Better a Witty Fool than a Foolish Wit

Inner Workings of My Twisted Mind.

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

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