When the Child was a Child…

On the drive into work this morning, I kept thinking about Wings of Desire for some reason. It’s really a beautiful movie overall — very European in that it has absolutely stunning sequences but kind of meanders and doesn’t hold together all that well, plus it has an American TV personality (Peter Falk) playing himself (more or less).

Still, while I like the central love story and the theme of angels wanting to live as humans, what really got me was the opening. There are scenes of people all over Berlin living lives of “quiet desperation;” we hear their worry and their stress in voice-over. And then, we see strangers walking up and putting a hand on their shoulder, and their thoughts turn to hope and peace. And we see that there are angels all over the place, watching over us all. It’s just a beautiful segment, both in concept and in the way it’s presented.

I think the reason I was reminded of it is because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I’ve always had someone appear for me at the moment I needed them the most. Every time I’ve hit a low point, I’ve had someone come along and pull me out. Every time I’ve been lonely, or hopeless, or just hating myself, someone has appeared and talked me through it, or took my mind off of it, or just said, “You know what? You are who you are, and that’s fine. It’s no big deal. Everything’s going to be okay.” And most of the time, they didn’t even realize what they were doing at the time; how significant it was.

No, I haven’t been drinking tonight. Why do you ask?

Black Adaptation

I’m going to make a concerted effort tonight to actually get new content on this damn website. If I’m successful, it’ll be up in the “Smackdown” section, because I gots lots more to say about Adaptation vs. Solaris.

And in unrelated news: I’ve been renting “Black Adder II” from Netflix and catching up on a couple episodes a night. It’s been years since I saw it last. I had forgotten just how brilliant Miranda Richardson as Queen Elizabeth I is. She steals the whole series.

Adaptation

I’d intended to keep all the movie-related stuff out of the blog and in the “Cinematic Smackdown” section, but apparently it’s going to take more time than I’ve got to get the rest of this website up.

I was talking about Solaris last night and was reminded of Adaptation, which is one of my Favorite Movies Ever That I’ve Only Seen Once For Fear That It Wouldn’t Be As Good the Second Time (I saw it again tonight, and it was just as good). It hadn’t occurred to me before, but in some ways they deal with similar concepts.

Even though I loved Being John Malkovich, I’d avoided seeing Adaptation because a friend had told me she’d hated it. Too self-indulgent, too much reliance on a gimmick. But I was out to see Chicago one night and could only endure about 15 minutes of it before I bolted and ran, sneaking into another theater.

Just an idea of how much it connected with me: It starts off with a voice-over on a black screen, and it took me a minute to realize that the movie had started and I wasn’t still listening to my internal monologue. Over the next two hours it talks about the creation of the world, orchids, romance, music, self-doubt, fear, over-thinking relationships, alienation, identity, irony, Hollywood, writer’s block, death, the creative process, the struggle to achieve, and movie-making. And a lot of people seemed to miss the point by thinking that the last 30 minutes or so were a cheap cop-out or a too-clever gimmick, when the “joke” ending is actually the core concept of the entire project, realized.

It’s too simplistic to say that the message of the movie is “don’t over-think everything.” Susan Orlean, in The Orchid Thief, cast herself as a character in the story and talked as much about her perception of the world she’d discovered as the flowers and the people themselves. She used the orchids and her travels with LaRoche as a metaphor for self-discovery and the idea that searching for something that’s always just out of reach can be more satisfying than actually discovering it.

In his adaptation of the book, Charlie Kaufman casts himself (and his imaginary brother) as a character in the story and uses the process of writing the adpataion as a metaphor for his own self-perception and his own self-doubt, the idea that his life could be like a screenplay — figure out everyone’s motivations, follow their story, and reach the logical conclusion. The world he knew existed only in his mind, and all the people he knew were merely, like his brother, different aspects of his own personality. He had to get rid of the notion of “this is the way the story is supposed to play out” and just let it play out on its own. And then find meaning out of it.

When you hear Orlean talk about the movie (she has an overly-cute but interesting and relevant Q&A with herself in the latest editions of The Orchid Thief) it makes that side of it even more clear. Is she offended by her ridiculous, over-the-top portrayal in Adaptation? No, and not just because it’s clearly a parody, but because that’s not her. It’s not even Meryl Streep’s portrayal of her. It’s Streep’s portrayal of Kaufman’s perception of the character of her as necessary for his movie. Kaufman (the character) spends much of the later half of the movie getting over his insecurity and trying to get to know “the real Susan Orlean,” and of course the ending reveals that he can’t and likely never will.

It’s a lot more profound than I can describe here even if this weren’t already over-long, which is exactly why it was such a remarkable screenplay. I really need to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, because I hear it’s also got a lot to say about perception vs. reality, especially in regards to relationships. But it’s also got Jim Carrey.

And on a personal note, since this is a blog after all, this has been a very weird weekend. Weird, but wonderful. I think I’ve finally started to realize that I don’t have everything figured out, and I probably will never have everything figured out. But I’m no longer horrified at the concept. Once you’ve figured it out, once you’ve reached the happy ending, the story’s over. And I’m still enjoying myself too much, seeing how everything plays out.

Solaris

I finally started to make headway in my Netflix queue, and one of the movies I watched was Solaris, which a friend had recommended. (The Steven Soderbergh/George Clooney version, not the original).

It was definitely well-made. I like Soderbergh’s movies on the whole, and I especially like that they’re a great balance between mainstream and art-film; he doesn’t pander to the audience, and he takes artistic risks and shoots things in a novel way, but he doesn’t get all pretentious, either.

Natascha McElhone as the wife was really, really impressive — she could’ve turned out either completely unsympathetic, or overly idealized. Instead, she seemed like a real, interesting person. And as much as I wish I could, I just can’t dislike George Clooney. He’s not a particularly notable actor unless he’s doing comedy, but I’ve never seen him give a bad performance (since “The Facts of Life,” anyway), and he does a good job of being generally smarmy but overall likeable in whatever he does.

Set design, music, and effects were all good too. Nothing over-done or too flashy; this is a psychological movie, not an effects showcase. The story did seem to jump around and leave a lot of stuff unexplained, feeling as if significant parts of the plot had been edited out. But better that than to bog down in unnecessary exposition and detract from the central relationship.

Still, I hated it. Just found it overwhelmingly depressing and bleak. Maybe I was going into it with the wrong frame of mind, but my take-away message: No matter what, you are going to die alone. Even if you find the love of your life, and they love you back, you will never truly know them. At best, you can only know what they choose to show you. You can only know how they make you feel; the things that you love about them. The person that you think you know, the person that exists in your mind, isn’t real; it’s nothing more than another aspect of yourself. Only in death can we truly know and understand each other.

Thanks for the pick-me-up, Steve. I really needed to hear that right now.

I ate a big red candle

I just realized that my blog entries, although sporadic, have been consistent in their Eeyore-ness. I’ll counteract that by being upbeat tonight.

I saw Anchorman over the weekend. It was no Dodgeball, that’s for sure. But it still had its moments, including remarkably well-done Planet of the Apes references. Steve Corell, as functionally retarded weatherman Brick, stole the movie. I would’ve thought that Will Ferrell would’ve insisted that this be completely his star vehicle, so it was a nice surprise to see everybody else on the cast get a chance to do their bit.

I’m realizing that moving to San Francisco was an all around good choice. I’ve been out with friends twice this week and am planning to go out again tomorrow; that would’ve been a month’s worth of socializing back in the soul-crushing suburbs of Walnut Creek. (No offense to residents of The Creek, but your city sucks and people only go there to die.)

Elevator Lady

Tonight was the Pixies show at UC Davis. The show ended a little over an hour ago, and I’m just now regaining my hearing.

This was a really big deal. Big reunion tour after something like 10 years, tickets sold out in less than five minutes. My friend Matt bought tickets off ebay and we both spent too much money on them, but seriously: the Pixies are one of the best bands in rock history. I’d had a chance to see them in Athens, back when I was at UGA, but turned it down because I’d heard Doolittle and didn’t like it. (“What’s with all the screaming?”) Later, I’d become a huge fan, but the band had broken up and I’d missed my one chance to see them. I’ve cursed myself for that ever since. Especially since, as anybody will tell you, I’ve got an unhealthy fixation on Kim Deal, who’s just about as cool as a person can be. (I’d gotten to see her with The Breeders a few weeks ago, again thanks to Matt).

So it was great to see the band together, and it was a good show, but I just left feeling really old. It was really loud, and the acoustics were such that I couldn’t make out anything but the drum and bass on most of the songs — I heard the recording of the show on the drive home, and I would never have thought it was the same show I’d just been to. It was very crowded, and very hot, and everyone there looked like they must’ve been at least 10 years younger than me. After the whole thing, I just felt like I’d been beaten up. Either I’ve prematurely aged, or even scarier to think about, I’m just old. Or, it could be that I just wasn’t Born to Rock. And that’d be a shame, because I’ve got the soul of a rocker.

Still, “Levitate Me” was really cool live.