Saturday, March 26, 2005

Birthdays

Tennessee Williams was born on March 26, 1911, so he would have been 94 if he hadn't lived like he was trying to die. He still made it to 72, which isn't bad, and all the better for us. Not to disrespect the more recently deceased, but don't even talk to me about Arthur Miller, who wasn't 20% of the playwright Tenn was. One of absolute literary heroes. (Btw, turns out that big poppa Walt Whitman died on March 26, 1892, and Noël Coward died on March 26, 1973, so this must be some kind of supernova date in gay literary history.)

Y'all have plenty of good options for how to celebrate Tennessee today, and if you're in or near New York, buying a ticket for the current production of The Glass Menagerie with Jessica Lange (!!) is a good one, and getting an advance ticket for the imminent revival of A Streetcar Named Desire with Natasha Richardson (!) is a good one, too.

If you're in or near a library or a bookstore (and if you're on the web, you always are!), any of Tenn's plays deserve re-reading, and if you're somehow tired of the brilliance of Streetcar or Menagerie, then a) what is wrong with you?, and b) why not try an equally brilliant but less famous masterpiece like one of my personal faves, Sweet Bird of Youth, or the caustic and revelatory Not About Nightingales, an extremely early play that was only rediscovered and staged for the first time in the late 1990s?

If you're in or near a video rental, obviously the Elia Kazan Streetcar with Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando is one of the indispensable American movies. But presuming again that you might want to try something new, some underrated gems among Williams adaptations are Peter Hall's Orpheus Descending with Vanessa Redgrave and Kevin Anderson; Jack Hofsiss' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Jessica Lange, Tommy Lee Jones, and unimprovable performances by Rip Torn and Kim Stanley as Big Daddy and Big Mama; and the perennially scary, silly, and lavishly entertaining Suddenly, Last Summer, with dreamy Montgomery Clift and one of Katharine Hepburn's best-ever performances. The pervy 1956 drama Baby Doll, which Williams wrote directly for the screen, is probably only for converts, but Karl Malden, Carroll Baker, Mildred Dunnock, and Williams regular Eli Wallach are compulsively watchable in it. (Meanwhile, the news that we're to be treated to a new screen version of The Night of the Iguana starring Jeremy Irons strikes me as a more dubious concept; not my favorite play, and all.)

Lastly, on the subject of birthdays, March 26 is a Davis family occasion from my childhood because we celebrated it as my Pooh Bear's birthday (i.e., the day my mom bought him for me). When I was little, you did not catch me at school, at the library, at the movies, or anywhere without this bear. He's still kickin' it at 21 years of age today, so if you're going to visit this site, I'm afraid you're going to have to honor that. You can make me suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, take my shit in vain all you want, but y'all better be respecting this Pooh.

Even Though I Try, I Can't Let Go

All right, y'all, I realize I'm a little all over the place in these last couple entries. Surely being at this computer every waking minute is making me crazy. Or else, I've already gone crazy, 'cuz I can't stop looking at and laughing at this picture:

Take a minute to let it sink in.

(Explanation: I was reading Gabriel's blog entry about this thing called Montage-a-Google, which accepts any keyword phrase you want to throw at it and makes a photo collage based on Google hits for that phrase... and btw, who knew that "Nick Davis" would turn up a bunch of rugby players? Anyway, I'm in some kind of frame of mind right now, because I typed "disgusting photo," just to see what would happen, and this is one of the things that came up.)

I'm sure it's a great metaphor for something. Hugging itself even as it has its head up its own ass...

Wait, I do know who that reminds me of! (Actually, it's more fun to look this way; thanks again, G!)

P.S.: Will someone please come take me out of my misery??

Friday, March 25, 2005

More Dispatches from the Culture of Life

The U.S. Army is investigating charges of murder, "negligent homicide," and other, related felony offenses in 24 separate cases regarding Iraqi and Afghani prisoners of war, apprehended and apparently killed bewteen 2002 and 2004.

What other stories are falling by the wayside or—dare I say it?—hanging on for dear life in the wake of the all-consuming Schiavo case?

Dear, Dear 'Diary'

149 lbs. (same as three years ago? - v.v.g.!), cigs: 0, calories: however many are in a sausage & cheese omelette, consecutive hours awake: 24, dissertation pages added: 9, free DVDs received in mail: 2, DVDs on which my work appears: 2 (v.v.v.g.!)

Inner poise has been massively compromised by arrival in mail of two complimentary copies of the Collector's Edition DVD of Bridget Jones's Diary. Plus-size mailing envelope had official MIRAMAX logo as return address and everything. Reason for package is inclusion of self's own film review of Bridget Jones's Diary as Special Feature on DVD. Am not kidding! As am geeked out, please allow me to share image-captures taken from Special Features menu:





Was delighted and surprised last fall when was contacted by Miramax with request to include review. Surprise was partially due to company's interest in review despite modest grade of B– given to film in question. However, must report that Miramax has been dream to deal with, contracting to print whole review word for word (rather than excerpts out of context), and advertising website URL right on DVD. Had figured, too, that review was to be part of massive collection, so am further shocked to see self amidst list of only five, which also includes Roger Ebert and Peter Travers!

Feel like Oscar nominee. Except insofar as: all-nighter has led to bad breath, baggy eyes, and half-outfit of old sweatpants and, for some reason I don't remember, only one sock. (Wonder where other sock has gone?) Currently resemble character from Quest for Fire, plane-crash movie, or similar. Must obviously tend to self in preparation for papparazzi onslaught. Must double-check how to spell "papparazzi." After which, must shit-can dissertation and set self instead to exclusive work-diet of writing B– reviews for Miramax films. Wonder if was rash to publicly wish Commentary Pulitzer on Frank Rich just last night; would not want to jinx self!

Then again, before ego swells into shape of Hindenburg, should focus on DVD MovieGuide review of DVD, which features much carping about inclusion of reviews in general, plus capper line, "The authors are ... and Nicholas K. Davis from something I've never heard of called 'Nick's Flick Picks.'" DVD MovieGuide reviewer obviously not feeling pop and sass of review. Is okay. Will call Lisa Schwarzbaum or Anthony Lane later this afternoon (after sock is found) and commiserate, talk shop, etc.

Love Miramax, Chocolat notwithstanding. Love Bridget Jones's Diary, when Renée still spoke in her loud voice and approximated physical proportions of homo sapien. Love mail. Love DVD. Is truly top technology.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

TGIF: Thank God It's Frank

With the Pulitzer Prizes due to be awarded in a mere 11 days, can I just go on the stump now for Frank Rich to win a Commentary prize? He was a finalist but not a winner in 1987, during his initial New York Times incarnation as head theater critic. Now, he writes even better Op-Ed's than the formidable (and already-Pulitzered) Maureen Dowd does about the alarming decline of the country on all fronts, political and cultural. Rich's pieces have been printed in the Arts & Leisure section up till now; be advised that after April 10, he'll be redirected to the Op/Ed pages, where at this point he more truly belongs.

This week's piece, about the faux-Christianity of our leaders and the hypocritical lunacy surrounding the Terry Schiavo case, is a typically sterling read, but pretty much any of Rich's pieces are just as good. Thank goodness someone in the major presses is still worth reading every single week.

I Keep Checking My TV...

...to make sure that it hasn't turned itself on. Remember this little girl? No, she isn't another metaphor for my lurking, wrathful, and eternally returning dissertation. (Although, come to think of it...)

Actually, I'm just scared of her. Which is sort of odd, because The Ring Two, like its predecessor, is not such a well-made film. They're both full of narrative cul-de-sacs, images that don't relate to anything, characters that fall flat, and unnecessary "reminder" images (remember this ladder??! remember this tree??!). Having just seen the sequel today, I can also assure you that Rachel's propensity for making jaw-droppingly awful decisions at the worst possible times has only increased. Hugely, in fact.

But these films have a great villain in the spookily, hairily, hotly mad-as-fuck Samara, and the two things that work best in this franchise—the sheer force of her fury and the twisty perversity of her hysterical, incestuous mythology—actually derive fuel from the sloppiness of the narratives. It's like Samara's anger is earthquaking not just the plots and the other characters, but the movies themselves. Several sequences have zero momentum, and no crucial relevance to the plot, so there's no reason why Samara can't bust into any single scene and start throttling people with her dead-girl hands. (Yikes, people!) Did anyone share my sense in these two movies that, at any moment, this girl could burst out of the movie screen and just lay waste to everyone? Both The Ring and The Ring Two excel at isolated images, and the nearer to Samara the better. In fact, it was a mistake for me to buy one of those Caspian Sea-sized sodas at the theater this morning, because just the sight of Samara scratching at the wallpaper almost made me pee the entire thing. There's a sequence involving a herd of angry deer in this movie that doesn't make a lick of sense, and when the art directors try to pick up the motif in a later sequence, it's hilariously stupid. But the image of a deer who's also mad as fuck, for no other reason than that Samara is (kind of) around, is scary. The teaser trailer for The Ring Two, especially if you're in the dark, is still the best movie I've seen all year. Less of Samara is more, I've decided...even though my friend Caetlin Benson-Allott just wrote a 30-page hermeneutic analysis of The Ring and video-era paranoia that made me rethink the entire first movie in serious depth. (Caetlin is as smart as Samara is angry; her jelly is gonna get published, I'm sure of it, and if it does, I'll let y'all know.)

But by the same principle, just a little bit of Samara goes a long way. That's why, as I write this at 1:42am, I keep looking nervously over my shoulder.

Anyone who feels like posting a comment and explaining that Samara is fictional is officially invited to do so, because I am seriously tripping! I am usually a calm and collected FlickPicker, but tonight, I am set to bug. {{ shivers }}

Photo © 2005 DreamWorks Pictures

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Six Minutes in Heaven

Dang, y'all, it's not that kind of blog!

Q: What to watch when you are working hard and pressed for time, but nonetheless crave a full, complete movie-movie experience?

A: Short films, especially those commissioned as anniversary Preludes for the 25th Toronto International Film Festival, back in 2000ki. The festival organizers asked ten of Canada's top filmmakers to make original six-minute short films to play as prologues to the official screenings, and some of these gems are available now on DVD.



Of the two I watched tonight, Guy Maddin's The Heart of the World is the mind-blower everyone said it was, a comic, faux-silent surrealist fantasia about two brothers, a mortician and a Jesus impersonator, who are rivals for the love of a bewitching geologist who correctly prognosticates a seismic eruption at the earth's core—i.e., an imminent breaking of the world's heart. The doomsday atmosphere on earth (equal parts orgies and revivalism), the competition betwixt the brothers to win Anna's hand, and the lurid intercession of an East European industrialist are the major plot strands...and did I mention that all of this gets covered, wittily and elaborately, in only six minutes? The two frame enlargements are a paltry tribute to the film's stunning and often hilarious visual opulence, and the whole thing works beautifully as an allegory of the birth of chauvinist cinema conventions. One-of-a-kind, and scaled just right for Maddin—if, like me, you were a little over-tired by The Saddest Music in the World or Cowards Bend the Knee. Rent the DVD from GreenCine, which, as per usual, has all the wacko artistic hook-up that Netflix can't handle. On that disc, you'll get Maddin's features Twilight of the Ice Nymphs and Archangel as well; given how much I liked The Heart of the World, I'll hope to give these two flicks a spin, too.



Though David Cronenberg is usually much more by cup of tea than Maddin is, his contribution to the Preludes, called Camera, is a bit more labored, but it isn't without interest to Cronenberg fans or to fans of crusty old men fulminating in their living rooms. Camera is easier to find than The Heart of the World, since it's included as a bonus feature on the Criterion two-disc set of Cronenberg's visionary Videodrome, which you can (and should) buy for 33% off plus free shipping at the nifty website DeepDiscountDVD.com. Check out all those other special features on the Videodrome set, too, including James Woods and Deborah Harry on a commentary track. Fuck, but Videodrome is an amazing movie; what Cronenberg sees lurking at the heart of the world is even sicker than what Maddin does, but you should still find out for yourself.

All photos © 2000 Toronto International Film Festival, Inc.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

"You are my Goldmine, my only Goldmine..."

"You make me happy, when skies are gray...
"You'll never know, dear, how much I love you...
"Please don't take my Goldmine away..."

I get anxious and twisted trying to find the right words and the right argument and the right inspiration for my dissertation chapter, but then I tell myself, go look at how beautiful and amazing this movie is, and it makes we want to keep writing! To wit:



And there's even more Velvet Goldmine deliciousness available here, all © 1998 Miramax Films. Todd Haynes, Sandy Powell, Maryse Alberti, Christopher Hobbs, James Lyons, Christian Bale, Ewan McGregor, Toni Collette... even Jonathan Rhys-Meyers... I love you all!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Y Kant Nick Read?

The scintillating and bookwise Dr. S posted a comment to my last entry in which she heartily recommended a new book by Jonathan Safran Foer (I assume she means this one). I'd love to read it; I'd love to read everything. Sadly, as you watch the titles drop like flies from that "On My Nightstand" roll-call in the right-hand margin, you'd be wrong to get the idea that I am finishing these tomes. Great Expectations started deliciously, and my long-distance love-button and I were trying to read it in tandem, but he lapped me a long time ago and I can't catch up.

I have been relishing The Divine Husband by Francisco Goldman even more. It's a tantalizing, perversely embellished, and wittily historical story about two young novitiate nuns in 19th-century Guatemala and their rebellious libidos, acrid jealousies, religious confusions, and their intersections with various real-life characters from that volatile moment in Central American history. If I'm making it sound dry, it isn't. Read the first page or two, and you're in. But I'm still having the Jabba problem, so I haven't picked it up again in three weeks.

The one book I did finish recently was another academic read, D.N. Rodowick's Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine (pictured above), which is a sort of graduated explication of Deleuze's theories of film, as propounded in his pair of famous Cinema books. Rodowick is a more than reliable Virgil if you're still trying to keep all of Deleuze's dazzling but dizzying categories straight in your mind; at the same time, it's not the kind of book you can read instead of the Cinema volumes, because Rodowick's translations and expansions already assume that you've made your own first pass through Deleuze (even if it was a slightly bewildered one, which, c'mon, is likely). So, I recommend the book, but it's kind of got limited appeal.

Plus it's not what you wanna take with you on Spring Break. If I had my druthers right now, I'd sail through the rest of Divine Husband and quench my desire to read a good play, which I haven't done in a while: piling up in my living room, I've got Jean Genet's The Screens (think The Battle of Algiers as staged by Artaud), John Guare's Landscape of the Body (a personal fave of Tony Kushner, apparently), and the collected works of Maria Irene Fornès. With the Pulitzer announcements just around the corner, I always get a hankering to read good plays. They're amazing, and they're short.

What's everyone else reading?