Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Playback Tuesday: Classics

Edit: This post was meant for Tuesday, but was originally posted Wednesday, Dec. 30th...sorry for the delay, but Casablanca is a hefty read.

I must admit a crucial film failing...I have never seen Casablanca. I know of it. As a teen, I've even seen the last scene of the film, which I supposed was about some guy who was going to leave the woman he loved at an airport to fight a war or something.

I was wrong, of course, but I didn't find that out until today when I finished reading the screenplay. The guy turned out to be Rick, a feigned opportunist who turns out to be a sentimentalist and ends up helping more than one couple escape Nazi-occupied Casablanca. The screenplay itself was rather brilliant. Within the first five pages I understood that Casablanca is a corrupt, chaotic environment where survival means shady dealings with colorful characters, and escape means bargaining with unforgiving, yet morally wavering officials and scam artists. Casablanca is also a hostile environment where the locals (and visitors who often turn into locals) go to a night club called Rick's to drown their sorrows in alcohol, music, and gambling. Having seen the ending already, I began (now as an adult) to piece together the suspenseful puzzle, ultimately understanding that my conceptions of what the movie was about were those of a simpleton. Casablanca wasn't a love story about a guy leaving a girl at an airport. Rather, it is a tale about the triumph of right over wrong, responsibility over recklessness, and the importance of humanitarian causes over individual gain. Written in 1942, during the heated battles of World War II, I can only imagine the impact such a script made in Hollywood. Perhaps the script and it's eventual impact on American cinema, and it's broader impact on an America struggling to figure out its role in world affairs, proves once again that the pen (if used well) can be mightier than the sword (or at least put a cause behind using it).

Screenplay by: Julius Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Biz Monday Starter: A Review

I found this article on the New York Times...it is a wonderful hodgepodge of some things I've been talking about and mulling over. Film versus Theatre, book adaptations to film, musicals turned into musical films, and films turned into musicals and plays. What I especially enjoy about this article is that it starts off with a comparison between Ingmar Bergman's 1955 film, Smiles of a Summer Night, and Stephen Sondheim's Broadway play, A Little Night of Music. The article turned out to be a little lesson in film history and a perspective into the differences between film and theatre (positive and negative), and an interesting commentary on the audience's connection/role in both.

If you have the time for a quick two page read you should check it out.

Smiles of Another Adaptation
by A.O. Scott

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Biz Monday Starter: Christmas

Christmas is on the way, which means it is time for me to cuddle up with some good movies in front of a warm fire (to bad I am currently without a fireplace). I will be back on Dec. 26th to share more movies, more theatre/film thoughts, and some more plays/screenplays. Enjoy the holidays.

Edit: Made Dec. 25th at 9:08pm
Let's make that Dec. 28th (as it actually falls on a Monday...sometimes I really need to look at my calendar) !

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Picture Perfect Weekend: Christmas Break

Time goes quickly does it not? It is the weekend, so it is a good time to announce that Dec. 21st I will be signing off until December 26th...more time to watch some good films and read some good screenplays/plays.

The picture is one from the road of my current tour across the mid-west.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Film Flash Friday: Hamlet 2

Movies always hold such hope for me. Maybe it is because the hype surrounding them has become so much more sophisticated. For instance, in the case of Hamlet 2, I knew some of the lyrics to the films main song, "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" before the film arrived in theatres. I also understood that the producers of the South Park and Team America produced this movie. I am not sure what that means exactly. It has become common practice for producers of popular movies to do this. As if producing a successful movie means success with another. Forget the fact that the writers, directors, editors, and actors could be entirely different. A producer is supposed to have some magic power that overcomes those things I guess. That being said, I was excited about this movie. A film that makes fun of theatre and actors looked like a good time...never again will I let a preview take me in. The first five minutes of the movie had me laughing, the rest of the movie had me checking my watch. Which brings me to the question of how could something with the potential to be so good go so horribly wrong? It went from a fun romp in satire to a nosedive into the silly and stereotypical. Except that the stereotypical wasn't even funny, just painful. The main song that I had been treated to in almost every preview of the movie came at me in the last (merciful) thirty minutes of the film when the talked about play was finally performed. I wanted to scream is this all you have? Theatre people are some of the craziest people I know and this is all you have to say about high school theatre and the people who teach it? How can you mess up this film with so many funny people/situations to chose from? It was almost like they used a serious film about a white teacher helping inner city kids to be better people and tried to make the worst hour and a half SNL sketch I've ever seen.

That being said, feel free to check out the madness for yourself. Hamlet 2 is out on dvd...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Playback Tuesday: Readability

Is there something to be said about the literary prowess of playwrights and screenwriters? For a long time screenplays (the newer kids on the block) were not published because the general consensus was that no one would read them. That they lacked literary value. Perhaps early editors believed that films focused much more on images than words, where the world of the playwright revolved around written (and eventually spoken) words. Even today the playwright has a considerable amount of power compared to that of the screenwriter. Most individuals, unless the screenwriter was also the actor or the director, can't name the writer(s) of their favorite films. It will be interesting to see what happens as film continues to be a forerunner of performance art. Will the status of the screenwriter be elevated?

As far as readability, I believe that screenplays are becoming more and more commonplace in libraries and bookstores, though finding popular screenplays is a great deal more harrowing that finding popular plays.

A popular play that I was elated to find sitting on my local library shelf was The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O'Neil. I watched an avant-garde production of his The Emperor Jones in a college class and wasn't quite sure how to feel about it. The language, the racial issues, and the dream like states of his characters were confusing. The story itself seemed like a departure from the realism that he helped push through in American theatre. For a long time, I decided to avoid reading his plays fearing that I would get lost in a symbolic wasteland that I couldn't figure out how to wade out of. But as time goes by, I prefer to get stuck, I find.

The Iceman Cometh was a shock in that the writing style was so literary based, it was almost as if I was reading a novel. Each character's emotions and facial expressions were literally written out on each page. I was amazed at how each character's story became gradually deciphered through interactions with each other in a bar. Each character felt fleshed out to the point where revelations in the play, especially in the last the scenes were painful to read. O'Neil seemed to delve into the psychological inclinations of each character through "Hickey," the salesman who was unrelenting in his pushing and proding. It is a dark play about grand delusions that keep individuals stuck in the past living in the present.

If part of an actors job is to translate text into performance, into action, then this play is gold mine that must be carefully sifted through. I imagine that part of the challenge with a play like this is to not lend too much sympathy towards each character. Because each one seems to revel in living the lie.

The Iceman Cometh as a play was a magnificently detailed read. I wonder if the screenplay version of it is similar. Something to look into, I think.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Biz Monday Starter: Censorship

Censorship is always something interesting to come back to when exploring theatre and film. I've been checking up on some of my favorite theatre blogs, and stumbled across this post on the Praxis Theatre Blog. Usually when censorship is discussed it has do with a powerful majority silencing a not so powerful minority, but what happens when there is censorship within a minority/ethnic group? Is the argument that we must censor so that the majority does not misunderstand a valid one? Does censorship within a minority group stifle growth within a community or protect it from being victimized/vilified by outsiders? It is always interesting to remember that art, even within an artistic community, is not immune to censorship.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Picture Perfect Weekend

A replica of President Reagan's family stove. Things change rather quickly, don't they? Have a great weekend.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Film Flash Friday: The Golden Compass

A little story about sticker shock. I guess I never really thought that sticker shock could be a term that could apply to something other than price tags. But I think that movie ratings can be a sort of sticker shock. Having just finished the dvd previews I was greeted by a green screen that had in print big enough for my grandmother to read from two rooms down, PG-13. For a moment I couldn't believe that the movie I had seen marketed to little kids under 13 could be rated (and recommended) for those over 13. I was familiar with the themes of the books, but I began to wonder what had pushed this film over the PG rating I had expected. The film was undoubtedly darker than it's counterpart The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Murder, free will, death, and spirits were all subjects broached upon within the first fifteen minutes. What surprised me the most though was my obliviousness towards it. I approached the movie as an adult would. It wasn't until the final battle scene that I began to wonder what a 10 year-old Alysa would think of it (had my parent's allowed me to see it--which would definitely be questionable). Would I have found the film scary? Or would, I just watch it like I would Toy Story? Neat, new, and different? The battle scenes in this movie and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe have been rattling around in my mind for sometime. One of the jarring things about them is that the battle scenes involve children as warriors. Despite the opponents often being personified animals, I wonder if war is encroaching upon the minds of our youth. The success of such movies with young audiences makes me wonder if the films are indeed a reflection of a more realistic, information accessible world where children are often aware of the issues that plague their adult counterparts. Children playing subdued versions of violent games is not a new concept. While working at one summer camp I over heard one kid propose to another that they play good guys versus the terrorists, a modern day version of Cowboys and Indians, I guess.

With movies like the Golden Compass, I am reminded that despite films moving the setting to far away fantastical worlds the issues at the heart of a lot of them seem to hit close to home. I wonder if it is disappointing or upsetting to children to voyeur to a new world only to discover there is no happy oasis. That happy endings have to be fought for. Perhaps, it is a great comfort. Maybe these new more realistic oriented children films are a great mirror for children to look into and study. Or maybe, these movies are nothing more than a subliminal blip in the great expanse of children's thoughts. Maybe.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Playback Tuesday: Sense and Sensibility (the diaries)

There are few things more personal than journals. I feel forever indebted to individuals, artists in particular, who take it upon themselves to document their experiences in the arts--and then decide to share them with others. Robert Rodriguez and Spike Lee both did that with two of their first films. Both men shared experiences that were harrowing, entertaining, soul wrenching, and honest. Emma Thompson does the same with her writing, but from an actor/screenwriter's perspective. Sense and Sensibility was Emma Thompson's first screenplay and she shares the agony of writing, "I go to West Hampstead and switch the computer on. Another draft...I spend the rest of January in tears and a black dressing gown. During February and March I revise the script constantly but the basic structure remains the same. Half a dozen new drafts hit the presses but by 2 April we settle on the final shooting draft." Her sense of humor is endearing, and the way in which she explains the epic part of filming that few know about (the waiting and waiting for the weather to change, for Kate Winslet to recover from fainting after shooting a scene for long hours in the rain and cold, for lights and sound to be set up, for sets to be changed, for sheep to be herded, for horses to wake up and stop farting loudly during takes, for babies to stop crying, etc.) is a lesson in humility and the reality of work. Often she worked 12 to 15 hour days in all sorts of weather. Quite a job indeed. She also manages to take some of the glamour out of filming (in a good way of course). One of my favorite entries was Thursday 18 May in which she writes, "Managed to pee on most of my underwear this morning (trailer loos are very cramped) so I'm in a very bad temper." I am the kind of twisted individual that would never call that too much information. How often does one get the chance to peer inside the mind of Emma Thompson? I feel very fortunate to have had the pleasure.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Biz Monday Starter: Film Industry Heroes

Art as a reflection of society. I've been thinking a lot about that lately. How is the American film industry a reflection of me? Is it an accurate one? If so, do I like the portrayal? If not, what do I feel is lacking? I don't believe, of course, that one film or one character or one script can fully define me as individual, but I do believe that it at least attempts to reflect certain aspects of my culture, my values, and my life. Which brings me to the subject of film industry heroes. I read this NYTimes article by A.O. Scott and could not stop thinking about it. It is well written and brings up some good points about film, the American hero, and American values. Anyone have any ideas, critiques, or comments?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Picture Perfect Weekend

I have a fascination with libraries. The ability to borrow more material than I could ever possibly afford to buy is a simple pleasure that I try hard not to overlooked. Libraries remind me that I am extremely fortunate to be literate. A seemingly simple thing that really took years to master--I think about this sometimes when I am reading Harriet Tubman's biography. How much society, expectations, and access to education has come, and how far it still has to go.

Every place I go I try and visit libraries. The picture above is of one of the two lions in front of the "Queen's Library" in NYC. Below are two images taken from the downtown Charlotte, NC library. I have many more photos of the quotes they had up, many of them extremely inspiring, that I may share later.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Film Flash Friday: The Hours

It has been brought to my attention that my posts having been coming later and later in the day, thus making it hard to read my Monday, Tuesday, and Friday posts on the day they were posted. My sincerest apologies...I need to get my act together for sure! I have been a bit of a late owl lately, but I will definitely endeavor to return to my morning post schedule.

That being said, I have been busy watching films. As many as my eyes (and schedule) can handle. To see recent updates please check out my sidebars. I've also added my Netflix queue in case any one wants to follow along and watch one and critique my critique or add comments.

I am not sure how many people actually take the time to watch the full length director commentaries. I know that I should, but I usually make some excuse not to. After I finished The Hours, not watching the director & author commentary was not an option. The film blew me away and the thought of being regaled with more insight into the filming process was too much to pass up. Before this film I watched Dog Show again, and watched the commentary for it. The commentary for that film was interesting and funny, but not extremely detailed. The commentary for The Hours was extremely different. Both the director and the author of the novel had such insightful and helpful things to say. Everything from why a scene was shot in the spring versus the winter and how scenes were set up to how the author created the characters and whether or not the 1950s character was semi-autobiographical and based off of his mom. They both also talked about the difficulties of creating art...so much discussion for roughly an hour and a half. I felt like I was attending a master class of both directing and novel writing. It was as if I was invited to an exclusive interview, an informal chat that will forever change the way I look at the film. Needless to say, if you haven't seen the movie I recommend it, but if nothing else I recommend you take a look at the commentary of the director and writer...it definitely kept my attention.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Playback Tuesday: Sense and Sensibility

I find myself thoroughly enjoying reading screenplays. For some reason I am actually finding it easier to read them than plays. Why? One of my theories is that theatre is more performance oriented--how people act out a story. And with the exception of plays that are written in more of a literary style, like those of Eugene O'neil (i.e The Iceman Cometh), it has become vogue to leave out character directions. For instance...Jane stares modily into the distance. The current shift in theatre seems to revolve more around the actor. Some actors actually go through plays with such character directions and mark them out. It's this idea that part of an actors job derives from the constant adjustment to what is happening on stage, being "in the moment." The debate seems to be can an actor be in the moment when they feel as if they have to be angry on a certain line or is that part of an actors job--figuring out a way to be angry by the line. Actors usually have general ideas of how the play is supposed to progress and how they are supposed to feel, but what happens when each emotion is itemized line by line? Whatever the answer, if there even can be only one, as a reader it can be hard without such direction to understand why the story progresses how it does. I understand the power of the playwright in theatre, but it is amazing what actors bring to the table. In a screenplay, the story is foremost and everything visual is laid out. I know when I am in the exterior or interior, and with most, I even understand the camera angle. A close up on the face and why it is there. It is as if each character is there to progress the theme, the story. It is less about the protoganist Elinor Dashwod, and more about three sister and their mom struggling to cope with the harsh realities faced by women in England who have no rights to property or inheritance. With the screenplay I am taken to all sorts of locations and houses and fields that in theatre would be representations of location. Maybe that is it? Theatre is a representation of reality, whereas film attempt to create reality. I cannot say for sure. I can only say that Emma Thompson's screenplay is a definite balance between language, romance, comedy, and good ole drama. A fast and satisfying read.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Biz Monday Starter: Audience

As a performer there are things that you can control. Like how you prepare for your role. Did you research your part well? Did you memorize the lines sufficiently? Are you comfortable with your blocking? And as a performer you find yourself focusing on the things you can control because there are so many things you can't. Perhaps the biggest thing we, as actor’s, can’t control is audience. Who they are, how are the going to perceive the performance? Will they like it, hate it? Audience is such an integral part of performing, so what happens when you do a play that presumes an audience has a similar background, a similar academic past, a similar affinity with the concepts touched upon in the piece? What happens when the audience doesn’t have those things? Is the play dead in the water? Should plays be watered down/should they be written above the audience? Should the audience even be a major factor in choosing works to perform? Should we as actors care? Any thoughts?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey Weekend

It is Thanksgiving! I will be back on normal "post schedule" Monday, but it is now time to enjoy the holiday weekend!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Playback Tuesday: Adaptation

I started working on this and realized that this post will need to be divided into two parts: 1) the screenplay and the movie, and 2) the production notes. The two parts will be posted on the following two Tuesdays. For now I'd like to talk a little bit about my own personal musings on the often brought up subject of the book versus the movie. I always feel a sort of trepidation when I find out that a movie is going to be made based on a book that I've read. It's okay if it is one that I haven't, but the audacity of someone taking my mental creations of settings and characters turning them into some concrete visual version makes me anxious. It's the attempt to transform words that resided within the boundaries of my mind into monopolizing visuals that create a shared, depersonalized version of "my" envisioned story. I worry that the movie will come short of my high expectations. Must I accept the house in the film as the one the characters live in? Those are the clothes? The actors, are they now the characters? Is Kate Winslet to dethrone my own made up Marianne Dashwood? Can Hugh Grant replace my Edward Ferrars? Selfishness I know. For the playwright there must be some sense of madness. To be expected to take works of literature that are word bound and to make them into a visual tapestry. Oh the horror, the horror. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the task itself is demanding, it took Emma Thompson five years to write the screenplay for Sense and Sensibility. The following two Tuesdays will about analyzing the screenplay (and to a lesser extent the film itself), and exploring Emma Thompson's production journal. I feel very greatful when film writers, actors, producers, or director's write a running commentary of the actual making of a film. So, next Tuesday I will attempt to dig deeper into one film, one writer's journey and challenges.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Biz Monday Starter: Keeping Busy

Hard work, research, ingenuity, perseverance, honesty. I feel like these are all things most American children grew up with as values--things to strive for if we want to succeed. Then we progress forward to college where these same values are stressed again, though this time streamlined and restructured to fit each major, each college of study so specifically that it can be a challenge to take each value and realize that they still fit into broader generalizations. To be successful, whether in business, government, science, mathematics, law, or the arts, requires the same sort of work ethic, the same sort of drive. M.K. Lewis, author of Your Film Acting Career, stated that he was convinced that successful actors would be successful at any career they chose to do. I read that statement and immediately felt the impact. So often an actor can be overheard saying, "I act because I am not good at anything else." I know that I've said it before. That statement, though, too often becomes a crutch. A way to try and permanently bind and justify your career path. Perhaps because acting seems to be an unusual career, and is often little understood by Industry outsiders, actors feel this push within to defend their career choices--to normalize them. Anytime, however, you attempt to be (at the risk of sounding terribly cliche) the best you can it becomes even more of a striking untruth. I believe that individuals who believe they are successful would not be overheard (seriously) saying that I do this because this is just what I know. As M.K. Lewis points out, they know that the things they did in one field, the steps they took to get to where they are now, are the same ones they'd take in any other field.
As I start to think of my career as just one stream in a larger basin, it becomes easier for me to put some of those values into larger context, which in turn allows me the freedom to pull from larger examples of inspiration, stories, and experiences. That, in turn, helps me to see that though some do stumble into success, most people, have been working hard, researching, getting up early and staying up late for a long time. And, that although, perceptions of what it means to be successful are individual, and often, very personal, a tenant of successful individuals is that the idea of fulfillment from what they are doing keeps them constantly reevaluating themselves and their work. A constant activity, a drive, a passion that keeps them busy and spills over even if they do work at a job that doesn't give them fulfillment like Pearl Fryar.
This week will be all about fleshing out this idea of research and hard work.

Continuing Tuesday with an analysis of the screenplay of Sense & Sensibility, including comments on Emma Thompson's production journal, and finishing off on Friday with a review of The Hours focusing particularly on the director and writer commentary.
Oh, and yeah, this guy works hard.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Picture Perfect Weekend

It is the weekend again, and I feel very thankful that I will be able to use my time to catch up on some projects that need attention. Writing is one thing that I have to pick up (along with watching some good films), but there are also a lot of non-theatre & film things that need to be put in motion. I blog about that stuff over here...just in case you are a closet crafter too. The above picture was taken on a cloudy day in Montana last summer. It is a sculpture at the battlefield of Custer's last stand. An interesting note is that his wife pushed for the preservation of the battle/events that took place thinking that he would be looked upon as a national hero.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Film Flash Friday: A Man Named Pearl

Another aspect of film that I find extremely interesting is that actors are not required, characters are. The documentary is a good example of this. Documentaries are some of the most story centered films, because quite frankly, they have to be. A Man Named Pearl, is a documentary chronicling the effect one man has had on his rural, South Carolina community. Pearl Fryar is an African-American man who spent his days working at a canning refinery working four day, twelve hour shifts, but was able to cultivate a passion for horticulture. In particular, a love for creating magnificent, towering topiaries out of plants discarded by the local plant nursery. His passion for plants arose out of an answer to the fear of his neighbors, in his predominately white neighborhood, that he wouldn't keep up his yard. Through years of hard work, late nights, and early mornings he created a huge topiary artwork garden that spans three acres. A Man Named Pearl is ultimately a simple story about a man and his passion for plants, but gains complexity from the obstacles and perceptions that he must overcome in order to achieve success and acknowledgment for his work. Fryar sums up his belief in the film by saying, "It's human nature to look out for who ever looks like you...and there are always going to be those obstacles. The thing about it is to make you strong enough that you don't let those obstacles be what determines where you go." His personality and humor, along with the often unintentional humor provided by the resident's interviewed, makes this movie extremely entertaining. My criticism of the film would be that I would have liked more time devoted to Fryar's past and more details explaining how he got to where he is now.

Directed: Scott Galloway & Brent Pierson

For more info about the film check out: IMDB
For more info about the Pearl's work check out this BLOG

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Playback Tuesday: Interconnectedness & "The Struggle"

Paper Dolls, written by Elaine Jackson, centers around two aging black beauty queens who return to judge an international beauty contest fifty years after their wins at the Miss Emancipation of 1930 beauty contest. The whole show involves the two actors, joined by two men and two women, reliving scenes from their past and relying heavily on the minstrel show influences. These are two women who have often times unwillingly (and willingly) played into the stereotypical images of black women portrayed by the television and film industries of that time period. Both women talk about things they did to make themselves prettier by white standards. Margret-Elizabeth states that, "...Everytime I washed my face I would leave lots of soap on my nose and let it dry while I pinched my nose--and, voila!--my nose would stand up. Lizzie counters with, "...Well...I pinched my mouth. My mother taught me how to do it. You can make your lips smaller if you tighten them over your teeth like this."
They both, however, have this desire to rewrite the often bitter experiences of their lives. Margaret-Elizabeth, throughout the play, begins to realize that most of her life has been spent in dreamy bubble of deceit. It seems difficult for her to take a sharp analysis of how lying about her age and being willing to "play along" with racist stereotypes has not gotten her many of the things she always desired, like respect or love. It isn't until Act Two that Margaret-Elizabeth is able to open up about her childhood and the beginning of her struggle to find her identity. Margaret-Elizabeth states, "...When I was thirteen years old, my mother went around telling everyone I was nine. When I was sixteen, she told people I was twelve! I've lived my whole life never experiencing my true age. I wore ribbons in my hair until I was thirty-five years old! Mother said, 'When you're young, people allow you to make mistakes. They forgive you.'"
One of the most interesting aspects of this play is that though the central theme hinges on race, the themes surrounding the idea of what to do when youthful beauty and innocence end are just as poignant. Is there such a thing as aging beautifully, and how do we as individuals learn to cope with all of the disappointments in life that, unlike in this play, we cannot relive and rewrite? I found it a very humorous, interesting, and ultimately a sobering read.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Biz Monday Starter: Process

I like the idea of process. A series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end. The processes involved in theatre can be extremely varied and complex, but their goal is to produce a show. So often I find myself getting too wrapped up in the final product. When some of the most intriguing discoveries lie in what steps were taken to get to what I see before me. I thoroughly enjoyed this post by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. It provides a glimpse into the process of researching for the set design of a show. I find myself more and more enamored and amazed with all of the planning, research, and imagination that goes into all aspects of theatre production. The people and the process that makes it all work, or in some cases, not work.

Speaking of process, I also enjoyed another post that featured a writer and her tweets.

Tweets...I have never tweeted before, but it is funny how short updates can tell a very interesting story. This particular post deals with the story of a writer and her struggle to write, haven't we all been there?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Picture Perfect Weekend

Well, it is that time again. Time to rest, read, and relax. I hope the weekend is as picture perfect as it can be for everyone. My weekend began with a trip to D.C. and oh were the sights inspiring.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Film Flash Friday: O'Horten

Film is a medium that I turn to again and again when I need a refresher course in the art of subtlety. The range of emotions that can be captured on film is extraordinary. A single blind of the eye lid can take up an entire screen, and it is so often the smallest gestures and expressions that govern human interactions. O'Horten is a film defined by the subtle. Baard Owe plays Odd Horten, a man who lives his life by a schedule. He is the captain of his ship, in this case a train which he maneuvers through vast tracks of barren, snow covered land to the epicenters activity. From the ease that Horten feels behind the "wheel" of the train, one gather's that it is precisely that solitude that Horten values in his daily travels and that any break in that, such as a talkative co-pilot, interjects personal interactions with people that Horten tries to avoid. Owe plays his character as not so much aloof, but as a man who enjoys feeling comfortable in a small, contained environment. However, Horten's carefully pruned life is about to be turned into something unpredictable and ultimately unmanageable with the coming of his retirement. All of this happens, subtly, of course.

At an event honoring Horten's years of service, while the other train engineers seem at ease and sociable, Horten sits uncomfortably, eyes averted, waiting for the focus of attention to shift. He is a man who prefers to be an observer not the observed. The final realization of the control over his life that he is losing comes about when he misses his last train, his last chance to cling to his "normal" way of life. He goes into depression, and though Horten has never been a talkative character his demeanor changes. He becomes more and more like a confused old mariner who suddenly finds himself without a ship. For Horten to break free of his inability move into the present and leave the past behind he must first face someone he has hard time coming to terms with, his mother. The scene where Horten talks to his mother in the nursing home is one of the few scenes where he has the most consistent dialogue, even though his mother remains unresponsive. One wonders if despite old age and possible illness, if his mother was even more reserved than Horten. Is this perhaps where Horten gets it from? Owe's performance in that scene is particularly interesting because he becomes almost like a little boy seeking acknowledgment from his mom. He acts completely engaged, as if he is expecting a response from her at any moment, and eventually, when he mentions her ski's he gets a smile, but one wonders if he even was able to glimpse it from where he was standing. The movie progresses with Horten becoming less and less an observer and instead more of an awkward participant in various interactions, and it is those interactions (and Horten's subsequent reactions) that make O'Horten a very satisfying movie, and a great reminder that amazing acting performances happen all across the globe--even if in the most subtle ways.

Directed, Written, Produced by: Bent Hamer--Release Date: December 26 2007--Rating: PG-13--Language: Norwegian

Much Better Reviews Can Be Found Below:
The New York Times http://movies.nytimes.com/2009/05/22/movies/22hort.html
Roger Ebert http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090603/REVIEWS/906039995
Los Angeles Times http://articles.latimes.com/2009/may/22/entertainment/et-ohorton22

More Information on the Film Can Be Found At:
Internet Movie Database (IMDB) http://www.imdb.com/

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Playback Tuesday: The Man Who Wasn't There

I enjoy reading screenplays as much as I do theatre plays. For me the enjoyment is getting so wrapped up in the characters and the story that stage directions, locations, and in the case of this particular screenplay, camera positions begin to melt into a subtle tapestry of visuals. And in film, the visual, is everything. Especially since the camera is often the spying "third eye." The screenplay, The Man Who Wasn't There by Ethan and Joel Coen, took me through the events leading up to Ed, the barber's, demise. Through first person narration I got a glimpse of the life of a quiet, often socially awkward Barber, who wants more from his humble existence and goes about getting more in a way that eventually destroys him, and the small community of equally flawed people surrounding him. The true beauty of this screenplay is the way in which each decision interlocks with a consequence equally as dramatic and absurd which leaves the reader trying to piece together the final outcome. I must admit that for the last ten pages I was simply strapped in for the ride, too anxious to find out what happens to Ed to spend too much time stopping to piece together the puzzle. The screenplay includes several photographs taken from scenes in the movie from which I recognized several familiar faces, including, but not limited to: Francis McDormand, Billy Bob Thornton, James Gandolfini, Tony Shalhoub, and Scarlett Johansson. I now look forward to seeing how the movie and my own self created version of it compare.

The Biz Monday Starter: Creative Ways To Advertise

I have become intrigued by the idea of creatively advertising theatre productions-particularly in a way that endeavors to appeal to a more tech savvy audience. Facebook and Twitter groups abound, but I must admit that theatre blogs-the way they look, the style, the topics, the events they plug-are fast becoming an obsession for me. A new favorite is the Praxis Theatre blog. I love the mixing of social awareness and theatre. I believe that some of the most poignant plays and performances come out of a personal need to communicate with an audience. As far as advertising, I am pretty much in love with their take on the paparazzi in Celebrity Theatre. I am a sucker for such things. As far as the correlation between the Internet, blogging, facebook, and twitter and the success of selling seats, I can't say. But a little publicity can hurt, right?

Falling Back

It's that time of the year again. The end is near, and I've become very self-reflective. What have I done in 2009 that I didn't do in 2008? Did I work harder? Did I do things that really mattered to me? Or, if I am not careful, will I be stuck December 31st scrambling to figure out where all the time went (and all of my ambitions). An acting blog is an excellent way to keep me further invested in my career--reading, writing, researching, and watching. All great ways to ring in the new year.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Biz Monday Starter: The Way Things Are Done

I found this article on the Steppenwolf Theatre Company's blog written by a script reader, Pat King, for the theatre. I like it when a somewhat mystifying process is demystified. I was struck by how many new works are being submitted, and how few make it to their stage. King sees his role as less of a gatekeeper, controlling what should attempt to come in and what shouldn't, and as more of an interpreter, a middle man in the conversation between playwright and theatre. He states, "To a certain degree, while I’d love to 'discover' a play that lands on Steppenwolf’s stages, my job is much simpler: to champion exciting, interesting writers that should be on our radar, and to articulate what makes their work sing." I also enjoy when he expounds upon the good, the bad, and the ugly when he says that, "...the very bad and very good scripts are a lot of fun, while the in-between are tremendously difficult to write about." A simple statement that makes a lot sense. Even when reviewing films, the mediocre is harder to categorize or even lampoon/exult...while most people (including myself) can find religious reverence in the stinkers/sinkers and the top of the barrel. Overall, this article also made me feel extremely indebted to the Steppenwolf theatre for having someone to continue the search for new works and to act as a mediator between playwright and theatre. I find it reassuring to know that somewhere out there is a theatre still very much engaged in attempting to introduce fresh works into theatre. As the film industry continues to make giant leaps forward, I believe that theatre must do the same. If not, the danger of creating a stagnent pool overused cash cows as the sole audience fodder becomes less of a thesbian's nightmare and more of an American theatre staple.