Better a Witty Fool than a Foolish Wit

Inner Workings of My Twisted Mind.

And the Oscar Goes to…

So it’s my favorite night of the year and it’s coming to an end.  For me at least, for all those fools that won some big award it’s only just begun.  That’s right, on my way home from my friend’s house, I passed many men and women in fancy attire sliding glamorously out of black SUVs.  I said it last year, and I’ll say it again, it’s the weirdest thing to live in L.A. on Oscar Night.  Really it’s the weirdest thing to live in Hollywood.  

So here’s how my day went.  I got to work at like 8:30 (I traded shifts so I could get off in time to watch the ceremony).  Starting at about 8:35 the celebs started to pour into the bookstore.  John Waters, Randy Quaid, the guy nominated for best animated short, all milling around booksoup looking for books to read in the three hour limo line they have to wait in before getting out on the red carpet.  
Well, needless to say I was antsy and when 4:30 rolled around, I got my pizza and my beer and headed over to my friend Dan’s house to enjoy the festivities.  It must be said that Dan lives on Sunset and La Brea, the Oscars are on Hollywood and Highland.  Basically, he lives about three blocks away.  So as I was driving to his house I saw the good year blimp, a few dozen helicopters an lights lights lights.  
I also said this last year, but what I really love about the Academy Awards is that they remind me of why I love film so much.  This year, being the 80th Anniversary there were film clips of all the actors, actresses, directors and best pictures that came before these 80th ones.  These were my cry moments.  Watching Grace Kelly, Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Barbara Streisand, etc. in their moment of Oscar glory definitely brought more than one tear to my eye.  I thought that those video tributes were great.  
Before I go into highlights I must say that in the days leading up to Oscar I’d been talking with people about how excited I was, many of these people either work in the industry or want to work in the industry (i.e. they are writers who haven’t written anything…or anything good).  And there was one, rather appalling, trait these people had in common.  They all seem to disdain the Academy Awards.  Now this actually seems to permeate throughout many of the people I’ve met who work in and around Hollywood (not the city).  A lot of people who work in the industry seem to fucking hate movies.  Maybe they just like to put on a front, maybe they’re jealous, I don’t know, but I think that a love of film is a must for people who work in film.  Just my opinion, feel free to disagree.  Many of the people that I know hated almost every film that came out this year.  They hated No Country, they hated Juno, they hated There Will Be Blood, and I don’t care what you think of the actual story, but these are great films, they are indicative of great filmmaking.  I mean, whether or not you liked Juno, it combines excellent acting, an excellent script, and excellent direction.  Same goes for No Country For Old Men.  Same goes for Charlie Wilson’s War.  They are all great movies, it’s okay if you don’t like them.  I just never seem to get over the shock that so many people that work in or want to work in a certain industry would find such disdain for very talented people.  
Now the other thing that people were saying about the Academy Awards is that they are self-congratulatory bullshit.  Um, hello, it’s true.  But they are fun to watch.  I guess I have a problem with this too though.   I mean, this is essentially the film industry giving awards to excellence in film.  They also do this in literature, you may have heard of the Pulitzer or the Booker Prize.  So what, because it’s film it’s self-congratulatory.  Because people have more interest in seeing stars than in seeing Denis Johnson, the Oscars are not worth watching.  I’m sorry folks but that’s just the society we live in.  We all love watching the stars, we love watching them in their moment of Oscar Glory (and if you think about it there are only 4 acting awards so why are people so hot and bothered about actors patting each other on the back…actors are a small percentage of the people who vote for the Oscars).  I’m sorry, but again I have no patience.  The Oscars are a tradition, they’ve been around for 80 years now.  Just like teaching awards or world series champions, Oscar winners are (according to the Academy) the best in their profession, it just so happens that people like to watch these awards shows…and really is it surprising that the Awards show for Entertainment is Entertaining. That’s what I thought.
Now, on with the show.  Jon Stewart was amazing and hilarious and political, but not too political.  His joke about whenever a Black man or a Woman is President an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty, hilarious.  He brought up the writer’s strike, but didn’t alienate anyone, ehem producers, and welcomed everyone to enjoy Oscar night as the proverbial make up sex (though I’m sure later tonight there will be some not-so-proverbial make-up sex).  Katherine Heigel looked amazing, but shouldn’t have been there.  Amy Adams sang beautifully.  Kristen Chenoweth also sang beautifully and I love her so much, she’s so cute, but it was hard for me to watch her sing a Steven Schwartz song that wasn’t from Wicked, but oh well.  
The big upset of the night was Tilda Swinton winning Best Supporting Actress, which even I didn’t see coming.  I was pretty certain they would give it to Amy Ryan or Ruby Dee.  That being said Michael Clayton was the one movie I didn’t see this year so I can’t really talk.  In all honesty, I had the chance, I just didn’t quite care to see it.  
Some highlights of the best moments of the night.  When Marion Cotillard won I was super freaking excited, and, if you saw the looks on all the female actresses faces, they all thought she should’ve won too.  And it’s true.  I finally saw Away From Her last week.  Julie Christie was great, Marion was better.  She absolutely transformed herself.  It’s kind of crazy.  So anyway, exciting.  I loved that Dario Marianelli won for his Atonement score.  The movie is worth watching just for the score and the 5 minute plus oneshot that takes place on the beach in Dunkirk (not to mention it’s kind of good).  I loved that Helen Mirren ‘Knighted’ Daniel Day-Lewis when he won his Best Picture Oscar.  Of course I cried alot when Diablo Cody won.  And let’s take a moment for the poetry here.  The Academy is made up mainly of white men who are older than God.  Diablo Cody used to masturbate in front of people for money.  Thank you very much that’s called beauty.
Also, I love that they kept cutting to Laura Linney whenever a moving moment was happening.  What was that about?  I guess everyone else in the audience had botoxed beforehand so they didn’t have any expressions?  
I was definitely excited, but not shocked that Javier Bardem and Daniel Day-Lewis won.  Really, no one could touch them in this race, they were too good.  I also loved that the Coens were finally paid their dues.  They took home three Oscars.  Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture.  I’m sorry, they deserved it.  That movie was fantastic.  I also would like to add that I thought it was really cool that Cormac McCarthy was there.  If you don’t know, he’s normally a recluse.  But apparently he’s only a recluse when not going to the Oscars or the Oprah Winfrey Show, which, in a weird way, I totally respect.  
I loved that they let the lady who one for best song from Once back on the stage after they played her off.  I thought it was really classy of the Academy to let her make her little speech.  I mean, for many people you only win one so you’ve got to grab your moment. 
The most interesting moment to me was in the Best Picture category when Mr. Rudin who is generally known in Hollywood to be completely nuts came off as a really nice guy.  Apparently he’s a nice guy in his personal life, but there are stories of throwing laptops at assistants heads, leaving assistants on the side of the highway and saying you’re fired, walk home, etc. etc.  I always find it fascinating how people can have such a dual personality (this seems especially true in Hollywood).  
All in all it was a great Oscar ceremony.  My only disappointment was that Persepolis lost the Best Animated Feature category. It was amazing and so much better than Ratatouille (yes, I said it).  I loved watching the film actors try and fail to read off of a teleprompter.  I loved watching Diablo have her moment (I’d be lying if I said I always think that maybe someday I’ll have my moment up there on that stage).  Once again, I was reminded of why I love film.  It’s the moments where we truly celebrate how great this particular art can be.  So until next year remember, We’ll Always Have Paris, Good Night and Good Luck, Here’s Looking at You Kid, Hello Gorgeous, I’m ready for my close up Mr. DeMille, I’m Finished.  And if you didn’t like the Oscars then all I can say is Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. 
Peace, Love, and Little Naked Gold Men (who weigh a lot), 
Julia

February 25, 2008 Posted by | Awards Shows, Coen Brothers, Hollywood, Los Angeles, Movies, Music, Oprah Winfrey, Oscars, Parties | Leave a comment

Elitism and the Kindle

I was reading the New Yorker the other day (that’s right, I’ve kept to that little resolution, thank you for the subscription Steve) and there was an article about school kids and how they are reading at an all time low.  Basically children are watching ‘educational’ DVDs and other interactive games instead of reading.  The New Yorker gave the statistic that these kids who are doing this stuff instead of reading have an exponentially lower vocabulary than kids who are reading.  The article doesn’t knock the DVDs and interactive games as a supplement to reading, but they definitely don’t replace reading. 
 
Basically the article went on to say that at the rate we’re going in the future (a somewhat closer future than we may imagine), if we haven’t caused the earth’s ecosystem to completely collapse and we’re still around, there will be an elite reading class of people, and the rest of people will be pretty much functionally illiterate.  The Others will be able to read things like email and they will be able to write, but they will not read books.  They simply won’t.  There will be a class of people that does read literature and everyone else will be basically Movie and TV watching, Blackberry text speaking drones. 
 
Needless to say I found this article to be beyond disturbing.  As long as education stays somewhat above water I am assuming that this will not be the case, but still.  The fact that many people don’t read for pleasure is an alarming fact.  I never really thought about it until I moved to L.A. and made friends out here…some of whom don’t read.  I’ve never had a friend that didn’t read for pleasure. Never.  And I guess I’m actually the weird one to have a pretty reader friendly family.  Even those of you (read dad) who read mostly crap still read.  And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to end up in some sort of uber-reader class of people.  Not to mention the fact that I don’t want to write anything that I can’t refer to other works of literature in; it would actually make it extremely hard to define certain things if you couldn’t call something that was Dickensian, Dickensian.  
So to coincide with this article, the Amazon Kindle has been making news waves as well.  If you don’t know what the Kindle is, it’s like an electronic reading machine.  You can download books to it, you can get a daily newspaper on it, you can order magazines on it.  It’s pretty cool in theory.  My problem is that I like my material books.  I love them in fact.  I like the satisfying feeling I get when I shut the last page of a book.  Also, as a good lit student, I write all over my books so that doesn’t really work on digital screens.  Right now it seems that the only books available on the Kindle are either recommended by Oprah Winfrey (you know how I feel about her) or on a Bestseller list.  Well, that’s all fine and dandy except for the fact that, generally speaking, books on bestseller lists in this country are crap.  I’m sorry, but David Baldacci and Patricia Cornwell are not books that I want to read.  By my logic, at the rate this Kindle book thing is going, we are not only going to have a non-reading group of people, but we will have a group of people that only read trash.  Yeah, I’m elitist when it comes to literature.  But I’m sorry, I have no respect for authors who write the same story with different characters in it over and over again.  That’s just a lack of imagination.  I can understand exploring the same themes from different angles, but the same story over and over, that’s no fun….it’s like CSI or Law and Order….BORING!!!
Sorry, got off topic there a little bit.  Anyway, the way I see it, the Kindle is trying to be like an iPod for books, but the great thing about books, unlike music, is that it actually is a material object with words on a page.  And let’s think about this for a second, when we’ve destroyed the planet and cockroaches are the only things left, and some other species of humanoid-like creatures, discovers books and a rosetta stone like key to decipher the different alphabets, they will be able to read what we’ve read.  That doesn’t work with the kindle if the battery has died after 6000 years.  And even duracell can’t claim that kind of life.
Peace, Love, and Elitism for All, 
Julia

February 21, 2008 Posted by | Books, Culture, Literature, Music | 3 Comments

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

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

STRIKE!

Hey guys,

I’m half way through my next favorite movie review, but I’ve recieved a couple of questions about this so I’m going to do a big update on the WGA (Writers Guild of America) strike.  I’m on the writers side in this fight, and not just because I want to be a writer.  Basically, the writers are getting screwed (what else is new?) and here’s why.  So think about this.  In the past seven years the tv on dvd sales have gone from nothing to astronomical.  TV shows on DVD sell as much, if not more, than movies on DVD.  Shows like 90210 or Dynasty or any show that was created before this TV on DVD phenomenon did not contract writers or music or anything of the sort for DVD distribution because it didn’t exist.  That’s why many older shows have different music than was originally aired: they have to renegotiate and pay for the new music licensing.  But that is beside the point.  Basically, when it comes to writers, they don’t make any royalty money from DVD sales.  I’ve heard that Ed O’Neill from Married with Children makes upwards of $50,000 per month in royalties, but the writers make nothing.  That doesn’t seem fair. 

Now the other issue at hand is T.V. on the Internet.  I definitely utilize this, but I don’t know how many of you guys do.  Here’s an example.  I watch Heroes on Monday nights from 9-10 on NBC, but I also really like Samantha Who? which airs on Monday nights from 9:30-10 on ABC.  Five years ago, I would have to choose, but now I can watch Heroes live (or on the Tivo) and I can watch Samantha Who? at work on Wednesday.  TV shows air online for a period of time after their original air date, but writers do not get paid royalties for this.  They get paid royalties for reruns on network and/or cable television, but not for TV on the internet.  Now, if you are a staff writer on a show, I’m not saying that you’re necessarily aching for money.  I mean, if you get story and teleplay credit (meaning if you write the story and the script) you get paid $30,000 but you might only write 3 or 4 of those in a season, and even then you might not be writing both the story and the teleplay, meaning that your earnings are greatly decreased (to approx. $10,000).  That being said, I know this seems like a lot of money, and it is, however, this is also compensation for the fact that you spend 14+ hours a day in a writers room.  You can also imagine that this means that writers depend on royalties for a source of income. 

So that’s what they’re striking about.  There was rumor that SAG and the Teamsters union (the actors and the transportation union) were going to go on strike with the Writers but that hasn’t happened…and you can bet, if it did, the negotiation would be over.

Finally, the big question, how will it effect you?  Well, in the immediate present it will effect only talk shows.  Talk shows like David Letterman and Jay Leno rely on writers for the opening monologues as well as some of the other bits that go into the show.  I haven’t heard word on whether these shows will go to reruns until the strike is over or whether there will be new, but truncated episodes, you’ll have to watch and find out.  I’m not sure how this effects Reality T.V. if at all.  That may seem strange, but I assure you Reality TV is heavily scripted, I just don’t know if they use union writers.  I assume they don’t, and thus assume that Reality TV will be relatively unaffected, though the hosts will have nothing written to say.  That’s right kids, Ryan Seacrest is not clever enough to think up his own lines during American Idol.  Scripted Television might be effected if the strike goes on long enough.  Some shows have taped the vast majority of their seasons already in anticipation of the strike.  All shows have at least a month of camera ready episodes ( a.k.a. scripts that are totally finished and ready to be shot) so they can hold out for at least a month before they hit a problem.  Some shows are completely done filming for the season (everybody hates chris wrapped a month ago and lost is almost done with their season that hasn’t even started airing yet).  Feature films shouldn’t be affected at all seeing as executives have been stockpiling scripts for the past six months.  I know Paramount has stacks of scripts that they’ve acquired and are ready to be shot.  As I hear it, because we don’t have television, Paramount stands to actually make money from the strike….maybe they’ll give me a raise?  Nah, never gonna happen. 

There will, most likely, be effects in the distant future that are, as of yet, unpredicatble, but my psychic power have recently dissappeared.  I’ll talk to Professor X and see what I can do about it.  In the mean time, I hope this answers all of your questions.  If you have more, feel free to ask me, but I think I’ve imparted all my information to you. 

Peace, Love, and Good Writing,

Julia

November 5, 2007 Posted by | Hollywood, Music, Television | Leave a comment

Now this is a Story all about How….

Sorry ’90’s kids, I just got that stuck in your head.  And for those of you who aren’t ’90’s kids, well you missed out.  Don’t worry, you will find out the top 1.5 movies of Julia’s favorites, but I’ve been pondering weak and weary on this subject for a few weeks now and thought I’d let you in on the crazy wanderings of my freakish mind.

It all started one day with a little R.E.M. song called ‘Losing My Religion.’  I was driving to Booksoup and Losing my Religion came on the radio.  Suddenly, goosebumps sprang up all over my body.  Now, this is something that is not all that uncommon.  It happens during great scenes in movies (in fact, that ‘I too can command the winds sir’ speech in the trailer for the new Elizabeth movie gets me good), it happens during great scenes in T.V. (the Ross and Rachel break up in Friends gets me good), and it happens especially in great theater, I erupt in goosebumps at least five separate times while watching Les Mis, and Rent, well, it’s embarrassing.  But it’s never really happened during a song I’ve heard eighty million times, and one that’s not connected to some sort of story line.  My mind had been sort of orbiting around a concept, but I hadn’t quite put my finger on it, until that exact moment.  The moment R.E.M. gave me goosebumps, it all slammed together in my head.  I think that ’90’s kids (a.k.a. Kids who grew up in the ’90’s so were born in the early ’80’s) have it made.  We’ve got the best deal.  I mean, we grew up at a time that had the best of everything. 

Think about this.  We are young enough to remember Bush the 1st and we were born when Reagan was president, but the president we truly remember throughout our childhood was Clinton.  We grew up when health consciousness was strong, but not crazy like it is now.  I mean, we didn’t have atkins or south beach when I was a kid.  You just ate your veggies and your parents kicked you out of the house to play after school.  We grew up before the great germophobia happened.  I mean, most kids today are weak and sickly because their parents are constantly squirting that anti-bacterial shit on their hands.  I ate dirt.  I fell out of trees.  I broke toes like they were going out of style.  And now I’m sick maybe once a year, if that (and last time I was sick it was food poisoning).  I mean, we had the good cartoons, we had the good music, we had the good movies, we got to see what a real president is like.  That’s right, I’m going out on a limb and saying it.  The 1990’s was the best time to be a kid (and a young adult)…and here’s why…

Like I said, we had the best cartoons.  Now those of you that grew up in the Looney Tunes era may fight me on this, but trust me, ours were better.  See we had the Looney Tunes.  We got to see Bugs and Daffy and Road Runner and Coyote, but we were also born into the Era of Nicktoons.  That’s right those of you younger than I.  I remember when Nickelodeon first came on the air.  I remember the advertising for Nicktoons (before they ever aired) and best of all, I remember the delightful sunday mornings (that’s right SUNDAY mornings) when I sat and watched Nicktoons.  Some of you, I’m sure, are wondering, what the hell is she talking about nicktoons, what are Nicktoons?  Ah, yes.  Well, Nicktoons gave us gems like Ren and Stimpy, Rugrats, Doug, Aaah! Real Monsters, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Hey Arnold.  These were truly great cartoons.  I mean, sure Spongebob Squarepants is great, but he’s got nothing on Ickis, Oblena and Krumm from Real Monsters.  We also had the non-Nicktoons, that were awesome.  I mean, when I got home from school there were Animaniacs with Pinky and the Brain, there was Batman the Animated series, there were Gargoyles.  It was a good time for cartoons.  Plus, as we grew up, we got the good adult cartoons.  I mean, we were around when the simpsons started (and was great), but we also got Beavis and Butthead (the music video portion is still, arguably, the best critique on music video to date), we had Aeon Flux (please don’t watch the film, it’s horrible and nothing like the cartoon), and my personal favorite (also my halloween costume this year) Daria, who came from Beavis and Butthead and got her own show.  Basically, Daria was me in high school.  She hated everyone, she was smart so everyone hated her, and she just wanted to get the hell out of there, but she was super witty and awesome and I love her.  I was also in love with her best friends brother, Trent.  Trent is the only cartoon I’d ever consider sleeping with.  In fact, I’m pretty sure he sparked my own sexual awakening…is that wrong?

So that settles it then, ’90’s kids had the best cartoons.  But it wasn’t just cartoons, we had the best television in general.  When I got home after school, I watched Blossom.  Who can forget the beautiful denim hats with a huge flower on the top (pre-sex and the city huge flower accessory, hmmm, wonder where they got that idea from?).  Plus, Blossom always talked about the real issues, her boyfriend hit her in one episode, her brother was a recovering drug addict.  These were real issues, it wasn’t that ‘Leave it to Beaver’, ‘My Three Sons’, ‘Brady Bunch’ kind of crap.   When I got home after school, I watched Full House, the Fresh Prince (the theme song is the beginning of this email, and everyone my age can sing the entire thing.  Don’t ask unless you really want to hear the whole song, but I will sing it for you) and Family Matters, sure they didn’t deal with issues (not big ones anyway), but they were great for their time.  The early ’90’s was the hey day of TGIF.  For those of you who don’t know, this was the ABC friday night extravaganza.  When I was 11, this was the thing to do on Saturday night.  This is when Full House would air new episodes, but it was also home to Boy Meets World, Mr. Belvedere, Step by Step, Family Matters (remember steve urkel), and eventually Sabrina the Teenage Witch (oh, Melissa Joan Hart, please come back to work).  And by the mid-’90’s Friday night was X-files night.  I mean, what other generation can claim that these were the shows we grew up with.  Of course, I’m leaving out the golden two and I’ll get to those now.  These were the shows that every single person my age knows.  Even if you didn’t watch these shows, you couldn’t really escape them. 

Drum roll please (they get their own paragraph).  They were Saved by the Bell and Beverly Hills, 90210.  Oh, my little ’90’s girl heart still gets all twittery when I think about Zach Morris (I was a Zach girl), Dylan McKay and Brandon Walsh.  I scratch what I said about Trent the Cartoon being my sexual awakening…Luke Perry with his James Dean haircut and that rocking Porsche was the real moment I first said, ‘Woah!’  I still, to this day, want a porsche or a mustang because that’s what Dylan McKay and Brandon Walsh drove, respectively.  I don’t know if that’s great product placement, or a symbol of how imprinted those fictional characters are on my soul.  Storytelling, be it books, movies, music or television, has always been my kind of religion.  I go to these media for solace, to feel less alone, to experience things I have never and may never experience.  And 90210 was my first foray into the Television aspect of storytelling.  It was my first television addiction, the first show I couldn’t miss.  And even though I started watching it in the third grade, all my friends were exactly the same.  It was our version of water cooler chatting, we had the swingset chats about Brenda, Brandon, Kelly, Dylan, Donna, Steve and David.  Sometimes Emily Valentine.  And eventually Valerie Malone.  Oh yes, Tiffany Amber-Thiessen was the goddess of the early ’90’s.  On a side note, she came into the bookstore once and I got so excited my palms started sweating.  I mean, she was Kelly Kapowski, the good girl who loved Zach (who didn’t?) on Saved by the Bell, and then was Valerie Malone, the resident bitch after Brenda left on 90210.  And what a beautiful reign it was.  Saved by the Bell, though super entertaining now, was the show that everybody watched.  We watched it on Saturday mornings like we were at temple.  And boy did we love it.  The thing that never ceases to amaze me is the fact that ’90’s kids still know the plot lines.  And I don’t mean big plotlines like Who shot J.R.?   I mean like the stupid little, only happened briefly in one episode plot lines.  We still quote it.  Saying ‘I’m so excited’ to a ’90’s kid does not, in our minds, end with, ‘and I just can’t hide it.’  No no.  It ends with ‘I’m so excited.  I’m so excited.  I’m so scared,’ from the episode where Jessie gets addicted to caffiene pills (becuase they couldn’t use real drug references on the show).  We remember the words to the music video Zach, Slater and Screech were in.  These were shows that had an impact on the whole of the youth of the ’90’s.  Like I said earlier, even if you didn’t watch them, you still knew them…you still know them.

Now, it’s a little bit harder to argue the movie aspect, because, in truth, ’80’s movies are hard to compete with, as are the classics, but the ’90’s were a renaissance in film.  I mean sure there are iconic movies in every decade, but usually they are iconic of that decade.  Movies like Valley Girl or  are iconic of the ’80’s but a lot of people I know have never seen it.  Just as the Rock Hudson/Doris Day movies are iconic of the the late ’50’s/early ’60’s.  Sure we all know this, but really, when’s the last time you popped in Pillow Talk?  Basically, what I’m saying is that there are certain periods when a whole mess of movies come out that become iconic.  And they seem to come out around the same time.  The late ’30’s/early ’40’s saw ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘Gone with the Wind,’ and ‘Casablanca’ (among others).  The Late ’60’s/early ’70’s saw ‘The Graduate,’ ‘Easy Rider,’ and ‘Bonnie and Clyde.’  The ’80’s had John Hughes movies and ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High.’  The ’90’s had ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ ‘Titanic,’ ‘Pretty Woman,’ ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ and ‘Ghost.’  And in the ’90’s there was a distinct shift within the business of making movies.  Because in the ’90’s we were introduced to the concept of the Independent Movie.  Nowadays we take this for granted, but sometime when you’re bored go on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website and look up past oscar winners.  Now, I’m not saying that any of these movies were bad, but before about 1994 movies were nominated based on their box office appeal moreso than their actual status as great movies.  I mean, Chariots of Fire won over On Golden Pond and Reds.  This all changed in 1994.  Now, I’m not saying that the Academy doesn’t still pick blockbuster movies, but times are definitely a-changing.  I didn’t just pull the date 1994 out of my ass; a very important thing happened in 1994: PULP FICTION hit the ground running in 1994, and it completely changed the face of film.  Bob and Harvey Weinstein became underdog heroes for financing and distributing this movie (and they were very daring to allow Tarantino final cut on the movie…that would never happen now).  Pulp Fiction opened the flood gates and by the late ’90’s independent movies took up 2 or 3 of the five best picture nominees (in 2005 all the films nominated for best picture were independent films).  Now I would never ever say that The Usual Suspects, Pulp Fiction, or any other indy movie of the ’90’s are better than other decades movies (in fact, many of the indy movies blatantly steal from older movies…think American Beauty with Sunset Boulevard), but I’m just saying we’re a pretty lucky crew, us ’90’s kids.  I mean sure, we had Titanic (the highest grossing movie of all time.  Please, we all saw it in the theater multiple times), but we also were privy to a revolution where talent and quality filmmaking won out over box office success. 

Now one area where I think we ’90’s kids lost is in literature.  There are some notable exceptions: My favorite book of all time, ‘The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,’  for instance.  We also had Dave Eggers, Chuck Palahniuk, and John Krakauer, but really there are few notable, will last for a long time, kind of books that came out in the ’90’s, the first few Harry Potter books are a giant exception, but we’ll see how their staying power is.

The penultimate category I’m going to cover is other crap.  In other words, all the little things.  As I mentioned earlier, my mother never had antibacterial purel stuff, and it is my opinion that I’m all the healthier for it.  Now, I have no facts to back this up, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  I mean I bled for hours from my nose before my mother took me to the emergency room for them to tell me I had fractured it, and maybe that was irresponsibile, but I thank my mother for doing that because it made me tough and strong and independent, perhaps to a fault.  And maybe that example is strictly personal, but it seems that with this, as Barry Glassner calls it, ‘Culture of Fear’ that we live in, it’s getting harder and harder to steer away from overprotectiveness and irrational fear.  But it’s not just this other crap…I’m taking the plunge, I’m saying it.  We had the most awesome toys of any generation.  Now, hear me out.  We had all the soon to be confiscated toys: Slap Bracelets, Pogs, etc.  We had the Bedazzler, we are just old enough to have puffy painted our keds and to have worn gigantic shirts and tied them at the side with that plastic dohickey (or for those of us who didn’t have the puffy painted plastic dohickey, we tied our shirts with scrunchies).  There are embarrassing picutres of us with crimped hair, but we were not old enough (or long enough in the ’80’s) to have done anything crazy embarrassing, like dress like madonna in everyday life, or have an actual flock of seagulls haircut.  Sure we wore overalls with one strap unhooked and our backpacks over just one shoulder, but I never wore a polyester jumpsuit or a turqoise puffy sleeved prom dress with a side pony tail.  So I’ll give you the fact that I wore ripped jeans, doc martens, and flannel shirts (I’m wearing one right now actually), but ’90’s fashions were never, and I mean never, as embarrassing as ’80’s fashions or disco fashions.  Yes, once again we ’90’s kids scored.

So I’m going to round out this tome with the subject that started it all:  MUSIC.  Yes, music is the glue of the ’90’s kids world.  Because we, like the generations before us, but unfortunately not the generation after us, were blessed to grow up with great music.  We started life Like a Virgin with Madonna, and by the time we were growing into our own muscial tastes we had a spectrum to choose from.  Guns N Roses was the band of 1990/1991 (and anyone who doesn’t love Appetite for Destruction, I can no longer talk to) but my first real love was actually hip hop.  I know, I know, the past 12 years of my life have been dedicated, almost exclusively, to rock of all kinds, but I was a street little 10 year old and I loved Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle (of course, I was too young to know what either of those titles meant).  Plus, we had the whole, T.V. music tie in on one of my favorite episodes of 90210, when Brenda, David and Donna go to a hotel and meet Color Me Badd.  Oh yes, it still gives me shivers.  I always laugh when I think of the fact that I was 10 and singing ‘I wanna sex you up’ at the top of my lungs.  And, of course, let’s not leave out Boyz II Men (abcbbd) and the Motownphilly.  But the end of my hip hop road came along with a blonde guy from seattle named Kurt Cobain.  Yes, we ’90’s kids not only saw the birth of hip hop, we also saw the birth (and death) of grunge.  We were the grunge kids, dancing in the mosh pit, coming as we were, we smelled like teen spirit.  But only for a few years, before we were crushed by Kurt’s death.  I still remember that day as one of the worst of my life.  It was the first celebrity death I ever cried at (the only other was Joey Ramone).  But Kurt brought out the whole seattle scene.  I mean, Jane’s Addiction, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, it was just a great time for music.  And even the poppy crap was still good.  Smashmouth, Blink 182 (the early stuff), Sugar Ray, I mean, who didn’t just want to fly in 1998.  Plus, we had Sublime, Weezer, No Doubt (circa Tragic Kingdom), Bush (god I loved Gavin Rosdale), the Sneaker Pimps, Porno for Pyros, it was just a great time for music.  The likes of which can only be compared to the late 60s/early 70s.  And because we weren’t involved in anything like Vietnam, our music of the ’90s was about society and how messed up it was/is.  We didn’t have to protest a stupid war back then, so we could focus on ourselves, on our problems.

And that is why being a ’90s kid is the best thing ever. 

Peace, love, and Yo homes smell you later, I’m off to sit on my throne as the prince of bel-air,

Julia

October 29, 2007 Posted by | Books, Hollywood, John Hughes, Movies, Music, Oscars, Quentin Tarantino, Sex and the City, Television | 1 Comment

Fuck Me Your Majesty!

I know, I know. It’s inexcusable to be incommunicado for so long, but
I’m very sorry. I’ve been working lots of T.V. shows which means no
access to a computer. But I’m back and you might actually be
recieving two emails today because I have a few very important things
to talk about. First though, I promised a movie countdown and we’re
on to number 2 in the final countdown.

So here goes. My second favorite movie of all time
is…………AMERICAN BEAUTY. I can remember exactly where I was for
almost all movies that have had a profound impact on my life. I can
remember what theater, who I was with, I can remember my frame of
mind, it’s a little weird, but whatever. American Beauty will always
stay with me as a movie that just got it right. Now I know a lot of
people that think movies should be an escape. Why go see a movie that
portrays how miserable life can be? And I totally get that arguement,
I just don’t agree with it.

The brilliance of American Beauty is how spot on it is. It’s a real
portrayal of a real American family. Who doesn’t know people like
this? People who like to pretend that everything is great, when
everything is falling apart. And the amazing part of this movie is
that this theme permeates all the characters in a variety of different
ways. From Annette Benning (who was totally robbed of an Oscar for
that performance), to Kevin Spacey (who deserved his Oscar), to Chris
Cooper (hello, who knew he had it in him?) and Allison Janney (is
there any role she can’t play?). American Beauty is the perfect
movie.

It starts out in the Sunset Boulevard type of noir
narrative…basically, it’s narrated by a dead guy who tells you he’s
dead, and takes you from a turning point to his death. I love the
noirish aspects of the movie: we hear everything from Lester’s (Kevin
Spacey) point of view, it’s a dark view of life (a.k.a. it’s
realistic), and the true mystery is who kills Lester Burnham, which we
find out at the end in a huge climax.

But that’s not enough to make it my favorite movie ever. I mean, I
love noir movies but none of them are in the top five. I think it’s
really the movie’s catchphrase that says it all…Look Closer. That’s
the thing about this film is it’s really all about what we are
underneath everything. What are we beneath the labels and the facade
that we put on for the rest of the world? And everyone does this,
everyone has some side of front that they put up in public, but what
are we beneath all that? American Beauty really explores this.

We all know that Annette Bening and Kevin Spacey were absolutely
flawless in those roles, but I want to talk about the other adults.
The underrated ones. Chris Cooper and Allison Janney are amazing in
their roles. Allison Janney is someone I always associate with
comedy. The first roles I saw her in were 10 Things I Hate About You
and Drop Dead Gorgeous, both comedies, both of which she’s
ridiculously hilarious in. I’ve seen Drop Dead Gorgeous about 8
million times and I still practically pee myself every time she comes
on screen with her Minnesota accent. But in American Beauty she is
silent almost the whole time. She stares off into space blankly, she
says very little, but when she does speak it’s always something like
‘would you like some bacon?’ She’s like a ghost. That performance
is so amazing it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

Now, Chris Cooper had definitely been lauded for his performance…you
might want to skip the rest of this paragraph if you haven’t seen the
movie. As I was saying, Chris Cooper has been lauded for his
performance, but he’s always overshadowed by Kevin Spacey. And sure,
Kevin Spacey was great, and yes he’s the lead, but Chris Cooper plays
the best uptight military man there is, and makes the best turn around
in film history. I mean, who sees it coming when he kisses Kevin
Spacey at the end of the film. It’s just amazing, and the
vulnerability in such a tough man is…I mean, that’s not easy to do.

As great as the adult actors are, and they are great, I always
identified with the teenage characters. I mean who hasn’t felt
completely embarrassed by their parents in one way or another (as most
of you know my parents live to embarrass me and try to do it whenever
possible). But also, as a teenager, who hasn’t been swayed by their
friends opinion, who hasn’t tried to fit in. At the beginning of the
movie there is a great scene where the two girls (Mena Suvari and
Thora Birch) are cheerleading, but they aren’t paying attention to the
basketball game at all, nor do they care what is going on. This is
the perfect example. They think they are supposed to be cheerleaders,
but they don’t give a crap about basketball. And of course, there’s
the big reveal, where we find out Mena Suvari’s character is a virgin,
even though she’s been talking about how much sex she’s had throughout
the entire movie. I love this because I know plenty of people who did
something like this in high school, exaggerating how far they’d gone
or what they’d done. It just rang true to me.

I remember leaving the theater (the Cinema 9 to be exact) with my mom
and both of us couldn’t speak. We just kind of blankly walked out of
the theater looking like deer in headlights. And I remember after
that first viewing being very struck by the relationship, or
infatuation, between Kevin Spacey’s character and Mena Suvari’s
character. I mean, it just seemed so wrong. But after my twentieth
viewing or so I now see everything differently. Now there are more
themes and instances that I find poignant. I love the humor.
American Beauty contains one of the funniest lines in cinema…I’ll
give you a hint, it’s the title of this email. When Annette Bening is
cheating on her husband with the real estate king she yells this out;
I pretty much think it’s the funniest line ever. The thing that’s
amazing about the use of humor in American Beauty is how it goes from
these great funny moments, to total seriousness. The best example is
when Annette Bening in her slip chants ‘I will sell this house today’
quickly turns into her breaking down and then slapping herself in the
face to try to stop crying. I mean, that scene alone should have won
her the oscar.

And I can’t talk about the film without talking about he music.
Thomas Newman’s haunting score really sets the tone for the whole
movie. It’s full of chimes and xylophones, which have a sort of
hollow sound. They’re rich but they almost lack a center. Isn’t that
a great metaphor for the film.

American Beauty is one of those films that has only gotten better and
more poignant the more I’ve watched it. It gets more poignant the
older I get. It gets richer and richer the farther I get into
‘adulthood.’ Even though it’s not my favorite movie of all time, it
may actually be the best movie of all time.

“Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t
take it…and my heart is going to cave in.”

Peace, Love, and Rose Petals,
Julia

October 18, 2007 Posted by | Gay/Lesbian, Hollywood, Movie Reviews, Movies, Music, Oscars | 1 Comment

Fag Hags and Drag Queens and Judy Garland, OH MY!

Okay, so I know I promised to do a top five countdown and I promise I’ll get back to it, but I have to write about the most excellent adventure I had the other night at the hollywood bowl.

You see, years ago my best friend introduced me to a singer named Rufus Wainwright.  Now, those of you who don’t know Rufus a) should go out and buy one of his CD’s cause he’s awesome, and b) should know that Rufus is a fabulously gay man.  He’s not a ‘hollywood gay’ a.k.a. John Travolta (who stays married to a woman so no one will find out he’s gay), which I’m sorry, I just can’t respect that.  The second Rufus walks out on stage, it is blatantly and clearly obvious…it’s one of the things I love so much about him.  I mean, hello, I’m no one if now the worlds biggest fag hag.  I think I have some sort of fog horn like beacon that I give off that says, gay men come hither, so it’s really no surprise that I’d be seen at a Rufus Wainwright concert on a sunday night in Los Angeles.

I know a lot of you hate L.A.  And most of you hate it purely on principle.  You’re from Northern California, therefore you must hate Los Angeles.  You grew up here 30 years ago when it sucked (DAD), therefore you must hate it.  And you know what, I get it.  I really do.  L.A. is not for everyone.  I’ve learned to find humor in the ridiculousness, but I’ve also learned to embrace some of it.  I mean, sure, there’s doggy beauty salons (I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some in Palo Alto too), people pay $300 for a pair of sunglasses, and everyone has ‘done a movie with ________’  There’s some beauty in it all too.  I mean, you have to appreciate the constant sunshine, the house that fell off the back of the truck on the 101 (that really happened), the fact that your servers live a double life.  I mean, there’s beauty and humor in the ridiculousness of L.A.  But even for all of you who can’t stand it, you have to say something about the acceptance.  The thing about L.A. is that it’s tolerant (I’m going to venture to say that it’s more tolerant than San Francisco even), I mean, we really and truly accept all kinds here.  We accept the vapid gold-diggers, the screaming queens, and even, more and more so, the real, not a size 0, not full of botox and collagen, people.  New Yorkers are intolerant of non-New Yorkers, San Franciscans can’t stand the plastic, bottle-blonde, gold-diggers, but L.A. is made up of non-Angelenos, some of whom would sell their soul for a piece of a rich executive.  I mean even Marilyn Monroe spent time on her back on a casting couch to get her dreams met.

Now, I’m not condoning that kind of action, I’m simply trying to make a point.  And it’s a point that I’ve only recently come to myself.  In fact, Sunday night is when this point was truly home with me. 

You see, one of my dear friends got tickets to see Rufus at the Hollywood Bowl.  But this wasn’t just any old Rufus Wainwright concert, this was him doing Judy Garland’s concert from Carnegie Hall in 1961.  And I must say, it was one of the most amazing concerts of my life.  Now, the Hollywood Bowl, for those of you who haven’t been there is outdoors (yes San Franciscans and Londoners and Washingtonians, we can have concerts outdoors because it’s only rained one day since April…and it’s been 80 degrees at night for the past two months), and it’s one of the most beautiful theaters ever.  The L.A. Philharmonic backed Rufus as he belted out Judy Garland numbers.

As I was sitting in the audience I was kind of thinking.  Why is this concert in L.A. and not San Francisco?  I mean, you think gay men, you think San Francisco.  And here’s the conclusion I came to…feel free to disagree.  As I was looking around at the audience, I realized that, yes, there were a lot of gay men, but there was an extraordinary amount of other people too.  I mean, there were old jewish ladies, young fag hags (points to self), middle aged executives, college students.  There was every kind of person imaginable, and I actually think that were this concert in the city by the bay, the demographic smattering may have been much smaller.  I think you could get the same amount of people (that number being approximately 18,000) to a Rufus doing Judy concert in San Francisco, but would it be the same kind of people.  And anyone who has performed anything knows that it’s all about your audience. 

Rufus, in his trying to be as true to the original show as possible, told the story of Judy walking off the stage to the audience to give Rock Hudson a kiss before walking off the stage himself to kiss Debbie Reynolds, who was in the audience, most likely wouldn’t/couldn’t have happened in S.F.

Of course, the biggest laugh of the night came from the encore, when Rufus, in all his glory came out in black tights, heels, a tuxedo jacket, and top hat in a very Liza in Cabaret ensemble.  Though it played very well in L.A. I’m sure S.F. would have gone apeshit over that number.  Lord knows I loved it.

Though it may not seem like it, this is not meant to be a who’s better kind of thing.  I just finally realized what it is I love about Los Angeles so much.  And who knew it would be at a Rufus Wainwright concert, while thinking about why he wasn’t in San Francisco.

I guess my final thought on it comes back to the fabulous miss garland herself.  She was a Hollywood girl, so how fitting that this tribute be at the Hollywood Bowl.  She was only sixteen when she shot the Wizard of Oz in Culver City and was owned by MGM for her entire career. 

I mean, what better bittersweet place to bring her back to than Los Angeles.  Than Hollywood, the town that made her and broke her all in one breath.  Because this may be an accepting town, but it can also be a brutal one. 

It’s funny because at one point Rufus talked about the fact that at that original concert in 1961, it was a room 85% full of gay men, but being gay was illegal back then…now, there’s a gay man on stage and it’s still illegal in some states.  And as Judy’s glamour was being celebrated, there was a little hint of tragedy in the background, not just for her, but for all of us who live in this world where people still aren’t accepted because of sexuality, race, size, age, whatever. 

In any case, it was one of the best nights of my life.  Topped off of course, by the rainbow lit hollywood bowl.

Peace, love, and over the rainbow,

Julia

September 26, 2007 Posted by | Friends, Gay/Lesbian, Hollywood, Los Angeles, Music | 2 Comments

Why Steven Spielberg is Better than God.

To be fair, he is better than all the different Gods. I don’t
discriminate. He’s better than Allah, Mohammed, Jesus, Vishnu,
Jehovah, Tom Cruise and all other symbols of all the different
religions.
Before you completely write me off as a total nut job, just hear me
out. Now think back, think back to 1993. You’re sitting in the movie
theater, hot popcorn on your lap. It’s about 20 minutes into the
movie so you feel a little naseous because you’ve had a bit too much
of that scruptious pop corn. But your interest is piqued. Is it
possible? You ask yourself. Could they really make dinosaurs in this
day and age? Well, I’m not giving Mr. Spielberg credit for the idea.
Michael Crighton (don’t know if that’s spelled right) must be given
credit for this intriguing idea. But then it comes. The daddy of all
shots. That helicopter shot where they round the forest and there
they are in front of you: REAL. LIVE. BRONTOSAURI. (Or whatever
the plural of Brontosaurus is). Remember that feeling, those
goosebumps you got when you saw the real dinosaurs. That’s right.
Steven Spielberg is responsible for that feeling. Those goose bumps.
I mean come on, the man recreated dinosaurs. He made you belive that
those Veloceraptors were really going to eat those kids in the
Kitchen. Didn’t he? When the T-Rex’s eye comes in the window and
that flashlight shines in it. You were gripping your seat?

I ask you now. Steven Spielberg, better than god????

Still not convinced. Ok. Let’s talk about the fact that you still
can’t go in the ocean water without hearing that Jaws theme pulsing in
your head. Now really think about this. Because of one movie, you
are deathly afraid of an animal, that you will probably never see,
that does not want to eat you. You get in the ocean and there is
still a nagging in the back of your head that maybe just mabye your
boogie board is the only thing that will wash up on the beach after
you are eaten by a shark (an occurence that is less likely than you
being hit by lightning). Steven Spielberg, God or Mere Mortal?

I’m sensing a little hesitation still. Well, grab your bigger boat and
hold on to your whip because this is the daddy of all reasons. Lets
talk for a second about how you become approxametly seven years old
when Eliot takes off on his bike and you see him fly past the moon
with that music playing. That music that will always evoke that
emotion in you, that seven year old emotion that comes alive when the
impossible is suddenly playing out before your eyes. How about the
fact that you will never ever look at Reese’s Pieces the same way
(side note: M&M’s turned him down…I really hope they fired that
marketing genius) because maybe just maybe, your yummy peanut buttery
candy will lure an alien into your house? Or how about the fact that
when your dad want’s to call you back he leaves you messages that say
something like ‘E.T., Phone home E.T. (that’s probably just me,
because my dad’s a looney toon)? What about the fact that the ending
always makes you cry? Seriously, how many movies make you cry every
single time you watch them. Think about it. I can name two besides
E.T. (to end your curiosity they are the end of Dead Poets Society
when Ethan Hawke gets on the desk and yells ‘Oh Captain, my captain
and the Tiny Dancer scene in Almost Famous).

I’ll just breifly mention The Color Purple, Saving Private Ryan,
Shindler’s List, to name a few. And of course, the pinnacle of all
Trilogies (yes, better than Lord of the Rings. Yes, better than Star
Wars) INDIANA JONES. The theme song alone makes me want to trek
through the Cambodian Jungle…and I hate nature (that’s why I live in
L.A.)

Finally, the icing on the cake. He feeds his fucking employees
breakfast and lunch every single day. That’s right. Free food for
working at Amblin Entertainment. How, you might ask, do I know such
things? Well, the answer is simple. I got to work in his office
today. Unfortunately I did not get to meet the messiah himself, but I
did have the Indiana Jones theme song stuck in my head (little known
fact: Indiana was the name of George Lucas’ dog). And, I got to reap
the benefits of working for the dream master himself (of course I was
just packing boxes, but whatever, I was stoked). P.S. His office
looks like a resort in Mexico/a scene from Indiana Jones. It’s
fucking awesome.

And there it is. I know you’re convinced. I’m assured that everyone
will go out and buy plastic dinosaurs to tack to their wall and gather
strength from. I myself am looking into a whip to wear around my
neck, perhaps with a Reese’s Piece attached so that I can play with it
when I’m bored.

Hope everyone is well,
Love you all.
Julia

P.S. This is not meant to offend anyone, but you have to admit. He’s
pretty fucking rad.

July 18, 2007 Posted by | Hollywood, Movies, Music, Steven Spielberg | Leave a comment

The Wizard and I

Fellow Ozians,
I do so apologize for the lack of an email last week, but my schedule has been surprisingly more hectic than usual. You see, I’m doing the production design (sets, props, etc.) for a short film, I was asked to write a kids movie that a friend of mine is producing, and I’m still working three jobs (plus, my mom was in town all weekend, so I actually got to have fun).

So those of you who know me well, and even those who know me not so well, probably know that I’m a total theatre junkie. And you may know that I’m definitely a musical theatre junkie (though really, I’ll see any theatre whether or not people will be spontaneously bursting into song and dance). Though I would love to write you the equivalent of a dissertation on how awesome musical theatre is, this will be focusing solely on one show that I’ve seen twice in the past three weeks, and am madly in love with.

The show is one that I’m sure the majority of you have heard of, and a few of you have even seen it. It’s called WICKED. God, it gives me goosebumps to even say that (or actually write it). In fact, that’s how I judge how great a musical is: if it gives me goosebumps it’s good. If it gives me goosebumps multiple times and makes me choke up a little just because it’s so good, that’s a phenomenal musical. But the true, true test is: Does the soundtrack give me goosebumps? There are very few musicals (and operas) that can give me goosebumps just by listening to the soundtrack. La Boheme, La Traviata, parts of Carmen (in the genre of opera). Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Rent (of course) and Wicked are all in that category also.

Cut to Flashback: June 2003. I was three months away from moving to England for a year. Wicked had just started its preview in San Francisco and my mother and I decided to go. Little did we know it would be a new musical phenomenon. It will be in the canon of Great American Musicals forever. When the Wicked Witch of the West came out and sang her first song, I tore open my program, and, with what little light I had I furiously read. I knew I had heard that voice before. I’ve sung along at the top of my lungs with that voice before. That was Idina Menzel. That was Maureen from Rent.

For those of you who don’t know, my favorite musical of all time is Rent. Nothing will ever take it’s place. I saw it at the exact right time in my life (when I was in a serious downward spiral in life, and needed a musical that hoped in a modern way…Rent was it), and have seen it at least six times since then. It never gets old, it never gets less pertinent, in never gets less heartbreaking, and I love it. I still cry every time the line of people singing Seasons of Love has a hole in it. I still cheer when that hole is filled at the end of the show. I still blast the music in the car as I’m driving to work. I absolutely love it. And one of the biggest disappointments in my life is the fact that I was in New York City when the original cast was there and I didn’t get to see it (given, I had no idea what it was at the time) but still…

Now, we all grew up with the Wizard of Oz. The cute as a button, sixteen year old, pre-pill popping Judy Garland and her little dog Toto. That is such a classic good vs. evil story. And Ms. Judy in her light blue and white checked dress was good. Even when she kills the wicked witch of the west she’s still good. It’s almost as if by accident, she throws a bucket of water on her and melts her to the ground. And Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West was, as a little kid, one of the scariest villains out there.
(It’s funny because I just had a conversation with one of my friends about how kids villains are kind of weak now. They’re not nearly as scary as they used to be. I mean, think about it. Maleficent or even Ursula, Stromboli, the Scar and the Hyenas, they we’re freakin’ frigtening. I’m sure there was one bad guy scene that your parents had to fast forward through because they freaked you out so much. But now villains aren’t as scary. It’s disappointing to say the least). Even Margaret Hamilton not in Green makeup was absolutely terrifying.

The thing about the Wizard of Oz is that it’s so ingrained into our culture that everyone gets it. Very few people have read the actual book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but everyone has seen the movie. And it seems that if you’ve been living in a cave for the last seventy years (as of 2009), you would still get the references. On a pretty much daily basis (on my tour) I give the line, ‘pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.’ It’s one of the few jokes that everyone gets. Think about it though, just sit back for a second and really think about how many different references to the Wizard of Oz there are. Saying ‘there’s no place like home’ even in a mocking way, is referring to it. Think about Ruby Slippers, or ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’. How many times have you stated, ‘I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.’ If anyone was an Ally McBeal fan, remember Lyng’s entrance music. It was the Wicked Witch of the West music. And still, when your ass of a boss, or your least favorite teacher comes in, tell me you don’t hear it in your head.

In Literature classes, we called it intertextuality, and actually, if I ever have to write a dissertation (let’s be honest…when I write my dissertation), that will be a major part of it. In fact, for my senior seminar final essay in literature I wrote about intertextuality in the canon of Carmen (the opera, novella, movies, music, etc.). I think it’s the most fascinating thing in the world. The fact that there is this set of cultural references that you just somehow acquire in your childhood and it helps you to describe the world. When you say ‘we’re not in Kansas anymore, toto,’ not only are you referring to the Wizard of Oz, you’re also referring to the fact that you feel like Dorothy…in awe of a new land, in technicolor. But you don’t blatantly say that. Just by saying those six words, you evoke all of the feeling of Dorothy opening the door and looking onto the world of color, the world of wonder. Think about that next time you refer to a pair of ruby slippers or a dog named toto.

So now let’s cut to a writer named Gregory Maguire. I’ve not read anything by him, but his premise is awesome. He takes classic stories and tells them from a different angle. In The Ugly Stepsister, he takes Cinderella from the point of view of the ugly stepsister. And in Wicked, he tells the story of Glinda and Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West). Basically, he asks the question, What happened before Dorothy came to Oz?

I said earlier that The Wizard of Oz is a classic good vs. evil story. Now that we’re all adults, though, we know that there’s really no such thing as classic good vs. evil. No one is purely good and no one is purely evil. Do people make bad decisions? Yes. Do people do things to intentionally harm others? Yes. There are always motivating factors for these behaviors and whether we approve or not, those are the circumstances. There’s ALWAYS a grey area. The thing that’s interesting about Wicked is it makes us rethink a character that has always been so black and white, or green, as it were.

Alright, so cut back to San Francisco in June 2003 (I never could write a linear plot line). So there I am outside the Orpheum, all excited to see Wicked. And as we sit down, I see the spectacular stage and Kristen Chenoweth comes down in a freaking bubble. I mean, this is live theatre, and Glinda arrives on a bubble. Wicked is a spectacle to say the least. It won much deserved Tonys for Production Design and Costume Design. Visually, it’s as shocking and awe-inspring as the first time you see Oz after dull, dreary Kansas in the movie.

Even though the spectacle is amazing, the thing that really gets you is the story between Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. You see these two as friends, as enemies, and as real multi-dimensional people. The nature of kids movies is to paint everything in black and white (which I’m not arguing is wrong, and am, in fact, writing a movie that has a black and white sort of villain), but as an adult, exploring the circumstances leading up to the events of the Wizard of Oz is an extraordinarily gratifying experience. We see how the Wizard came to be, how the Lion came to be cowardly, how the tin man lost his heart, why the scarecrow was made to be a scarecrow. But mostly, we see that Glinda the good is not always good and Elphaba the wicked is not always wicked…there were extenuating circumstances.

The way all the little details are woven into the plot is a work of sheer brilliance. Everything from learning where the Ruby Slippers came from (and why she wanted them so badly) to how those monkeys came to fly to why the wicked witch is green. It’s all explained, and in not glaringly obvious ways.

So I saw the preview in San Francisco and then Wicked went to Broadway where everyone flipped out about it. It’s still sold out every single night in New York (and in L.A.) But, as I heard, they made a couple of changes. When I found out it was coming to Los Angeles for an open-ended run, I freaked out and made my mom buy tickets. She went online the day they went on sale and couldn’t get weekend tickets until last friday (June 15…tickets went on sale in November). As of right now, Wicked is sold out on weekends until next May (weekday tickets are possible, though difficult, to get). In any case, two weeks ago, my walking buddy gave a tour at Paramount to a group of high school kids. His tour happened to have three extra tickets to see Wicked that night. I got to go for free. It was great.

As I settled into my seat and the show started, I realized, as great as it had been at the San Francisco preview, it was even better now. Oh. My. God. It was tight, it was even more of a spectacle, it was even more intricately laced with references to the movie and the book. It’s no wonder it won a bunch of Tonys because it truly is one of the most amazing broadway shows there is.

On Friday night I got to see it again, and I have to say, I could watch it a million more times…and I just might.

So we’ve established the story and the costumes and the sets are awesome, but possibly the most amazing thing about this musical is the singing (and the songs). Most of the songs are not light, we’re off to see the wizard, type of music. They’re real, complex, and amazing songs. And at one point Elphaba is suspended a good thirty to forty feet in the air belting Defying Gravity out at the top of her lungs. Now, that’s not an easy thing to do, singing while suspended in the air.

While Defying Gravity is a huge number that rounds out act one, the other numbers are so different. They all have their own sort of feel and according to Kristin Chenoweth they are all in different registers and are extremely challenging. Glinda sings the cute traditional musical number Popular, which is quite possibly the funniest part of the whole play. And the last number the two Witches sing together where they sing about how much each has changed because of each other. For Good is a love song between two friends. Two friends who may never see each other again. It’s a really moving song.

It’s my opinion that the most amazing shows have everything from really high energy, belt-it-out type songs to slow beautiful ballads. Rent has everything from rock to pop to gospel to traditional musical songs. And Wicked, though not quite as diverse as Rent has the spectrum.

A great musical captures you heart, mind, body and soul. Wicked takes what has already been captured by the Wizard of Oz and captures it again and again and again.

If you haven’t seen it. Go. If you have. Go again. And if anyone wants to come to L.A. and take me to Wicked, I’d be more than happy to accompany you.

Plus, I’m pretty sure they’re making a movie starring Kristin and Idina so we can all see the original cast. Hopefully they’ll do a better job on the movie than they did with the Rent movie (but that’s best saved for another rant).

Peace, Love, and Emerald Cities,
Julia

P.S. I finally created a blog as many of you have been asking me to do so if you want to look up any of these go to juliaisbadass.wordpress.com and you can see everything I’ve written.

June 20, 2007 Posted by | Los Angeles, Movies, Music, Musicals, Wicked | 1 Comment