Monday, November 23, 2009

"My Father"

A new creature was born when my father died nearly seven years ago, a thing outside him and unlike him, rarefied and a little ceremonialized. My father.

Before his death, he was dad. My daddy. Papa-san, on affectionate occasion. I really don't recall referring to my living parent as "my father". Only dead is he so formalized, dehumanized.

The term is one of respect, of course. "My father" is the ancestor who singlehandedly gave me an instant, intimate understanding of ancestor-worship. He is the angel at G-d's side, the spirit, the entity the living man necessarily became when he could no longer share his presence with those of us still living.

But DAD was a living creature. A man, a breath, a flawed (... how ... !??) human, a wonderful person. A person.

It was not a person who died, but a relationship: the person is always, in mind, the very essence of breathing vitality. The venerated dead - that is My Father. I have hardly ever uttered the phrase "dad died" - except to perhaps the very dearest in my heart. My best friend, TEO - my brother. My mom. DAD is not fit to be put to death by my words. He's the humorous creature of my youth, he is the teacher, the fine man everyone loved. He's the silent-picture memory, the voice at the base of my hypothalamus, gruff and warm and safe. He is inviolable, unassailable.

He doesn't wear oxygen in my memory, he's only *alive*. Essential dad. Distilled daddy. Unalloyed, undimmed.

DAD is the memory, and the life. The thing he left us with which cannot be destroyed.

My Father ... is the rest.

That part of a person which never must be used until they can't hug you anymore. The relationship; which, after all, isn't everything. It's a category, a label for something.

It's DAD, we call the essence. The real thing, the experience of family, the joy of appreciation and gratitude. It's DAD who had to get glasses when his arms got too short to hold the book far enough away to see clearly. It's DAD who loved the granddaughter who spent months under the extended-family roof, pretending she was a doggie. It's DAD who hugged real hard after he had a heart attack; and real long after he was terminal. It's DAD who pranked little kids funny-sweetly, but with a little bit of edgy mischief.

Dad was mischief. He was heart, he was intellect, he was my archetype.

He IS still. Always.

My Father is a person who died; an avatar, a thing I can express love regarding - but not the direct line to my heart, to my LIFE, that DAD is and always was.

I miss my dad.

I am, in some ways, still coming to know ... My Father. That name for the divine - and there are reasons for such a usage. I understand this verbiage of faith in a way I didn't before.

My dad was a great guy. I'll have to post about him, and his love for my mom, some time when I have time. He was something.

I love him.

Happy Thanksgiving, daddy.

Thank you for: everything.

Little Miss Sunshine

In keeping with my latecoming to most pop culture, I'm probably actually still a couple years "early" to see Little Miss Sunshine - but this arrived last week, and I did wait several days before viewing it. That will have to do.

It's a perfectly nice movie, but ... I have to admit some confusion as to how the "buzz" on this one got so breathless. I guess perfectly nice is pretty stunning, to your moronic Hollywood types, when considering anything produced outside The System. Either that, or quirk still hadn't worn out its mealy welcome by 2006.

For me, the quirk isn't so much bothersome as symptomatic. There are scenes in this movie - and quite a few of them - in which action occurs specifically for the writers to accomplish certain goals. They have things they want Said, with a capital S - and so grampa's gotta die, the bus has to be a rustbucket, whatever-whatever. The trope must be served, and the quirks exist more to make that happen than they do in any realistic way.

To be sure: I'm very well aware that "realistic" is beside the point, in most movies. And it can be said that, frankly, holding ANY movie character to the standard of "what could happen" (or what "would") isn't my interest. LMS is entertaining enough, I wouldn't dis-recommend it to a potential viewer.

But I wasn't nearly as entertained as, apparently, Everyone Else was.

I like Alan Arkin (beats Adam), I think the casting and production were good. I liked the low-key setting for all the quirks. I was just surprised at how utterly sitcom-keyed so many of the turns of events were.

Suicidal Uncle has just been dumped - we're treated to not one, but repeated, instances of his being directly faced with the parties of his humiliation. And he's a SUB-plot. Asking us to swallow a single coincidence is a bit much; asking us to suspend disbelief through on-the-nose confrontations several times in a row - again, for a b-plot - is just punitive. Not to mention ham-fisted. By the time we see the full-page ad about "the number one Proust scholar" in Act Three, I had bruises about my head and shoulders from the beating I'd taken from Carell's character's humiliations.

And his incredible equanimity and positivity in facing them - considering he was supposed to have been SUICIDAL the DAY this film commences (and it comprises only about three days in its own running time).


The one quirk I had to take exception to was the teenager with the Vow of Silence.

I've met some d*mned pretentious teens. I've been one. This "character" took a whole cake, gave it stuffing, grabbed a fork and stuck it in the audience's eye, ate the cake, farted icing-scented fumes of disgust, and slumped sulking into a corner.

Which is a huge waste and a shame - because, by the time he faces HIS crisis (everybody's got one - even the guy who dies; though he's the *one* character who doesn't really face up to his own problems or deal with them honorably really), he turns out to be muuuuuuuuch more interesting. And well acted. Poor Paul Dano, being stuck with a silly gag for two-thirds of a film he could have apparently grounded a little, in a good way.

Like I say, it's a nice enough film. But I gather it was MUCH re-written. I could hear this happening, louder than anything I've watched since "The Mask" (which I hated with a white-knuckle annoyance). Again, not the worst thing in the world - unless, of course, the medium of one's entertainment is predicated on, oh, willing suspension of disbelief ...

It was perfectly nice. I think slobbering on something so insubstantial is probably unwise - how could it maintain cohesive integrity? It's made of papier mache' - which can be moulded to great effect. But which isn't designed, really, to be tongue-jobbed quite so heavily.

Maybe that is the problem (I'm dubious). Maybe my viewing came, with the lens of this film's initial reception, laden with too many expectations.

I really don't think this is the problem.

I think it is a perfectly nice film.

And, apparently, perfectly nice films really don't do it for me very deeply.

Lady Audley's Secret

Don't ever let anyone tell you that Victorian novels aren't pretty hilarious.

Every object in the quiet sitting-room had an elderly aspect of simple comfort
and precision, which is the evidence of outward repose.
"I should like to live here," Robert thought, "and watch the gray sea slowly rolling over the gray sand under the still, gray sky. I should like to live here, and tell the beads upon my rosary, and repent and rest."
He seated himself in the arm-chair opposite Mrs. Barkamb, at that lady's invitation, and placed his hat upon the ground. The elderly terrier descended from his mistress' lap to bark at and otherwise take objection to this hat.

I've been reading "Lady Audley's Secret", a sensation novel from 1860, at Project Gutenberg, to pass away those lunch hours I haven't been spending on my own writing.

I must-must-must get an actual hard copy of this one. Even aside from the terrier, this is a keeper - the author is a woman, and some of the social and personal observations of the time and of the writer are almost indispensably interesting. Take this item:

There must be a battle, a brave, boisterous battle, with pennants waving and
cannon roaring, before there can be peaceful treaties and enthusiastic shaking
of hands. Perhaps the union between France and England owes its greatest force
to the recollection of Cressy and Waterloo, Navarino and Trafalgar. We have
hated each other and licked each other and had it out, as the common phrase
goes; and we can afford now to fall into each others' arms and vow eternal
friendship and everlasting brotherhood. Let us hope that when Northern Yankeedom
has decimated and been decimated, blustering Jonathan may fling himself upon his
Southern brother's breast, forgiving and forgiven.

For someone reared in the Capital of the Confederacy, that alone is quite the corker.

The "sensation" of the novel's genre is almost beside the point. Its secrets are laid bare within the first chapters; anyone who's ever read a book in life (or ever seen any one of the squillion "Law and Order" series) can see who-done-what, and even why. What is wonderful about this book is its precision of language - even with the inevitable tangents and philosophies of Victorian literature, the expression of these ideas (and they *are* fascinating ideas, considered on their own - and in the context of the author's gender) is clean, engaging, and immediate. It has, as my dearest writing friend TEO once said of me, very kindly, a "there-ness" which makes the progress from clew to clew a great deal of fun.

Plus: awesome, oudmoded spellings, like "clew" for "clue" - and that indispensible Victorian trope; subtextual (but barely, in this case!) homosexuality.

What could be more enter-taining?

The there-ness in this case involves the diffident main character, a well-to-do layabout who slowly turns himself into Matlock in the best possible sense. He's a gas, and his own mental monologues are frequently pretty funny - but he's also one of the best DEVELOPED characters I have read in some time. He actually develops. He grows, he gets somewhere.

Read this book. If you're not experienced in nineteenth-century novels, it's a really nice place to start, and not so well-traveled you'll have to endure much cultural baggage - funny as this work is, it's not a towering piece of pop-culture history. If you DO have some background, but haven't been impressed with the written legacy of Victoriana (or if you've been abused by Louisa May Alcott's "darker" sensational pieces), this might be a lighter hand than some of the heavier ones to be endured, out there.

Also - seriously. The terrier. Awesome.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Wish Fulfillment TV


I alluded to something, post-before-last, and said a further discussion of it was for another post. Let's have that post, then.
--vamping to my own smaller audiences with my tongue only a little bit poking at my cheek ... THIS is the part that speaks to another kind of wish-fulfillment, but one for another post. Stay tuned.
Awright, here we are.

One of the things about exploitive TV, the kind where specifically it's women who are exploited, is that ... this isn't just targeted for men to watch. "Charlie's Angels", "Alias", "America's Next Top Model"; any show or movie or motion picture entertainment piece centering on chicks donning multiple costumes (gag me: "Pretty Woman") has a firm and complete understanding that, s*xy as its stars may be, and startlingly attention-getting as chicks-in-wigs are for a certain demographic of men ... there's every bit as substantial a demographic of women - who want to play dress-up. Who want, specifically, to play femme fatale.

I grew up with a thick streak of vanity, and its outward expression has come always in the form of self-decoration. How I wear my makeup, the clothing that I like. It's something I keep myself fairly honest about in terms of social interaction - and the bells and whistles are for my own amusement, not for "some man". It is human nature to enhance, to focus on appearance, to go way the heck overboard in playing with it.

Females-as-dolls shows play with the very concept. I don't remember ever really seeing this discussed, though; certainly not within the concept of feminism, either.

There are a lot of areas of most people's lives they don't contemplate much. Dressing-up fantasy is a pretty ingrained part of our culture - for women most particularly. For a feminist, though, this is a dirty little secret, if not outright abomination. And not merely because the stereotype feminist hates men/lipstick/brassierres, but because so much of what dressing-up represents is so deeply, so very exploitive and squicky. It's not just those women who refuse the label for themselves who think I can't be a feminist - there are those happily in the club who find "traditional" outward expressions of femininitY to be outre' if not downright traitorous.

But feminism - like costuming, and preening in umpteen different looks as a creative and conceited outlet - is about choice.

I wish I could make some point *about* this brand of wish-fulfillment. But there are too many. For some, taking ownership of old-fashioned forms of dress and vampishness is akin to the dreams some have of just letting go of control, forgoing the responsibility it can represent to be A Feminist. For others, "old-fashioned" is appealing precisely because it has nothing to do with the politics of just waking up every single day. For others, aesthetics and creativity are key; I have found over time a fifties (Dior's New Look) profile just happens to be flattering, and so even as I peek at all my own personal baggage I just happen to like a dirndl-inspired silhouette and nipped in waist. Some shapes just appeal to us. Some ideas. Some dreams ... "if I were only Barbie, I could be anything - do anything."

We all learned long ago, the Barbie thing is a serious trap. That's why TV makes it safe. To watch Dollhouse, to watch Farrah and her winged hair, to watch Sidney don a wig and go shoot another spy. It both absolves us of the burden of expressing ourselves, and invites us to judge others even as we live a little vicariously, guiltlessly. Women who are all things to all men - who seem like they might even be all things to themselves, within themselves - are just as beguiling to women as surrogates, as they ever have been to men as safely unavailable/available paper dolls.

I wonder why I've never seen a deconstruction of this aspect of exploitation entertainment. I'm intrigued, and squeamish, and fascinated by my own participation. I'm powerfully curious.

I'm guilty.

I'm still, though, so happy with this part of myself ...

The Box

Okay, I actually kind of want to see this movie, because occasionally I do enjoy a suspensey joke of a plot, completely outside the realm of possibility. Also: Frank Langella.

I do have to say one thing about the premise, though. If you are going to predicate a slightly supernatural thriller on a Deal With the Devil scenario ... please don't make the "temptation" a sum of money Dr. Evil made fun of in an Austin Powers movie like a DECADE ago ("WAN ... MEEL-YON ... DOLLARS ...).


Offers Evil Frank with Half a Face: "You can have ONE MILLION DOLLARS if you press this button. But someone you have never met ... will die ..."


As moral dilemmas go, the purse here being what it is (enough for a lifetime ... as long as you conduct said lifetime in the nineteen-twenties): I ain't interested. Even with Frank thrown in the deal, That Voice and all. It's too reminiscent of Bugs Bunny - and of Dr. Evil.

I think this might be fun to see with my friends Zuba and Eddie, over Thanksgiving.

But seriously, scriptwriters. I know it's not the most lucrative profession. But - trust me (I spent over a decade in financial services) - this prize ... isn't. Bump it up for the sequel. Or we'll all just keep tittering.

Just like Dr. Evil.