Thursday, March 7, 2019

"'Drive-By' Blog Post Idea"

Here’s how easy it is sometimes.  You drive by a place and think, “Wow, that place just gave me a new blog post idea.”

More often, it’s harder than that.  I am grateful when one’s outside my car window.  This is hardly “automatic.”  Mostly, I look out my car window and see crossing pedestrians, unaware of my uneven driving ability.  Especially when I am thinking of blog post ideas.


Sitting next to the Santa Monica Pier is a restaurant called The Lobster.  (Or, as I call it, “‘Unclean’, with claws.”)  Apparently, The Lobster’s been around since Hollywood’s heyday, and here’s how I know that.

Sometimes – I’d say quite frequently though I have taken no actual survey – writers who do well in television acquire screenwriting assignments.  The invitation is natural.  We are established professionals, though for a medium where you do not have to buy tickets or leave the house.  Which accords us diminished cachet.

We play basketball, but with a lower hoop.

Still, we are a promising pool of scribblers.  So top-line participants get “The Call.” I was invited to meet with iconic (recently passed) director Stanley Donen.   (Singin’ in the Rain.  Charade.  Two for the Road.  All-time “favorites” in my book, and in the “Movie Lexicon of Excellence” as well.)

We lunched, at his suggestion, at The Lobster.

Where the first thing he says is he used to eat there with “Judy.”  That would be Judy Garland.

And now, me.

Is what I’m thinking, trying to keep my gushing excitement in check.  (And not entirely succeeding.)

After preliminary chitchat accompanied by ordering lunch, we get down to brass tacks. 

Stanley Donen wants to pitch me a movie idea he hopes I’ll be interested in writing. 

Cue:  Retroactive shivers of “‘Comden and Green, and now Pomerantz?”

I believe my right knee was jiggling.  If it wasn’t, it should have been.

Stanley Donen’s proposed movie idea was this:

In a moment of abject frustration, a struggling comedian, breaking in when Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy are kings, thinks,

“I bet things would be easier for me if I was black.”

And hilarious consequences ensue.

Are you cringing? 

I was.  Hoping my negative reaction wouldn’t show, though, being me, I’m sure the telltale corners of my eyes went “Ouch!”  As, simultaneously, another part of my brain went, 

“What happened?

How could an acknowledged show biz “Legend” pitch such a terrible idea?

I mean, what?  A disguised comic in “Blackface” (even back then), doing zingers about “honkies”?  With the painful obligatory “reveal”, and the redemptive “I just didn’t understand”?

Legendary Stanley Donen didn’t understand.

(Per my instructions, my agent politely “passed” on my behalf.)

I was detectably unmoored by that experience.  A man with a proven understanding of “what works” loses the ability to distinguish sure-fire “pay dirt” from transparent ugliness?

Losing “unerring judgment.”  Can that actually occur? 

“I was a great whistler and then one day, it’s gone”?

Is that really a thing?

I know it’s different.  (While not resisting the “whistling” analogy.)  “Acutely plugged in” is not a “natural ability.”  Sometimes, you are spontaneously “in sync with the zeitgeist”, and then suddenly – at least it appears to be “suddenly” – you’re not.  (It’s kind of like aging in that regard.  You feel demonstrably spry, then one day, it’s “Why can’t I get out of this chair?”)

It’s an inevitable occurrence.  Big-name “Creatives” who used to “connect great”, become birds, chirping gratingly off-key.  Stanley Donen, “losing it” in the mid-to-late sixties.  In my somewhat more recent era, Rob Reiner, Barry Levinson, and, most stunningly, judging from his last two movies – and they may in fact be his last two movies – the most anointed genius of the bunch – James L. Brooks.

Gone.  Their poorly received missteps announcing, “Time’s up.”  (More recent examples of this phenomenon requires somebody younger.)

I will exclude myself in this context.  I was never that big.  Plus… I just sighed… I’ve worn corduroy pants since I was seven.  Sometimes my natural proclivities merged with the zeitgeist and sometimes – quite frequently, especially later – they didn’t. Despite the signaling “handwriting on the wall”,

I wore the same corduroy pants.

Comedy got continuingly more edgy and I steadfastly remained smooth, my reflexive reaction being to work harder.  The networks’ response to my increased efforts:

“Great corduroy pants and still corduroy pants.”

So, “Bye.”

I guess you don’t know for sure till it’s happening to you.

Stanley Donen evidenced “It’s happening” during that lunch at The Lobster.

Feeling blissfully immune, however,

I did not get the message.

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Maybe you're looking at it backwards: the great movies are flukes, and even the greats have mostly bad ideas. Besides the great movies you list - and I'd add BEDAZZLED (1967) - Donen also directed 1984's BLAME IT ON RIO, in which a man in his 50s has an affair with the barely 18yo daughter of his best friend, who eventually finds out, is furious, but the whole thing is forgiven as just one of those things that happens when the balance of your mind is slightly disturbed (you're in Rio, and your wife is mad at you). The actors involved: Michael Caine, Joe Bologna, Valerie Harper, and Michelle Johnson as the seductive nymphet. Most notable thing about the movie? Demi Moore, in one of her very first movie roles, as the *other* girl...

Cue William Goldman: "They didn't know."

In the period when a movie director - or actor, or writer - is hot, people come to them with projects. The more you have to choose from, the more likely you are to have *good* stuff to choose from.