Tuesday, September 29, 2009

And To Think I Hesitated; or, I Don't Post For Weeks And When I do It's About Hellraiser 2

I finally watched Hellbound: Hellraiser II. I've been a fan of the original flick for years, but I was afraid the sequel(s) would do what sequels do: dissipate the vitality of the original by overexplaining enigmas and normalizing the abnormalities that give the first film its edge. And I was right, kind of, but there are mitigating factors.

Hellraiser has a Strindbergian quality; it's very much a character-centered drama. The story could be retold as a realistic noir with only minor changes (which is not to say that the fantastical elements are gratuitous; only that they shape the symbol system of the film more than the plot itself). There are tantalizing enigmas that are allowed to remain unexplained, and I liked it that way. I didn't need to know who the Dick-Tracy-villain S&M Mobsters who function as the malevolent Deus Ex Machina of the film really were.

The sequel, of course, explains who they were, but it doesn't seem like a response to Hellraiser. It seems like like an Adults-Only sequel to Labyrinth or The Neverending Story, in which the heroine goes into a hallucinatory fantasy world on a Quest, where she meets weird creatures, etc. It resonates more with my memories of Eighties kid fantasy flicks than with my interest in Original Hellraiser.


So how is it as an Adult Neverending Story? Not bad, although it's a disservice to the movie to watch it sober. It goes for the overwrought goth lushness of a Ken Russell or Dario Argento film, and occasionally hits the right strident note. The special effects are the kind of Eighties FX trash that I love so, so much more now that I've sat through half a lifetime of CGI. Having a Monsterous Doctor for a villain is fine, but having him say things like "I recommend amputation" as he attacks people is pretty Marvel Comics.

* * *

For the majority of my readers who don't give a rip about Hellraiser: I recently won an award for my performance in last year's production of Turn of the Screw. The award is from a local theatrical alliance that throws a big cargo-cultish awards show, complete with paparazzi-free red carpet. We got to perform a scene from the show for the award ceremony, and I hammed it up shamelessly, which probably netted me more attention (for good or ill) than the award itself.

I just had an audition for a Shakespeare touring company. The director told me (bluntly but kindly) that the company mostly casts young actors, and that the schoolchildren respond strongly to young actors, as opposed to folks who seem more like teachers, generation-wise. But she liked my work, so hope springs. It just doesn't spring unrealistically high.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Needs to Happen

Due to the overwhelming response to my post about Dungeons and Dragons movies, I'm doing another one. The next two Dungeons and Dragons movies will both deal with The Planes.

Dungeons and Dragons (at least back in my day) had a gonzo OCD cosmology full of Planes of Existence. Some were devoted to different elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) and others to various Afterlives. I tried to find the original complicated charts online, but came up empty, which amazes me. No one wants to scan the old D&D charts of the Inner and Outer Planes? What's wrong with nerds these days?

Anyway, suffice it to say that The Planes represent all the different worlds, zones, dimensions etc. that exist in E. Gary Gygax's philosophy, and from time to time various folks who wanted to sell more D&D product tried to crank out expansions on this idea.

There should be two counterbalancing films about this. Just to keep me happy.

The first should be loosely adapted from The Manual of the Planes by Jeff Grubb, who for a time was the hardest working man in Dungeons and Dragons. I remember the book being an imaginative, or at least imagination-firing, book that told you what it might be like to visit, say, a place where everything is made of water, or where Chaotic-Neutral people go when they die (The morality and afterlife thing is highly structured in Dungeons and Dragons). The film should be written and directed by the people responsible for this,

this,

this right here

and of course this

ad. It should be produced by the employee of Birmingham Alabama's long-lost comic/game shop Lion and Unicorn who tried to sell a copy of the by-then out of print Manual of the Planes for $100. Anyone named Manuel Planes should be hired to work on this film. The movie should consist of a guided tour of each plane, undertaken by two cute teens in 80's garb with a sunglassed nonthreatening version of Ric Okasek for a guide. Pleasant synth-pop throughout, as in the ads. Really, just give me 90 minutes of Eighties-style Bubble Yum ads and I'll be happy. Normally I scorn folks who rhapsodize about favorite commercials, but I was young and vulnerable when I saw these, and I honestly love this post-You Might Think stuff. (BTW I now understand, as I didn't in the 80's, exactly why my Mom found this video so disturbing. Unstoppable stalkers are exciting to little boys but not to their Moms.)

The other film should be adapted from the groovy old D&D themed computer game Planescape:Torment, a glum and complicated adventure in which an amnesiac hero awakens in a run-down fantasy city, assembles a ragtag band, explores strange places... all the usual fantasy computer game stuff, really, but there's lots of bull-session philosophy, exotic atmosphere, and ... well, that was enough for me. Maybe if I played more of these games I wouldn't have found this one so immersive, but now I want to reexperience it without actually playing it, which means someone has to make the movie version. Make it long and dense. Make it pretty, in a smoky, spikey way. For crying out loud make it immersive. Strike a balance between talky stuff in superficially creepy yet oddly cozy settings, and fantastical action set pieces. Script should be improvised on set by M. John Harrison, under duress if need be. Directed by Jason Keener.

Somewhere between these films there needs to be a short-lived cable TV series based on D&D lamebrainstorm Spelljammer , a D&D variant that focused on magical boats flying from planet to planet. The pilot episode should be directed by whoever made this. After a promising first episode it should start to stink pretty bad. Cast a few hot guys and gals in it so Fanfic Nation will get all excited about it and get enough petition signatures to keep it on the air for an even worse second season.

It's ideas like this that have driven my blog hits into the single digits.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Life and like that

Gabrielle Bell has a blog and I've added it to my links.

I'm trying to learn Marat/Sade in suffecient depth to keep the director from holding me up for ridicule. I'm trying to relearn and improve a scene from last year's production of Turn of the Screw since I'm being forced to perform it for a local theatre awards show. And I'm trying to learn sides for two original plays for which a local theatre is holding auditions. And I'm trying to learn two different new monologues for various other auditions. And I'm polishing an older monologue. So I'm not posting here much. One hopes I'll get back into maintaining this record of my life soon. My life itself will have to ease back a bit first.

Friday, September 11, 2009

In The Realm

As you probably know, there's a Dungeons and Dragons movie. And it's a stinker. My D&D-playing friends and I had a good time heckling it, but that's about all it's good for. How then should a proper D&D movie be made?

I shall tell you, for the answer lies within me.

Firstly, when I think back on the old Dungeons and Dragon books I used to pour over, I can't help thinking about the shops and streets and overpasses of Chattanooga, Tn. and the hiking trails of Signal Mountain. That's where I lived and engaged D&D. So to capture the sensation of Dungeons and Dragons as I experienced it, my D&D film would be shot Alphaville-style in Chattanooga.

Alphaville was a science-fiction movie by arthouse legend Jean-Luc Godard. He shot it in 60s Paris, and made no effort to disguise the fact, even though the story took place on exotic alien planets. The conceit of the film is that no elaborate sci-fi set or camera trick could possibly create a setting more alien and peculiar than a hotel lobby or office building, so why not film in a hotel lobby or office building and pass it off as an alien planet? I propose taking the same approach to Chattanooga, which is more fantastic than any Frazetta painting if approached with photographic imagination.

The film's narrative should be loosely adapted from the B series of Dungeons and Dragon modules. The central characters should be the main characters from the old D&D Saturday Morning cartoon. They should be played by game-shop nerds with no particular acting ability or resemblance to the cartoon characters. The script should be written by a few Infocom game designers and should focus more on the red herrings, dead ends and pointless whimsies that characterize old D&D modules than on any sense of narrative momentum. The monsters should be designed by Erol Otus and realized with stop-motion animation overseen by Rick Trembles. It should be directed by a drunken Tobe Hooper, whose blend of weird dry humor, grotesquerie, uneven craft and occasional shamanism make him the ideal stand-in for the game's traditional Dungeon Master. Closing credits music by Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe.

Obviously this movie will make cash by the tankerful, so the sequel should be an absurdly faithful adaptation of Ravenloft. The main vampire should be played by the Chattanooga community theatre hambone who played every role with the same exaggeratedly effeminate elocutionary style regardless of the part. Castle Ravenloft should be portrayed by Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church, one of the key locations in my life for good and ill. The film should be scripted and directed by Raul Ruiz. The protagonists should be the characters from Snarfquest. Production design by Larry "Snarfquest" Elmore and Damien Hirst. Music by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Closing credit song by The Egyptian Lover.

The Losers' Lounge

We've been in B'ham, fixing up Laurie's house there. We attended a Monday night open-mike standup comedy session at an establishment which I shall refer to as The Losers' Lounge. We arrived late, and as we approached the patio we heard a snippet of a monologue in progress. A guy in his late twenties or so was explaining the following facts:

1. He was recently divorced.

2. He was having a hard time adjusting.

3. And the recurring punchline, he was spending a lot of time in a Lonely Person Activity.

4. He was hurt by the lack of Big Laffs Item 3 received from the mostly young, mostly unhappy-looking audience.

5. He was friends with the other comics, all of whom were sitting at a table up front. He would banter with them whenever he got too flustered.

That was it. No twists, no insights, no unexpected juxtapositions of two distinct frames of reference, just a repetition of those five points, over and over again. At the time I wondered if the whipped puppy attitude he was giving off was the cause or the effect of the divorce. It later occurred to me that he might have been trying to coax a punishing response from the audience. Perhaps he was trying to have his ambiguous feelings of inadequacy replaced with unambiguous, explicit awareness of inadequacy; always a minor relief for the emotionally seasick, and easier to achieve than a bolstered sense of self-worth. Sadly for him, this Southern audience was too well behaved for open heckling.

His protests at our lack of laughter grew terser as he continued; they started out like "C'mon, people, this is comedy! You're supposed to laugh!" and devolved to "Terrible!" Whether "Terrible!" was addressed to the audience, himself, or God On High, I dunno.

A somewhat milder form of masochism shaped the other performances. Primal Whimper Therapy was still in evidence, but it was from younger guys who were mystified by their inability to get with a woman in the first place, rather than reeling from a divorce, so their pain was that of heartache rather than heartbreak. They also had a somewhat better grasp on the whole "Make 'Em Laugh" thing. Still, it felt more like being collared by a succession of mournful, lonely drunks than like being entertained.

There was one young woman in the audience, all alone; a cute girl with arty garb. She smiled glowingly all through the show, and it occurred to me that I had seen her at open-mike comedy acts years before. I felt for her, or for the her I imagined her to be. Having done some tepid open-mike, I'd been approached by somber-faced women who told me "You were really funny." Meaning, "I am really lonely." I thought of them when I saw this woman. Whenever one of the performers bemoaned his inability to find a woman, I imagined her thinking "I'm right here; look at me." But that was my inference; who knows why she was really there. Maybe she thought they were funny.

The host of the show angrily shouted down a young chattering ectomorph in the audience ("Am I interrupting anything?" that kind of bit) but went way overboard; it was obvious the host wanted to do the old devastate-the-heckler routine, but lacking an actual heckler he had to settle for a nonthreatening chatterbox. The Host was mean, not witty, not funny. The young ectomorph, who looked like a sheepish bespectacled bird, sat there and looked blank during the tirade. He was with a group of college kid types, with one older heavyset woman at the head of the group. The host evidently knew her, as he flirtatiously chided her for bringing the ectomorph. The woman had that flash-of-panic-beneath-the-cool-facade look so familiar to anyone who's ever been a twentysomething. Rather than defend Mr. Ectomorph she said "I know, I know" and tried to look archly disaffected. She grabbed her purse and FLED as soon as the focus was off her again. I later overheard the ectomorph speak witheringly of her; he expected more gumption from a Queen Bee than that.

The final comic was a cute little stoner whose dipsy-doodle style charmed Laurie and myself regardless of his (mildly amusing) gags. As Woody Allen observed, personality is more important than material for a standup comic.

If you're in B'ham and this kind of sideshow sounds more to your tastes than it is to mine, here's a hint: the establishment's name is actually a reference to An Animal Sound.