Raven Maniac: Cusack as Poe

It’s been kind of a heavy week, and today I say we cruise into the long weekend with a bit of levity.  Something light and fun, like stashing still-beating human hearts under the floorboards of your bedroom.

John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe……talk amongst yourselves.

Gifts of the Poe gravesite visitor

I discovered EAP when I was in the third grade.  My incredible teacher Rosie Galperin would allow us to turn off the lights, put our heads down on our desks, and listen to LP’s of Vincent Price reading Poe.  It was the real deal: The Pit and the Pendulum.  The Tell Tale Heart.  Hop-Frog.  Stuff so terrifying I didn’t even know what was going on half the time, but I knew it was brilliant and cut into the marrow of human fear. 

I get the impression this EAP film will be something entirely non-literary and more murder mystery, but if one can accept that, it could introduce interest in Poe to a new generation of readers.  I’m pretty sure you would get sued today if you let 8 years olds listen to those records, which is just a damn shame.  Oh, and p.s., Mrs. Galperin claimed to be an actual witch.  We ate it up with a knife and fork, but naturally that wouldn’t exactly play today either.

Let’s start with The Biggest Issue, which is for many of us, John is Lloyd Dobbler.  I love Lloyd, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve grown up since 1989 and so has John.  If you still conjure only Lloyd when you hear John Cusack’s name, you need to catch up.

You can Google John’s film career, I won’t go through the list.  But keep an eye out for a movie called Identity, which is incredibly entertaining and more than a little creepy.  As far as versatility, don’t miss this rather stunning collection of Cusack movies montaged to turn him into 007.

More than one voice has decried that Johnny Depp is not being cast as Poe.  Really?  Because a muscled sexy pirate is just what I think of when I think of Poe, how about you?

I could sort of see the point of view (also popular) that Robert Downey, Jr., would be a good candidate, but I disagree.  Again, too fundamentally attractive in a traditional sense and too cool to get the job done.

John Cusack is a solid choice.  He’s pale, brainy, and attractive in the way only depressed, intelligent guys in black who shun the sun can be.  Poe was a depressed intelligent guy in black.  Cusack will need more to make it work, but I think the foundation is not bad.

Now………Steve Buscemi.  We might be going somewhere very serious there.  But nobody asked me.

Men Who Eat Biscuits

I watched Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart (2009) Saturday night, and was awed by his performance as a 57-year-old alcoholic “has-been” country singer trying to find a reason to live.  Bridges won the best actor award for this role last year, and I was remiss in not seeing this sooner. 

Jeff Bridges as Bad Black

Bridges is one of my favorite actors, and is a man who (much like my beloved husband) cannot disguise a core of masculine beauty, despite his best efforts.  His character, Bad Blake, somehow manages to shine glimmers of someone uniquely special and attractive, even grizzled, overweight, and covered in his own vomit.  To some degree it feels like he is trying to become as unappealing as possible to repel human interest so he can drink and die in peace, yet he is failing miserably.  Everywhere he goes, the people he encounters still want his attention and his story.  Part of the trouble is that he is encountering fewer and fewer people. 

The movie bills itself as about Bad’s ongoing struggle to deal with the success of a young man he once mentored who now is a mega-star out of Nashville playing to crowds of thousands, while Blake is playing bowling alleys.  I didn’t see this angle as key.  It was mildly interesting but seemed to be only a vehicle to drive dialogue about Bad’s real issues.  He abandoned a young son 24 years prior, and hasn’t written a song in decades.  He has almost no money, and what he does have he drinks.

Crazy Heart is the second movie I’ve seen in which the male lead is drinking himself to death.  The first was Leaving Las Vegas (1995), with Nicolas Cage.  Cage’s character Ben utters one of the most poignant statements on alcoholism I’ve ever heard when he says, “I can’t remember if I can’t stop drinking because my  wife left me, or if my wife left me because I can’t stop drinking.”  In contrast, the line Bad delivers that stuck with me after the movie was his statement to a four-year old boy, “Whole worlds have been tamed by men who ate biscuits.”  This was delivered with humor, but was like a laser cutting through all of his dysfunctional garbage.  Inside, this character clearly was still a gem who would get out if he could, he had just lost his way and had no idea where the door was anymore.

Both films are Oscar winners, and both use alcoholic disintegration as a lens into human pain and struggle.  LLV is a powerful movie, one that successfully explores some very difficult elements of the human condition; but it also presents a man who has no interest in disconnecting his life from alcohol.  It is very dark, and very depressing, and Ben’s problems seem so self-absorbed and self-centered it was difficult for me to have true empathy for him.  The human condition can surely be dark and depressing, but it can also be much more inspiring, and Crazy Heart shows a man on the edge of losing his options who grabs control of his life back in a very intentional and resurrectional way.  Directed by Robert Duvall, Crazy Heart shares some thematic relationships with The Apostle.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t ruin it for you with much more detail.  I will say that it does one of the best jobs I’ve ever seen of honoring characters who make unexpected choices, and of following them through the fallout from those choices to a thoughtful conclusion.  If you love character as the real story in film, you will like this movie.

What DO Women Want? Go ask a vampire.

Literally consumed with desire….

They say confession is good for the soul.  So here goes…….yes, I just watched Twilight.

And then I watched Twilight: New Moon.  I’m like a crazy person, and God help me apparently there is another one out there.  But I felt a need to know more about this pop cultural phemonenon.  I remember how much I admired an octogenarian who used to come to state 4-H camp and talk to the kids, and they actually listened.   She had her own subscription to Seventeen magazine at age  80.

After I first shared my guilty secret in private, a friend sent me this YouTube video, which is just hilarious and is narrated by a guy who struggles mightily with,“Why do all females like this terrible, terrible formulaeic story line?”  This question apparently torments a lot of people.  I don’t think his little video is all wrong, but I do think it is missing the mark.  He still doesn’t quite get what the crack cocaine element of the whole thing really is.

I’ve seen the first two of these movies, and one thing is abundantly clear:  The most addictive and persistent element in the Twilight franchise is relentless wanting of the female lead in a range of ways by nearly every character in every scene.

Some want to kill her.  Some want to be her friend.  They want to be her lover, her confidante, her father figure, her mother.  They want her to be their prom date, their sibling, their punching bag, their teacher, their student, their lunch.  But no matter what it is, everyone wants her all the time.  I’m talking all the time.

The pervasiveness of this theme might not have been so clear to me as the true addictive element if I hadn’t read an article in the New York Times several months ago titled simply What Do Women Want?.  (This article is “not suitable for work” and may be offensive to some readers.  Regardless, it spent a long time as one of The NYT’s most commented and emailed articles.  It’s anything but dull.)

Sigmund Freud famously told a female student, “The great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my 30 years of research into the feminine soul, is, What does a woman want?”  Deep into the 8-or-so page online article, one researcher suggests that what women want, above all else, is to be wanted.  The brain chemicals that release in the female mind around stories, images, fantasies and realities around being the focus of desire apparently are quite powerful, and can be distinctly separated from what any individual woman may want in “real life.”

There is a whole lengthy and responsible discussion about the difference between arousal and desire that may very well be the Rosetta Stone long lost to Freud.  Not shockingly, it seems female scientists are discovering important dynamics that tend to live in this huge male blind spot.

So sure……Robert Pattinson has a great truly romantic look.  And yes, vampires pluck at some weird psyche strings and have for centuries. Add that the idea of undying love is very appealing, especially when the whole world seems hell-bent on squashing the devotion and fidelity out of every last human relationship — with glee, I might add — and you’ve got some nice icing for your cake.

But it’s just the icing.  I’m pretty sure the cake is the wanting.

Elements of Style, Served Whole

A Single Man is a truly wonderful, heart-rending story and a beautifully constructed film.  I had some questions about how this movie would work out, as it was directed and written for the screen by Tom Ford, who built a decade of fashion and design credibility at the house of Gucci.  I have respect for what Ford has done in that field, but that was no guarantee of a cross over talent to writing and directing.  Zippee.  I was on board for Colin Firth (George).

Style is a whole thing.

This story portrays a deep and unyielding grief at the loss of a long-term partner and love.  It also is incredibly stylish down to every detail, and one can really see the hand of  haute couture creative direction in each element.  Costumes, accessories, hair styles, make-up, decorated rooms, offices, drawers, cars, bars…….everything has a refined finish that speaks of a world that rests on a foundation of commitment to design and beauty.

What most impressed me about Ford’s directing and screenwriting was his ability to avoid letting the elements of style mask the agony of the characters’ struggles.  In fact, he is masterful at using style as a vehicle for a theme of what happens when wholeness is severed.  The pretty things remain, but they are shadows and copies of what was once a complete life. 

Some characters cling desperately to the shadows, trying to leverage some kind of unity through lavender cigarettes and Tanqueray gin.  There is only one character unaffected by a splintered life; not coincidentally, it is George’s lost love, Jim.  Jim appears in flashback only, as when the story opens he is already dead.  He appears only in George’s memory, a memory steeped in devotion as well as the happiness and fulfullment that Jim brought into his life.

Ford is excellent at showing George’s attention to details like a beautiful smile, well coiffed hair, or a Windsor knot as what they are — the last grasps at pieces of beauty in the face of having lost what was truly beautiful and irreplaceable.  Never contemptuous but consistently honest, Ford manages to show even his own biographical engagement with style as walking a fine line between holding on to what is beautiful in appearance and being willing to embrace “the awful” — in this case the truth of homosexuality in the 1960s, grief, and growing old — as “having its own kind of beauty.”

I highly recommend watching this film with someone with whom you are completely, unrepentantly, and wholly in love.

You’re Not Really Real Sometimes. Really.

Don’t overthink it – quick, what do Charlie Brown’s teacher, The Graduate, and Heavenly Creatures have in common?

Remember? It felt about as comfortable as this.

I bet you know in your gut, but if you’re like me you prefer not to think about it.  They are all connected because they portray — sometimes frighteningly and sometimes humorously — what it looks like and sounds like when young people don’t really see anyone older than themselves as real.

I first started thinking about this in an ongoing way after seeing Heavenly Creatures.  I was an adolescent girl once upon a time, and it was quite disturbing to evaluate my comprehension of what happened to the girls in the film.  In short, they become obsessed with one another and the world they create for themselves, and when their parents develop concern that their connection is unhealthy and try to separate them, one of the girls kills the other one’s mother.  The film is based on a true story.

As with any shocking tale, there were a lot of water cooler conversations about, “Can you believe that happened?”  But there were also a lot of private conversations between women who trusted each other about how, yes, they could believe it happened.  It opened up a whole dialogue about the dangerous capacity of adolescents to disconnect from adults, not just by going to their rooms and turning up the music, but by completely discounting the humanity and “realness” of those adults.

I had a lot of conversations with friends from my youth about our perceptions of the adults around us.  Unlike the movie – thank God – there was never any serious animosity toward anyone.  But there was this shared sense of not perceiving our parents and their friends as really inhabiting our world.  They were like satellites orbiting around us, and while we acknowledged them, accepted their offers of food and a ride to the mall, we didn’t really connect with them at all as truly part of our reality.

It’s very weird to reflect on that psychological place.  But you can experience it as an observer any time you are in a crowd of kids.  Notice how they make eye contact only with each other, how they seem to hear only each other, how you could swear if you didn’t make a fuss about it they would trample you flat as they walk in a group down the street……….

I love young people.  Remembering how I perceived the world then helps me not go bananas when they seem to not even see me, because in truth, they don’t.  And it’s not exactly a picnic for them either.  I think it just means we have to try harder to reach them on their terms, and to remember that we were young once too.

Yon Cassius

There is so much to love about the movie The Usual Suspects, it’s hard to know where to start sometimes.  I love this movie on every level, in large part because it’s not original in its story as much as its story telling.

The name of the movie comes from one of Casablanca‘s best-loved lines.  In a completely dead-pan response to an entirely predictable requisite response to gambling at Rick’s Place, the local police captain — a good friend of Rick’s — rolls off the command, “Round up the usual suspects.”

"You just need the will to do what the other guy won't."

So today’s question, gentle reader, is this:  What happens when rounding up the usual suspects meets Shakespeare?  We might find out soon, if you follow West Virginia politics.  I’ve been pretty bored with the succession to Senator Byrd melodrama, up until a new character came on the scene.

In this little state, you can get on bad lists sometimes, just for being honest and paying attention.  I’m not in a “get on a bad list” mood today, so I’ll just say this.  If you read this blog it means you like to think and talk about ideas, and therefore I think you can connect the dots when I say that not everyone assumed to be a non-threat is such.

And that is pretty cool.  My chip is on yon Cassius.

Indian Summer

I woke up early this morning to realize today is the first day of summer. It was an interesting moment after watching The Future is Unwritten, a documentary film on the life of Joe Strummer.

Strummer was the stage name of John Graham Mellor, and most know him as the co-founder and lead singer of the punk rock band The Clash

Stick with me here…..

So I’m reading about Strummer on the Internet, and one particular article ends with his quote not long before his death at age 50:  “This is my Indian summer….I learnt that fame is an illusion and everything about it is just a joke.  I’m far more dangerous now, because I don’t care at all.”

It’s too easy based on stereotypes of punk rock to read this as he no longer cared about anything.  From what I saw in the film, at the end of his life Joe Strummer cared about a great many things, but had figured out how to honor those things completely and “not care  at all” about fame.  In fact he seemed to have spent many sequential years struggling to regain himself from the soul-grinding fame machine, not surprisingly after The Clash “made it” in the United States.

Note to self: If you simply must hit the big time, try to do it in France.

I had no idea Strummer was such a comprehensive human being.  I’ll be thinking a lot today about “not caring at all” about the wrong things.