Random nattering

Sometimes I forget the simple, ridiculous joys of IM:

missquickly [Dana]: want anything from le big apple?
me: hmmm...
nothing springs to mind
missquickly: some real estate perhaps?
sorry, projecting
me: nah, I'll take my real estate in a snow-less clime
too wimpy
missquickly: ahh
been living here too long [nose wink]
me: the blood has thinned
missquickly: the skin too
me: indeed
missquickly: it's going to be so cold over there, even now!
it's supposed to snow in boston tomorrow
me: yikes
I don't miss it
missquickly: i romanticize it
but i'm glad not to slog through slush for 5 months
me: perhaps you're hearing the call of the Alaskan wilderness
missquickly: nice
me: no, wait, that's Eddie Vedder
they sound so similar
missquickly: the tender moose meat and fine accomodations
are you in mill valley this weekend, or was that last weekend?
me: that was last weekend
missquickly: how was that?
me: not bad
the hotel was nice but unexciting
missquickly: like mill valley
me: and I'd never before realized just how crazy small town MV really is
it's like 1955
missquickly: which could be kind of awesome
me: except for the bands of disaffected Mill Valley youth
missquickly: MV skin heads?
me: such as it were--sort of poor little rich kids
mini Chris McCandlesses in the making
missquickly: oh no
they break the fourth wall
me: they'll, like, hike up into Mt. Tam with only a few Twix bars and some Vitamin Water for all of the summer
missquickly: ha!
and live in an abandoned refrigerator they find at the top
me: [grin]
missquickly: actually i think they sell hot dogs on top of mt tam
me: well, surely at least a few of these kids are vegan
missquickly: are twix vegan?
me: though there may be Tofu Pups
probably not
missquickly: mmmm
me: I love peanut butter twix
just for the record
missquickly: good to know
more than kinder eggs?
me: I enjoy Kinder Eggs for the toys, but the chocolate doesn't thrill me
I find myself unable to comprehend white chocolate
I mean, what's the point?
missquickly: true
i think it's not technically chocolate
it's... white
me: quote chocolate unquote
missquickly: indeed


On Vassar, San Francisco, and film

From Following Sean

Several months back, my dear friend Ryan called from New York to tell me that he'd seen our names on the big screen, in the credits for Ralph Arlyck's film Following Sean. Ralph is a documentary filmmaker based in Poughkeepsie, New York--based, in fact, directly across the street from Vassar College, where Ry and I went to school. We were both active in the Film department there and made a few short pieces together (including Hershey: A Chocumentary and Postcards, both of which I'll digitize one of these days and post to YouTube, though the former piece is irreverent and silly enough to potentially piss off the Hershey powers that be; luckily, Ryan's a lawyer--but I digress). We both also held internships with Ralph at some point.

So I finally got around to renting Following Sean, which I found fascinating, not only because of the people who are the heart of the film, but also because it glides back and forth between San Francisco and Poughkeepsie. Now Ralph is on Haight Street; now he's shooting from his front door at home, with a view across Raymond Avenue to Chicago Hall, where his wife Elisabeth teaches (and, in fact, was my professor for a few French film classes). Now the sun is shining in the eternal springtime of Northern California; now snow is starting to fall in the Hudson Valley. It was exhilarating and poignant and curious to watch the film bounce between those two worlds, both of which I know so well.

And it was, of course, a delight to see my name on screen, though the film came out years after I'd graduated, moved out west, and given up the dream of attempting to subsist on the income of an independent filmmaker in the expensive world that was dot-com-era San Francisco, and though I now have only sketchy memories of working with Ralph. But my name there, the names of fellow film students, Steve Leiber's credit as Executive Producer (I also interned with Steve and his wife DeDe at the kick-ass Upstate Films in Rhinebeck)--all of it was a pleasant little trip back to those days when my life was so much celluloid. They seem such a long time gone.

(On a side note, the other movie I watched this week was The Squid and the Whale, which I'd forgotten was directed by Noah Baumbach, another Vassar alum. So it's been a sort of mini, unintentional VC Film Fest here in my house.)



With all due respect to those who enjoyed it, and to those (perhaps it's just the singular he) who "really really really liked it," allow me to opine: Into the Wild sort of sucked.

I'm speaking here, of course, of the movie. I really liked the book, and in fact have just re-read it in an attempt to reassure myself that I was right in remembering that it was engrossing, balanced, and well written. (It was, and is, despite Jon Krakauer's slight overuse of the word "morass," which I can forgive.)

So good was the book, in fact, that I had high hopes for the film. And I tried--really tried!--to like it, despite the fact that Dana channeled my thoughts when she said, less than two minutes in, "Oh, no. Terrible, terrible title sequence." I tried to overlook that weird, puffy-lettered abomination. I tried to comprehend--and then, failing that, to not actively hate--the illogical split screens used throughout the movie. I tried to make my peace with the dueling voice-overs. I tried to resist fidgeting during every scene that went on just a bit too long (which is to say pretty much every scene). I even tried not to cringe when Emile Hirsch looked directly into the camera time and again, despite the fact that he was meant to be utterly alone.

I tried and tried, but to no avail. Dana and I were a chorus as we watched: "Oh, no." "No, no, no." "Yes, Sean Penn, we see your directorial hand here." "What? Why???" "Not again. No."

Here's the thing: Krakauer's book is unabashedly personal. He makes direct connections between his own foolish wilderness exploits as a young man and Chris McCandless'. He equally points out McCandless' shortcomings and errors and defends the guy from those who excoriated him after his death. And he writes in a seamless combination of first and third person. You always know Krakauer is there, but he's almost never the book's center of attention.

All of this means that, by the end of the book, you're left slightly annoyed by the foolish things Chris McCandless did but nonetheless holding at least a few shards of empathy for him. And you ache for his family.

Not so for Sean Penn's McCandless. The movie is so overblown and showboaty and drawn out that, by the end, you (if you are me) just want the poor boy out of his misery, as much because he's hanging on to such a wretchedly awful existence as because you just want the damn movie to end. The rest of the McCandless family? You might feel a pang for Chris' beloved and abandoned sister, but his parents seem like such one-dimensional, materialistic beasts that Chris' willful disappearance from their lives seems almost understandable.

And did I mention the title sequence?

A good director writes his or her signature all over a film but never, ever points out that signature. It--and all of the techniques and stylistic twists and directorial decisions that go with it--is what gives the movie its flavor and feel, but all of that is lost as soon as the director calls attention to what he's doing. This is why I hate Jean-Luc Godard: to me, his films are a succession of "hey, look what I did!" "Hey, did you see that clever trick I just pulled?!" "Missed those last 16 jump cuts? Here's another!" Putting all of these stylistic flourishes in the forefront flattens the characters and steamrolls the story.

So it was with Into the Wild. There are characters there, and an interesting story. When Penn chills out enough to let those two elements come together quietly--as when Hal Holbrook's character bids Chris/Alex goodbye--you can catch a glimmer of what the movie might have been (and what the book is). But then along comes a slo-mo sequence followed by a split screen montage accompanied by some overly florid narration followed by hell knows what, and you forget what you're actually supposed to be focusing on.

I wish Penn had stepped back a bit and trusted that he could've relied on the cinematography and acting (which, despite a few wooden or mushy moments, was pretty good) and the essentials of McCandless' (and Krakauer's) story to carry the film. It would've been, I think, much richer and more touching than the Hollywood-heavy thing we got instead.