Thursday, December 27, 2007

Essential Cinema - 15

The Night Of The Iguana

Richard Burton
Ava Gardner
Deborah Kerr
Sue Lyon
Skip Ward
Grayson Hall

John Huston

Anthony Veiller
John Huston
(from the Tennessee Williams play)

Gabriel Figueroa

A shamed priest finds anonymity in Mexico where he wrestles with his past while serving as tour guide to a bus full of vacationing church women.

What happens in Mexico, stays in Mexico. Mexico has become a fantasy land that folks escape to these days. A place where cares, worries and responsibilities cannot follow you. This is a film that fosters that ideal. Cut off from the trappings of button-down 1950s American society, the characters find themselves in a world seduced by cabana boys, wanton desires and tropical sunsets.

The dialog of this film still has the affect of the stage play from which it was based. Like "A Street Car Named Desire" and "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof", the characters in this film are struggling with inner turmoil sprinkled with sexual frustration. The fact that the lines are delivered by the likes of Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr make it an enjoyable film to watch.

One of the better performances is turned in by Grayson Hall (whom I had never heard of prior to this film). Her performance as the repressed and bitchy Miss Fellows is fascinating to watch and she more than holds her own with Burton and Gardner.

Most of the film is a long setup to the evening scene between Burton, Kerr and Gardner, in which their demons are discussed, exposed and cast away. It is very good acting although it takes a long time to get there. Comic relief in the film is provided by Skip Ward (the essential early 60s screen idol persona) as the bus driver and the two beach boys that continually dance around Gardner's character while shaking maracas. When the likes of Burton, Tennessee Williams and John Huston get together to make a film, it is bound to be worth watching. Especially, now that I am older and my life experience make me appreciate what the film is all about.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hell Froze Over

Phoenix City Hall

The name of this blog is Hypocrisy. It goes way back to the day I created it in 2003. Originally it was meant as a place to blow off steam due to my frustration with various things. I still use it for that purpose, but I have tried to tone it down a bit over the years.

Readers of this blog might recall my lament at the lack of long term city planning and the decay of some of the art objects around Phoenix. It was a blog entitled Three Coins.

As I was walking to work the other day, I took a different route through the downtown area. While walking past the Phoenix City hall I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of the refurbished City Hall fountain. I literally stopped and gasped at it and then noticed the sign posted next to it. The sign read:

Phoenix City Hall Fountain

Water conservation features continuously monitor water use and automatically adjust for weather conditions to conserve water.

This Plaza Fountain has recently been refurbished and now incorporates new conservation technology. See the weather monitor located on top of the sand stone column that turns off the fountain during high winds. A new water meter helps monitor for leaks and an automatic timer also allows the fountain to be turned off when few people are around.

We hope you will enjoy the beauty and cooling effect of this fountain.

I would like to think that someone at City Hall actually read my blog, but that is so much wishful thinking. But it is nice to see that in a Hypocritical world, there is still some sanity left. There is a good chance you might find me near this fountain during lunch time reading a book. It just became my favorite location in downtown Phoenix.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Essential Cinema - 14

Japanese Language with English Subtitles

Tokyo Story

Chishu Ryu
Chieko Higashiyama
Setsuko Hara
Haruko Su gimura
Sô Yamamura
Kuniko Miyake
Kyôko Kagawa

Yasujiro Ozu

Kôgo Noda
Yasujiro Ozu

Yuuharu Atsuta

An aging husband and wife visit their children in 1950s Tokyo. While all are well meaning and polite, the years and the miles between them have taken them all on different paths and they struggle to come to terms with their memories and their expectations.

Intimacy and how things change. A character study of the differences between generations, their expectations (both young and old) and how the modern world has fractured the extended family.

This is a slice of life / contemplation film as opposed to the fantasy / escapism film genre that is marketed to the youth of today. While many newer films have choreographed violence and action as the mainstay of their cinema experience, this film is the opposite. While film is a 'visual' medium, it can be a subtle medium as well, without all the 'eye-candy' and special effects that are so prominent today.

This film is long, over 2 hours, and it took me a while to get all the way through it. By the end of the film, I felt as though I was a part of this family and could sense their pain and grief . This film may not appeal to younger generations, but as we age, this type of cinema becomes more and more endearing to those of us that have experienced more than we allow ourselves to remember.

There are some interesting oddities in the film that stem from the culture in which it was made. All the camera angles are very low, usually less than 3 feet from the floor. Since there were few chairs in 1950s Japan, most of the characters sit on the floor. This is their living space, hence the lower camera angle. Almost everyone in the film has a hand fan, which they are constantly fanning themselves with. In a time before air-conditioning, this was the only way to keep cool in the summer. There is almost no panning on scanning with the camera. Most of the scenes are done with a static camera location with minimal scene editing. Finally, there are a lot of 'lingering' scenes, in which actors leave the frame or exit a room, but the camera keeps rolling for up to 10 seconds before fading to the next scene or editing to a different location. This appears intentional, as though the director wants to let us linger on what has just transpired.

In the end this is a film that makes you think. I love films that do that.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Essential Cinema - 13

Murder In the Air

Ronald Reagan
John Litel
Lya Lys
James Stephenson
Eddie Foy Jr.
Robert Warwick
Victor Zimmerman

Lewis Seiler

Raymond L. Schrock

Ted D. McCord

Ronald Reagan, G-Men, Espionage, Airplanes....that about sums it up.

American Government = Good / Foreigners = Bad. An entertaining propaganda film for its day. Supposedly, the 3rd in a series of G-Men pictures that Ronald Regan stared in. His character is named Brass Bancroft (Hollywood just doesn't use names like this anymore). Written and filmed during a time when the U.S. Government was never questioned and Communism was considered a mental plague and not a political view. It is easy to tell who the good guys are and you know the bad guys will be defeated in the end.

I have a soft spot for the old days. Back in the time when even second rate B-Movies had some art and talent to them. These films reflected the audience that they were marketed toward which was middle class white Americans before World War II. The concept of ethnicity hadn't yet come to light, segregation was the norm. The government was a benevolent autocratic entity that could do no wrong. This film centers around science, aviation and espionage, which was about as gee-wiz as you could get back then. There are shades of the Movie-Serials of the 40s as well as the coming paranoia of the communist conspiracy. If you want to see the roots of Star Wars and the Indiana Jones films, see pictures such as this.

One of the first things that was evident is that this film was produced on the studio lot. There is no location shooting and everything is shot on sound stage sets. What gives this away is the the lack of any ceiling on the interior shots and the shadows cast by the lighting. This gives the illusion that each room has 20 foot high ceilings that go up forever. This is pretty basic entertainment, meant to satisfy a pretty simple audience that didn't question much. Now, it is almost more entertaining for its simplicity and gullibility than anything else....and of course that the lead actor becomes president of the United States.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Prelude Of Karma

I Don't Think So

High School. While the trappings may change, the experience tends to stay the same. It has to because its roots lay in hormones and adolescence. No matter how much the clothes, or the hairstyles or the slang differs over the ages, the underpinnings are the same. The changes, the awkwardness, the discovery of new feelings and new desires. It was a time when friendships took on extra meaning, where trust was earned and broken, when a glance and a smile could increase your heart rate for no apparent reason. We learned more during that time of our lives than any other. It wasn't the learning from text books. It was the growing awareness of who we were and what we were becoming. It was when we really started to figure things out, and a time when we first realized how hard life was going to be.

I attended several high schools when I was growing up. We moved around a lot as did most of my school mates. We were grounded in who we were and not so much where we lived. We made strong friendships fast, and just as quickly we were gone. Looking back it almost seems like a blur.

During my final year of High School, we finally got some of the 'good' professors. The ones reserved for the more mature students. The teachers that were hip, and cool and hadn't been ground up by the system. Those were heady times, we were scared, but we were excited. We knew we were approaching the end of youth and our futures were uncertain. Things were moving.

One of the senior classes I had was a literature class. Can't remember the specifics of it, but I recall that we had to do a recitation in front of a school assembly, on stage, during some sort of talent show. It was a rendition of "Spoon River Anthology" by Edgar Lee Masters. It was a play in which tombstones speak in verse and in doing so reveal the entire soul of the town and its people. Our hip professor chose several in the class to read portions of the play. I was picked, as was my girlfriend, and one of my best buddies along with a few other students in the class. For some reason, the teacher also chose one of the class slackers to perform one of the roles.

Every high school has their 'click' of bad boys. They never studied, smoked cigarettes, had bad reputations and generally were just assholes. This guy was no different. So the teacher's choice in picking him seemed somewhat odd. No one expected him to show up for class or take the assignment seriously. He indicated that "He wasn't going to do it", and voiced his concern that the whole project was "stupid".

Never the less, the next week we started rehearsing in class and memorizing our lines. Much to our surprise the slacker showed up and actually participated. He was awful. He could barely read, and became frustrated with the assignment. He was obviously uncomfortable in trying to express emotion through his character and felt that this wasn't something macho tough guys did. Still, the teacher must have seen promise in him and we continued the recitations over the next several weeks until we had our lines memorized. By the time the assembly came around, we were all pretty good. We had the inflections down, we had the timing and we had stage freight. Even the slacker was pulling his weight and wasn't half bad.

On the evening of the assembly we gathered at the school. We were full of opening night jitters, even though the whole thing was only going to take 15 minutes to perform. Other school talent went ahead of us, music recitals, short plays, and other entertainment. By the time we were set to go on everything was ready...except for the slacker. He was a no-show. We waited until the last minute and he never came, so our professor filled in for him and read his parts. By the time it was all over, we were proud and relieved and somewhat giddy. Another one of youth's hurdles had been overcome. We all felt just a bit older.

The next day, I was sitting in the classroom waiting for class to begin. I was leaning my chair up against the window. Outside, winter was moving in. There was an overcast sky and the temperature was dropping as the wind started to pick up over the Dakota plains. As I sat chatting with my friends about our opening night triumph, I heard someone rapping on the window behind me. I turned around and there stood the slacker with some of his buddies smoking cigarettes. As I looked at him, he flipped me his middle finger and I could see him mouth the words "Fuck You" and then he laughed at me.

I don't think he was able to appreciate that Kodak moment. His posturing and bravado through the window was obviously to impress his friends. But to those of us that had faced our fears the previous evening he seemed pathetic and sad. All his hard work and effort had been wasted. He had let his fear win.

We all knew we could go on to bigger and better things. We could make something of our lives. The slacker was a coward. When ever the going got tough or things got hard, he would cut and run. He had no future. I turned away from the window and looked at my classmates. I am sure there was a hint of a smile on my face. Many folks learn much to late, that Karma is a bitch.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Essential Cinema - 12

Warm Nights On A Slow Moving Train

Wendy Hughes
Colin Friels
Norman Kaye
John Clayton
Rod Zuanic
Lewis Fitz-Gerald
Steve J. Spears
Grant Tilly
Peter Whitford

Bob Ellis

Bob Ellis
Denny Lawrence

Yuri Sokol

An Australian art teacher at a catholic girls school moonlights as a prostitute on a regular cross country train trip.

The secret lives of others. The things we have to do in order to make ends meet and the things we do for emotional love as well as physical love. The Woman (as she is known in the film, her name is never mentioned) has many motivations in this film, some monetary, some compassionate, some adventurous. The backdrop of a train rushing through the countryside with a mix of souls thrown together gives the sense of immediacy and living for the moment. Once they exit the train, all is forgotten and it is back to the reality of the world. However, in this film, the Woman eventually gives into temptation in hopes of finding the better life that has eluded her, against her better judgment.

Wendy Hughes plays the Woman and she is pretty captivating in the role. She lends a sense of pathos and subtle pain to the woman that makes the same trip over and over, touching on the lives of others for a brief moment in time. The viewer gets the sense that she doesn't enjoy what she is doing, but sacrifices have to be made in life. Her changing hairstyles are interesting and she becomes a different woman each time she rides the rails.

It is interesting how each encounter is a small relationship that is crafted by the Woman. She is almost more of a therapist to these men than a simple sex object. But the breakup at the end is usually painful because they don't want to let her go. The Woman knows how to spot and manipulate troubled men. Men in need of something more than sex. They have their momentary sexual thrill and the chance to have someone really listen to their problems and are then cast off by the Woman before any real emotional bond can develop.

Because of this, there is an air of tension and sadness in the main character since she knows that each tryst will end with rejection and emotional pain. After the courtship in the club car, there is always the whispered phrase in the passageway "I do this for money". Later, in the Woman's private cabin, when it is all over, the Woman's face goes blank as she utters the words, "You have to go." Despite all the trappings of intimacy, it is only a business.

A low budget film that is an intimate and soul searching drama. Well acted and simple in style. It relies on the screenplay and emotions of the characters to move the story forward. Basic film making as it should be. This is a human story that the viewer can relate to. There are some unpredictable moments at the end and you won't see them coming or know the whole story until the film is over. Overall an enjoyable film.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Essential Cinema - 11

Box-Car Bertha

Barbara Hershey
David Carradine
Barry Primus
Bernie Casey
John Carradine

Martin Scorsese

Joyce Hooper Corrington

John M. Stephens

A story of young friends during the great depression who ride the rails and push for organizing unions while robbing trains on the side.

An early work. Hemingway, Tolstoy and Tolkien didn't start out writing epics. They started out small and worked their way up. This is one of the small steps in the careers of several well known filmmakers and actors. The characters in this film are idealistic, innocent, reckless and fighting injustice.

I wanted to see this film just from reading the credits. Produced by Roger Corman and directed by Martin Scorsese (supposedly his second film), it stars a very young Babara Hershey and David Carradine. I was hoping for a glimpse of early genius and raw film making, which is pretty much what this is. Scorsese is not a great director here, but there are glimpses of technique that he will use later in his career. The script and the acting are somewhat lacking, but then again, this is not a film with a big budget.

The underlying theme is the ineptitude of the greedy vs. the cunning and craftiness of the down trodden. The basic good vs. evil story set in 1930s rural America. The film is shot on location with minimal set design and continuity. There are numerous errors regarding props that are out of the time period and historical inaccuracy. The film is typical of the counter-culture film making of the late 1970s, when young directors were trying to distance themselves form the big studios and find new forms of expression and story telling. The acting is passable, the lighting a bit harsh in places, downright dim in others. The editing is a bit choppy and often times makes the flow of the film seem erratic. The folly artistry is basic and the naked love scenes and crucifixion at the end of the film are somewhat gratuitous and aren't really necessary. As in many Scorsese films, there is a blood bath at the end. By today's standards, not a very good film but probably ground breaking for its time.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Four Things

Tuesday, November 14, 2007
Divided by fours

I don't usually do these sort of things.....but I am just casting a line to see who nibbles.

4 jobs I've had:
Pizza Delivery
Insurance Claims Adjuster
State Government Investigator
State Government Computer Specialist

4 movies I love to watch over and over:
American Beauty
8 1/2 (Fellini)
Lord Of The Rings

4 places I have lived:
Rapid City, South Dakota
Honolulu, Hawaii
Lompoc, California
Phoenix, Arizona

4 TV shows I enjoy watching:
Dancing With The Stars
The Amazing Race
American Idol

4 places I have been:
San Simion
Burning man

4 websites I visit daily:
The Superficial

4 favorite foods:
Fettuccine Alfredo
Hamburger Helper
Pesto Sausage Pasta

4 places I would rather be:
The Redwood Forest
Any Empty Highway in my Lotus
Atop Any Mountain
In My Garage

4 blogs I'm tagging:
The First 4 people that read this know who you are!!!

Should you decide to accept this mission, please leave me a comment so that I may come and admire your work.

That is all.
Have a day.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

I Made It This Far...

My Fingers Hurt

After looking back at all the blogs I have posted, this seems like a logical stopping point to reflect on where I have been and where I am going. Life is an evolutionary thing and we often don't realize that what we are doing will take us in directions we never envisioned.

About 15 years ago, I started writing my autobiography. At the time I thought that it would be a good idea to write down who I was and what I had experienced, just in case some archivist came looking for me after I was dead and buried. Something to tell folks that I was here and the things I learned along the way before I returned to ashes and dust. The project never went very far, but it was a start. (actually, I still have to get back to the early years and fill some things in).

Then, about 10 years ago, while suffering through a bad marriage and an even worse divorce, I started keeping a journal. This was more therapy than anything else, so that I wouldn't lose my mind. Writing out my thoughts and doing a lot of hiking during that time kept me from going insane. I still have all those journals. They are in three binders, in the garage, all type written on various machines and computers. I didn't think about it at the time, but they were the ongoing autobiography of my life. When I am in a nursing home someday, I am sure they will make interesting reading.

With a drop in my stress levels, I slacked off writing in the journals. But as the stress of marriage faded the stress of work and society started to creep in. I was beginning to have a hard time dealing with the idiots and hypocrisy of modern urban live. After a while it got so bad that I felt that I needed an outlet. Right about that time, I discovered BlogSpot. This was around 2003, and blogging was just starting out. It wasn't the big thing it is today. I opened up an account and starting writing a few things, but didn't really know what to say. Mostly I just ranted. It was good for me, but no one else really found it interesting. I didn't do much with my blog for the first year or so.

Then in 2005, I started looking for a more creative outlet to express things to my friends and took a different tack in my blogs. Instead of ranting and complaining all the time, I started trying to relate observations and concerns with the experiences that almost everyone has in their lives. This was a bit of a breakthrough, because it was my first attempt to write something as it relates to the reader and not just to myself.

This also coincided with my move to a new home with my future wife. This home was closer to my office and allowed me to walk to work instead of drive. Walking to work gave me the opportunity to ponder things a lot more and be stressed less from commuting. This helped me to remember a lot of things that eventually found their way into my writings. I also started doing some photo essays that began to appear in my blogs.

Right around this time I started looking for more feedback and discussion regarding some of the things I was writing. While a lot of friends read what I posted, few ever responded. I signed up for an account on MySpace and started mirroring my blogs there. MySpace offered a great forum for folks to talk and discuss things, but the ineptitude of the site, not to mention it's juvenile layout and constant spam eventually forced me to leave. I learned a lot from some of the great writers and poets on there, but I assumed there had to be a better way to write and communicate without all the bells, whistles and distractions of MySpace.

That assumption proved correct when I started delving into options offered by Google, specifically iGoogle and the Google Reader, which allows the user to collect RSS feeds of specific blogs and news pages on the Internet. If any of you don't know what RSS feeds are, you should. They are the new way to get specific content that you are interested in delivered to you, without having to go looking for it. I have set the Google Reader up and I am still tweaking it a bit, but it appears promising. I have subscribed to about 20 blogs from writers all over the globe and read them daily (if I have time). Hopefully they will read mine. Time will tell, it is a community and I have just changed addresses, so it might take a while to settle in.

In summary, I never realized that starting that autobiography would end up with a blog that is read by people all over the world, or that I would ever write some of the things that I have posted. Technology and life have a funny way of mixing things together in ways we never imagined. I always assumed that the Internet would bring about a form of global consciousness where we could all relate our experiences and understand each other more. Endless porn sites, ebay and spam have dimmed those hopes a bit, but the light is still there.

In case you want to catch up and read some of the more insightful works that I have posted, here are the links to them. It is sort of Bruce's Top Ten. When I go back and read them, I am amazed. I never thought I could have written these works when I was starting out that autobiography. I guess I have grown up a bit, but I am not old yet.

Days of Future / Past


The American Journey (A Photo Essay)

Dead Butterfly

Fading To Black

Running Home In The Dark

Permanent Ink


Phoenix Ashes

The Burning Man Blog

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Welcome To My World.....

Mass - "Transit"?

One of the things I keep telling folks (including myself) is that life has to suck sometimes. If it didn't, we couldn't appreciate the good days. I can't imagine a life where everything is happiness, and sweetness and warm fuzzy puppy dogs. We all have to get scrapped and break things and lose money. Life is a balancing act, it isn't supposed to be on a silver platter. However, sometimes life just sucks a bit more than it has to. Once in a while, karma just really piles up and then opens the flood gates. After looking back at last weekend, I am expecting things to be blissfully boring this coming weekend, or possibly even warm and fuzzy.

Last weekend, I had to drive down to Tucson, Arizona to attend a conference that my office was putting on. It was the third conference this year and thankfully the last. Since the weather had cooled down, I thought I would treat myself and drive the good car down to Tucson. The good car is a 1991 Lotus Esprit. It is my mid-life crisis vehicle that rarely sees the light of day. It is impractical for anything but going really fast on a freeway. Heading to the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk is not this car's forte. Like I tell most folks, it is more of a hobby than transportation. It needs a lot of attention to keep it running.

I left my house at 12:30pm and headed south. I got about 10 miles before noticing that the water temperature gauge had pegged into the red zone. I pulled off the freeway into a parking lot, turned off the car and as I was exiting, I heard a hose break and more steam than a Chinese laundry came out of the back of a car. There is nothing worse than having Volkswagens and Toyotas driving by you as your 170mph exotic sports car spews geysers of steam on the side of the road. The day wasn't starting out very well.

I was left with the prospect of calling the Lotus Dealer and seeing if I could have it towed in which would have shot my entire day trip to Tucson or trying to limp the car back home and taking the regular work vehicle. In retrospect, I should have had it towed. The infrastructure here in Phoenix, Arizona is saturated. Which means that it can't handle the number of vehicles that drive on the roadways. Often times trips of less than 5 miles can take well over an hour. Something that I was reminded of as I tried to limp the car back to our house. It was only about 10 miles to our house, but it took me almost two and a half hours to get the Lotus back to our driveway.

On the way back, I was forced to stop about ever 3 miles to let the car cool down, in hopes that I wouldn't warp the engine block. The second time I pulled off on a side street I found myself parked between a strip bar (known as a Gentleman's club here) and a Pep-Boys Auto store. As I stood by the car, letting the engine bay air out, a rather scruffy looking fellow exited the bar and walked past my car. He was twitching and looked nervous, which was indicative of someone high on methamphetamine, which is pretty common here. Phoenix is the Meth capital of the southwest. He crossed the street and entered Pep-Boys. I thought nothing of it, until I saw him run out of Pep-Boys 3 minutes later with a case of new wrenches tucked under his arm. He was quickly followed by three Pep-Boys employees in hot pursuit. He ran down the alley behind the strip bar with Manny, Moe and Jack in hot pursuit. About a minute later the 'boys' walked out of the alley with the tools in hand. The would-be thief obviously chucked them in the alley and kept on running. No doubt dashing his dreams of hocking them for more meth-money. I had enough excitement on this street corner and the Lotus was cooler, so I hoped back in to drive another 4 miles at 5 mph in traffic.

After exchanging the car at my house, I left for the conference once again, at 3:30pm in the afternoon. I might just make it by 5pm if I was lucky. I wasn't.

The already saturated freeways were loading up with rush hour traffic. It took me about 20 minutes to get back to the location where the Lotus had steam cleaned the pavement. It took me another 45 minutes to go the next 4 miles. Seems that the police had pulled over a semi-truck for some infraction on the Freeway. The end result is everyone has to slow down, get out of their car, take a picture and then proceed. Unfortunately for me there were about 3,000 of these people in front of me. We call this rubber-necking here. It took me 45 minutes to go 4 miles (that is 5mph on a freeway for almost an hour with a posted speed limit of 65mph). As soon I reached the police incident, I was able to accelerate to 70mph+ with no problem. I think this pretty much defines rat-race.

So I pulled into Tucson at around 6:30pm (6 hours after I left, and 110s mile later). I arrived at the resort where the conference was happening and found that my reservation had not been confirmed by my office, so they didn't have a room reserved. I had to purchase one with my own money and hope I could get reimbursed. At this point, I could not wait for the day to end.

After a short nights sleep (beds feel funny without my wife in them), I attended the remainder of the conference on Saturday. While taking a break with the rest of staff at one of the registration tables I was turned into camp counselor.

In the adjacent meeting hall to our event was the Southern Arizona Osteopatihic Medicine convention. I don't know how many speakers or exhibits they had going on, but the one room I peeked into was basically a Drug-Mart Superstore, with pharmaceutical representative handing out free drug samples like candy. All the participants had huge shopping bags full of drug samples and literature. They also had a much nicer buffet than we did. Now I know where all the drug money for prescriptions is going.

When the Osteopaths finally started to close up shop (or ran out of samples) their crowd started to disperse . As they did, an older man with two full bags of drugs walked by our table, eyed some of our literature, and then came up to me and started asking questions........lots of questions.

Seems he felt that he had been screwed by the lawyers, courts and ex-wife in his divorce and wanted to unload on me about the injustice of the legal system and what he could do to coerce his ex-wife into giving him more visitation with his ping-pong balls....errrr...I mean children. After listening to him drone on for about 10 minutes, I finally got to explain that we were a conference on "Foster Care" (children dependent to the State) and not on "Family Law"....children ripped apart in divorce court. He moaned and groaned for another 5 minutes and then walked away. I turned to my co-worker and politely asked if someone had written "Freak Magnet" on my forehead with a Sharpie.

For some reason this happens to me a lot. I must look like I am an authority on most subjects or have a really kind face that says "talk to me!". I don't know which one it is, but I want to get rid of both.

Needless to say, it was not a good weekend. I got home without incident (no traffic jams) and when Sunday rolled around, the wife and I went out and traded in two old vehicles for one semi-new vehicle. Buying a new car took about 4 and a half hours, which probably isn't bad, but isn't my favorite thing to do on a Sunday afternoon.

Now I am basking in the new car smell of the truck that is parked in our driveway and debating on the best way to have the Lotus towed into the dealer, where it will stay for about 3 months if past experience is any indication.

This coming weekend has to be has to be, I tell you....It has to be....right?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Have You Heard?

I have to make a confession. I follow the crowd once in a while. Sometimes I get swept up with the rest of the lemmings and rush off a cliff and drown in the ocean.

It isn't easy unlearning all the things that we were indoctrinated with as a children. Social Studies is just the Americanized version of what Joseph Goebbels called Propaganda. Society tells us what to believe, and we tend to believe it because we don't know any better. Young minds are basically made of Play-Doh.

For some reason, Americans want to believe that there are conspiracies. There are things going on that we can't know about. We are suspicious, we are fearful, we have anxiety. This is something that the media likes to play upon. It sells more anxiety medication and firearms. If you are scared, it is easier to talk you into parting with your money. That is Marketing-101.

I have been caught perpetuating these American myths. They are called Urban Legends. They have been around for a long time, but with the advent of the Internet, they have started to become a force to be reckoned with regarding the direction of our stampeding populace. Once the buffalo are on the move, the earth shakes, and they aren't very easy to control.

While I consider myself pretty skeptical of most things I hear or read, every once in a while a friend of mine will send me some e-mail with some shocking story in it that I (for some stupid reason) assume to be true. My conspiracy theorist comes alive and I chuckle to myself and think it probably has some logic to it. I end up forwarding it on to others, thinking they might be enlightened as well, if not amused. Then I realize that I have been a pawn in the ongoing game of dis-information of the masses.

You have all probably seen these at one time or another;

Mr. Rogers was a US Navy Seal Sniper

The Clinton Death Count

The Federal Government Taxing E-mails

Treasure Trove of Old Cars Found in an Abandoned Barn

Stealing Body Parts In Las Vegas

Gangs Initiation by Flashing Headlights

The list is endless. Most are documented on a website called Looking back over all these various urban myths, it got me wondering. Why are we so willing to accept this macabre, evil side of life is lurking right outside our door? Instead of questioning why, what is it that makes us so willing to believe something that when looked at in the harsh light of day looks obviously ridiculous. Worse yet, who starts these things? Do they arise out of our collective conscious or are they planted by people with more sinister motives?

In his documentary film, "Bowling For Columbine", Michael Moore touched on this issue concerning the inherent fear that Americans have and how it has fostered a growing gun culture. There are other indicators of this 'American Anxiety' in society. Hummers, Home Alarm Systems, Fear of Foreigners. They have all been thrust upon us as something that we 'need', but do we really, or is it just fear marketing?

Like I said, it is hard to unlearn the things that we were told are true. And by the way, that whole lemming thing mentioned in the first paragraph, it is fiction, Lemmings don't really drowned themselves in the ocean. The lies are always with us. Like the title to my Blog says, we have to question everything, sometimes even I forget to do it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Essential Cinema - 10

Bad Day At Black Rock

Spencer Tracy
Robert Ryan
Anne Francis
Dean Jagger
Walter Brennan
John Ericson
Ernest Borgnine
Lee Marvin

John Sturges

Don McGuire
Millard Kaufman

William C. Mellor

A disabled WWII veteran goes looking for the father of the soldier that saved his life in combat. In a remote Arizona town he finds the father and a dark secret the townspeople share.

Morality in post WWII America. It shows that in the end, compassion triumphs over hatred. We fought the war overseas for principles that we had yet to apply at home. This is the updated American western. The one that the films like "Stagecoach", "The Searchers" and "High Noon" inevitably led us to. In a remote town, cut off from society, you can get away with almost anything, until someone comes looking for the truth.

The highlights of this film are the cast and the scenery. This is a troupe of seasoned actors that know their craft and can deliver their dialog with ease. The remote Arizona location is breath-taking. You can tell this film wasn't shot on a sound stage. The best part of the film may be the opening credits which show the Southern Pacific Streamliner racing across the open desert. It throws you back to a time when the west was truly remote and when there were still places that you couldn't get to by air travel.

While the film is competent and entertaining, I would not classify it as a great picture. The plot is simple and direct. The uncovering of the mystery happens slowly and methodically. You can't see the ending coming but you somehow know that McCready (Spencer Tracy) will come out of it OK in the end. A competent film that illustrates the craft of making a good cinema experience. Probably the last great western that Hollywood made.


This completes the first 10 film reviews in the Essential Cinema saga. For those of you that missed the first 9 installments, here are the links to them:

9 - L'Avventura
8 - The Ice Harvest
7 - Diary of a French Priest
6 - Ice Station Zebra
5 - The Satan Bug
4 - Out Of The Past
3 - Underwater!
2 - The Night of the Generals
1 - Fail-Safe

In case no one noticed, the title to each blog links to the International Movie Database (IMDB) listing for the film in question. The database contains extensive information on the film as well as numerous reviews (the Essential Cinema Review is included).

There are many more films that I will be reviewing over the next several years. Stay tuned for more interesting takes on theater in the coming months.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Essential Cinema - 9

Italian Language with English Sub-Titles


Gabriele Ferzetti
Monica Vitti
Lea Massari
Dominique Blanchar
Renzo Ricci
James Addams
Dorothy De Poliolo

Michelangelo Antonioni

Michelangelo Antonioni
Elio Bartolini

Aldo Scavarda

Several friends are on vacation in the Mediterranean. One of the women disappears while exploring a deserted island. The film chronicles her friends search for her and their ensuing love affair.

Love and desire are complex things. "The Adventure" referenced in the title refers to not knowing someone and discovering who they are.....often times, over and over again. The underlying message of the film is that you can never really know someone you love and figuring out who they are is a never ending process.

This is one of those films that is considered a classic. The film won a Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival when it was shown back in the 1960s. I have always wanted to watch it but was never able to find enough time to sit through the whole film uninterrupted. After finally watching the entire work I must say that I was impressed.

The film is beautifully shot and very intimate. It makes the viewer try and find meaning when there may not be any. There is obviously something going on with the characters, especially Anna at the beginning of the film, but we are not told what it is. These characters are playing games, but their motivation and meaning remain a mystery. There are hints of early Bergman in this work, but with much more passion between the characters. The use of cinematography in the film is outstanding, creating an intimate world of beauty and loneliness. The use of the Italian landscapes, seascapes, countryside, and architecture are stunning and create an hypnotic background for the protagonists in the picture.

While watching the film it is almost impossible to take your eyes off the central characters. It is as though they are about to divulge some secret that is laying just below the surface, but in the end they remain silent and the viewer is left with an insatiable wondering about what is going to happen. It is as though the viewer is thrown into their lives without knowing the whole story and we can only watch as they struggle to come to terms with their passions and their guilt. This could be considered a 'chick flick' (the opposite of Ice Station Zebra) although not the standard Hollywood variety. It deals with deep emotions and the struggle of rational thought over desire.

There are a few cons in this film. It is dated in some of it's cinematic technique. The train rushing through the countryside in the middle of a passionate love scene is a bit of a cliche by today's standards, but may have had profound symbolism when the film was made. American viewers might have a problem with the lack of a neat and tidy plot that has a beginning an arch and a conclusion. It is there, but it is pretty subtle.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Burning Man Blog

Master and Servant

At 10 o'clock on the morning on August 27, 2007 I finally put all my plans in motion and drove Northwest out of Phoenix, Arizona toward the great unknown. I headed toward the Burning Man festival in northern Nevada. Something that I have been trying to do for years, but have never gotten around to it. Things always pop up, or money is tight, or life is just to busy. Despite large amounts of research and speaking with others that had been to Burning Man in the past, I really didn't know what to expect. I knew it would be a long journey and for that I am grateful. If there is one thing that life has taught me, it is good to get away. We see the world with new eyes when we have a different perspective. I need a change of perspective. It has been a long time since I had one.

As with most vacations of this sort (a long drive to a destination), the start of this one is frustrating. Each time I leave the city I find that it has gotten bigger and it takes longer and longer to finally reach its edge and escape. This time is no different. Traffic light after traffic light and endless construction zones made my escape slow and nerve wracking.

By the time I hit the open road about 100 miles from Phoenix I started to relax. I have my iPod with 10 days worth of music on it. I have a cassette recorder that I use to keep a narrative journal of what happens along the way. What follows are the recollections of my trip into the unknown.

Playa Sculpture

I think that the American psyche could not exist without the West. The broad, sweeping expanse of land that is open and unpopulated. Deep down in our minds we have to know it is out there somewhere. A place where everything is new, untamed, uninhabited. I place where you can run away and get lost. Although most of us would never take the risk, we like to know that there is the possibility. This is the route that I am taking on my journey. It is the highway that runs from Las Vegas to Reno, Nevada. Here the landscapes are painted with a broad brush, with horizons that sweep toward the infinite. The West where my mind becomes and ocean, vast and deep and I drift along a ribbon of asphalt with little worry or care. How many times have I traveled this road before? The last I can recall was my trip to the Redwood forest almost a decade ago. When I finally managed to reach the hidden tall trees grove.

This road is endless. I suppose it could lead to any number of possibilities. In essence, it is the most important of things. It is what makes the journey possible. It is endless and it is long. It is journeys such as this that remind me that life is grandiose, it has sweeping vistas and is full of unforeseen things. It isn't predictable. There is no set path, we simply have to seek out a destination and go toward it. During my life, whenever I have felt stressed, over-burdened or depressed, I have sought out a nearby mountain and climbed it. By the time I reach the summit I can look down and all of the problems that chased me up that hill seemed insignificant. That is what this journey is, that is what this road is. The entire trek is a mountain top and as I travel I look out on the vastness of this earth and the infinite possibilities of the universe and see just how small everything really is. Life is to be taken in its entirety and we are not meant to dwell on the little things that burden us.

Playa Sculpture

As I travel through Mina, Nevada ,which is about 150 miles south of Reno, I have noticed the first signs of the 'Burners'. Various vehicles, almost all with bicycles on them, crammed full of camping gear headed in the same direction that I am. While passing through Mina, there was a sign in front of the gas station stating "Welcome Burners". I expect to see more tell-tale signs the closer I get to Black Rock City.

It is 6 o'clock in the evening on August 28th and I have joined the long procession of cars headed toward Burning Man. I am about 40 miles south of Gerlach, Nevada and I will not arrive at Black Rock City (the actual name of the temporary city where Burning Man occurs) for about another hour. But even in this desolate portion of Nevada where the scenery is stark and beautiful, there is a long line of cars inching along the road at 60mph, all headed toward the same destination.

It is 7:30pm and I have reached Burning Man (sort of). The long line of cars is snaking toward the entrance at a pace of between 2 and 14 miles per hour. I expect to be here for at least another hour and this really isn't unexpected with this many people in this remote a location. So I am not in a hurry. The sun has set behind the mountains and dusk has fallen. There is an eerie look to this place. Remote, flat, barren, and there is a cloud of dust that almost looks like a fog over the distant dry lake bed. No doubt kicked up by thousands of bicycles and cars as they roam across the Playa.

It is interesting social behavior that every time this line of cars stops, people eventually get out of their vehicles and try and look down the road to figure out why they aren't moving. They are all anxious and impatient. It is a beautiful sight to behold, so many people from so many places gathering in the middle of nowhere. Primordial in a way. Like flocking geese or a herd of buffalo. While waiting in line to enter Black Rock City, the fading sunlight has created a purplish haze on the horizon and a full moon has risen over the mountains to the east. A gorgeous spectacle, like a large white marble in a purple ocean.

I have no idea what time it is but I have arrived. I set up my tent, which is a homey little place because I plan on being here for at least 5 days. I have my water, I have my box of wine, I have my snacks, got my lantern set up, got my bed, a cute little folding papa-san chair, so I am pretty cozy. I arrived at about 8:30pm and picked an arbitrary spot on the perimeter of Black Rock City to setup my camp . The first thing I did after setting everything up was to take a walk. I strolled to the center of the Playa where the Burning Man is erected and from there I just wandered around for a while to try and get the lay of the land and figure out exactly what this place was like. Suffice to say, it is not really describable. I think the best way to describe it is to imagine a really big state fair on LSD. I keep reminding myself that this is the first day of the event and the whole city is probably a third full. There are already so many art installations, so many people and so many things going on that it is a bit of sensory overload.

I am in the process of making myself some macaroni and cheese and then I will knock off early. The noise and the bustle of the camp will continue well into the morning hours since people will continue to file into Black Rock City all through the night. I will start out fresh tomorrow and begin exploring the Burning Man experience in-depth. I am already certain that there is no way that I will be able to see everything.

Center Camp

It is 9 o'clock in the morning on Wednesday, and I think this is the 30th of September. I am making a pot of percolated coffee in my tent. It is partly cloudy and about 80 degrees outside. I spent most of last night, between 8pm and 1am in the morning, riding my bike around the far reaches of the Playa. I checked out the art and the people and I was pretty overwhelmed by the whole thing. There are definitely two distinct times at Burning Man. During the day it can get rather hot and windy and there is a lot of socializing and folks walking around, lining up to get ice, drinking, relaxing. But when the sun goes down, everything changes. It is cooler, the sky is a huge canopy of stars and everything lights up. There is an abundance of propane fire, neon glow sticks, blinking LEDs and glow wire. Everything becomes outlined in light. It is as though everyone and everything is their own personal Las Vegas. All across the Playa there is never-ending techno music that adds a surreal backdrop of sound to this world. On the Playa, you can ride or walk forever and see nothing but ghostly figures outlined in neon colors roaming between the art installations which vary from simple and beautiful to the outrageous and divine. When I returned at 1am it was getting a bit cool and I was getting pretty tired but there was no let down in the activity on the Playa until dawn.

I think it is safe to say that there are no Republicans here. This is a liberal community that takes that definition to the extreme. I often times refer to the tunnel vision that most of us have living in the compressed society of the city. Society trains us to do the things we are told to do and told to want. We go to work on time, commute long distances, watch a certain television show, own a certain car, dress a certain way, go to certain trendy spots like nightclubs and restaurants. We are on auto-pilot most of the time. Burning Man is the opposite of that. This is where people set their own coarse and don't believe or do what other people say. This is not a negative place. No one says Burning Man sucks, or I don't want to be here. Everybody here is curious, uninhibited and they have made great sacrifices and taken great strides to come here. And they are still coming. The long line of never ending cars is still snaking into Black Rock City, day and night with their headlights stretching toward the horizon. Here, people act upon their world in a positive way. Respecting other's beliefs and / or abilities to do what ever they please.

The population of Black Rock City appears to be an interesting cross section of every type of person. While most of the people can be considered 'hippies' many of them are middle aged and I have seen 'burners' who appear to be in their 50s, 60s and 70s. There are infirm people in wheelchairs or using canes. I have seen a lot of cross dressing trans-gendered people. Young men dressed in feather boas, platform shoes, sequins and pink tops. I assume they are gay, but who cares? It appears that the standard for most women at Burning Man is to dress like a 'Space Hooker'. Many look like prostitutes from the year 2500. They wear platform boots, furry ankle warmers, garters, very small hot-pants, and they are often times topless with outrageous head gear and lots of neon.

Surprisingly, the only people that are totally nude are some of the men who I see walking around with nothing on but a pair of sneakers. But the overriding issue, is that no one really cares and no one really notices. You just do what you want to do here as long as you are not personally offending someone else, and by that I mean punching them in the face or stealing their car. Any life style is acceptable. I don't think George Bush would understand this place.

As I sit here in my tent during the mid-morning sun, it dawns on me that I have to slow down. I am faced with the challenge of just sitting here in my tent, because I know full well that to go and run around on the Playa in the 11am sun will simply get me tired and sweaty and I will end up coming back here and crashing for a while. There are other things I want to do this afternoon that I am waiting for. Hopefully some wind will come up so that I can fly some kites. But in the mean time, I have learned that I just have to sit here and enjoy the fact that I don't have any phones to answer, no office to go to, no screaming television to watch, no helicopters overhead, there is nothing but time. I am re-learning to be at peace with myself which is extremely hard to do anymore, especially living in the polluted and crowded city. So I am just sitting here, reading a book, watching people go by, sipping water. These are my only cares, I have no other worries right now. That other life I have back in the real world seems incredibly far away.

Playa Sculpture

It is Wednesday afternoon and the time is about 2:45pm. I have just returned from about 2 or 3 hours on the far Playa. I was flying some kites and it was a bit tricky, since the wind here is somewhat variable, both in direction and intensity. I spent about a third of my time waiting for the wind to come up to a level where it would keep the kite in the air. I finally managed to fly the kites for about an hour and a half. I had the small quad-line para-foil up and flying which was the easiest one to launch. I could land it, take a drink of water and then launch it again. I also had the small delta wing kite that I have had forever up and flying for a while. I finally had to call it a day, because I was running out of backpack water and the sun was really starting to beat down on me. While traversing the 2 miles back to my tent I realized that the Playa is not a static display. Things are constantly changing. As I was riding back I continually came upon new artwork that hadn't been there the day before. People are continuing to arrive and continuing to set up installations or modifying the current ones. I assume the goal is to have them all installed by Friday which is the official start of the Burning Man weekend, everything is on display Saturday and then they burn the man on Saturday night. But every time I am out on the Playa, I see something new and have to remind myself to return and try and take a picture. Also, the fact that anything that you see installed on the Playa during the daytime will most likely look totally different at night. Almost everything that is put up here lights up at night to make it look more interesting. As for now, I am going to take a break and cool down a bit in the tent and then head over to Center Camp and buy some more ice.

I am amazed that this cassette recorder is still working. I don't recall the last entry I made but this is Saturday. The past two days have been intermittent beautiful weather with the occasional blinding white-out dust storm, three of them to be exact. Last night I slept inside the van because the inside of my tent is basically a large sandbox. I am waiting for the Burning of the Man. Once the Man burns, I am out of here. In certain ways I can't wait to leave and in some ways I will miss this place more than I can imagine. For the last 12 hours, I have spent most of the time sitting in front of my tent just thinking, life, death, parents, wife, work, the future, just thinking. Surprisingly, something I almost never do in Phoenix, I just don't have the time.

Playa Sculpture

I strongly recommend that the Burning Man experience be on every one's to-do list in life. It is something you have to experience and I will be perplexed on how to explain this to people once it is all over. I can rattle off some names; Christy, Mark, Charlie, Breezy, Ed, Neal, Bev, these were all my neighbors. People that by random chance happened to camp next to me. I met them all, I talked to them all. We shared stories together, they gave me food, I gave them wine and ice, they game me homemade apple juice. And we talked, through blinding sandstorms, insufferable heat and starry nights because we all wanted to be here. We all wanted to take the chance. We all wanted to see if we could make it. Some of them have already left, I will leave before some of the others. We will all go back to the regular world. That plain place, the beige world.

Here you can suffer, but nobody really seems to care. There are hardships, but that is true of life in general. At first I hated the dust, I couldn't stand it. Now it is just another part of life. I am coated with it. The other day I was on the Playa flying the quad-line para-foil kite. A dust storm came up from behind and hit me in the back like a fist. I crashed the kit, crouched down, put on my face mask and goggles (requirements in Black Rock City) and waited. I waited for 45 minutes in the middle of a desert for the dust storm to dissipate. I couldn't see more than 10 feet in any direction. It was like praying in the church of the howling wind. It was a hardship, but it was also a new adventure. I knew it would subside, I would recover the kit and come back to Mark and Christy and Neal and all the rest, have a glass of wine, wash myself off with a wet handkerchief and the next day would come with new hardships and adventures.

This is the life that our forefathers knew, this is the life that they talk about in old movies and books. Before the organized rigidity of the city took hold. This is a taste of the covered wagons and riding across the plains, the 45 day trek from Colorado City to San Francisco. They are hardships, but there are rewards at the end.

After all this comes the long journey back home. A journey that will be marked with McDonald's, and Denny's and clean hotel rooms and hot showers with clean towels. Part of me longs for that more than you can imagine, part of me dreads it. Do you want to know what Burning Man is? Burning Man is just life. It is going to the extreme. It is going to the edge and finding out that the edge can be very interesting and different place. But unfortunately, we can't live on the edge forever, we have to return to normalcy. God, I am starting to hate that word.


To view the complete collection of photographs taken at Burning Man that I have posted on Flickr click here.

To visit the Burning Man Website, click on the Blog Title or click here.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Essential Cinema - 8

The Ice Harvest

John Cusack
Billy Bob Thornton
Lara Phillips
Bill Noble
Brad Smith
Ned Bellamy
Connie Nielsen

Harold Ramis

Richard Russo
Robert Benton

Alar Kivilo

"As Wichita Falls, So Falls Wichita Falls", this is the running gag that follows several friends through a long Christmas eve which interweaves their lives into a twisted plot of deceit, blackmail, booze, sex and murder. It is sort of like the adult version of American Graffiti. The players are taking big risks and constantly looking over their shoulder to see if anyone is on their tail. The saga of desperate people seeking a means of escape from the lives they have created.

Escape. Escape from the choices we have made and the lives they have trapped us in. We all wish we had made different choices and often fantasize about making a change that will set things right. However, in the end you don't really know who you can trust and what your friend's motivations are.

Initially, a slow moving story. I wasn't sure exactly where it was going for the first 30 minutes. Most of the beginning was character development and setting the tone for what was to happen later in the film. At first it appears to be a saga of depressing urban life set against the backdrop of Christmas in mid-America. The players suffer from alienation, lying, stealing and cheating and none of them appear happy with their lives. By the second half of the film things start to get interesting. While the resolution of the plot gets to be a little far fetched, the ending is satisfying and somewhat whimsical.

John Cusack in the lead role as Charlie, has a knack for finding characters such as this and he does a damn good job of it. His other films in this genre that come to mind are 'The Grifters' and 'Pushing Tin'. Sort of an every man's alter ego who eventually figures things out.

In the end, the film sinks to the violence and gore genre just a bit. When spattered with blood from the gunshot to the head of your enemy, do folks really wring their hands of blood and mutter 'ow, how gross'? And the conversations with the hit-man locked in the trunk on the way to the river are a bit absurd but rather funny. I walked away from watching this film with a smile on my face, thinking I would have made the same choices that Charlie made. Overall, it was better than I expected.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The New Freak Show

How To Be A Celebrity

Live long enough, and you start to see patterns in everything. The sheer number of tabloids at the supermarket and celebrity news shows on cable are indicative of the public's thirst to be voyeurs to the 'stars'.

Having skimmed many a headline while waiting in the express checkout lane, the patterns start to emerge. I feel as though I am a clairvoyant, since I can pretty much predict what is going to happen to any given celebrity based on this handy flowchart. Its easy, try it yourself.

"Parents" You have to have rich parents or really wacky stage parents to get into show business. Talent won't get you very far. What counts is media saturation. It takes money and agents to get you press. Press gets you airtime. Airtime = Celebrity.

"Crazy Dating" There is a whole industry in Hollywood and New York geared to this. Certain trendy clubs, entourages, and packs of paparazzi roaming the street to document your life. Stumbling toward a limousine at 2am in the morning in a mini-skirt and wearing high heels is a right of passage to be a celebrity.

"Sex Tape" Another requirement is the leaking / divulging of something personal about the celebrity. Garages, dumpsters, glove boxes are all sources. Mind you, these are not accidental. Agents plant these stories or "forget" to pay the storage on rental units so that media can find these items. There is no such thing as bad publicity.

"Drug Use" (altered states), the first (of many) indications that the celebrity is out of control. The public likes to watch their train wrecks...over and over again. Often times accompanied by radical weight-loss or weight-gain.

"Rehab" A car accident isn't required to get here, but it is a good idea for garnering more headlines, since you will be missing in action until they let you out of club 12-step. A stint in rehab as well as clutching a bible afterward is always a good way to impress the judge before your sentencing.

"Plastic Surgery" Again, not a requirement, and probably not even necessary, but it is one of the prerequisites for getting into the club. You have to have a fan base that is guessing about your looks and if they have changed. It is a way of affirming that you are as insecure as your fan base is.

"Crazy Dating-2" This is where one of the infinite lopes comes into play. You can go round and round until you eventually fall off this merry-go-round. Many do. The only way to escape this roller coaster is by death (see car accident / alternate route). Jim Morrison and Grace Kelly took this route. The other way to get out of this loop is to eventually get pregnant (or impregnate someone).

"Wardrobe Malfunction" Is anything but. It is usually the device of the celebrity whose career is failing. It is almost always planned and choreographed for maximum exposure to keep the celebrity in the tabloids for a few more months, but gets old pretty quickly. You can only do it for a short time frame before it loses its shock value.

"Pregnancy / Marriage" They are mutually exclusive and one does not require the other, but they are two distinct photo-opportunities (one lasts 9 months, the other lasts 9 hours). These two events usually signal the end of the first half of the celebrity life-cycle.

"Happy Motherhood" This is only a headline and is usable only when an infant is between 3 and 9 months old. It is a momentary reprieve in the celebrity life before the stars get back to business and the nanny takes over.

"Career Failure" This is when crazy dating and drug use eventually take their toll and the celebrity loses credibility. At this point, a new strategy has to be found to maintain public exposure. Divorce and returning to your hard living ways is always an option. The other option is to continue having children. Additional children put your career on hold and you are basically only famous for producing offspring.

"Redemption/Art House Media/Reality" Eventually, if you can last long enough, all celebrities end up here. Doing media work in what is considered a sustenance level (art house films, low budget work, voice overs and reality / game show contestants).

"Adopting from Africa" A new trend for the 'mature' celebrity who wants to explore their repressed maternal / paternal side. It has the benefit of forgoing the whole pregnancy thing (and keeping your figure) as well as being able to tailor pick what your child looks like to a degree. It also gives and air of compassion and responsibility in your celebrity maturity, but excess in this department can lead to ridicule.

"Feuds and Siblings" or tag on portions of the flow chart where other celebrities with ties to you make inroads into your celebrity in order to further their own careers and obtain media coverage.

New World Order

Things Are Changing

easier to control
Us against them
They weren't like us

What you thought
How you talked
What you said
Wasn't universal

Taught to fear
the unknown
The strange folks
Foreign Cultures

Floodgates opened
300 Baud, Broadband
e-mail, WiFi
Microsoft, Linux, OSX

Everyone is cellular
Part of a grid
The grid is global

We didn't know
Xeng Zhu
20 years ago

Now we send
cell phone pictures
and text messages

His moon is full
Its high noon here
We are now
20 seconds apart

Our governments
think different,
we think the same

The genie is out
consequences unforeseen
Now they are worried

If everyone communicates
The boss loses control
You can't herd cattle,
if the cows are organized

When borders
are just lines on a map
Who do armies fight?

Without the walls
how do you govern?
How do you repress
What everyone thinks.

When global conciseness
replaces global power
Do we speak with one voice
or many?

Fighters and Tanks
can't stop ideas
It isn't us against them anymore
It is just us from now on.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Essential Cinema - 7

French Language with English Sub-Titles

Diary of a French Priest

Claude Laydu
Jean Riveyre
André Guibert
Rachel Bérendt
Nicole Maurey
Nicole Ladmiral
Martine Lemaire

Robert Bresson

Robert Bresson

Léonce-Henri Burel

The memories of a young Vicar in a rural French town document the shallow and callus lives of the adults in the community, set against the innocence and growing realizations of its youth.

Depression is the first thing that comes to mind. This isn't a very uplifting film, even on a spiritual level. It is extremely intimate, drawing the viewer into the mind of the priest and his discovery of the pain and angst of the townspeople that he is sent to over-see. Hollywood has rarely made this type of film. It has to do more with the examination of the soul and the complexities of the human experience.

This film is interesting because it is different from most American cinema. It shows that cinematic story telling can be a personal and introspective art as opposed to a neat plot that is resolved in 90 minutes. For anyone struggling with the complexities of life this would be a good film to see and ponder. In the end, all the things we fuss over have little bearing on the big picture.

The soft focus black and white print gives an almost impressionistic tone at the beginning of the film. The story moves smartly with short direct scenes that build characters and set the mood. There are no long takes or establishing shots. It is a very terse film, with minimal dialog. The lives of the rural French community are woven together/discovered by the timid priest who is thrust into their midst. The film shows how other cultures think and what they find important and meaningful.

In the film's setting the priest is a standard figure of society, much like a postman or fireman, he is the living conscience of the community. The central character is similar to the Catholic Priest played by Spencer Tracy in "Boy's Town", only less dynamic and more introverted. He searches for the meaning of life amongst the cynical souls of rural France where gossip and back stabbing appear to be the norm. All in all a depressing film with a very thin plot. Mostly an introspective character study of the lives of troubled people and their failure to find salvation. There isn't a lot of resolution in the story, just a certain amount of realization on the part of the characters.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Urban Archeology

Extra Spicy Please

There is a veneer over society. It is sort of a facade that covers up the ugly parts we don't want to acknowledge. Whether we like it or not, we end up scratching the surface eventually and what we find underneath is usually a shock to our system.

I sold a house several years ago and made a tidy profit from it. I lived in it for almost 15 years. It was a nice starter home but I don't miss it much. It was a stepping stone to better things and a good investment. Before I sold it, I hired a residential management agency to rent the house so I could get some additional income. In retrospect, this was not a good idea. Renting in Phoenix, Arizona is a tricky thing due to the large number of transients and urban cockroaches that infest this city.

The management company indicated that I could expect to see $1200 a month in rental income from the property. After three months, I had seen two renters pass through the place and barely $600 in profit, so I called up the management company and raised hell about it. Turns out the management firm had hired an inexperienced property manager that knew nothing. She had rented the house without checking references or backgrounds on the renters. After four months I got a call from my old neighbor telling me that the police had been to my rental house several times that week and I should probably look into what was going on there. We ended up getting an eviction notice from the local court in order to legally enter the house which appeared to have been abandoned. What we found in the house is where this story really begins.

When we opened the front door, we peeled back part of society's veneer, it wasn't pretty inside. To say the interior of the house was a mess would be a gross understatement. It had been destroyed. There were holes in walls, broken glass, busted furniture, clothes and trinkets scattered everywhere. There was dog feces ground into the carpet and hundreds and hundreds of penny's strewn about the place. I promptly fired the management firm and filed suit against them since it appeared they had failed to manage anything except the house's destruction.

I began the slow process of cleaning the house and repairing the damage. It was during this process that I started to piece together the lives of the people that had lived there.

Renter #1 and his daughter

The first renter must have been 21 years old. He had a 4 year old daughter that liked to write on everything with crayons, walls, floors, doors, etc. The father didn't discourage it. He was a child raising a child. He had just gotten divorced and was trying to get back on his feet. I don't know a lot about him, because most of what he left behind was covered up by the second renters. What I did find was a video tape in a pile of trash in the back yard. It was his wedding video. It appeared to be an Hispanic / Gypsy wedding. To say that the video was bizarre would be an understatement. The video showed the young man and his new wife, surrounded by gypsies performing mystic rituals on the bride and groom. My guess is that the marriage lasted less than a year. He fled Southern California with his daughter to start a new life in Arizona. But I guess he couldn't let go of his past.

I had left the utilities on in the house (water/power/phone) so that prospective renters could make sure everything worked. The management company was instructed to have the utilities changed over when the house was rented. Seems they forgot this little detail. As soon as the renter realized the phone worked, he started calling. Calling long distance, to Los Angeles.....for 30 hours in three days. Needless to say, when I got the phone bill, I went through the roof. He promised to pay it back, but skipped out on the rent 2 weeks later....he probably went back to Los Angeles to rejoin the gypsies. He probably thought phone calls were free in Arizona.

Renter #2, his Buddy and his Girlfriend

The next urban dwellers were on a spiral path to oblivion. A single man in his 20s rented the house, but he didn't plan on living their alone. A common trick among young folks looking to move out of their parent's garage is to find somebody to rent a house and then have all your buddies move in and split the cost. That way a $1200 rental becomes a $400 per person rental, and you get a garage and fenced back yard, etc. It is like your parents house with no parents. The three pit-bulls got to stay for free. Talk about urban party heaven!

There was a cleaning deposit in the rental agreement but this really doesn't apply anymore. It is just a $500 party deposit, that allows them to trash the home, since they never really expect to get it back. But with home ownership, also comes reality. You have to pay for those damn utilities. Not these folks. When the water got turned off by the city, they just went to the water main and cracked the valve open. water! Not exactly. The garbage collection was tied to the water bill. If you don't pay your water bill, the garbage isn't collected. Not a problem for these renters....they just started throwing it in the back yard. It was in this 5 foot high mound of rooting compost, that I found the first renters wedding video.

With irresponsible, unsupervised youth, also comes drug addiction. These renters didn't disappoint in that department either and it was their downfall. They were into prescription drugs. The finest pharmaceuticals were their drugs of choice. Pain killers along with the steroids that the two men took to pump themselves up made for a bad combination. Seems that one of the renters was an avid golfer, so his artificial testosterone must have put a few extra yards on his drives.

It all came crashing down when the pill-popping golfer came home and found his 19 years old girlfriend/roommate in bed with his buddy. The fact that he was probably withdrawing from prescription pain killers and in a steroid rage couldn't have helped the situation. While the roommate jumped the back wall to get away, the girlfriend locked herself in the bathroom. Hollow-core bathroom doors aren't designed to stop steroid crazed ex-lovers. The boyfriend put his fist through the thin particle board and proceeded to drag his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend out of the house by her hair. I got this wonderful play by play recollection from my 80 year old neighbor. He is the one that called the police, while the boyfriend was beating his girlfriend senseless in the driveway.

The cops hauled Mr. Steroid off to jail for domestic violence and substance abuse. At this point the two remaining tenants realized that the police would probably get a search warrant to look for more contraband in the house and the ex-boyfriend would probably be out on bail soon and come looking for them. So they did the only logical thing. They scattered like rats from a sinking ship. It took them about 30 minutes to throw EVERYTHING they could in the back of a pickup truck and vacate the property. What was left is what I found when I repossessed the house. What they left behind painted a sad story of wanton youth, looking for instant gratification. These young people were totally unaware of the consequences of their actions. They were basically urban animals.

I had to rummage through the clues they left behind to figure out all the sordid details. Some of the clues were personal belonging strewn throughout the house. Most of what was left behind was in piles, either in the back yard or stuffed inside trash cans in the garage. The garbage was rotting, putrid and had flies buzzing around it.

The young men were roofers. A lucrative trade in Phoenix because of the boom in housing construction. They were Caucasian and could speak English which almost guaranteed them a job that paid pretty well. The young woman was a high school graduate. I found her High School senior picture. It said class of 1999. She was pretty and innocent. The neighbor told me she worked at Hooters serving chicken wings in short-shorts and a tight tank-top.

The large garbage can in the garage yielded a wealth of information in the form or receipts and unpaid bills. One of the more poignant pieces of paper was an unfinished letter written by the young woman to her father. In it, she described how she and her boyfriend were going to start their own business and 'make it big'. She went on to say that the boyfriend wasn't the awful person her father made him out to be and that he didn't hit her anymore and was really a sweet guy. I suppose it is a good thing the father never got that letter.

Left on the remains of the dining room table was a large colored piece of cardboard that had been ripped in half. I couldn't make sense of it until I found the other half and put them together. It was a large "I'm Sorry Card" made by the boyfriend. On it, he professed his love for his girlfriend and looked forward to the day when they 'didn't take any more pills'. It was signed with 'Love" by him and their "kids" with the paw-prints of their three pit-bulls. I don't know if it was made before or after he beat the crap out of his girlfriend but I guess that "pill-free day" never came.

Left behind in the house were odd little knik-knacks that didn't make the final cut during the exodus. Several cell phones and television remote controls had been used as chew toys by the pit-bulls. Large over-sized beds and frames that couldn't be moved quickly were left disassembled in the bedrooms. A poster on the wall of the guest bedroom proclaimed "Pimpin - Selling Ho's Since 1955!". There were several pornography videos of the bizarre variety in the master bedroom and last but not least, the rubber dildo I found on the top shelf of the master bedroom closet.

The most bizarre remnant of the whole fiasco was all the loose change. There were coins strewn everywhere in the house. I mean everywhere. They were in the dishwasher, in the sink, on the ceiling fans, on the carpet, in draws. There was no place in the house where I didn't run across pennies, dimes, nickels and quarters. These denominations appeared to have no value to the renters. I surmised that one or more of the renters had learned to 'flick' coins with their fingers and all the coins in the house were the remains of coin fights between the two men or coins that were launched at the pit-bulls to annoy them. As I started to clean up the house I collected the change and placed it in a large glass jar. By the time the house was cleaned, I had over $80 in change. It weighed about 60lbs.

It appears that the substance exposed ex-boyfriend returned to the house after posting bail the next day. I found his booking slip and mug shot picture next to the torn "I'm Sorry" card. He probably showed up at the house and finding everyone gone, went to ground as well. Disappearing into the anonymity of the big city. Warrants were issued for his arrest and liens were placed against them by various people, but none of them ever resurfaced. I assume they frequent check cashing stores to avoid the authorities and get their prescription money. I have no idea what happened to their dogs.

The last thing I found was while I was cleaning out the garage. There was a bottle of beer placed on a shelf. After a month of cleaning and painting, the garage was the last thing to get done. As I threw what I thought to be an empty beer bottle into the garbage, it rattled. I picked it up and turned it upside down. A steroid syringe came rattling out. I wondered what else I would stumble across in the future.

I still wonder what happened to these people. Did they turn their lives around? What was considered normal to them? They had no stability. Nothing was lasting or reliable in their minds. They appeared to stumble forward from day to day. A good day for them was when they didn't get into a fight, or get arrested, or when they found some spare pills that they forgot they had. A bank account, good credit rating, a 401K plan or owning a house in the burbs wasn't even on their radar.

I felt sorry for them as I scooped the last remnants of their shattered lives into the dumpster, but I also prayed that I never ran across any of them for the rest of my life. The veneer of society is pretty thin in spots, but what lies underneath can be bottomless.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Essential Cinema - 6

Ice Station Zebra

Rock Hudson
Ernest Borgnine
Patrick McGoohan
Jim Brown
Tony Bill
Lloyd Nolan

John Sturges

Harry Julian Fink

Daniel L. Fapp

Cold war adversaries against nature and each other. There is no quick way to the top of the world to recover lost secrets. This film documents a race between the superpowers, with dirty tricks and espionage thrown in for good measure. Adventure on a grand scale to the ends of the earth.

Political chess, with very high stakes. Technological prowess will only get you so far. In the end you have to see which opponent blinks first. This whole film has an underlying tone of deceit and secrecy. Up until the end of the film, you aren't sure who is on which side and who you can trust.

This is a man's film.....there are no women on screen. The overall tone of the picture is one of high adventure, pitting man against not only the elements, but also against his enemies and his allies. The excellent soundtrack by Michael Legrand evokes far away travel and sweeping scale. The film has exceptional special effects for its day. The opening credits evoke the cool, calculating tension of superpower espionage done at the start of the electronic age. This is James Bond without all the winks, nods and jokes....this is serious stuff. There are no fancy gadgets or exploding pens...we use nuclear submarines and jet fighters to get the job done here.

As for cons in this film, it is lengthy (over 2 hours), but I honestly can't see where you would cut anything out. Each scene moves the picture along at a good pace. The plot can get a little complex unless you pay attention. There is little to interest women in the film, unless you want to see what men fantasize about (besides sex). There are a few slip-ups regarding continuity, but unless you are watching very closely, you won't notice them. Another good example of the types of film that Hollywood isn't very good at making anymore. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Essential Cinema - 5

The Satan Bug

George Maharis
Anne Francis
Richard Basehart
Dana Andrews
John Larkin
Richard Bull
Edward Asner

John Sturges

James Clavell & Edward Anholt

Robert Surtees

Insane genius seeks to destroy all life on the planet by developing the ultimate biological weapon....what could possibly go wrong?

To instill fear. Fear that the overworked government brainiacs will go postal and create the ultimate lethal chemical agent. If released the population of the planet has two weeks to live. This is all about men playing God and realizing that being a deity comes with some nasty consequences. This sort of things is still going on with stem-cell research, genetic engineers, the human genome project and steroids, but the results are much more frightening and terrifying here.

This film started out on the slow side and at first appeared somewhat low budget. The sets and dialog seemed sparse and almost empty. As the film progressed, it became apparent that this was intentional in order to give a feeling of alienation and loneliness. The entire cast of the film is minimal. Anne Francis is the ONLY woman you even see on screen. The stark and empty desert landscapes of Arizona and Southern California give a sense of a world abandoned. There aren't a lot of plot twists in this film, but there is a lot of 'motivational' dialog. Questions regarding man's right to exist and the folly of runaway science. The scenes of death by bacterial toxins in the film are riveting and emotional. There is no blood or gore, just a momentary realization that the victims are about to die, and then they collapse and are gone.

There aren't a lot of cons in this film, because you have to take it for what it is. Stark, minimalist film making on a terrifying subject. It does appear odd that with the fate of the world at stake, all the US government needs are 6 men in trench coats barking into phones to get things done and one helicopter. This makes you wonder how we ever accomplished anything before cell phones and the internet. We like to see more detail and drama these days, but like I said, this is a simple film on a terrifying subject.