Friday, April 08, 2005

Blogger Is a Cruel God

What hath Blogger wrought? I had plenty to say to you guys yesterday, and then, at the end of three mini-film reviews and a buncha supernova birthday shout-outs, Blogger just ate my shit. Today is like the morning after a nasty fight; I'm extending the olive branch to Blogger, but how do I know it isn't going to bite my hand off again? So let's be brief about the last 48 hours. In fact, in honor of my amazing friend Siobhan Adcock's newly inked contract for her second book, to be titled Hipster Haikus, I'm just gonna keep these short and sweet:

Yesterday's Birthdays...

Russell Crowe grew up.
At least, he turned 41.
Still has tantrums, though.

Russell gets two gifts.
He got hitched two years ago.
(He was once my man.)

66 candles
for Francis Ford Coppola.
Now find your old gifts!

Props to Bill Butler.
He shot The Conversation
and, the next year, Jaws.

It would be lowest blasphemy for me
To rush through Sandy Powell's day of birth
In merely seventeen beats. Clearly she
Is the best costume designer on Earth.
Only the august sonnet form can pay
The tribute Sandy merits from us all.
Did you not see all that Goldmine lamé?
Did Far from Heaven not hold you in thrall?
Edward II was only a sign
Of Orlando's finery. Our Tilda
Never dressed better; nor did Tom or Brad.
That Shakespeare Oscar belonged to Goldmine,
Though Gwyneth looked like Rita in Gilda.
Sandy is just the best we've ever had.

This Week's Movies...

There once was an actress named Joan.
Like a light in the darkness she shone.
The scripts might be silly
(Upside's willy-nilly)
But is there any film that Joan can't own?

Sin City is a dire affair,
Without a brain and without a care.
I've been so excited,
But this film's benighted,
And more sordid than I could bear.

Here is some news that's more fun to hear:
Off the Map is the best of the year.
So deft and so clear,
So shrewd but so dear,
And Joan Allen's acting remains without peer.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Just Playin'

You know y'all aren't going to get rid of me that easily, even after a week of silence. You know, too, that I've been doing more than just sitting around on my tuckus. I was at a bar mitzvah for my cousin Matt when the Pope died, so that was like a whole confluence of religious goings-on—some kind of spiritual sign of something, I'm guessing, but I can't figure quite of what. And I met a real-life cinematographer at the bar mitzvah, who turns out to be a sort of quasi-relation by double-step marriages.

All this traveling also meant that I was on buses from Ithaca to NYC, NYC to DC, DC to VA, and as they say in Middle Earth, there and back again (and again and again). So I finally squeezed in some pleasure-reading time. And this week, with the Pulitzers being announced and John Patrick Shanley's fascinating-looking Doubt copping the prize, plays were definitely the thing in my reading repertoire. Here are some new recommendations:

  • Jean Genet, The Screens: Genet is one of my favorite playwrights, as baffling as his work can be. The Maids and The Blacks are probably my favorites—difficult plays, yes, but they look like Morning's at Seven compared to The Screens. Rendered in an elaborate series of baroque vignettes, The Screens devotes its first 100 pages to a whole cascade of "Arabs" who are basically lowlifes in all of the ways typical of Genet: they are thieves, whores, scandal-mongers, jailbirds, traitors, harpies, predators, conspirators, gossips, and nags. The most sympathetic character is the ugliest woman in the city, who has a grand time being insolent and flippant to everyone who cringes at her. Then, in the second 100 pages, the whole thing explodes into a territorial war between the Arabs and a colonizing French army, such that living and dead characters are at each other's throats, the seven or eight levels of the stage represent multiple planes of heaven, purgatory, and hell (though not in any obvious order), and the seeming infinitude of screens that serve as backdrops, scrims, and hand-drawn canvases throughout the play start getting ripped to shreds. It's a violent, demanding, wholly impolitic play, and it was sometimes a little taxing to read, but as always, I enjoyed being so provoked. The delish cover image on the Grove Press edition (reproduced above) makes me wonder all the more how beautiful and yet how scarifying this thing must be to stage and to see.

  • Ridgely Torrence, Granny Maumee: The fame of this one-act play, a mere third of Torrence's Three Plays for a Negro Theatre, is based on the fact that Three Plays marked the first occasion (in 1917) that African-American actors appeared on Broadway in non-musical, non-parodic roles. Granny Maumee is a harsh little play about a blind black woman from the South driven to fury by the fact that her great-grandson is a mulatto. (The companion plays, The Rider of Dreams and Simon the Cyrenian, are a domestic dramedy and a Biblical parable intriguingly inflected with African revolutionary politics.) Interesting more for historical value than aesthetic attainments, Granny Maumee is still a compelling script. This collection is a little hard to find, but you can read a lot about it in this academic account of Torrence's opening night or, if you're really interested, in Ridgely Torrence's papers at Princeton. (Also interesting: this 1935 post-date on the legacy of Torrence's plays, published in the important, early 20th century African-American magazine Opportunity. Torrence, by the way, was white.)

  • Warren Leight, Side Man: Somehow, this play was both the Tony winner for Best Play and a finalist for the Pulitzer in 1999. (It lost the latter, deservedly, to Margaret Edson's Wit, and was also eclipsed by its stunning co-finalist, Cornelius Eady and Diedre Murray's Running Man.) Side Man isn't bad by any stretch, and the first of its two acts builds to a terrifically tense conclusion. But the second act is only half as long, and pretty banal at that. Unless this script was played by gangbusters, it's hard to see how it improves immensely on every other memory play you've ever seen or read. (Knowing that Christian Slater played nostalgic-savant Clifford on Broadway helps me to understand what he's doing as Tom in the current Glass Menagerie, though I'm still not persuaded by that casting choice.) As a Tony voter that year, I certainly would have sprung instead for Tennessee Williams' Not About Nightingales or Patrick Marber's recently resuscitated Closer. (I haven't read or seen the fourth nominee from that year, Martin McDonagh's The Lonesome West.)