Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Thanks Honey!

I have a new computer! It's a nice upgrade from the TI 99 4-A I was using previously. Perhaps I'll update the blog more often now that I'm not so busy playing Parsec and Hunt the Wumpus.
Went blueberry-picking today; not to eat them, but to freeze them for my wife's research. Had to eat a few, though. I hadn't realized that there are subtle flavor differences between different kinds of blueberry. Some are sharp and tart, others subtly sweet. Others not so subtly sweet, of course.

Currently trying to read Plus by Joseph McElroy. It's a science fiction novel by a writer who apparently doesn't routinely end up in the SF marketing category, the better to shelve it in the inscrutable modernism catagory. It seems (fifty pages in) that the protagonist, one Imp Plus, is a former human whose mind has been transferred into a ship or satillite of some kind, transformed into some posthuman state. It seems that his memories (of life, of words) have been altered or damaged, but he is slowly remembering and regaining his awareness of who he was, all while figuring out what he is now. It's a bit like waking up slowly, groggily, in an unfamiliar place. A tough read but I'm finding it rewarding; the notions of being in some bioengineered posthuman state and of being isolated in outer space are hellish nightmares for me, so watching this guy come to terms with it feels like it might be instructive in some fine-grained face-your-fears fashion.

Finally finished The Sopranos. Let me get out in front of the blogosphere with my thoughts on the final scene. By implying that Tony may be about to get killed, but may just be about to have dinner with his family, the show leaves us in a state not unlike Tony's every waking moment. If we're wondering if he's about to die a sudden violent death, we know what Tony has to wonder, all the time. Instead of leaving us with plot-point closure, the show leaves us with a final thematic point: a life of erratically applied violent punishment and retribution is likely to cycle back around at any moment. Just a matter of time. Like Morte Arthur, The Sopranos is full of fascinating lessons in the inadvisability of killing people.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hollering "Uncle!"

We saw a double bill of live entertainment last night. Part one was a folk music group with a former theatrical partner in crime on lovely lead vocals. Veddy nice, and well worth driving to Charlotte for. I'm no music critic, but tuneful, dulcet guitar picking, sweet vocal harmonies, the occasional burst of skilled violin playing... a joy.

Part two was a performance of Uncle Vanya. I should have known what it would be, because the crew that was doing it had made a name for itself with bootleg theatrical adaptations of nerdcore movies. As a recovered Monty Python and Tarantino reciter, I'd rather have bowel movements in public than subject myself to that kind of unimaginative nerd indulgence, but Uncle Vanya, I figured, just might bring out the ambition in Charlotte's budget theatre scene. The useless theatre opiner of record in this town wrote a typically slippery review of it in which he failed to come out and say that the show was a tedious misfire, so... there we were.

Stunt casting! A duo of brilliant local improv/theatre clowns were in the show, one of them playing Uncle Vanya, both of them providing the only relief. They knew how to suss out what their parts were about and inflect their performances with rocknroll manic brilliance that served, rather than undercut, the dramatic possibilities of the text. Everyone else delivered amateur theatrics in the saddest sense. I don't blame volunteer actors, though; they all seemed to be striving to the best of their abilities for something real, and good directors can get something real out of most anyone. Inept shmuck directors, though, becalm the actors and create the kind of artless phoniness we left at intermission last night. Chekhov's words can be dazzling if the actors discover the words and the meanings as they speak it while remaining focused on what they as the characters desire. This production, though, consisted of actors declaiming with no sense of interiority, waving their arms around, engaging in cheap pratfalls that didn't grow organically from or serve the material. Imitating humanity abominably. It often seemed that the director was conducting an R&D experiment, trying to find new ways for theatre to suck. I'm sure the director would try to pitch the whole mess (in fact he did, in his self-serving program notes) as pomo subversion, or Grotowskiesque, if he'd heard of Grotowski. Bollocks. Injecting jokes and pratfalls only works if it's done with Laurel-and-Hardy virtuosity and some sense of counterpoint; some sense of how the gags can illuminate Chekhov, even if only through artfully considered contrast. It was the worst theatre I've seen in Charlotte, and I've seen a few stink bombs.

As we drove home in the dark, a possum appeared in our headlights. It was neither crossing nor dead. It was writhing on its side, streaked with red wet blood, looking miserable. I swerved to miss it; probably would have been kinder to hit it and let it sleep. If I'd had wishing powers at that moment I would have wished for the possum and the director of that evening's theatrical entertainment to change situations, so the possum would be doing what it wishes in good health and whatever company a possum desires, while the director would be ending in unalloyed terror and agony. Too harsh? Yes. But it's what I would have wished.

Edit: Greetings, friends of the director who have found my blog! Yes, my last paragraph is way too nasty, and no, I don't actively wish suffering or death on the director; that was a description of a passing fancy, not a statement of long-term position. Beyond that, hey, it's a negative review. I've gotten 'em too.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Close Quarters

I was in a movie once. A locally produced comedy short. I don't think it's available anywhere, tho I haven't checked recently.

I was acquainted with the writer/director, and he cast me wildly against type as a nerd. (The premise of the film was that nerds who make computer viruses should be taught to play sports and woo women as a rehabilitation scheme, which makes more sense to me as the years go by.) My first day of shooting was to take place in the evening at a jail in a poor town. I didn't write down the address for the very good reason that I was a fool, so when the evening came I went to both jails in town and came up empty. The guards at both facilities denied all knowledge of a film shoot. The first jail told me how to walk to the second jail, anyway, and I traipsed the few blocks from one to t'other. On the way, with the setting sun turning the sky rosy, I passed a little house with a girl sitting alone on the porch.

"Mister?" she called out. "Where are you going?"

"To see some friends," I answered, which was kind of true.

"Can I come with you? Please?"

Well, I thought. That's one way to find out where the jail is.

Anyway, I pretended not to hear her because I was that smooth. Later I found out that they'd canceled the shoot without telling me in time, and it was at a third (closed) jail that I hadn't known about.

I finally made it to the musty old jail, where the cute women doing props and makeup took me on a tour of the crude pornographic graffiti they'd discovered in the urine-scented old cells. This was unsettlingly exciting. We worked almost till dawn. The next day we spent all day at a school filming (and I do mean filming; the director comes from money and was springing for 35 millimeter film, not the video so beloved of local shorts) one scene ofter another. A lot of the scenes took place outside, doing slapstick sports routines in the sun. The cute women who did makeup and props offered to rub suntan lotion on us and we all said no thanks. Clearly our brains were scrambled with sleep deprivation and sunstroke. That evening we were the color of fire trucks. Let that be a lesson to the would-be gentlemen out there: getting rubbed down by two lovely women is better than going to the burn unit.

Meals were provided by the director. This consisted of chips, honey buns, candy bars and soft drinks, because the director thought this would give us energy. I began to see the down side of amateur filmmaking.

The final scene for the evening involved the nerds learning to play "quarters," a drinking game in which one tosses quarters into cups of beer and then drinks them or something. I'd never heard of this silly thing; all my drinking game experience involved kissing and confessing. By now we were all like kindergartners who had replaced naptime with pixy stick time, so happily we weren't using real beer. We were using flat Mr. Pibb. Once we pushed through the sheer awfulness of this we discovered a strange ecstasy on the other side; we were directed to act as if we were bonding in drunken, manly fervor, and for one wonderful, sleep deprived, sunburned moment it was true.

The film went on to win the audience choice award for local short films at the local film festival, mostly because half of Birmingham was in it and came out to vote. I drank an unusual amount of stuff that wasn't flat Mr. Pibb and was very happy to hear from our director that the cinematographer had told him "Every scene with Aaron in it is gold." In return for this complement I hit on the cinematographer's wife.

Local film!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

No Comment(ary track)

Someone just Googled across my blog by searching "obama reptoid cocaine white house." In celebration of this heartbreaking goofiness, I'd like to confess something.

I haven't watched any new anime releases in years, but I recently heard that they aren't buttering up anime DVDs with nonsense like dub actor commentary tracks anymore. I was actually saddened, because when I lived alone I was all too fond of the dub commentary track to Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, disk one, episode three. The show is pretty entertaining, but watching it with the dub actresses chattering all the way through it was a nice simulation of hanging out with fun people. I know, it's sad. Some people need to be married.