The Promise of Opening Credits

I was at a comedy show – Sean Cullen – years ago in Vancouver, stupidly sitting in the front row, when he was asked me, “What’s your favorite part of the movie?” I answered, “The credits.” This got a big laugh out of him and everybody else after he repeated it several times over. It was an easy laugh, I guess, but I really did mean it. The credits are such a promising moment, the distribution logo rising from the gloom; the Paramount mountain is one of my favorites, fading in, about to be encircled by stars.The music comes up, and the first credit fades in from black. Anything is possible. Imagination knows no bounds.The movie begins. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958) has to have one of the greatest openings not only for the drama of it – there’s a bomb! – but the sheer logistics and technical merit of the initial 3 1/2 minute sequence. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1981), modeled after the opening sequences of many James Bond films, has technical merit too, but it’s more a wild ride than anything else. In terms of visual and aural splendor, two poetically astonishing films come to mind. The Thin Red Line (Malick, 1998) combines images of nature, poetic voice-over and the introspective music of Hans Zimmer to convey an eerie calm while Werner Herzog’s stunning opening sequence in Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1973) offers a sense of doom through the clouds of the Peruvian Andes and hypnotic soundtrack of Popol Vuh. Another great opening sequence has to be American Graffiti. A simple establishing shot of Mel’s Dinner, coupled with a montage of characters arriving and the iconic music of Bill Haley creates an invigorating atmosphere of innocent excitement. The movies go on from there; some moments are good, others not, and it either ends early or goes on too long…but you always have another credit sequence to look forward and a mountain surrounded by stars.

Prius on Maiden

I took Biba out for her morning walk the day after Hurricane Sandy. We found this car on Maiden Lane just below Pearl Street, a Toyota Prius, most unfortunately parked.

October 30 – One day after Hurricane Sandy

I didn’t think much about it except that I would hate to have found my car hit by one of the few trees in Downtown Manhattan. I imagined the owner was still in his apartment, calling his family, telling them that he was all right.

Biba and I came down Maiden Lane again the following morning; the car was still there.

October 31 – Two days after Sandy

I thought about how it would almost be worse to see the smashed hood and windshield without the tree still on it. I thought that the owner – let’s call him Tim – had probably come down to find it, cursed, and gone uptown to power his computer and email pictures of his afflicted Prius to the family. They could forward them to the insurance company for him.

A day later, three days after the storm, and the car was still there.

November 1 – Three days after

I figured that Tim had realized that there was nothing he could do about this and decided to deal with everything else first – water, power, food. If the city towed it, so much the better.

One week later, a day after the Nor’easter, the Prius was unmoved.

Tim had probably left town to get away from everything. Maybe he had got a ride with his girlfriend to her parents’ place in Virginia. He could have a proper shower there, sleep, and forget about all of this. That made sense.

Days turned into a week and then some; nineteen days in all; the Prius remained..

November 17 – Nineteen days after Sandy

Did Tim leave New York altogether? Was he not coming back? Was he that upset about it? Was it even Tim’s car? Or had he borrowed it from his girlfriend without asking and now he couldn’t admit it? Had he abandoned it just to get out of a lie? Didn’t he realize that the police would tow it eventually, and she would find out then?

November 18 – Twenty days after Sandy

No, he didn’t realize that. He was leaving it here. He didn’t care. He didn’t really love her anyway. It wasn’t worth the hassle. At least he had had those few good warm days in Virginia. The truth was that he had never even liked her or her Prius that much. I mean where had all of this environmentalism gotten him in the end? It had got him here. He had always dreamed of something else, something exotic and incredible. The Mercedes Sedan CLS…now that was a car!

Mercedes Benz CLS

He knew that he could really love that. (Poor Tim.)

My Bad Side – The Pitch

The time has almost come to get an agent. The book needs to be pitched…

Crystal and Dee Sinclair started life as a news story.

SACRAMENTO, June16, 1978 Two young girls – one an infant of 14 months – were found alive on Wednesday afternoon, beside their recently deceased mother, Dorothy Keynes, 33. Ms. Keynes was undergoing treatment for depression after the father of the children, Mr. Raymond Sinclair, was killed in alcohol-related single-car traffic accident on Sunday, May 4.

Lillian Murton of Sacramento Social Services made the discovery on a monthly wellness visit. Neighbors along the 7400 block of 21st Avenue expressed outrage that Social Services had not been to the home in the past week.

The elder sibling, 3 years of age, is believed to have fed both herself and her infant sister in the days following their mother’s death. The children are currently being treated for dehydration at U C Davis Children’s Hospital; their names have been withheld. Mrs. James Keynes of Pittsburgh, the mother of the deceased, has filed for adoption of the children.

My Bad Side begins many years on. Crystal, now 27, defiant, knows that her life was borne of tragedy and accepts that with a drink. I’ll tell you what everyone is like. Ever think about torture? Ever think about what that is? People torturing others, I mean, people actually willing to literally torture another person, strap someone down and torture, tear off their fucking fingernails, put wire through their flesh, burn their fucking eyes out, what the fuck else? These people will watch, just watch, another person freak out and scream. And for what? Because they fucking can. Because they can get away with it. That’s who we are. That’s what this is about. We’re fucked. We’re so completely and entirely fucked. (201)

Dee, desired and adored, was too young to remember, and yet the memory persists. She chases after it like a childhood dream, desperate for contact and pushing everyone away.  I had a tightness creeping inside. It wasn’t bad. It was more like almost remembering something, not what I had been told; it was more of a biological thing, molecular. It was spinning in my head. Words wouldn’t go together; the sounds were broken apart. I wanted this. I wanted to move into this, whole, that glacial wall of light, the sex, in and out in one pristine act. It was my promise. (157)

The sisters try to understand each other, but they don’t know how to forgive and feast on their addictions instead.

Downtown Manhattan: Guts on View

Downtown Manhattan has been under invasion for three weeks now. I’m not talking about the wind and tidal surge…but rather the vehicles and machines that followed. It started sensibly, almost innocently, with the official Disaster Response vehicles in tandem with the water pumping trucks and fuel tankers. There were also the portable generators and tractor trailers.  But then, the vehicles became ominous and strange.The streets began to look less like Manhattan and more like Terry Gilliam’s dystopic film Brazil. And so I began to ask myself: Just what are these daemonic vehicles and contraptions? Are they taking over? The answer wasn’t as mysterious as I had imagined. After a pittance of research, I learned that these imposing, brooding machines are generally one of three things. They are either mobile – albeit massive – generators, mobile – albeit massive – boilers,

Go Giants!

or mobile – albeit massive – dehumidifiers. In other words, the guts of the buildings are no longer hidden in the basements but outside, naked, for everyone to see. Yeah, I think you get the picture.

Roman Tragedies – Brooklyn Academy of Music

Roman Tragedies is a six-hour Shakespearean marathon presented in Dutch. As the director himself, Ivo van Hove, admits, this is a daunting prospect. “When we opened in 2007 [at the Holland Festival], I told the guy working for me who does the international tours: don’t invite anybody to come and see this. They will hate it.” He was wrong about that. Not only has van Hove merged these three tragedies – Coriolanus, Julius Caesar & Antony and Cleopatra – with a willingness to pare, stripping the imagery and language to its stark and brutal core, but he has also staged the piece in a manner so dynamic as to convince the viewer it’s all quite modern. Most innovative of all is the audience’s freedom of movement – not only allowed throughout the theater but also onto the stage itself. As gimmicky as this might sound, it actually works. We were reticent to move at first, enjoying our front row mezzanine view, watching the audience rush for ideal places, but we did finally head down – 2 1/2 hours into the production – to the back corner of the stage.We found ourselves suddenly amidst the conspirators during Antony’s famed eulogy. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.The energy was genuinely intimidating; Brutus was so upset that a small woman jumped behind me to avoid being hit.

Brutus absorbs the impact of Antony’s speech.

The members of this theater company, Toneelgroep, are dedicated to their craft; they throw themselves into the characters with a passion for the psyche of their roles, seemingly unconcerned for the trappings of costume and setting. But the staging really is the thing, using TV monitors, on-stage cameras, digital photographs of each character as they die – reminiscent of the last images of modern day tyrants such as Ceausescu, Hussein and Gaddafi. Not to be forgotten are the giant video screen, scrolling news stream as well as the thunderous roll of percussion and light. It is, without doubt, a memorable work. And if you don’t have time to get something beforehand, remember that they serve drinks and snacks right on stage.

Ode to the New York Subway

This isn’t in praise of the system, certainly not the cleanliness nor service, but rather a sentimental rumination on the aesthetics of industry and decay. The water stains and hanging wires, the rats chasing garbage, scurrying over carcasses of each other. It’s like art, something true. There’s the silence, the distant footsteps and then vibrations and the approaching train, coming and suddenly there, not yours but the express, flashing past the steel pillars, thick and black. It’s strangely idyllic, a place of calm and respite, the traffic and weather above, the air from the tunnel rising up, the train coming at last out of the dark air and dirt. The conductors wear protective glasses – for the grit and abuse – and might hold the train for the switch from local to express, but then seem to prefer the opposite. It’s just a game. I took the E train on a late-night trip from World Trade Center to Jamaica Center and back again. It was full at times – leaving Manhattan and into Queens – and empty too – coming back from Jamaica at 1:30am. I woke, the train idle in the station, half of the shiny blue slippery benches filled with people not going anywhere. I’ve been kicked – hard and with intent – and stood idle after a brute of a man jumped onto the train, having punched another – hard and with intent – and all of us stood there, quiet, eyes averted, complicit. It’s something deep, the furnace of this city, the noise and quiet, the dark and roar, the rush and the emptiness again.

What’s with this Anti-Canada stuff in Baseball?

Wow, what a great trade for the Toronto Blue Jays, right? I mean, right, eh? Eh?!? The Toronto Blue Jays have just acquired two bona fide starting pitchers – Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson – as well as All-star lead-off hitter Jose Reyes. Not to mention speedy infielder Emilio Bonifacio – remember how Dominicans flourish in Toronto – and former Blue Jay All-star catcher John Buck. And all of this for pitcher Henderson Alvarez, infielder Adeiny Hechavarria, catcher Jeff Mathis, three minor league prospects and the obnoxiously homophobic Yunel Escobar. This is a trade that promises genuine World Series contention, as these players enrich an already strong hitting lineup – Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie  – and potentially strong pitching staff – Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, J. A. Happ, and just one or two of Dustin McGowan, Shawn Marcum or Jesse Litsch. It seems that the glory days of 1992-93 might very well be on the horizon. And it could even work out for the Florida Marlins in the years to come. Who knows? Who cares? Oh. I see. It appears that this does matter in the US of A. Not only do we have American sports journalists weeping and screaming about what is fair, but we also have Commish Bud Selig doing his ‘official’ review thing. What’s this about? Does he want in on the pipeline? Was there a suitcase of coca in this deal? Or perhaps some fine Canadian dollars? What’s with all of this weird talk about making sure the deal is right? Where did this hate for Toronto the Good come from? Truth be told, this reminds me of the Jays-Braves World Series of 1992 when the National Guard accidentally (okay…sure) paraded the Canadian flag upside down. When did baseball become something other than a capitalistic deal? Is there truly some kind of wayward morality or ‘rightness’ that can be applied here? The concern, as I understand it, apparently revolves around a stadium that had 80% public financing from the city of Miami, and therefore granted those citizens some kind of rights. If that’s really the concern, maybe they could have cut back on expenses, like the aquarium behind home plate… Or perhaps the plastic marlins that pop around after each home run? That might have saved an American dollar or two. Otherwise why don’t we get back to reality and accept the fact that baseball is all about capitalism. America loves that, right? I mean, what about the Yankees! All of that money and all those…rings? Okay, the Blue Jays probably don’t want to buy crazily into this, but if good old Bud green-lights the deal, we’ll have to start to talking about a manager. There are a lot of options out there. Ozzie Guillen could be all right. Canadians are forgiving toward the bombastic and they don’t have such a problem with Castro. Or what about a Ernie Whitt/Buck Martinez tandem? Or John Olerud? What’s he up to these days? He could co-manage with George Bell. If all else fails, the one to really consider is Cito Gaston. If he could somehow be coaxed out of retirement again – maybe be allowed to smoke in the clubhouse or hang out on a La-Z-Boy at the clubhouse stairs – that would be it: the ground out to first base, the ball in the glove and the dancing in the streets! And if he won’t do it, what about that guy, Phil Jackson? I mean, he likes money, right? Why the hell not?

Bad Side Movie – The Shoot

The Bad Side film short was shot last night, everything in 5 hours. Mike Deminico (Director) and Adam Holz (DOP) – and Joe Schiffer (AD) at the start – worked through the shot list like machines – some 50 shots in all – an impressive feat indeed.

Adam and Mike shoot opening scene

Gardiner Comfort (Derek) and Megan Hill (Dee) worked through the scene again and again,delivered on all of the fighting and yelling, through every shot – mediums, close-ups, point of views – with a professional focus, getting closer and closer to that feeling of loss and anger. Biba struggled in her role as a badly wounded serval, wanting to either get up or go to sleep, whichever wasn’t needed. Micaela Martegani  graciously took on the role of the doorman (woman) at the last minute. She was precise in her delivery and the jacket was a perfect fit. (Thanks, David.) I helped too. I drove. It was a nice car, a Mercedes C250 RWD, but the traffic was terrible – due to the on-going blackout and cleanup efforts in downtown Manhattan – and I missed the final set of shots. It was an interesting experience for me in the end, allowing others to take over my ideas, seeing the characters brought out, the framing choices made. It was not exactly as I envisioned it, but there was a moment listening to a scene, Dee yelling, that it felt like something really had come to life. Post-production is next.

New York City: Buildings Above Us

New York City has been called The Capitol of the World – albeit mostly by New Yorkers – and is iconically loved. It’s a great city, overwhelming in its needs and offerings, inhabited by peoples of all nationalities and faiths, many of whom live and work well with each other – as symbolized by their recent action and compassion to those devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

Volunteers at Occupy Sandy Hub in Brooklyn

But what New York is really known for is its money, its business and its buildings.

World Trade One

The unrelenting canyons stretch out, the sun barely there, the sounds and smells swirling within. And while there is a dynamic aesthetic to the steel and asphalt, there is something else, something sinister and unfeeling. As I blogged last week, many of these buildings remained fully lit through the blackout caused by Hurricane Sandy, buildings such as 222 Broadway (Bank of America)

222 Broadway on left

and 140 Broadway (Brown Brothers Harriman). There was no one in these buildings during the blackout, no one working, no one moving, no one. The assumption is that the employees simply couldn’t get to work and the buildings were kept lit and heated by generators, but it is an ominous image. It seems that these buildings just might aim to carry on without us…leaving us to wonder: “Who are they here for?”

Hurricane Sandy: Coping with the aftermath

One of the neighborhoods subjected to the most devastation by Hurricane Sandy is the Rockaways, in southern Queens. I rented a car and went to the Occupy Sandy Hub in Brooklyn to ferry supplies and volunteers. We loaded the car with food, diapers, cleaning supplies before heading out through the traffic and confusion. The Rockaways is a very long peninsula, spanning some 180 streets; many of the houses have been badly damaged by flooding; power remains out at most intersections; and the sand and detritus is everywhere. We drove slowly through the streets – slowed by emergency vehicles and construction equipment everywhere – and made our delivery at Inglesia Pentacostal Rehoboth.There was a gas station with no lines across the street, however I had rented a car with a license plate ending in zero (which counts as an even number in the current gas rationing system) and therefore was not supposed to have access to gas today. (The rule is odd number plates on odd number days). I thought about this and the fact there were not only no lines, but there were absolutely no cars either. It seemed like a good rule to break. I left my volunteers at the St. Gertrude Parish.

Directions from St. Gertrude Church

I returned to the Occupy Sandy hub for more supplies. I re-stocked with blankets, batteries and volunteers – three moderately hip 20-somethings from Brooklyn – and was directed out to Coney Island.

Coney Island’s iconic Wonder Wheel

Coney Island, a geographical neighbor to the Rockaways and yet separated by many miles of roads and traffic, appears to be doing better than the Rockaways, but is still struggling with a lack of power and an excess of sand

Neptune and Surf

and muck. We delivered food to a small apartment building, climbing the cold dark staircase, knocking on doors and doing our best to communicate with the mostly Russian inhabitants. I was brought into the apartment of an elderly Russian lady who showed me how she has cleaned up after the six inches of flood water. She didn’t need food or water. She had been provided with those. She needed her power to be turned back on. I couldn’t do that. We hugged instead.