Archive for December, 2010

Au Revoir, Mes Enfants

Friday, December 24th, 2010

It’s that time again. And this year, we’re doing the East Coast tour later than usual, launching Christmas Day and not returning  to Berkeley until practically mid-January. That means you’ll have to weather the early New Year without the deeply life-changing observations that you’ve no doubt become accustomed to as a rabid fan of this blog.


I’ll leave you with this: the Joan Rivers documentary. We watched it last night, with a little help from our friend Roku, and it was awfully sad, although not for the reasons that Rivers might think.

I haven’t read any of the reviews, but I wonder if anyone else sees it as a story of addiction? Her manager mentions workaholism, and other participants comment on her willingness to do almost anything for stage time. What comes through mostly clearly to me is Rivers’ bottomless need for external affirmation, coupled with unhealed wounds from early criticism that get activated with any negative reviews for anything she does. For example: She won’t open an autobiographical play in New York after receiving harsh reviews in London. (Never mind that the fans in London were ecstatic.)

I know it’s not easy to do what Rivers does; I don’t think you could pay me enough. And her tenacity is remarkable. She can’t, in a sense, be defeated. But still I see her as someone running, and running hard, from whatever is at the bottom of it all—whatever the real wounds are, wherever they come from. And that’s painful to watch.

She’s got guts, though. And lots of grit. And I hope she finds some peace.

And for the Record

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

I watched Angels in America: Perestroika. And, um. It was pretty much insufferable.

If you love it, can you explain to me your love?

Because here’s what I’m seeing:

  1. Way, way repetitive. There’s almost nothing in the second half that adds to the first. Points made, Kushner. I wish somebody had advised him to cut the work to a single evening.
  2. Silly, silly theology. What, it’s supposed to be news that God has abandoned us?* And . . .
  3. I always find it narcissistic when people view their tragedy, or their century, as evidence of God’s abandonment. As far as I can tell, there is no era of human history that wasn’t rife with injustice and suffering. So it takes your personal tragedy to make you doubt the presence of God?
  4. That’s not to say that AIDS  in the 80s wasn’t a hideous ravaging of a guiltless people. And I do see the bravery in Kushner’s having confronted it head-on, as early as the late ’80s (when he wrote it).
  5. But oh, the preachery!
  6. And why does he saddle us with the insufferable Louis, whose chickenshit intellectual posturing is not worth our time? Roy Cohn the Uber-Hater makes more sense as a character, because he, at least, is interesting.
  7. Too many visions! One or two will suffice!
  8. Too many drug trips! One or two will suffice!
  9. Prior’s mother and the angel was a big no-no for me. It’s laughable instead of funny. I want Kushner to have more respect for his character than that.
  10. Drag queen with a heart of gold. Ugh.

*For the record, that is not my theological position. Kushner didn’t invent the idea, is what I’m saying.

Sorry to be Ms. Negativo. I’ve just always heard these plays praised to pieces. And I’m not seeing it.

A Little Ditty on a Topic of Great Importance

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Automatic faucet,
you make me so mad.
All things about you
are totally bad.

You’re hot when I’m hot
and cold when I’m cold.
You clearly were fashioned
in a stupidity mold.

I can’t turn you on
without just the right spot
which is frankly a mystery
as often as not.

And then you turn off
before I can lather—
another big bother—
as surely I’d rather

be able to handle
the knobs on my own.
I know when I need you
and when I am done.

But you couldn’t care less
about what I need.
Thus I’m driven to drivel
via Internet screed.

Le Recent Culture Consumption

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Many a film, book, and show have gone unchronicled these past couple of months, mostly because I’ve been treading furiously just to keep afloat in a sea of work. But I’m now resting happily in the Boat of Much Accomplished, so I have time for a bit of a recap. Here’s some of the stuff I’ve been taking in:

The Extra Man: Jonathan Ames’ light comic novel, the film version of which apparently ran in theaters this year. (Where was I?) At any rate, the book is smart, stylish, and funny, with an enjoyably loving take on transgender prostitution, gigolo-ing (gigolotion? ew), and poor personal hygiene. It doesn’t add up to anything or ultimately even make much sense, but it’s a sweet little distraction. And it led me to Ames’ HBO series . . .

Bored to Death (Season 1):  It begins slowly, but I have patience for any vehicle starring Jason Schwartzman, Zack Galifianakis, and stylish Brooklyn cafes. (I’ve never been into Ted Danson, but he’s winning me over with this role.) Plus, the DVD had the first 4 eps. By the end of the season, with cameos from Sarah Vowell and John Hodgman, I was a convert. Again, there’s no trace of meaning to be found, but a sweetness suffuses the nonsense, and everyone’s lovable even when they shouldn’t be.

Amsterdam: I’ve read Ian McKewan’s first book and, now, his last five. Dude can write. But as I’ve said before, I tend to need breaks between, since his view of humanity is rather bleak. And contagious. The verdict here: Amsterdam is as unstoppably readable as the others, but it’s not as accomplished as anything that came after. The reason? A bizarrely unlikely plot twist at the end.

How do these things get by editors? Or are editors too intimidated to exercise that kind of censure? Maybe the back-and-forth gets exhausting and they surrender. Or maybe they worry about their jobs.

Tiny Furniture: Wow, Lena Dunham. You are doing brave and awesome things in this movie, particularly with your body. And it’s funny and smart and sad and real and knowing. (How do you know, you 24-year-old person?) I’ll be watching your next thing, whatever it is. (An HBO comedy series, I hope.)

Angels in America: Millennium Approaches (HBO version): So this is . . . a brilliant play, right? Because the movie is overwritten and pedantic and claustrophobic. The last is likely a function of its having been adapted from the play; that’s an occupational hazard of starting with the stage and trying to expand to the screen, I think. The first two . . . well, when Kushner errs, that’s how he errs, I think. (I keep saying “I think” because it feels presumptuous to criticize Kushner, but I kind of, well, sorry but yes, don’t always like him.) Anyway it did get to me, eventually, the thread of horror beneath all that chatter and bluster. And I’ll be watching Perestroika whenever the DVD gets here.

And finally, there’s . . .

The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills: Which I mention because I think it delivers exactly what the premise promises, i.e., the opportunity to simultaneously ogle obscene wealth and feel superior to the people who have it. And while the editors want us to laugh at Camille Grammer, which it is easy enough to do, I find her tender and sad and lost. (That baby-girl voice! Those skeleton eyes!)

I’m particularly struck by the atrocity of most of the marriages on the show. Was it Taylor who said that she has to keep up with her workouts and plastic surgery because her husband could leave her for a younger woman at any time? At any time? Which is exactly what Kelsey Grammar did. And that’s the reality that these women live with. And it ain’t pretty.

Beings of Cat-Dog Composure

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Every year at the beginning of Thanksgiving week, John and I head to Calistoga for fall foliage, wine-redolent air, and steamy outdoor mineral tubs.

(I’ve written previously about the cheese and the snow monkeys.)

And every year, we do mainly the same things—visit the same restaurants, take similar walks, and loll luxuriously about. As far as we’re concerned, there’s pleasure in routine, and we’re always happy to be deepening the grooves of familiar enjoyment.

But thanks to John and his spirit of adventure, we’re also likely to toss in one new thing. In 2009, it was a geyser. This year, it was a new route in our walk—which led us to an astonishing find.

This time, rather than heading directly north from our spa, we first went west. There’s a little more history closer to the highway, where the houses are older and some of the buildings historic. So for the first half hour, we kicked through fallen leaves and noticed what we liked best about the architecture.

A couple of miles in, the road took a sharp left, but a running path continued into the woods ahead of us. We saw someone head into it, so we followed.

And there we entered another world. There, instead of walking beneath a bright and open sky, we were shrouded in shade. And to our right, behind a rickety old fence, was an Italian villa. Or rather, there was what looked like an exact replica of an Italian villa. It was almost as though it had been disassembled, carted over on a ship, and reassembled in the middle of Calistoga.

There was no driveway or road access that we could see, so while we figured that we were simply looking at the back—complete with vineyard, carriage house, and iron filigree balcony, a la a certain pair of star-crossed lovers—the effect was even more surreal, like a fairytale castle plonked down in a cloud.

Nothing about it seemed to belong in America. It didn’t even seem to belong in this century. There was a grandeur-in-decay feel to it, as though it had been long abandoned. It was almost as though nobody could see it but us.

And then John said: “What are those animals?”

I was busy marveling at a grotesque tree, which had bulbous growths along the branches.

“What animals?” I asked.

J: Those animals.

M: Hmm?

J: Those cat-dogs. Sweetie, come here. You have to see this.

I tore myself from the tree and walked over to an opening in the fence, where he was standing.

He pointed.

And I saw them: two very still gray-brown animals, each sitting on a fence post.

M: Are they—real?

J: They look like statues, don’t they?

M: But they’re real?

J: What are they? I can’t tell.

They sat, patience on a monument. At the same time very alert, watching us as we watched them.

They sat. We watched. They sat. We watched.

What were they? They were like nothing we had ever seen.

And then one of them stood, swished its tail, and began walking away from us, along the fence.

It was lean and long, nothing like it had looked sitting, furry and full.

J: They’re foxes!

M: Wow.

J: They’re incredible, aren’t they?

M: Absolutely.

J: I couldn’t tell until it moved. Because the nose didn’t look narrow enough from the front.

M: Or the ears pointy enough, I agree.

J: But wow, huh?

M: Definite wow.

The other sat for a while longer, and then it, too, stood and turned to leave.

Thank you, wily and elegant foxes. And thank you, John Diller, for routinely bringing wonder to my world.