Better a Witty Fool than a Foolish Wit

Inner Workings of My Twisted Mind.

Los Angeles Caucus

Ah, it’s election time again.  Time for the ceaseless advertisements in newspapers, on television, on huge billboards all over the city.  That’s right folks, it’s election time in L.A.
Oh wait, you thought I was talking politics.  No no, we don’t really like politics in L.A.  Sure we pretend to care.  We go out and buy hybrid Lexus SUVs when Al Gore tells us to.  We love what excellent stories are coming out of the cocked up Bush Administration (wait until he’s gone, there will be 8 trillion movies about what a fucking disaster that was).  But really, here in L.A., we could give a fuck about politics.  We don’t care about Iowa or New Hampshire because right now we’re having our own election coverage.  It’s awards season and it’s time to vote.  Now, it’s been a year since my last golden globe/oscar recaps and I still have yet to be allowed into the vote…patience dear friends, patience.  However, living in L.A. means I’m inundated with advertisements telling me how fucking fantastic every single film that is out right now is.  I’m pretty sure Juno, No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Atonement, Charlie Wilson’s War, and Sweeney Todd are all the best movies of the year, as stated by every movie reviewer that has ever lived.

I never quite got how reviewers call every movie the best movie of the year.  Do you just not have discerning taste because I can pick which one I liked the best and I’ve seen all of them?  Is it the campaign funds?  Are the studios paying the critics (they’re certainly not paying the writers) to call every movie the best movie of the year (even the ones that are unbearable)?  What is up with that?

In my opinion there was only one best movie of the year and it was Juno, but I also know how people in Hollywood feel about comedies (the same way people in Washington feel about Hilary): How nice that it’s there, now we’re going to give this award to something that’s a little different (read: No Country for Old Men and Barack).

Now, like our Presidential races, we in Hollywood are having some set backs and some uncharted territory.  You might be aware that there’s a writers strike going on.  In fact, you might be aware that your favorite television shows are done, if not they’ve only got one or two episodes left.  I know, I know, you’re devastated that you won’t see what’s happening on House for the rest of the year…that’s right, they’re not coming back until next season and even then, we might be behind.  But what you may not know is that this is going to affect the awards shows.  I’m completely heartbroken.  Basically, the WGA agreed not to picket the Golden Globes if NBC didn’t air it on National Television.  NBC said that it has the right to film the Golden Globes and if they go on, they will film it and put it on T.V.  As of right now, the Golden Globes are set to go on.  What the hell does this mean?  It means that there will be a bunch of nobodies at the Golden Globes (I’m expecting my invitation any day…this might be the only year I get to go).  All the actors, who are in sympathy with the writers, will not be attending.  Plus, they can’t write anything for the Globes because they can’t use WGA writers.  So basically it will go something like this.  The nominees for best picture drama are __________________.    And the Globe goes to ____________________.   How thrilling.  The oscars will be the same way.  I’m trying to make it through this hard time but it hurts me deeply.

So yes, it could be that there is no Christmas for Julia this year.  No speeches that make me cry.  No watching Diablo Cody say something awesome about being a stripper in Minnesota (cold, don’t try it is what I gather) and winning an Academy Award (pretty sure she’ll be the first in history).  But perhaps the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will make some sort of deal with the WGA and be able to show the Oscars.  If Letterman did it, then the Academy should be able to, right?  I’m grasping for straws.  Shit.

Okay, well, I guess I’ll get to it.  Julia’s 2007 Award predictions:

Best Original Screenplay:
Diablo Cody for Juno

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Joel and Ethan Coen for No Country for Old Men

Best Director:
Joel and Ethan Coen for No Country for Old Men, or
Tim Burton for Sweeny Todd
(neither of these folks has an Oscar or a Globe for this so I’m thinking it’s one or the others year)

Best Supporting Actor
Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men, though I could see an upset as
Casey Affleck for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (he was absolutely amazing in it).

Best Supporting Actress
There aren’t many stellar performances this year.  I could see it going to
Saoirse Ronan for Atonement but I could also see it going to a big hitter like
Cate Blanchett for I’m Not There or
Julia Roberts for Charlie Wilson’s War

Best Actor
It’s a toss up between
Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood (he’s so good, it’s unreal), but it could be the year that the Academy finally pulls it’s head out of it’s ass and gives it to
Johnny Depp for Sweeney Todd…they do love giving awards to musicals (hello Catherine Zeta-Jones, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Hudson, etc)

Best Actress
This is actually one of the hardest to call.  In my opinion they should throw it at
Marion Cotillard for La Vie En Rose.  No words can describe how good she is.  However, I could see the Academy giving it to
Kiera Knightly for Atonement to try and solidify her as a true leading lady (too bad she can’t seem to shake the period pieces).  I could also see them throwing it to
Angelina Jolie for A Mighty Heart because America has forgotten that she already has a fucking award and she sure as hell doesn’t deserve one for this movie, but it’s a political thing…who says we don’t care about politics?  Oh wait, me 😛  I could also see
Ellen Page for Juno upsetting this race.  I personally would be happy but Marion deserves it by far.  It’s just I don’t know if the Academy is going to give it to a French lady in a foreign movie (that’s only happened like two times, Roberto Benigni and someone else).

And last but not least,
Best Picture
This is hard to call.  Personally I think it will be
No Country for Old Men, but I could see
There Will Be Blood taking it.
I could see Juno upsetting, but I doubt it.  Also, I could see
Sweeney Todd upsetting, but I doubt it.
This race is down to No Country and There Will be Blood.
Personally I think No Country was the better of the two, but I could see either one taking it.

Alright kids, well, until next time, Barack the Vote.

Peace, Love, and Happy Campaigning,
Julia

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January 7, 2008 Posted by | Awards Shows, Coen Brothers, Hollywood, Los Angeles, Movie Reviews, Movies, Musicals, Oscars, Politics | Leave a comment

The Music in You

Even the name is cheezy. So I know this is a little unprecedented for a Saturday, but I just read an article and I can’t help but respond.

For those of you who don’t have kids under the age of 15 you may never have heard of High School Musical. Indeed, I work in the business that makes stuff like this so I have to know when something makes such a huge splash. In any case, I’ll give you a little background before I totally freak out so you’ll know where I’m coming from. The Disney Channel, about a year ago, made, for very little money, a made for t.v. original musical set in High School…sort of like Grease for the new millennium. Except it’s not at all like Grease. You won’t find a cigarette, or tight leather pants, or racing for pink slips in High School Musical. In fact, in the first movie (yes, there’s more than one) the romantic leads don’t even kiss. I know, I was appalled as well.

Now, I’m not really one for the Disney channel. I mean, I’ve got a weird thing for teen drama on television, but the tween stuff doesn’t really tickle my fancy. I guess, I take issue with the fact that they sugar coat everything about that time in life. I mean, there’s these tweens running around with not many problems. Maybe they have a bad day because they have a pimple or something, but I remember Junior High as being more similar to torture every single day. Like, here, you’re at the most awkward you’ll ever be and everyone else around you feels the same way, but you all try to hide it by making fun of each other, and thus just advance the spiral. So anyway, that’s why I take issue with the Disney Channel and most of its programming.

But, I give the Paramount Pictures studio tour and we have many high school groups that come through and take the tour. I always get asked about Zac Efron (who I’ve met and is very nice, though pretty short). For my first 9 months at Paramount, however, I had no clue who he was. I had heard Kevin and Bean (the L.A. morning djs) talking about how much High School Musical sucked, but other than that I knew nothing. Then one day I was working a Press Event at the Beverly Hilton and High School Musical 2 was one of the shows doing publicity. I saw the little clips and it looked just as lame as all the other Disney Channel shows so I really didn’t think anything of it.

Then I gave a tour to some high school girls and on it they asked me about the movie RENT. I was ridiculously excited that people younger than myself still loved RENT and connected to it. Little did I know that these girls had gotten me in to quite a vulnerable position. That’s when they started talking about High School Musical. Just after the RENT…in my weakened condition I thought, well if these girls like it then maybe I should watch it…see what all the fuss is about. So I set the TiVo and the rest is history.

I watched High School Musical alone in my apartment, and have let very few people know that I actually did watch this thing all the way through. But I guess the secret is out now. Basically, as I got more and more into the movie, I became more and more appalled. It’s the corniest thing I’ve ever seen. I think what disturbed me the most (and I’m still not sure I’ve I’m more disturbed for myself or for them) is that these girls, that were fans of RENT, which doesn’t have a shred of sentimentality in it, loved High School Musical. And then I thought about it, like really thought about it…this is where I might just be disturbed for my own crazy messed up adolescence. I thought, when I was 15 would I have liked this. The answer is a resonant and astounding NO FUCKING WAY. I was drinking and doing drugs and doing boys when I was 15. I would have NEVER ever ever watched a musical where the biggest problem the characters have was whether or not to try out for the school musical because that’s not what basketball players do.

But apparently we’re in the middle of a huge backswing. The second installment of HSM earned a viewership of 17million people (it’s on cable, not everyone has cable…basically, this is the average rating for Ugly Betty – on ABC – every week). So what did I do…..simply to torture myself. I TiVoed the second freaking movie…and I watched that too. I just needed/need to know what is so appealing about this musical. It’s funny because the article I just read had a bunch of parents quoted as saying that there is no swearing and no sex so they don’t have to worry about it. I’m sorry, but that, to me means you’re a shitty parent. I guess I’m just lucky to have the most awesome parents of all time (which I do believe that I have) because my mom sat on the couch and watched 90210 with me every week. When Kelly got addicted to diet pills, we talked about it. When Brenda lost her virginity to Dylan, we talked about it. When they almost didn’t let Donna Martin graduate because she got drunk at the prom, we talked about it.

And thus I come to this conclusion, High School Musical is responsible (in cahoots with the disney channel) for the decay of America’s youth. Parents, according to this article, think that it’s better to not have to talk to their kids about issues, than to actually have to discuss something real. I guess, the other thing that really gets to me is that as a writer, I strive for truth. I want to portray the human condition accurately and realistically. I don’t believe in Sugar-coating, even for pre-teens…even for kids (see my email on Harry Potter). Basically, let’s get serious about our situation people….ignoring problems is how we got to where we are…let’s not continue. And if we need to escape to a fantasy land where everything is perfect…I suggest Brave New World or 1984 to slap reality back into you.

Peace, Love, and Reality (but not reality t.v.)

Julia

September 30, 2007 Posted by | Books, Education, High School, Movie Reviews, Movies, Musicals, Rent, Television, Work | Leave a comment

Good Morning Baltimore.

So I know it’s been a while since I’ve written.  Though I can’t tell you how much I’ve wanted to write, I’ve just been insanely busy with movies and weddings and work and whatnot.  No, don’t worry, I didn’t get married.  We’re a looooong way from that folks.  Just in attendance for now. 

Anyway, so like I said I sincerely apologize for the lack of email, but craziness.

Alright so I did promise a review of hairspray when I finally saw it and on friday I had time to see it (seeing as I was in Santa Cruz for a wedding and not in Los Angeles working).  The weekend before, when I was in Tahoe for a wedding and not in Los Angeles working, I had the chance to rewatch (for the 8 millionth time) the original John Waters Hairspray with Ricki Lake and Divine.  So it was fresh in my mind when I went to see the new movie musical. 

So I did love the musical.  I thought it was great, but there were some things I had problems with.  We’ll start positive and go to the negative later.

First off, Nicky Blonsky was phenomenal.  I mean, she was totally Tracy Turnblad.  Just the right amount of earnestness and irony in her performance.  Perfectly camp, but not too over-the-top.  And, of course, I’ve got to love a movie where the overweight lead gets the surprisingly sexy guy.  That surprisingly sexy guy was Zac Efron as Link Larkin (the thing I love about John Waters is that all his characters are alliterative…Dawn Davenport, Francine Fishpaw, Penny Pinglton, etc.).  Zac Efron, of High School Musical ( a.k.a. the worst piece of crap every put on t.v.) fame, was surprisingly good.  And a little bit sexy, much to my chagrin (he’s 20, I checked).  Not to mention the rest of the cast, Christopher Walken, Allison Janney (my favorite actress), Amanda Bynes (who I hate to love), Michelle Pfeiffer (who I love to hate), Brittany Snow, and the Queen Latifah.  Man, it’s a great cast.  And they are great in it.  Many people forget that Michelle Pfeiffer was in that gemtastic movie called Grease 2, also a musical.  That’s right, she can sing. 

But I have to say that the one casting choice (and I still stand by this) that was totally misguided was John Travolta.  I’ll go into detail.  Basically, if you haven’t seen it, you all should go out and rent the original Hairspray.  The role of Edna Turnblad was played by a man: Divine.  Divine and John Waters were two souls traveling through life together.  Divine starred in every John Waters film until his death in 1988 of a heart attack brought on by sleep apnea.  Divine was in every John Waters movie, even the really early obscure, totally vile-in-a-good-way ones.  John Travolta, though I have heard (from reliable resources) that he is actually gay, will never, ever embody the man playing a woman awesomeness the way Divine did.  If I had been chosen to cast the movie, I would have picked Nathan Lane.  Hello, the birdcage…he was awesome as a female part.  And the Producers, we know he can sing.  But the thing that pisses me off the most about John Travolta’s casting, is not the fact that he’s not right for the role, but the fact that they put off production for 14 months so that he could be in the movie, they gave him power in casting the movie, and they let him change lines that he wasn’t comfortable with (including the kiss between him and Christopher Walken…which is in the play).  And You know what, I’m just not cool with that. 

Other than John Travolta, however, I just have one complaint.  I feel a little bit like they cut out some of the more important stuff between Tracy and Link and Penny and Seaweed to make way for the bigger stars (Queen Latifah, Michelle Pfeiffer, John Travolta).  I mean, we wouldn’t want to impinge on their screen time with a little thing like a story or character development.  Luckily though, the cast is so strong it doesn’t really matter. 

The music is as great as in the play, with just the right amount of camp.  The production value is millions of dollars more than the original.  There are super-saturated colors, great costumes, and of course, lots of slicked back, ratted out hair.  And that’s not even mentioning the story and the message behind the movie.  Basically, Hairspray is a good time to be had by all.  And look out for John Waters’ cameo as the Flasher during the first song and dance number and Ricki Lake’s cameo as an agent at the end of the movie, not to mention the rather big cameo by Jerry Stiller (who played Tracy’s Dad in the 1988 movie).  It’s just a fun movie with a 99% awesome cast. 

So I take back my earliest sentiment that it was better left unmade.  This was great fun.  And sometimes even I’m wrong.

Peace, Love, and to Never Stopping the Beat,

Julia

August 8, 2007 Posted by | Gay/Lesbian, Hollywood, Movie Reviews, Movies, Musicals | Leave a comment

Try To Remember the Time in September When Life Was Slow and Oh So Mellow.

So a few weeks ago I talked about wicked and then about rent. And
yes, I’m a big fan of musicals. And yes, this email will be about
musicals, but movie musicals rather than theatre musicals.

Now, I love a good movie musical, but like all things in the
entertainment biz, the movie musical trends are cyclical. Sometimes
musicals are hits and one after another are produced. Sometimes it’s
impossible to get a movie musical made.

So what’s so freaking interesting about that that I felt the need to
write a whole email about it. Well, it seems to me there’s a bit more
to it. I was thinking today about the trends for when musicals are,
well…Trendy. Broadway musicals will always make money, they’ll
always be popular, but movie musicals don’t always make money. Now,
it’s my opinion that it is usually the crappy musicals that don’t make
money, but who cares about that?

The thing is there have been three major periods for movie musicals,
the 1930’s and ’40’s, the 1960’s and right now. Starting in 2002,
with the release of Moulin Rouge, the movie musical is experiencing a
bit of a revival itself. Of course, Moulin Rouge (and it’s oscar nom
for Nicole Kidman) was followed the next year by Chicago (and it’s
Best Picture oscar) and then a string of others, including The
Producers, Dreamgirls, Rent and as of Friday, Hairspray. This revival
of musicals is reminiscent, with its lavish sets and saturated colors,
of the Fred Astaire Ginger Rogers musicals of the 1930’s and ’40’s.

So, with the release of Hairspray imminent, I was doing a bit of
thinking (as I was listening to the soundtrack to the play in my car
on the way to work), and I thought that maybe my initial judgement of
the remake of Hairspray was a little rash. Now, this is not to say
that I’m not amazingly skeptical of this new version of hairspray, but
it’s saving grace will be that the original was not a musical. Even
still, I maintain, that John Travolta was probably the wrong casting
choice and will never live up to the genius that was Divine. But John
Waters (and I’ve heard rumblings, Ricky Lake) makes a cameo and so I’m
willing to give it a shot.

But I digress. Think back to the beginning of this email when I
mentioned the approximate time frame for the popularity of movie
musicals. It was the 1930’s and 40’s, the 1960’s and now. So I guess
I didn’t digress too much. Here’s my train of thought. Hairspray is
about, among other things, black/white relations. And I was thinking
about social and political unrest. Getting my thinking now, maybe?
A little bit? Isn’t it interesting that the times when movie musicals
regain popularity are when there is some sort of social upheaval? The
Depression and the War, The movements of the ’60’s, and now. I don’t
really know how to define now, in terms of social movements, and I
don’t know that any historian has properly labeled this age yet. The
age of the chimpanzee? The age of idiocy? Perhaps, the age where
people started thinking again? Because I truly believe that we’re on
the verge of a huge breakthrough in people actually being involved in
the political system. I think G.W.’s finally done it. He’s so bad,
he’s made us all wake up and take notice of what’s going on.

Interesting isn’t it? That musicals come around in times of woe.
Well, in the ’30’s and ’40’s it was actually the government that
implored the movie studios to make happy, upbeat films to try to keep
up the morale of the american public. Though the government didn’t
implore the studios in the 1960’s, the studios insistence on
continuing to make musicals, even when the times, they were a changin’
nearly bankrupted each and every one of the major motion picture
studios. Perhaps it was their way of trying to maintain some sort of
semblance of tradition, or order, in any case, those musicals gave
rise to the likes of The Graduate, Love Story, Easy Rider, and The
Godfather, which saved the studios from bankruptcy.

But even more interesting is this new influx of musicals right now.
They don’t seem to be trying to keep the status quo. In fact, they
seem to be challenging it. Think about it. Moulin Rouge is about
artists who buck social norms to live how they want to live. Chicago
is about murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery
and treachery – all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts.
The Producers is about cheating the system (and let’s not for get the
hilarious ‘springtime for hitler’ musical number), Dreamgirls deals
with backstabbing and race relations, among other things, and
Hairspray is about race relations, and seeing past image to what
people really are.

I mean, these aren’t your Fred Astaire, Gene Kelley, Ginger Rogers
type musicals. These are racy Chita Rivera musicals. They’re
subversive musicals. It seems like an oxymoron, but when you look at
the facts, that’s exactly what they are.

The general theme seems to be that the musicals support the needs (or
sometimes desires) of the times. In the 30’s we wanted to forget our
troubles, c’mon get happy. In the ’60’s we wanted to avoid the fact
that things were changing, and now, well now, we’re pushing the limits
with musicals. We’re not gonna take it, and we’re going to sing about
the fact that we’re not gonna take it anymore.

So when you go see hairspray on Friday (and I’ll promise I’ll give my
report on it soon), look past the big hair and the bright colors, look
past the fat suit and the big hair, look at the real message of the
movie…I assure you it’s not just the big hair. And think real hard
about how a musical can be a protest.

Peace, Love, and Good Morning Baltimore,
Julia

July 19, 2007 Posted by | Hollywood, Movies, Musicals, Rent, Wicked | Leave a comment

No Day But Today!

Last week was all about the green witch. This week it’s all about La
Vie Boheme. So this might be long because I have a hell of a lot to
say about this. But just bear with me…I’ll try to make it as
painless as possible.

So in my last email I talked about Wicked and what a great musical it
is. I referred to Rent and how it was my favorite musical of all
time. Well the thing is, I can’t stop listening to it and watching it
on DVD. And now I’m going to write about it.

When I was fifteen years old my mom took me out of school for the
first and only time ever. A few months earlier I had heard that Rent
was playing in San Francisco. I didn’t know anything about it, but I
knew I wanted to see it. So we went to San Francisco on a thursday
night to go see Rent. It was playing at the Golden Gate theater. So
anyone who knows San Francisco theaters knows that the Golden Gate is
in a really sketchy neighborhood. Mom and I drove two blocks to the
theater (true l.a. fashion) because it’s in such a sketchy
neighborhood.

Even as I entered the theater I knew I was seeing something different.
They had decorated the whole lobby area with broken dish pieces. It
was beautiful in a very urban way.

Now, picture this. Julia at 15 years old, sitting in a theater. I
had bright pink (or maybe purple or maybe turquoise) hair. I wore
huge chains around my neck, wrists, ankles, anything I could hang
chains off of. I had on a jean jacket that was riddled with safety
pins and spikes, a plaid skirt, ripped fishnets, and a tank top.
Basically, I looked like I didn’t want anyone to fuck with me because
I didn’t.

I’ve sort of alluded to this before, but it’s an event I’ve just
recently started dealing with. When I was 14 a guy I knew died of a
heroin overdose (he wasn’t a really good friend, but I later realized
that I was friends with all his friends…we would have been good
friends eventually). It effected me more than I could really ever
imagine. I think the reason it effected me so much was that I
actually watched someone tell his girlfriend what had happened. I
watched her crumble to the ground, sobbing. That effected me. On top
of that, I was a teenager, and angsty. Basically, this was the point
in time where I tried to numb myself to everything I was feeling. I
was just feeling so much, and I didn’t really know how to handle it so
I started drinking…….heavily.

But one year later I saw Rent. And as cliche as that sounds it
changed my whole life. This was a show about people I knew. Roger
and Mimi were who I identified with the most (though this has changed
throughout the years). Roger was a recovering heroin addict,
musician, who was HIV positive. He had completely shut down and shut
everyone out of his life. Well, I guess two out of four ain’t bad…I
was a musician and I was completely shutting down emotionally. Mimi
was a heroin addicted stripper who was HIV positive, but she also sang
the song that really awakened me. The lyrics go something like
this…’The heart may freeze or it can burn. The pain will ease, if I
can learn. There is no future, there is no past. I live this moment
as my last. There’s only us, there’s only this. Forget regret or
life is yours to miss. No other road. No other way. NO DAY BUT
TODAY.’ She sings this in the middle of the first act, and suddenly I
felt a little more alive.

At the beginning of Act one Roger sings One Song Glory, which is about
writing one great song before he dies of AIDS. This opened me up a
little. And I realized that with each song, little by little, I was
starting to feel. Really feel. And it was a little scary, but it was
also great. I, like Roger, became open by the end of the play. Now,
I’m not saying that I left the theater and was suddenly transformed.
That I quit drinking myself to oblivion immediately, but it wasn’t too
soon after that I settled and that I let myself really feel my
emotions instead of constantly trying to mute them or block them out
all together.

I went home and bought the album which I wore through. In fact, I’ve
worn through two different copies of that soundtrack and my copy right
now has seen better days. I absolutely couldn’t get enough of it. It
was one of the first albums that I read all the liner notes front to
back. And in doing so I realized that this was modeled after La
Boheme. Hmm….interesting. One of my favorite movies is
Moonstruck, where that opera is used throughout. I love the music. I
bought that album too, and I read all those liner notes. As I
listened and read, I truly realized what a genius Jonathon Larson
(writer of Rent) was. There were some songs, like Light My Candle,
that were almost word for word translated from the Italian. There
were themes that were stolen from the opera, but used in new
interesting ways. There’s a riff from Musetta’s waltz that, when
played on a guitar, sound so amazing and new and different, but at the
same time, so similar and comfortable.

Even the character names are similar, but in a modern, sometimes
comical way. Roger is Rodolfo, Mimi is Mimi, Mark is Marcello,
Maureen is Musetta, Tom Collins is Colline, Angel Dumont Schunard is
Schaunard and Benny is Benoit. If you know the opera it makes seeing
Rent that much richer. But it also begs one to think. La Boheme was
a musical about artists who were starving in Paris, they were being
decimated by disease, and still learned to love and live through this
trememdous devestation. New York in the late ’80’s/early ’90’s was
the same way. AIDS was running rampant, Reagan wasn’t doing anything
about it, and there were stigmas attached to it. Basically, if you
had AIDS, you were either a junkie or gay…it was punishment for
sinning to get AIDS, but in reality this wasn’t at all true. Rent
takes this devestation and achieves what nothing else has…it
respects people that are usually looked down upon. It takes these
junkies and strippers and poor people and it treats them with respect.

I think the reason I connected with Rent so much was that I saw myself
in these stories. I was so passionate about things and I wasn’t
willing to comprimise my beliefs for money or comfort or anything. I
understood these people and their plight. I had friends who were
addicted to drugs and I didn’t respect them any less because of it.
At one point a round of people sing ‘will I lose my dignity,’ Rent
gave us freaks, us artists, us idealists our dignity back.

My favorite moment in Rent is, was, and always has been when they sing
La Vie Boheme. It’s a huge celebration of life and of a different way
of life. The lyrics range from simply listing the things we find
wonderful, ‘To Leather, To Dildos, To Curry Vindaloo, To Huevos
Rancheros, and Maya Angelou,’ the things we believe ‘To Sodomy, it’s
between God and me….To S&M,’ and the best line in the whole play
‘The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.’ But La Vie Boheme
not just about the great lyrics and great music, there’s some great
fucking choreography in it as well. It is shocking to some people,
but that’s what the song is about…this is what we believe and there
you go. At one point the lyrics state, ‘to anything taboo’ and oral
sex is simulated between two women. Then again, towards the end of the
song we are reminded, ‘let thee among us without sin be the first to
condemn…La Vie Boheme’ with fists raised in the air ready to battle.
The choreography in this scene lends itself to the concept of La Vie
Boheme.

Most people haven’t heard most of the songs in Rent. Seasons of Love,
however, is a song that most people have heard. It’s the one that
talks about 525,600 minutes and starts off the second act of Rent. It
is an amazingly beautiful song that just evokes so much emotion, so
much hope, so much sadness. Basically, the song categorizes all the
ways to measure a year ‘in midnights, in cups of coffee’ ‘in inches,
in miles, in laughter, in strife’ ‘in the bridges she burned, or the
way that she died.’ And in the reprise, they ask the most poignant
question: ‘how do we figure our last year on earth?’

Act two goes on through the year. It follows people breaking up and
making up and trying to make things work. It shows people opening up
to love, but it also shows the intense pain we can feel when we open
ourselves. The play shows this through the character of Angel.
Angel, who is now my favorite character in the show, is the emotional
center of Rent. He/She is the one that really knows that she has to
make the most of what she’s got left.

And the part that absolutely fucking kills me is when they sing
seasons of love again. On stage, they line up just as they do for
seasons of love at the beginning of act two, but at this point there
is a distinct hole in the line. A hole where a very important person
once stood. It’s quite possibly the most poignant piece of theatre
choreography I’ve ever seen. It absolutely kills me every single time
I see it on stage (and I’ve seen it seven times).

Now, I’ll fight my urge to go through the genius of every single song
in Rent and La Boheme and all of it’s incarnations (I’m saving that
for the dissertation), but I have to say, ending a musical by singing
‘no day but today’ at the top of your lungs and having Angel run back
out on stage has to be the best way to end a musical ever.

There’s no way I could ever do justice to Rent and how much it has
effected my life. All I can say is if you haven’t seen it, go. If
it’s not playing near you, rent the movie. And if you don’t at least
appreciate how amazing it is, I don’t think I can ever talk to you
again.

Peace, Love, Mark, Mimi, Roger, Collins, Angel, Maureen, Joanne,
Benny, and Thank You Jonathon Larson,

Julia

June 27, 2007 Posted by | Alcoholism, Gay/Lesbian, High School, Movies, Musicals, Politics, Rent | 1 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