I was never what you’d call a “school spirit” kind of guy. I never went to games of any sort, and I attended pep rallies only with the utmost reluctance, and even then, I made damn sure everyone knew I was too cool for that nonsense by refusing to participate in anything that might be mistaken for actual pep, preferring instead to just slouch in my old army-surplus trenchcoat and knockoff Ray-Bans. (Yeah, this was long before Colombine made that particular ensemble cause to be placed on a security watch list.)
But having a bad attitude when I was seventeen doesn’t mean that I don’t feel sentimental about my old high school now. (Truth is, I did back then, too, I just didn’t want anybody to know it). So I couldn’t help smiling at the video that’s been going around Facebook tonight. It’s a little long — just over ten minutes! — and it’s not really my style of music (it’s apparently based on a song I’ve never heard of, “I Love It” by Icona Pop). But it has an infectious energy, and it provides a nice peek at what my alma mater is looking like like these days:
I have to admit, I don’t see much about the old place that’s still familiar to me. Back in the ’80s, those hallways were carpeted and the lockers were yellow and orange instead of blue (which actually makes more sense, given that the school’s official colors are blue and white). We never had a costumed mascot that I can recall, and we certainly didn’t have a lacrosse team. And what the hell happened to all the books in the library? Times change…
According to the info on YouTube, this video required over 2,200 participants, 23 soloists, 800 balloons, 250 pounds of flour, 200 glow sticks, and a helicopter. A helicopter. Where the hell did the yearbook staff get a helicopter? I was on yearbook in ’87, and we didn’t have a helicopter. Of course, we were just a smallish school in a smallish country town back then; we didn’t have anything.
I liked that the producers of this seemed to give every group, every activity, every club and interest, every corner of the self-contained society that is Bingham High School its own little moment. And they even managed to include some lyrics from the school hymn, which apparently endures even after 60 years. Hey, I may have been too cool to sing it, but I still recognize it!
This is going to sound terrible, but I have to confess that Memorial Day doesn’t hold a lot of personal meaning for me. I don’t come from a military family, and I’m not what most Americans today would consider “patriotic.” I am, however, a romantic and a sentimentalist. Here’s a Memorial Day story that brought a lump to my throat: sixty-nine years ago, a young American corporal was killed in the Pacific by a Japanese sniper. His last wish was that the diary he’d kept of his wartime experiences be sent to his high-school sweetheart, who’d given him the book in the first place as a gift. Somehow, though, the diary never made it back to her.
Decades later, that girl — now 90 years old — finally got to read the words of her long-lost boyfriend when she recently spotted the diary in a display case at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. I can only imagine what must’ve been going through her head and her heart at the moment that she recognized herself in those yellowed pages beneath the glass… thoughts of a life cut short, and of another life that might have been, the inevitable outcome of all wars… even the so-called “good” ones.
It’s worth your time to read the details here, and give them some thought as you grill your burgers this afternoon.
Every once in a while I encounter a story — most often for me, it seems to be in the form of a movie, although that’s probably just because I see more movies than I manage to read books — that feels so truthful, so honestly revelatory of some ineffable aspect of what it’s like to be human, that I am gripped by an intense pang of envy. I find myself wishing that I had written it myself, and I feel some level of annoyance that I didn’t, as well as a great deal of insecurity and futility because I doubt my abilities to ever affect a reader (or a viewer, I suppose) as deeply as I’ve just been affected myself. This reaction goes beyond merely liking or responding to the story; that happens all the time. No, this is the rare occasion when I feel like the story is in some way mine, that through the telling of it, I’ve somehow lived it personally. Hemingway’s famous short story “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” is like that for me. Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical movie Almost Famous was, too. And so was Robert Redford’s gorgeous film adaptation of Norman MacLean’s novella A River Runs Through It. And now tonight I’ve just encountered another story like that: a film called The Way, directed by Emilio Estevez (yes, that Emilio Estevez, Mr. Young Guns himself) and starring his father, Martin Sheen.
It’s a simple story about a father who journeys to France to retrieve the body of his late son, who has died in an accident while walking the Camino de Santiago, a.k.a. The Way of St. James, an ancient pilgrimage trail that runs through the Pyrenees to the Spanish town of Santiago de Compostela. In a moment of inspiration, Tom — Sheen’s character — has his son cremated and embarks on the pilgrimage himself, carrying the ashes with him so his son can, in essence, complete his journey. Along the way, Tom reluctantly picks up three companions, each of whom are traveling the Camino for their own reasons. And he begins slowly to understand just what it was that made his son tick.
It’s a beautiful movie about fathers and sons, and seeing the world (both literally, in terms of travel, and metaphorically, i.e., “smelling the roses”), and most of all it’s about connecting with other human beings. Sheen delivers an impressive, very moving performance, seemingly without doing much of anything at all. Emilio Estevez meanwhile, demonstrates great skill with visual composition and also pacing… the film is leisurely without ever seeming boring, and it does a handy job of conveying the mental aspect of a long journey, how you gradually let down and let go.
I don’t know what else to say about The Way, except that it’s just plain good. And that I hope to someday write something that’s just a fraction as good. Seek it out.
Okay, this one is going to take a bit of explaining, so bear with me, please…
The first time I traveled anywhere as an adult, I spent a week in Reno, Nevada, with my dad. Long story, which really isn’t germane to this entry, but I will just say that that trip seemed like a great adventure to me, coming at a time when I really needed one. I was 21 and hurting from a breakup with a girl, eager to figure out exactly who and what I was, bored with my day-to-day life, and chafing against the moralizing, uptight atmosphere of my home state. (The girl who dumped me was a Mormon, you see, and it had been an issue in our split.) Getting away from all that stuff and into a fresh environment that glorified, shall we say, adult pursuits was an invigorating experience. Whether or not it really helped me figure anything out is questionable. But if nothing else, I discovered one of my favorite songs that week.
It seemed to be playing everywhere I went in Reno: in the lobby of the Flamingo Hotel, where we stayed; in the coffee shop at the Club Cal Neva Casino, where I ate a lot of $1.99 ham-and-eggs; in the ice cream shop where I met the colorful old man who claimed to have been with Claire Chennault and the Flying Tigers in China; and even in the bar of the infamous Mustang Ranch, where I went one night and drank a Tom Collins, just so I could say I’d been there. (I chickened out when it came to doing anything more.) I loved this song, a slightly melancholy but ultimately affirmational, piano-based tune that somehow perfectly suited my general mood and frame of mind at the period of my life. But I had no idea what it was called, or who performed it. (This was long before the World Wide Web came along and made it so simple to learn these things.) I’d never heard it before my Reno trip, and I didn’t hear it again for about six months after. But finally, one glorious day, it popped up on a radio station back home in Salt Lake City, and a helpful DJ finally gave me a title and artist: “Walking in Memphis,” by Marc Cohn. In short order, I tracked down and purchased the album it came from, and to my delight found that there wasn’t a bad song on the entire disc. It’s still one of my favorite listens two decades later. (Two decades?! Oy. I think I need to go lie down for a moment.)
Fast forward to just a couple years ago. I’ve just seen Marc Cohn live at a smallish outdoor venue here in Utah, but unlike most musicians who disappear backstage after the last encore and are already halfway to their next gig before the ringing has left the audience’s ears, Marc is setting up at a card table outside the amphitheater, making himself available to fans for autographs, pictures, or just to say hello in person. I knew there was a chance he might do this — friends who’d seen him before had told me to be ready for it — but I was still surprised. I’ve never seen anybody else do this, not even performers who are known for having good relations with their fans. As I said, I’d known about this possibility in advance and had come prepared. I asked him to sign my old, well-played CD of his self-titled debut album, and I quickly related a condensed version of the way I’d discovered “Walking in Memphis,” his best-known song and biggest hit. And he was very nice and very gracious, even though he’s surely heard variants of that story a thousand times before. I came home that night with the impression that Marc Cohn, in addition to being a great live performer, is also an all-round cool human being.
Now jump to this morning. My day started badly for reasons that don’t bear repeating. I was in a just-plain bitchy mood as I arrived at work and signed into my computer. As usual, I wasted a couple of minutes catching up on Facebook while I sipped my first cup of coffee and waited to find out what was on my agenda for the day. And there I saw a post by Marc Cohn, who I’ve been following for a while, and I was inspired to dash off a quick comment. No big deal. I do that all the time with several celebrities I follow on Facebook and/or Twitter. I never expect any sort of response, nor have I ever gotten one. So imagine my shock when I’m notified a few minutes later that someone has answered my comment… and it’s Marc Cohn himself!
Here’s a screen grab:
Now isn’t that something? It’s not like I think Marc Cohn and I are best pals now or anything like that, but I am… pleased… that I apparently struck some kind of chord in him with one of my fondest memories.
You know, Facebook takes a lot of heat for various reasons — because it’s superficial and it’s a huge timesink, and because of privacy concerns — and these criticisms all have some genuine merit. But the great thing about Facebook is that enables a truly remarkable level of connection and interaction between people who otherwise might not have any contact at all. I admit, that’s sometimes a bad thing. But sometimes it’s a really magical and satisfying thing, too. Having the man who wrote and recorded a song that means so much to me say something like that… well, it didn’t exactly fix my crappy day. But it certainly helped.
I intend to do some more blogging over the long holiday weekend, but in the meantime, I’m going leave with you all with this, my favorite song from the summer of 1991, a tune about Memphis that will forever remind me of Reno, and the best-known work by a genuinely cool human being:
If I don’t make it back here, Happy Memorial Day, everyone! Enjoy some, ahem, adult pursuits, won’t you?
In case anybody’s wondering how that Kickstarter campaign I blogged about last week turned out, it was kind of touch-and-go for a while. Going into the final day, it looked like Project 23 might not reach their goal — which would have meant they wouldn’t get any money at all, due to the strange premise under which Kickstarter functions — but after a lot of social-media begging and an impromptu auction of a grisly-cool memento* by their fearless leader, director Richard Dutcher, the goal was met with a couple hours to spare, leaving any further pledges as gravy on top of the potatoes. But then something weird happened: the campaign was suspended for a time because of an intellectual-property dispute raised by a former member of Project 23. I won’t elaborate, as I have only Dutcher’s side of the story available to me, other than to note that the person who raised the dispute apparently has a personal grudge against Project 23 and Dutcher himself, and the whole thing was resolved quickly. The campaign was back on in short order, and in the end it garnered over $31,000 for the film.
I pledged myself and am scheduled to receive a DVD of the film, The Boys at the Bar, sometime later this summer. I’m looking forward to seeing it, and will let you all know my impressions after it arrives…
*Oh, that item that got auctioned off? An eerily realistic prop replica of actor Ving Rhames’ head used for a decapitation scene in Dutcher’s horror film Evil Angel. Just the thing for your Halloween decorating!
We’re only three days from Memorial Day weekend, which in my mind constitutes the unofficial start of summer, and Salt Lake-area movie buffs know what that means: It’s time for the annual “Summer of 35mm” film series at the Tower Theatre!
The Salt Lake Film Society’s website describes this recent tradition as “a summer-long repertory series of late-night, classic B-movies and iconic generational cinema … These are films that audiences know, love and can’t get enough of. Running Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend at Tower Theatre, a new film plays each Friday and Saturday night at 11 p.m. with a matinee screening at noon on Sunday.”
Despite our best intentions and wishes, The Girlfriend and I only ever manage to make it to two or three of these special screenings per year, and we can’t really handle the late shows anymore, preferring the Sunday matinees like the old farts we’re fast becoming. Nevertheless, we’ve had a lot of fun seeing old favorites on the big screen thanks to this series. I was holding out hope, as always, that this year might bring Highlander or Escape from New York, or perhaps even Heavy Metal. No such luck, but there’s some good stuff coming up anyway. Here’s a convenient schedule you can print out and stick on your fridge:
Of these offerings, The Wrath of Khan is, of course, the big no-brainer. We will be there for that one. The Terminator is also a high priority, for me at least, if not Anne. On my list of secondary choices, i.e., the ones I’d like to see but won’t be terribly upset if we miss them, I’d place Fast Times, The Big Lebowski, Dazed and Confused, and possibly Roger Rabbit. I’ve never seen The Warriors, although I’m aware of that one and have long been curious about it; it could maybe go on my secondary list as well.
A Clockwork Orange is a film I appreciate but can’t really say I like — which describes how I feel about most of Kubrick’s oeuvre, if I’m being honest — so I feel okay about skipping that one. I’ve also never cared for Legend, one of the few of the early-80s fantasy films that failed to grab my socks back in the day. And the really cultish titles on the schedule — Repo, Pink Flamingos, Ruben and Ed, and Hedwig — just aren’t my thing at all. As for Reservoir Dogs… sorry, Tarantino fans, but I don’t have much interest in that one either. Finally, I hate to admit this, but I don’t know what Badlands is, although the title is vaguely familiar.
So, to sum up, this year’s series includes two “for sures” and four or five “maybes.” Not bad, not bad.
On a somewhat related note, it’s come to my attention that the Salt Lake Film Society, which owns and operates the Tower as well as the Broadway Centre Cinemas, is currently trying to raise funds to convert both facilities over to digital projection by the end of this year. I don’t know if the plan is to maintain traditional film-based projectors alongside the new digital system, but I suspect not. Hollywood isn’t striking new 35mm prints anymore, and there are fewer and fewer existing ones available to loan to theaters as they wear out. Plus, I’d be surprised if there’s enough physical space in the Tower’s booth for two different projection systems. Which means that this Summer of 35mm film series is probably the last one… at least the last one for which that name will mean anything, i.e., the last to be presented via actual film. As my Loyal Readers can probably guess, that makes me sad. The ending of eras usually does — that’s just my nature — but this particular ending is especially poignant for me.
When my dad told me he’d heard that the Rolex store in the mall near my office was going to be exhibiting the watch James Cameron took with him to the bottom of the ocean, my first thought was, “So what?”
Don’t misunderstand, I’ve got nothing against Cameron. As I said last year in my blog post about his record-breaking dive, l find him an admirable figure in many ways, in spite of his reputed arrogance. But I didn’t see the point of going into some hoity-toity temple for overpriced baubles where security guards would eyeball me from the moment I crossed the threshold because I’m so obviously not a member of an income bracket that has any business being in a place like that, just so I could torment myself with visions of some rich bastard’s fancy bling that will forever be beyond my financial reach. Not that I have any issues with economic inequality.
But of course, I misunderstood what the object on display actually was. This thing wasn’t Cameron’s personal wristwatch. It was in fact a one-of-a-kind timepiece called the Rolex Deepsea Challenge, which rode on the outside of Cameron’s submersible during its trip seven miles straight down into the abyss. In other words, this watch was subjected to the full hazards of the least accessible, most inhospitable point on the planet Earth: water temperature barely above freezing, and mind-boggling pressure that Cameron measured at 16,285 pounds per square inch. I don’t think it would be an understatement to call this thing a masterpiece of engineering and, well… that’s different from just a bauble, isn’t it? You don’t often get the chance to stand inches away from something that’s been on an adventure like that and come back to tell the tale. So a week ago Monday, the last day this precious artifact was going to be here in Salt Lake City, curiosity grabbed hold of me and I decided on the spur of the moment to take a little detour during my afternoon constitutional from my office on the 13th Floor.
This morning, director Richard Dutcher and Project 23 have made the trailer for The Boys at the Bar, the movie I discussed in the previous entry, available to the public. (Previously, you could only see it by invitation.) Take a look:
Like I said last night, it appears to be a rambling but amiable kind of affair, the sort of movie where nothing much happens, but you end up feeling like you’ve just spent a couple hours hanging out with people you like… I’m thinking of something like Diner or Richard Linklater’s sublime Before Sunrise, both of which I liked very much. And hey, this flick has both a hot redhead and a monkey! How can that not entice you even a little bit?
Just as a reminder, the Kickstarter campaign to fund post-production and marketing for The Boys at the Bar is winding down soon and could use your help. I hear that the highest donor between 8 AM and midnight tonight will win a highly realistic replica of Ving Rhames’ decapitated head, used in Dutcher’s horror movie Evil Angel. Imagine what you could do with that come Halloween!
I’m not sure if the name “Richard Dutcher” means anything outside of Utah, but he’s pretty well-known here in my home state. A writer, director, and producer of independent films, he single-handedly invented so-called “Mormon cinema” with his 2000 effort, God’s Army, a semi-autobiographical movie about LDS missionaries struggling with questions of faith. The relative success of God’s Army kicked off a fad of locally made movies that Dutcher would eventually disavow, as it became increasingly clear that their makers weren’t interesting in seriously exploring the Mormon experience… or even in making their movies accessible to anyone except the faithful. Dutcher himself, meanwhile, was drifting into increasingly edgy territory in his subsequent films, earning the enmity of many people who’d considered him a hero only a few years before.
His latest venture is something far less controversial than those films, though. It’s called Project 23, an exercise in guerrilla filmmaking intended to teach its participants the entire process of making a movie, from concept through distribution. The end result of this exercise is a feature called The Boys at the Bar, a warm-hearted, character-based comedy starring Dutcher himself, Bo Hopkins (a well-known character actor, possibly best remembered as the leader of the Pharaohs gang in George Lucas’ American Graffiti), and a former Playboy model named Scarlett Keegan.
The Boys at the Bar is now in post-production and, getting to the point already, Project 23 needs money to finish their movie. Like everybody else trying to do something creative these days without involving The Man, they’ve been running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funding. Only now the campaign is coming down to the wire, and it’s looking like they’re going to fall short of their goal… which, given the way Kickstarter works, means they won’t get anything. Not one penny.
I’ve seen a trailer for this film, and I think it looks like a lot of fun, in the same rambling, shaggy-dog vein as Diner, one of my personal favorites. I’d like to see it get completed, because I’d like to see it. And I have a personal connection to it, as well. It just so happens that two friends of mine — one of my high-school classmates and, in a brilliant example of how small this state can be sometimes, one of my high-school teachers — are part of Project 23. They worked on The Boys at the Bar. And I want to support them in their efforts to fulfill one of their dreams.
So here’s where I make everybody reading this all uncomfortable and squirmy by asking you to please go to the Kickstarter page for The Boys at the Bar and donate whatever you can to the cause. It doesn’t have to be much. Even five bucks will help, the price of a latte. Just go to the page, watch the video there, read the copy, and at least give it some thought. But don’t think too long. As of this writing, there are only four days left until the deadline…
(If you’d like to know some more about this whole deal before you donate, here‘s a good article in Filmmaker Magazine.)
Frank Darabont, who wrote and directed three of the best cinematic adaptations of the curiously difficult-to-film work of Stephen King — The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist — said something the other day that made me smile.
Following a film-festival screening of The Mist, an audience member asked the movie’s star, Thomas Jane, and Darabont about the movie’s incredibly bleak ending, specifically whether there was any right choice Jane’s character could have made under the circumstances. Darabont’s answer went like this:
“Whatever your interpretation is, that’s the right one. That’s why I made the movie. What do you think? Guess what, that’s the right answer. … Except for anyone who thinks that Rick Deckard is a replicant, they’re … wrong.”
I love it when a pro validates my opinion. Especially when it involves one movie director calling out another one for not really understanding his own damn movie.
(If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you must not be much of a Blade Runner fan. Ridley Scott, the director of that film, has long been pushing the notion that Deckard — the film’s protagonist, played by Harrison Ford — is himself a replicant, i.e., one of the synthetic people Deckard spends the movie hunting down and killing. But that interpretation completely invalidates the whole bloody point of that movie. Blade Runner is about empathy, about learning to put yourself in the shoes of somebody else and see the similarities instead of the differences. Deckard gradually comes to understand that the “skin jobs” he’s “retiring” are as human as he is, so he has no moral justification for murdering them, and in the end, he throws in his lot with the last of them by running away with Rachel. It’s a very humanistic movie… assuming that the lead character is, in fact, a human being. If Deckard is just another replicant, he experiences no moral growth, and the movie’s subtle, sensitive theme gets sacrificed for a cheap Twilight Zone-style twist. At least that’s how I see it.)