Better a Witty Fool than a Foolish Wit

Inner Workings of My Twisted Mind.

Didn’t We Have a Time? We Did. We Had a Time.

Okay, so I’m sure you’ve noticed that I usually write these little
rants or whatever we’re calling them and I don’t proofread or edit,
but this subject is just too important for me to leave anything out.
Often when I write these emails, I hit send and I realize that I
forgot to say a bunch of stuff that I really wanted to say, but it’s
too late, so I’ve been working on this one for a while now to try and
curb any potential mistakes.  This, as stupid as this sounds, may be
the most important rant I write, simply for the reason that I credit
this subject, to a large extent, with making me who I am today.  The
subject is a television show.  A television show that lasted only 19
episodes.  It is my favorite television show of all time.  It is the
show that made me love television.  It made me love television so much
that I decided I wanted to write it.  It made me realize the power of
television, of great television.  This show really did change my life.
It is called My So-Called Life.  And I’m aware that I wrote a rant
about the ’90s and didn’t include My So-Called Life, but it just
seemed like the show warranted its own piece of writing.  So here it
is.

Yes, it’s Claire Danes’ first real acting gig.  Yes, it was written by
the same woman who wrote the book for the Wicked Musical.  But to me,
My So-Called Life was so much more than that.  My So-Called Life was
my life on film.  It was the first time I really seriously saw how
right a piece of film could get it.  And really, as I look at it now,
it’s how I first sort of saw how my own writing would be because my
philosophy on writing, for T.V. especially, is that it should be
realistic.  I want what I write to feel real.  If I could write
something that means as much to someone as My So-Called Life means to
me, I’d be a success.

I guess I should start with My So-Called Life’s effect on my life.
Not my life as a writer, but my life as a young person.  The show
aired on ABC in 1994-1995.  I was in the sixth grade.  I, as most of
America, did not watch it then.  I watched it on MTV between
1995-1998.  That’s sort of indicative of my life back then, the fact
that I watched MTV pretty much non-stop. The fact that watching MTV
didn’t rob me of my will to live, as it does now.  But I digress.  I
just remember, in the time before TiVo, waiting the long arduous hours
until 7 pm everyday (when you get home from school at 3 pm, it seems
like an eternity).  By the time 7 rolled around I was bursting to
watch My So-Called Life.  I would record all the episodes onto a video
tape (yes video tape)  so I could watch them over and over and over
again.  In fact, I remember the first episode I ever saw was the
Halloween episode, where Angela dresses up like a girl from the ’50s,
and not like some caricature with a poodle skirt, she dresses like a
real girl from the ’50s.  She meets a ghost named Nicky Driscoll.  I
named the family in the script I’m writing Driscoll after Nicky
Driscoll.  I just remember, in that first viewing, thinking, what is
this?  It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.  It was like my
life on the screen.  And from that moment I was hooked.

Claire Danes’ Angela Chase is, in my opinion, the best character that
has ever been on television.  I am always amazed that Claire Danes as
a 13 and 14 year old could be so good.  I mean, she hadn’t experienced
much of what her character was experiencing and yet her performance is
so nuanced.  The slight unease when she is with her mother out in
public…what teenager hasn’t felt that?  The fact that her friends
are the only thing that matter.  I always loved the first line of the
series, ‘So I started hanging out with Rayanne Graff.  Just for fun.
Just cause it seemed like if I didn’t, I would die or something.’  I
mean, god, I think the feeling that if you don’t do something you will
die pretty much sums up my rationale for every single thing I did for
approximately a 10 year period.  Maybe I even still am like this.
There’s this certain part of me that thinks I’ll always be Angela
Chase.  That I’ll constantly be partially this total geek who can’t
function normally and partially this cool person that other people
mysteriously want to be around.  Since I seem to be in a truthful
mood, I’ll come out and say it: I’ve never really understood why I
actually have the friends that I do.  I never got why people thought I
was a cool person.  I still don’t get it, and it always amazes me when
people think I’m interesting.  And that’s the part of me that will
always be Angela Chase.  That overly self-analytical, introspective,
person who lives mostly in her head and is thus relatively clueless
about her own life.  What a fucking genius character to write!

Then there was Rayanne Graff.  I always loved Rayanne and always kind
of wanted to be her (much like Angela seems to sometimes).  She was so
uninhibited, which may have been caused by the fact that she was
always drinking, but still.  I, like Angela, always admired kids like
that.  It was before I realized that those were the kids that often
ended up as raging alcoholics and drug addicts.  Back then they seemed
so cool.  They didn’t have to care about school, it seemed like they
didn’t have parents, and that seemed so great.  I obviously realize
now that it’s not so great, but back then it seemed like the life I
wanted to be living.  No parents asking me about homework or how
school was.  No one saying I couldn’t go out because it was too late.
I so wanted that.  The thing about Rayanne was that A.J. Langer’s
performance of her was so free, and at the same time so full of pain.
I never really noticed all the pain when I was younger, but watching
the show now, you can see how much Rayanne wants to be Angela.
Rayanne’s pain is the pain that you didn’t see in those kids in High
School.  The pain of having absent parents, and not having someone
care if you finished homework or ate a well-balanced meal.  Rayanne
was a total mess, but she cared deeply about her friends so you could
sort of forgive it.  And she was so charismatic that you looked past
her bad behavior and saw a great person.

Then there was Ricky, who rounded out the core three group of friends.
It’s easy to forget now, but Ricky Vasquez was one of the first gay
characters on T.V.  And the way they handled it was super classy.
First off, he was the moral center of the show.  He anchored the other
kids in a sort of moralistic reality, and that was a pretty big step
for a gay kid to be the moral center of the show (seeing as being gay
is considered to be immoral in much of this country, especially 12
years ago).  I mean, this show was before Will and Grace, it was
before Queer Eye, before Ugly Betty, before Ellen, before T.R. Night,
it was before all the gay fashion consultants strolled the red carpets
(I mean, they were still gay, they just weren’t as obvious).  They
rarely talked about Ricky’s actual sexuality.  Angela mentions that
Ricky is Bi in the pilot and then it doesn’t come up again until like
half way through the series.  But Ricky would hang out in the girls
bathroom, fixing his eyeliner, chatting with the girls, and no one
really took any notice.  That doesn’t mean that they completely
ignored it.  I mean, you saw him get pushed around in the halls, you
saw him get beat up once.  It was a non-sugar-coated portrayal of what
it was like to be a gay teen in the ’90s in someplace other than San
Francisco, New York or L.A.  Ricky may have been one of the first gay
series regulars on a t.v. show, but to me, Ricky was what I wanted.  I
always wanted that thing that Angela, Ricky and Rayanne had.  Where
they had such an easiness about them, they were friends and they cared
about her and they trusted each other, and there was none of that
sexual tension between the boy and girls, because the boy didn’t want
them.  Angela and Ricky are by far a better and more realistic Fag Hag
couple than Will and Grace.  And that’s when I realized my true
calling.  I always wanted a Ricky.  And the first boy that ever came
out to me was Ricky Mendez.  Kind of poetic, no?

Of course you can’t possibly talk about My So-Called Life without
mentioning Jordan Catalano.  The moment he appeared on screen all the
girls in my generation took one giant step towards becoming women.  I
realized lately that I’m actually still most attracted to guys that
look like Jordan Catalano.  With the slightly long hair and that
choker he always wore.  Jordan Catalano was that guy that you wanted
that was so mysterious you just couldn’t stand it.  It’s like, you
just found out anything you could about that person and you came up
with all these little facts that amounted to pretty much nothing, but
to you they were everything.  Angela said it best, ‘I just like how
he’s always leaning. Against stuff. He leans great.’  I always thought
that line summed up that feeling perfectly.  It’s like, you take this
stupid insignificant thing and focus all your attention on it because
if you didn’t you wouldn’t be able to function.  I didn’t have my true
Jordan Catalano until I was 19.  He was 26, and his name was Brendan
Brown, and I knew all this random stuff about him.  Like that he loved
‘Queens of the Stone Age’ and he drank Miller High Life…I was too
young to see that as a sign.  And I, much like Angela Chase,
embarrassed myself over and over in front of him before I finally
realized that he just wasn’t worth it.  He was my Jordan Catalano.
And I loved him for that reason alone.  But even still if you talk to
a twentysomething woman about Jordan Catalano, we all get that far
away look, like, ‘oh yeah, he was amazing.’It’s that little girl
obsession coming back, and we’ll always have it. Like Angela says, ‘If
Jordan Catalano is nearby, my whole body knows it. Like one of those
dogs that point. I’ll keep talking and stuff, but my mind won’t even
know what I’m saying. I keep wondering if there’s a term for this.’

When I watch My So-Called Life now (which I do often), I actually
relate the most to Sharon Cherski, Angela’s former best friend, turned
kind of enemy, turned close friend again.  I went through like three
different groups of friends in High School (for various reasons) and
as I watched Sharon and Angela something about them always stuck with
me.  Again I defer to Angela Chase, ‘There’s the people who you’ve
known forever who know you in this way that other people can’t because
they’ve seen you change. They’ve let you change.’  That’s always the
way I felt about my oldest friends.  Sure I went through a few groups
of auxiliary friends when I was a teenager, but there were a core
group that I’m still friends with today.  They’re the ones that let me
change.  And the thing that was always so great about Sharon Cherski
is that you could tell she was so hurt by the fact that Angela
basically ditched her for Rayanne, but she held it all in.  When I was
13 and 14 watching the show I always related to Angela, and maybe I
was more like Angela back then, but now I’m actually more Sharon than
anyone else.  Sharon was the first to sort of sacrifice herself for
anything.  She was always doing a million things like yearbook and the
school play, but she rarely did anything for herself.  I loved the
scene when her boyfriend hadn’t asked her to the dance yet, and she
says that she has too much to worry about without having to worry
about whether or not her boyfriend is going to ask her to the dance.
It just seems like such an organic and natural problem to have, at
least it seems that way to me.  Just the notion that I’ve got too much
shit to deal with for you, who is supposed to be there for me, to load
more of it on.  The other thing that is totally awesome about Sharon
is that she is the good girl on the surface and underneath she’s got a
little bad girl in her.  Those are the most interesting people, the
ones who try to hide their bad girl tendencies in good girl clothes.

‘I became yearbook photographer because I liked the idea that I could
sort of watch life without having to be part of it. But when you’re
yearbook photographer, you’re, like, never in the picture.’  Brian
Krakow, the nerdy neighbor that was in love with Angela Chase, was the
beating heart of the show.  He was the overachiever kid who always
knew the answer in class but never in life.  Brian was just so
earnest, but at the same time he could be so judgmental.  I think that
was sort of the brilliance of the show, not any character was just one
thing, no one was purely good or purely evil, they were all shades of
grey.  And Brian was one of those kids that always tried to do the
right thing, the right thing that turned out to be the wrong thing,
much to his dismay.  What made Brian so endearing, but at the same
time so annoying, was his unending love for Angela.  She was so
infatuated with Jordan Catalano and barely realized that Brian was
infatuated with her.  Or maybe she did realize it and just didn’t
acknowledge it.  In any case, Brian’s unending devotion to Angela
drove the big thumping heart in the middle of the show.  The
realization, in the final episode of the series, that Brian wrote this
great love letter to Angela, a love letter that Jordan gave to Angela
pretending that he wrote it, makes me mourn for the lost story that we
will never see because ABC didn’t know how to market a show like this
to the public.

It seems like all ‘teen’ shows have one set of parents.  Teen shows
usually center around one family unit and everyone else doesn’t really
have a normal functioning family.  I guess no one really has a normal
functioning family, but if we are looking statistically at television
teen drama and the parental figures, it seems like the main teen
character has parents and the rest of the cast really doesn’t.  Like
90210 had Jim and Cindy Walsh, but all of the other kids parents were
conspicuously absent.  Dawson’s Creek had Mitch and Gail Leery, but
none of the other kids had parents that were around.  My So-Called
Life actually fits into this mold.  Angela has Graham and Patty Chase,
but Ricky, Rayanne and Jordan don’t have parental figures around.
Brian and Sharon allude to their parents and we see Camile Chirski a
few times, but none are series regulars.  Now from a business
standpoint I get this.  There aren’t that many interesting story lines
that involve other peoples parents, seeing as this story revolves
around the Chases, I just think it’s a funny sort of trend.

I also think it’s a good way to transition into talking about Graham,
Patty and Danielle (a.k.a. the Chase family).  Graham and Patty have
to be the most realistic portrayal of parents of teenagers ever, in
the history of television.  They play their relationship as adults
spectacularly, but the true success lies in how they play their
relationship with their children, especially Angela.  I mean, the way
Bess Armstrong plays Patty’s masked hurt at the fact that her teenage
daughter is rejecting her, in the way that teenagers do, is
impeccable.  I’ll admit that I always sided with Angela in that war.
I got that she just wanted to be free of her parents, but was too
young to see that she wasn’t fully ready to be free of them.  Also the
true mother/daughter bond/divide was beautifully portrayed.  Like when
Angela states that, ‘When I was twelve, my mother gave me my sex talk.
I’m not sure either of us has fully recovered.’  I haven’t fully
recovered from mine either Angela.

Graham was the definite foil to Patty.  Patty could be uptight and
domineering, while Graham tried to be the cool dad.  And yes, they
fought about this.  The thing I loved about Graham and Angela’s
relationship was how different it was than Patty and Angela’s
relationship, even in the teenage rebellion/rejection.  When Angela
rejects Graham she says, ‘When you’re not sure you trust a person
anymore — say, a person you really trusted; say your father — you
start wishing they’d do something, like, really wrong, just so you
could be right about them.’  And when she rejects Patty she is a
little more drastic, ‘Lately I can’t even look at my mother without
wanting to stab her… repeatedly.’  I just love that she
rebels/rejects both of her parents in such completely and totally
separate ways.  And I mean, who didn’t feel that way at fifteen?  Like
you just wanted nothing to do with either of your parents, but at the
same time you still needed them desperately.  Maybe that is the whole
basis for teen angst.

In any case, Graham and Patty, though they both can be judgmental and
uptight and catty are great parents.  They are involved and caring,
and the actors give wonderful performances where they, like the kids,
show, even through the masks they wear, the pain that they really
feel.  There’s a scene in the episode where Angela meets Rayanne’s mom
(who is really more of a kid than any of the kids), where Patty sees
Angela hug Rayanne’s mom goodbye and you can see, just under the
surface, that it really deeply hurts her that Angela would be so quick
to let this woman in, when she has been pushing her own mother away.
It’s so subtle and so beautiful that it would, were it real life, slip
right by.  That’s what makes the show believable, the fact that most
of what we see would, were it real life, slip right by.

Of course, the youngest Chase, Danielle is the perfect little sister.
She’s annoying, while at the same time she worships her sister and
wants to hang out with her sister and all of her sisters friends.  She
walks that fine line between being a child and being a teenager.  And
she’s just absolutely perfect.  I think my favorite Danielle moment is
when she dresses up like Angela at Halloween.  She does Angela so
well.  But I also love this moment she has with Sharon Chirski when
they both realize that they’d rather be doing what the other is doing.
Sharon would so much rather be out trick or treating, while Danielle
thinks it’s so cool that Sharon gets to go to a party with her
boyfriend.  That’s so poetic isn’t it?  We always look back at the
past as a better time, but when we’re young we can’t wait to be older.
And this show somehow captures that with nothing more than a longing
look from two different people.

So needless to say, the acting,  in a word, phenomenal.  And of course
Claire Danes and Jared Leto went on to be much acclaimed actors in
their own right.  But really, if we’ve learned anything from these
times of strike, strife, and woe in Hollywood it’s that you can’t have
a great performance without a great script.  I think what really made
the script so wonderful was that a) they really talked like teenagers,
I loved Dawson’s Creek, but really, who talked like that? b) they
thought like teenagers, and c) there were realistic plot lines.  I
mean, I don’t feel like I’m reaching for the stars to ask for a show
where the plot somehow reflects something that may happen to real
people.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love the Grey’s Anatomy, but
really, what plotlines on that show resemble anyones real life (with
the exception of Meredith’s daddy issues)?  The writers of My
So-Called Life just had this way of writing that summed up everything
a teenager feels in one sentence.

As I have stated previously, I started watching this show in the
beginning of my teenage years.  So of course that’s when I was at my
most self-conscious, and my most awkward.  I don’t quite remember when
this happened, but I also was one of those kids who always knew there
was more out there.  I wanted more than my small town had to offer.  I
always knew that…it may have been the reason I was so miserable in
high school.  But there was one quote from My So-Called Life that may
sum up everyone’s experience in high school, be it good or bad: “It
just seems like, you agree to have a certain personality or something.
For no reason. Just to make things easier for everyone. But when you
think about it, I mean, how do you know it’s even you? And, I mean,
this whole thing with yearbook – it’s like, everybody’s in this big
hurry to make this book, to supposedly remember what happened. Because
if you made a book of what really happened, it’d be a really upsetting
book.”  I guess what amazes me so much is that I can’t think of any
show that has ever got it as right as My So-Called Life gets it, and
I’m not just talking about adolescence.  I can’t think of a single
show (except maybe thirtysomething and who wrote that?  the same
people that wrote My So-Called Life) that really just has its finger
on exactly what a certain group/demographic of people are thinking and
feeling.

I have to say, on a personal level as well, My So-Called Life did that
thing that great writing, be it literature, television, newspaper or
otherwise, it made you feel.  It made you feel like you weren’t
totally crazy for the fact that, “I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The, like, fact that — that people — had sex. That they just had it,
like sex was this thing people — had, like a rash. Or a — a
rottweiler. Everything started to seem like, pornographic or
something. Like, Mrs. Krysanowski has sex. So does Mr. Katimsky. They
both have sex. They could — have sex together. Like right now. I am,
like, the sickest person.”  I mean come on.  I remember when that
realization first dawned on me…and it was exactly like that…that
realization that people have sex.  And sex became this ultimately real
thing that I could one day be partaking in, not just something I saw
in a movie or on t.v. where people make out and then it cuts to them
lying in bed, out of breath.  The show really laid it all out there.
I just can’t say enough about how good the writing is.

So I’ll talk about the music instead.  A few weeks back I wrote about
the ’90s and how good it was to be a ’90s kid.  I wrote specifically
about music.  Well, My So-Called Life had the best music.  It had
music that was so indicative of the times.  More so than Dawson’s
Creek, more so than The O.C., perhaps even more so than 90210, which,
I’ll admit, had some awesome Color Me Badd – tastic music.  There are
three scenes in particular that really stand out to me.  One was when
Angela is once again sad over something Jordan Catalano related
(specifically, it’s when the rumor that she slept with Jordan gets
spread around), and as her mom walks in to give her a rather awkward
and painful safe sex talk (what other kind of safe sex talk is
there?), she’s blasting the Cranberries’ ‘Dream.’  C’mon, kids of the
90’s, who didn’t blast this song in their room at least once?  I loved
that album, I loved the Cranberries, Dolores O’Riordan was the most
awesome person ever.  I always thought that it was the perfect, ‘I’m
depressed over a boy’ song.

The second scene is one of my favorites.  The song actually plays over
two different scenes, one depressing, one hopeful.  It’s Buffalo Tom’s
Soda Jerk.  The first time the song plays is when Jordan, after they
start dating, totally disses Angela in public.  But then it plays
again in that magical scene in the hallway when Jordan goes up to
Angela (she’s supposed to be in a geometry review) and he holds her
hand, and she forgets all about the geometry review (please, I forgot
about it the instant Jared Leto came on screen).

The Third song was my favorite song for much of the early ’90s (it was
in direct competition with ‘Come As You Are’ by Nirvana), a little
song titled ‘Blister in the Sun’ by The Violent Femmes.  When Angela
thinks (for about 5 minutes) that she’s gotten over Jordan Catalano,
she dances around to it in the morning before school.  Love it.  Love
it.  Love it.  God that was a good show.

Alright, so the music rocked, the acting rocked, the writing rocked,
and the cinematography rocked.  Cinematography is usually not too high
on the list of important elements in a t.v. show.  The DP (Director of
Photography or, as you know them, cinematographer) is in charge of
maintaining the look of the show, and, though I’m sure you all have
better things to do than notice this, most show usually have pretty
simple shots.  First you have the master (that’s the shot where
everyone is in it, it’s usually from far away) then you move in close
and cut between the people in the scene.  If there are two people in
the scene you start with a two shot (the one where you can see both
people) and move in for coverage (in other words get up close and cut
between the two people talking).  Most t.v. shows, especially now,
don’t do oners (that is a one shot, or a longer shot where there is no
cutting).  My So-Called Life employs this over and over and over
again, and that makes the show, a) technically amazing, and b)
visually different, and awesome.  The best shot of the series,
however, occurs in the pilot.    At the end of the pilot when Angela
and Brian meet in the middle of a street.  You might recognize the
shot from a little movie called Jerry Maguire.  Cameron Crowe admits
that he stole the shot from My So-Called Life.  You know the shot when
Renee Zellweger (before we knew who she was) runs into the street to
meet Tom Cruise (pre-crazytown) and there’s this great master shot
with the fabulous backlighting.  Yeah, that’s right folks, my man Cam
stole that from My So-Called Life.  Welcome to Hollywood…that’s how
we do shit here.

And My So-Called Life was a happy accident that slipped through the
cracks for 19 glorious episodes, and much like James Dean or Marilyn
Monroe, it didn’t last long enough to fade or lose any of its
innocence and attractiveness.  And that is both its blessing and its
curse.  And I love it.

Peace, Love, and “You know how sometimes the last sentence you said,
like, echoes in your brain? And it just keeps sounding stupider? And
you have to say something else just to make it stop?”  That’s my whole
life.  Why do you think I keep writing?

Julia

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December 3, 2007 Posted by | Cameron Crowe, Gay/Lesbian, Grey's Anatomy, High School, Hollywood, Music, My So-Called Life, Sex, Television | 2 Comments

Look under your bed, it’ll set you free.

Okay, you were promised a countdown, and, much like me I’ve gotten off
track. But I’m back with the number 1 movie of all time. Well,
actually, it’s not really my favorite movie of all time. So I guess
the time has come to end suspense of why exactly I have 5.5 favorite
movies. I have tweo competing favorite movies of all time and
depending on what context I’m asked in I might say one or the other.
This film, that I will write about in just a moment gets second
billing only for the reason that it was not as influential in my life
and in my generation. Don’t worry, you’ll hear all about that one
later, but as for this movie, the actual better of the two, it’s
something that’s very near and dear to my heart. Like the other
movies that I’ve said something about previously, I’ll try not to
repeat myself, but I seriously love this movie and it’s hard not to
gush ad naseum about it, so I’ll try to keep this interesting.

So my favorite movie of all time (sometimes) is Almost Famous. Yes
we’re back to Cameron Crowe. He’s my favorite writer (the Coen
Brothers are my favorite film makers). I love Mr. Crowe dearly
because he got me through high school with Say Anything and Jerry
Maguire. But he got me throught college with Almost Famous. I have
the special edition of Almost Famous which is called Untitled : The
Bootleg (also known as the Directors cut). It’s almost 3 hours long
so it wouldn’t have really appealed to a theatrical audience, but it’s
definitely the version to watch if you’re a fan of the movie. I was
watching the commentary on this untitled version the other day and
Cameron Crowe says something very interesting about the film, well,
actually he says a lot of interesting things about the film, but one
of them is that the film was all about capturing the feeling of the
time. Sure it captured emotion and human interaction, but really what
you should take away from Almost Famous is the feeling. It’s that
feeling when rock was still subversive, when rock was still cool, when
it was mysterious and mythic. Those rockstars of the seventies were
the hercules, the beowulf, the napoleon of their day. These gods who
told us what we were feeling before we even knew we were feeling it.
I look at that time as the last time rock was truly pure. When it was
really about good music, and not solely about money. And you’ve got
to hand it to him, Cameron really did capture that feeling.

Most of that feeling is really all Kate Hudson. She plays Penny Lane
as a person who really truly is a groupie (or band aid) just for the
music. Like, she just loves the music so much that she has to tour
with the bands…and have sex with them. When the logic is written
out it doesn’t really make much sense, but in the film, she is
absoultely magnetic. You just can’t help but love her and you can’t
take your eyes off her.

I also have to say the costume designer and art department also get
major credit for making the movie feel authentically like the ’70s. I
wasn’t even there and I know it seems authentic.

I could wax poetic about how amazingly awesome Kate Hudson’s
performance is, but really you should just rent the movie. I could
also wax poetic about how amazingly awesome Frances McDormand is, but
if you’ve seen any of her movies, you probably already know — I was
watching Fargo the other day and dear lord is that movie awesome. And
yes, the writing in Almost Famous is awesome. And the directing is
awesome. And all the actors rock.

But really, what I want to talk about is the seamless way in which the
film really lets us into this world of rock and roll. Unlike most
rock movies where you are simply witnessing the action, Almost Famous
really brings you in and says, come stay awhile. It’s a thank you
note to rock for being there through the good and the bad.

I think that’s where the movie really gets me. It is basically a
movie about how music touches people, but it’s not some shmultzy music
of the heart shit, it’s like real, this is how music effects regular
people’s lives, stuff. I love that it’s not an uplifting movie about
kids from a bad neighborhood that are changed by music (though I’m not
saying that those are bad, or not important). Almost Famous is about
a kid who loves music and gets to live out every kid who has ever
loved music’s fantasy. It’s definitely amazing that the story is
true, but it kind of doesn’t matter. It’s all about loving music.
That is the one thread between every single character in the movie,
even as the interpersonal relationships get muddled, they still all
love music. One of my favorite scenes in the movies is where Philip
Seymour Hoffman (playing Lester Bangs, the famous rock writer) is
talking about how because the war is over, it’s a dangerous time for
rock and roll, there’s not as much to sing about that really means
something. The scene fades into Penny Lane dancing alone to Cat
Stevens’ The Wind in a now empty arena after a concert. I just think
that says it all. She’s the one who will always love rock and roll
for being rock and roll. As William says in the end, “she was the
biggest fan.”

And that’s what Almost Famous is to me. Sure it’s made of great
acting, great writing and great directing. And, as I’ve said before,
my favorite scene in movie history is the ‘tiny dancer’ scene. But
really it’s all about loving music, and really that’s all I’m about.
I’m all about loving music, and the feeling that it gives us when we
love a silly piece of music so much that it almost hurts. That’s
Almost Famous.

Peace, Love, and being Hooked on a Feeling,
Julia

November 7, 2007 Posted by | Cameron Crowe, Movie Reviews, Movies, Music | Leave a comment

I Gave Her My Heart and She Gave Me a Pen.

Howdy boys and girls,
I’m back from a week of non-stop work followed by a week of
vacation…..what? That’s right, I said it…Vacation. I was on
vacation. It was the first time since college (actually since I went
to India 2 years ago) that I’ve had more than a three day weekend
where I wasn’t working or going to school. I went to the PNW (Pacific
Northwest) to see off one of my best friends as she goes to grad
school. It was a little bittersweet, but fun. And I have a tattoo on
my ass to commemorate it.

This however, isn’t the point. Two weeks back I promised a list and I
only did number five. So here we go again kids. Number four in
Julia’s top 5.5 movies of all time is………………………..SAY
ANYTHING. Ah, John Cusack, Ione Skye, John Mahoney, Joan Cusack, Lily
Taylor and (of course) Cameron Crowe, my hero.

So like six months ago I wrote an email about Cameron Crowe and how he
is my god. I’ll try not to repeat myself too much when talking about
Say Anything, but one thing I will reiterate is that this movie, Say
Anything, is the main reason I decided to try and write movies. This
movie evoked so much in me and touched me so profoundly that I thought
to myself, if I can move some lost kid somewhere half as much as this
movie has moved me, then I’ll truly be a success. And my philosophy
on movie making is that if you touch even one person, you’ve succeeded
somehow. So Cameron Crowe is a success in my book.

Anyway, I think what I love about Say Anything is that it’s a truly
romantic movie. And no, this isn’t the other romantic comedy on the
list. I mean, Say Anything is romantic, and parts are funny, but it’s
not really a movie I would put in the genre of Romantic Comedy. The
romance of the movie really comes from one place, Lloyd Dobbler. This
is John Cusack’s best role, the role of Lloyd Dobbler. He is
basically every woman’s dream in this movie. I mean, he’s sensitive
(he points out some glass to Ione Skye so she doesn’t step on it as
they’re walking down the street), he’s sweet, he’s committed, he’s
understanding. He’s everything most women want.

But it’s not just Lloyd’s relationship with Diane Court (Ione Skye)
that makes the movie. He and his sister, played by his real life
sister Joan, share a great and realistic potrayal of a sibling
relationship. They fight, they joke, they’re there for each other
when shit goes wrong. They’re real siblings. Sure you could argue
that it’s not really acting, but any actor will tell you that the key
is chemistry. Basically, if you don’t have chemistry on screen, the
acting will suffer. However, chemistry is a tricky thing. Richard
Gere and Debra Winger absolutely hated each other in officer and a
gentleman. Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd could not stand each
other (the reason moonlighting ended). Then again, Ben Affleck and
J.Lo. had no chemistry in Gigli, even though they were dating. So the
fact that John and Joan can play such real siblings talks more to
their acting ability than their status as siblings. And this
relationship is the anchor of the movie. It’s the one relationship
that is unmovable throughout the film.

I first saw Say Anything around the time I was graduating from high
school. And if you all remember back to that time, that’s usually the
time when you finally start realizing that your parents aren’t
perfect. Throughout most of your childhood you look at your parents
as perfect, but there’s a certain point when you realize they’re just
as messed up (actually usually more so) as you are. And I think that
even over the great romance between Lloyd and Diane (which I’m getting
to), this is my favorite part of the film. Diane’s realization that
her father is far from perfect, in fact, he’s a criminal, is just
amazing. The way the two actors play it, where John Mahoney is lying
to his daughter, where Ione Sky finally wises up and her whole world
starts crashing down. I mean it’s this act, this relationship that
leads to Lloyd and Diane making it work for real.

So at the beginning of this little email I said that I don’t think Say
Anything is a romantic comedy and I stand by this. But that is not to
say it’s not a romantic movie. In fact, it does have most of the
elements of a romantic comedy, I guess you could also call it a high
school movie seeing as the characters are both graduating from high
school, but the film really transcends all of these labels. I mean,
Lloyd is not your typical high school boy. He doesn’t want to pursue
a career where he buys, sells or processes anything. He doesn’t want
to buy anything sold or processed, sell anything bought or processed,
or process anything sold, bought or processed. And to top it all off,
he’s a kickboxer…sport of the future.

Diane, on the other hand, is valedictorian. She’s never done anything
wrong in her life. She’s never done anything, except study. Show of
hands, who can relate? I can I can. I wasn’t the valedictorian or
anything, but I can definitely relate.

Usually, in high school movies, the valedictorian is a total dork who
has no social skills whatsoever. Lloyd Dobbler is the freak who won’t
give up on the girl he likes. These two are not the typical romantic
leads of a high school movie, nor are they the romantic leads of a
romantic comedy. That’s what makes Say Anything such a unique film.
Cameron Crowe takes all these tropes from a variety of different film
genres and makes them something so unique, so original that it’s hard
to not love it.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Cameron Crowe is a genius.
I mean, not only did he create these wonderful characters, but there
are some great lines in the movie. My favorite is the title of this
email. When Lloyd and Diane break up at one point, Lloyd is standing
in a phone booth (remember those?) in the rain, talking to his sister
and he says, ‘I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen.’ This is
where Cameron Crowe’s genius comes in he just sums everything up in
one line, and it’s not even that profound of a line. I think that’s
the best kind of line, the one that’s not contrived, that seems like
any normal person would say it, but that sums everything up in it’s
utterance. That’s why Cameron’s the master; and that’s why Say
Anything is the fourth best movie ever.

Peace, Love, and Lloyd Dobbler,
Julia

September 19, 2007 Posted by | Cameron Crowe, High School, Movie Reviews, Movies | Leave a comment

Here’s a Theory for You to Disregard

So automatic bonus points to anyone who can name what movie I stole
the title from (though I’ll tell you at the end of this email).

Hello again folks.  I’m working in an office today which naturally
means I have very little to do and thus will torture you people with a
long email about something I’m sure you could care less about.  I’ll
preface this by saying that it is currently 9:30am, I was awoken by an
all too chipper song sung by both my precious parents at 6:22am, and
seeing as today is my birthday, I went out for drinks last night and
am currently a little fuzzy.  Plus, am only one cup of tea in this
morning so the caffiene that usually makes up for about half my
bloodstream is currently idling at approxametly 1/15 of what I’ll
actually need to keep me awake and somewhat coherent today.

That being said I hope all is well in whoville, down here in L.A. I’m
freezing my ass off (I think the temperature is actually in the 50’s
and I’m none to happy with that), but other than that all is well.  My
bestest friends took me to the Hard Rock Cafe (my favorite) for dinner
last night and as the Jimmy Buffet song goes, I made mine a Hurricane
(which was damn good).

But that’s not all that has happened to me in the past few days.
Friday turned out to be a rather exciting day.  I wasn’t expecting it,
but on friday a miracle happened.  I know, I know this is modern times
there aren’t supposed to be miracles (that line is shamelessly ripped
off from Moonstruck), but on Friday I came (almost) face to face with
the reason I became a writer.  His name is CAMERON CROWE.

Ok, so I didn’t really meet him and he actually wasn’t even near me,
but I found out where he works and will now shamelessly stalk him
until he realizes my untapped genius.

Now, I know many of you are going, Cameron who?  Is he related to
Russell Crowe?  So, for the record he is in no way related to Russell
Crowe (who is a good actor, but not even in the same realm as my man
Cameron).  Nope, Cameron Crowe is a writer and a director.  He started
writing for a little magazine called Rolling Stone in the ’70’s and
then went under cover in a high school in the early ’80’s.  From his
experiences there he went on to write a book and then a little movie
you may have heard of called ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High.’  Fast
Times was the first Cameron Crowe movie I ever saw and I never looked
back.  Of course Amy Heckerling who directed Fast Times (as well as
Clueless which is my all-time favorite movie, and yes I really did
just admit that) is a freakin’ genius so that helped the movie.  But
really, Fast Times was the first time that a teen comedy tackled big
issues. I mean sure, there were other teen movies in the ’80’s (lord
knows John Hughes was king back then, and what a benevolent monarch he
was.  I wouldn’t survive without the Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles,
or Ferris Beuller) but Cameron was telling it how it really was.  Fast
Times doesn’t have the constant drama of the Breakfast Club, or the
lighthearted fluffiness of Sixteen Candles.  It combines the two.  I
mean in the same movie you have Jeff Spicoli (made Sean Penn a star)
and you have Jennifer Jason Leigh getting pregnant by some guy who
completely ditches her when she goes to get an abortion.  You just
don’t get much better than that.  Plus, if you look very very closely
you’ll see a young Nicholas Coppola (before he was Nicholas Cage)
roaming around in the back of All-American Burger.  ‘Aloha Mr. Hand.’

Next up for Cameron was my second favorite of all his movies, and
quite possibly the best movie of the ’80’s.  It’s definitely in my top
5 favorites because in this movie, the world was introduced to Lloyd
Dobbler.  Let’s take a moment for that, I know I just did.  John
Cusack is the fucking man.  The movie, if you haven’t gotten it yet,
is called ‘Say Anything’ and it’s fantastic.  Cameron’s directorial
debut and I must say, it’s the best romantic comedy ever.  But it’s
not really a romantic comedy.  And please, who wouldn’t want to become
a writer when Ione Skye breaks up with John Cusack and he says ‘I gave
her my heart and she gave me a pen.’  That is pure fucking genius.
This is the movie that made me want to make movies.  It made me want
to write movies.  When he holds that radio over his head and plays
Peter Gabriels ‘In Your Eyes’ I want to sit down and just write the
best screenplay ever.  So thank you Cameron Crowe.  But again this
movie isn’t just surface fluff and that’s what’s great about it.  It’s
about growing up and realizing that your parents aren’t perfect.  That
your dad could be a criminal.  That the most untouchable girl in
school really hasn’t been touched.  It’s about realizing that the
weird guy who is into kickboxing: sport of the future, is really the
sweetest guy on earth.  It’s about not wanting to ‘buy, sell or
process anything…not wanting to buy anything sold or processed, sell
anything bought or processed or process anything sold, bought or
processed.’  It’s about waiting for the ding.  And you’ve got to watch
the movie to know what that means.

Cameron’s next movie is actually the movie I saw last.  I didn’t see
this movie until this year, but fell in love with it instantly.  You
see, much like John Hughes, Cameron Crowe is a hopeless romantic.  But
he’s a romantic in a realistic way.  Bridget Fonda just wants a guy
that says ‘bless you’ when she sneezes.  And you know what?  When
looking for love in the ’90’s that’s a tall order.  Cameron’s ’80’s
movies are about falling in love in high school, having sex too young,
and getting your heart broken only to have the peices sewn back
together again, but in the ’90’s he wrote Singles.  Singles is about
what happens when you’ve been crushed so many times that it’s hard to
put yourself out there again.  It’s sex and the city in seattle and
not just about women.  Plus, it’s Cameron who, I’m pretty sure doesn’t
have a cynical bone in his body (have no idea why I love him so much,
since I’m a cynical cow).  Anyway, Singles is set against the grunge
rock scene in Seattle (always listen to Cameron’s music choices
because he knows music like no one else.  I’ll get to why in a little
bit).  And Kyra Sedgwick is a fucking gem.  She’s so good in this
movie and the guy that plays her love interest says the best line
(possibly of all time) when he shows up at her house unexpectedly and
says ‘I was just nowhere near your neighborhood.’  I mean come on,
that’s pure genius right there.  Not to mention this movie has the
best cameo apperances of all time.  Matt Dillon is the frontman for a
band called Citizen Dick and the rest of his band are Pearl Jam.
That’s right Eddie Vedder in his acting debut in this movie, doesn’t
get much better.

Ok so Cameron’s next movie was one I’m sure you’ve all seen.  A little
film that launched Renee Zellweger’s career (though when she played
the slutty girl in Empire Records she captured my 13 year old heart),
called Jerry Maguire.  That’s right, Mr. Crowe wrote and directed that
one, and I can forgive him for casting Tom Cruise because he wasn’t as
big a douche bag back then (though I’m pretty sure that’s only because
he had a good publicist back then).  I can’t, however, forgive Cuba
for winning the Academy Award for best supporting actor when Edward
Norton should have won for Primal Fear.  There’s just no contest.
Even so, Jerry Maguire: Great fucking movie.  There’s a myriad of
unforgettable lines that have become so ingrained into our culture we
forget that they’re from that movie.  ‘Show me the money.’  ‘You
complete me.’  ‘Help me, Help you.’  And my personal favorite, ‘You
had me at hello.’  I mean, remember how you felt when she said that.
You went, that was the absolute most perfect thing to say in that
situation.  ‘You had me at hello.’  I was, of course, a sobbing mess
at that point.  Tears running down my face and whatnot, but good god,
it’s a great movie.  And the music in that movie is absolute
perfection.  Bruce Springsteen’s Secret Garden, Free Fallin’ by Tom
Petty.  Enough said.

Okay, so Cameron’s masterpiece came along unexpectedly.  It’s second
in my movie rankings only to Clueless and that’s only really because
Clueless changed my generation.  But Almost Famous is an absolutely
perfect movie.  There is not one thing wrong with it.  The acting is
Superb, Kate Hudson may have been robbed (though Marcia Gay Harden was
wonderful in Pollack) and Frances McDormand is a gem as always as
William’s neurotic mother who thinks that Simon and Garfunkle are
poets of drugs and promiscuous sex (which might actually be true).
But in this absolute work of artistic perfection Cameron tells his own
story about being on the road with bands like the Allman Brothers as a
15 year old kid.  That’s when he started writing for Rolling Stone
magazine.  Patrick Fugit as William is a genius, he’s so vulnerable,
so young and wide-eyed and impressionable.  And Kate Hudson absolutely
steals the show.  She plays the ‘band-aid’ Penny Lane.  There are
times when the camera doesn’t leave her and she goes from laughing to
crying back to laughing.  You watch her crack and then put up her hard
groupie shell.  Jason Lee (from the Kevin Smith films and ‘My Name is
Earl’) as the lead singer of Stillwater is a rockstar in the worst
sense of the word, but lord does he play it well.  Not to mention the
numerous supporting actors like Anna Paquin (academy award winner for
the piano when she was like 12 or 13), Faruzia Balk and Zooey Deshanel
(watch her because she’s gonna be a huge star).  And of course, Mr.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs.  If you don’t know he won a
nice little statue of that naked guy last year for playing Truman
Capote in Capote.  And he speaks the line I used as my title.  But the
best part of Almost Famous is the use of music, and the portrayal of
music as the higher power.  When little William plays Tommy by The Who
with a candle burning so he can see his future, I got goosebumps.
After the movie I immediately went out and bought Joni Mitchell’s
Blue, Tommy, Led Zepplin, and the movie soundtrack.  But the ultimate
scene is after Billy Crudup spends the night on acid and ends up on
the roof of a house loudly proclaiming ‘I’M ON DRUGS,’ when he gets in
the tour bus and Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’ starts playing.  One by
one everyone on the bus starts singing along.  And William tells Penny
‘I have to go home.’  She looks at him with that sweet Kate Hudson
face and says ‘You are Home.’  Gets me every time.  I’ve seen this
movie probably about 300 times (I used to watch it once a day when I
was in college), and still that scene makes me cry every single time.
It’s the perfect scene in the perfect movie.  So thank you Cameron
Crowe.

There are two other Crowe movies (Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown), but
I have to end with Almost Famous because it’s the best and because I
don’t have that much to say about these two seeing as I haven’t seen
one of them and only saw the other one like twice (which means I don’t
really remember it).

In any case, Cameron Crowe, living legend, and on friday I delivered
mail to his office.  He wasn’t in his office, but as I stood there
with sweaty palms and shaking hands, handing his assistant some peice
of mail that probably wasn’t all that important I felt a sense of home
wash over me.  This is where I’m supposed to be and this is why I
chose to write.

So wherever you are, Thank you Cameron Crowe and maybe one day I can
write movies that make people want to write movies too.

Love you all,
Have a great week.

Julia

P.S.  Movie Review of the week.  Get out the door and go see
Dreamgirls because it’s fucking amazing and Jennifer Hudson is going
to win the Golden Globe and maybe take home an Oscar.

My other Oscar prediction.  The academy is going to make up for thier
mistake in giving Hilary Swank an oscar for Boys Don’t Cry (don’t get
me wrong she was awesome) over Annette Benning in American Beauty (but
she was better) by giving Ms. Benning a statue for Running with
Scissors.

June 14, 2007 Posted by | Awards Shows, Cameron Crowe, Hollywood, Movies | Leave a comment