification beyond my own Guinea Piggal participation – beg to differ.

A GENEROUS FRIEND:  “Would you like me to explain the difference between a virus and a bacterial infection?”

MY FRIEND/SLASH/FINANCIAL ADVISER:  “Do you want me to tell you (again) how bonds work?”

That is not the way it happened.  This is:

EARLO:  “Can you explain to me the difference between a virus and a bacterial infection?”

EARLO:  “Tell me (again) how bonds work?”

Both of those conversations were initiated by me.  Out of disinterest?  Of course not!  I sincerely wanted to know.  Why?  Because of, respectively, an ongoing medical condition, and a substantial investment in bonds.  This was important and meaningful information.

And yet, it went into my brain and passed immediately right through.

Every single time.

I am interested.  I listen.  But it does not seem to stick. 

Ever.

On the other hand, certain seemingly meaningless information that went into my brain appears to remain archived in there forever.

Like,

The father of a cabin-mate at Camp Ogama in the early 1960’s named Robbie Krangle was the owner of the Cheerio Yoyo and Bo-lo Bat Company.

Why would I remember that? 

I was going to write “Why do I choose to remember that?”  But therein lies my message.

What I seem to remember – and, by extension, me not being some kind of biological anomaly, what people seem to remember – does not appear to be a choice, the product of neither preference, nor interest nor intention.

It is not that I don’t want to retain something.  Over the years, I have attended four separate classes in “Philosophy” at UCLA Extension.  And I do not remember any of it.  I recall, with enjoyment in fact, the ambient philosophical music, but not the tiniest sliver of the content.  And believe me, I was really trying!

Unofficial Conclusion:  People’s proclivities for retention are surprisingly various.  What one person’s brain holds on to, another person’s immediately forgets. 

Is that truly possible?  Two people of equal intelligence, or even unequal intelligence – one’s brain can internalize one category of information and the other’s brain, as hard as they try and as interested as they may be, cannot? 

Hm.  So who then is “The Smart One”?

The person who can rattle off the entire Periodic Table of Elements?

Or the person who can sing:

“He cleaned up the country, the old Wild West country
He made law and order prevail.
And none can deny it, the legend of Wyatt
Forever will live on the trail.”

My vote’s with the latter.

But I may possibly be prejudiced.

“The Smart One”, it turns out, based on the category in question,

May be everyone.
-----------------------------------------------------------
Note: I forgot that I promised yesterday I would do a followup today.  Instead I wrote something completely different  instead.  Did I say "instead" twice in that sentence?  Uh-oh, I may be losing it.  As promised however - but this time I mean it, I will follow up on yesterday's post.  Yesterday, it was "The Anointed Ones."  Tomorrow, or perhaps another day in the future if I forget tomorrow again, why the Anointed Ones can't leave.  Explained substantially by the fact that if they left, they would not be Anointed Ones anymore, but there is a little more to it than that, though I am not at the moment entirely certain what that is.