Category Archives: Media

The One Where I Go to a Wedding

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I don’t know if I’m creating connections that don’t exist, but I feel like Mad Men made a sly Game of Thrones reference last week. When Pete Campbell’s kid got rejected from an elite preschool, the guy doing the rejecting said the MacDonald clan he hails from would never let a Campbell kid into their school because of an old feud. Well, that feud (according to Wikipedia, which is of course the end all be all of knowledge these days) reportedly was one of the inspirations for George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones red wedding scene. Apparently in 1692 Clan MacDonald told Clan Campbell: come on over and hang! And then the Campbells became the worst houseguests ever and slaughered 38 members of the MacDonald clan.

Coincidence? Conspiracy theory? Hommage from one great show to another? I was in one of my closest friend’s wedding the other week, so maybe I just have wedding on the brain.

It rained during my friend’s wedding ceremony, even though it was in Southern California and we’re suffering through a massive water shortage. Their love conquered drought, and even more significantly (from my incredibly cynical perspective) their love conquered all cheesy, cringe-inducing wedding cliches. It was incredibly heart felt, moving, and lovely. The rain drops that fell down onto the wedding party were definitely camouflaging some serious eye watering action.

My friend jetted off to Costa Rica with her new legal beau, and I slogged back to Los Angeles to start poking at an end of semester paper for the first semester of my second go-round at grad school. Now that the wedding’s over and I turned in 28 pages last Sunday I’ve been feeling a little listless. There are still a few loose ends to tie up in school and I have several trips on the horizon that should turn into some new Roadside posts (and work is hoppin’ as usual). Though I’m feeling really bad that my Arkansas trip is stopping me from going to another friend’s wedding in Vegas.

Before the flutter of near-future travel I’ve been turning my attention back to traveling through my closet. I’ve been hitting the black eyeliner hard lately – Mad Men’s return has me all retro-lovin’. I went to my favorite guilty-pleasure-purchase-place (Playclothes, what, what) and got a Joan dress. Time to go threaten someone with an ACLU/Newsweek/Ladies’ Home Journal lawsuit!

TV with a binge watching option (and really awesome fight scenes) is torture when you don’t have time to actually binge watch.

It’s been awhile since I watched anything on TV that made me squee with glee based on sheer visual excitement. The end fight scene in the second episode of Netflix’s Marvel’s (anyone else want to claim some possession?) Daredevil reminded me what a visual joy looks like.

The thing that got me into Pre-Code movies is the deft way they often suggest the scandalous and violent through clever language and shot framing. The period post-passing the code in 1934 went far too tame and the post-post-code era of the late 1960s and beyond got a little carried away with lewdness. I like me a good bunch of TV or film scandal, but only if it’s done in a clever way, and one of the most clever devices is that of suggestion. Give the TV viewer a little credit and the universe of a scene can expand exponentially.

“Cut Man” starts a little slow and the storyline initially feels a bit all over the place. It’s like a baby deer getting ahold of its legs – what, my legs can do this? Wiggle, wiggle, stumble, trot. But once it gets a little gallop going and realizes the elation of movement it downright frolics. Visual joyful frolics. The lighting, the tone, the sound.

In the last scene of the second episode Daredevil goes after the bad guys to rescue a kidnapped little kid. He weaves in and out of a hallway with only little hints at the levels of destruction going on in the rooms beyond the limits of the viewer’s vision. We get some pretty kick-ass action moments in the hallway, but just enough to whet our imaginations. Really beautifully done.

For awhile I was really into Arrow, but I lost track and haven’t picked it back up. (As a side note, out of the CW line up I actually think the 100 is one of their strongest shows, though I also recently lost track of it since the mountain storyline got a little wibbly wobbly and I’ve had to be choosier about what I use my limited TV time on.) Stephen Amell is so pretty to look at, but there’s always something a little too aloof about his take on Arrow. Charlie Cox delivers a perfect balance between good looks, capable action, and emotion.

I decided to dip my toes into the Daredevil universe mainly because I’ve been a Charlie Cox fangirl for awhile (Owen Slater 4eva), but that hallway fight scene 100% sold me on the concept of the show itself. And now it’s terrible that there are hours of Daredevil on Netflix and between grad school and various work commitments I don’t have time to binge watch them all in one breathless gulp. I’m going to have to watch this show almost old-school style, you know, one bit at a time. The horror!

Peanut Butter and Romanticizing the Past

The beverages I drink don’t usually have words like “win,” “athletic,” and “epic” wrapped around the bottle. Thanks to a stomach bug I’ve been on the crackers and Gatorade diet for the better part of this week, drinking epic athletic liquid with artificially colored win.

I graduated to crackers + peanut butter on Friday and that was pretty exciting. Eating peanut butter spread on crackers always makes me think of one of my favorite people-from-the-past-I’ve-never-met-but-like-to-romanticize.

I have a soft spot for writers. My undergrad and grad school theses were both on 1930s film fan magazines. While I spent a lot of pages analyzing the contemporary context, consumerism, and content, I also spent a decent chunk of time looking at the writers and editors of the publications.

Some of the writers had prolific enough careers that they also wrote for other publications, leaving a big trail of evidence behind them. Others are a little trickier to track, though Anthony Slide’s Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine does a really fabulous job of profiling many of the writers that are tougher to track elsewhere. When I was writing my undergrad thesis I took a lot of information from an issue of Picture Play, which had a great two part feature on contributing writers written by Samuel Richard Mook in the February and March 1930 issues.

I would definitely want to do some fact checking before taking anything in the article as fact, but there’s always that non-factual value  – the mood and message that it conveys. One of the anecdotes that’s always stuck with me is about Myrtle Gebhart. Early in her career before writing for fan magazines, she bounced from one writing job to another and worked addressing envelopes at a rate of three dollars for every thousand. According to Mook, her diet at that point “consisted chiefly of peanut butter bought in bulk and spread thinly on crackers.”

So now every time I have peanut butter spread on crackers I think of Myrtle Gebhart, this writer I have very little knowledge of and have definitely never met (she died in 1958 according to Slide). But I have a soft spot for Gebhart and her Mook portrait. As he notes, “there is something splendid about a girl who has been through the mill as Myrtle has.”

In my thesis I got all analytical historian up in the article about the portrayal of women and the rags to riches angle, but that and fact checking aside, there is just something completely enchanting about these little writer portraits in Picture Play.

Mook himself is author of one of my all time favorite quotes: “I prefer dives to palaces, as I feel that in dives you see life, and in palaces you look on an artificial glitter.” True that.

Today I think I can finally eat real food again (hooray), but the brightside to my downside week was the thought of Myrtle and me eating our peanut butter crackers, decades apart but together in spirit.

X-Files Alumni.

There’s a lot of great TV kicking around the airwaves (and internet cables) lately.  I always find it pleasantly surprising when I find out an X-Files crew member is involved with one of the newer shows I get into.  Vince Gilligan is probably the most talked about (you know, that little show Breaking Bad?), but there are quite a few other behind the scenes folks involved in a lot of fantastic television making recently.

Kim Manners directed a bunch of Supernatural episodes before he passed away, but before that he directed and produced so many X-Files episodes that I’m not even going to try list them all.  (You can go see for yourself on Manners’ imdb profile.)

I was a late-to-the-party xphile (6th season joiner), but I threw my teenage self into it wholeheartedly.  I’m a little rusty, but even today you could tell me an episode’s title and I could probably give you a complete rundown.  I never knew the last seasons as well as the earlier seasons and there are a few early episodes I was never a huge fan of, but my memory is decent about a lot of the storylines.

Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (written by Darin Morgan) is my all time favorite X-Files episode.  Back when Fox had an X-Files fan forum on delphiforums there was a group that ran a list of iconic things that people “claimed” from different episodes.  I was the “owner” of the banana cream pie from Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.  It was sort of a silly thing, but silly things are often the best things, and it was a nice way to conceptually connect myself to what I considered X-Files’ finest hour.

I’m also fond of Darin Morgan’s episode Humbug about circus performers, though that could also be attributed to my repressed love of old timey circuses.  (Freaks, my favorite book Nightmare Alley, Carnivale – it’s probably time that I admitted I love the circus?  I still need to read Water for Elephants, though I can definitely say that the movie was a yawn.)

Despite the wonderful surprises of discovering X-Files alumni in current TV favorites, I think the most shocking connection between a TV show writer/director/producer of the 1990s/2000s and present day media belongs to Melissa Rosenberg.  About the same time I fell in love with X-Files I was also crushing on The Magnificent Seven, a late 1990s TV take on the movie of the same name.  Well, Rosenberg wrote the episodes “Witness” and “Working Girls,” (and co-produced several others) but today she is much better known for working on Dexter – and writing The Twilight Saga screenplays!  I definitely did a doubletake on imdb when I saw that.  I’m already a Dexter fan, but I guess I finally have to watch The Twilight Saga.  Sigh.

P.S. The Magnificent Seven was an overlooked and underrated TV series that is worth a viewing.

How a show full of poo jokes motivates me to be myself.

At various points in life I thought I wanted to be a writer, a journalist, an actor, a film director, a history professor, and an archivist.  I think I spent like two weeks (hours?) thinking I’d want to be a computer engineer like my Dad when I was in the single digits age range, but maybe this is just hazy memory and I’m filling in the blanks with something that sounds nice.

In various unofficial capacities I’ve done a little bit of everything on that list (aside from computer engineering).  If you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen in some form.  It may not pay your rent, it may not be the ideal dream situation you thought up in the first place, but if you’re so into a particular thing you will make it work in some fashion.

Lately my biggest pet peeve is people talking about what they “really want” and how the world is keeping them from doing what they’re really into.  I try to think up exceptions to this.  Like, say your dream is to be a skydiving champ, but you can’t afford to go skydiving on a regular basis.  But the more I think about it, the more I feel like a person who wants it bad enough will figure out how to earn and save up the money to do it.  It’s all about owning the choices we make and deciding what we’ll sacrifice for the things that really matter to us.

It’s hard to admit this to yourself and the people around you.  It sounds nice to have ambiguous creative goals or lofty career aspirations.  And sometimes it’s hard to figure out what it is that you actually want.  I mean, I don’t think we always know what we’re willing to jump out of a plane for, and that’s where the hang ups are – suspended in mid air, awaiting some kind of landing.

I’m in the process of reevaulating stuff.  As I get older a lot of my earlier wants are still hanging around, but a few other to-dos jumped on the list that are jostling for higher ranking on my life list. I don’t yet know which goal is going to come out on top and serve as my parachute to keep me from splatting on to the earth at a zillion miles an hour.  It’s kinda scary and kind of liberating, but mostly I’m trying to take it as motivation to flex some muscles that’ve been sitting on the back burner.

Watching Workaholics is incredibly motivating.  This might seem like an odd statement for a show with a lot of juvenile humor.  AV Club summed up the jist of the show with: “Workaholics is…about the extended adolescence of post-college life, where an unchallenging first job and the proximity of close friends ease the transition into the real world.”  And in the interview one of the creators really nailed it by saying they “try to be smart in the dumbest way possible.”

The first half of season one isn’t all that great, but it really hits its stride by the end of that first season.  Hilarious.  Originally I was gonna write about how much I relate to this show, even though their biggest demographic is teenage/young adult boys and I’m a closing in on 30-years-old female.  I’ve got a soft spot for any show that privileges buddy relationships over other relationships, they make references to pop culture I grew up with, my first years in LA centered around hanging out at my dude friends’ apartment, I’ve worked an office job just to pay rent, and growing up as a kid in the Bay Area I used to film skits with my friends.

That last point is the motivational point.  The creators of the show spent a couple years making their own videos as Mail Order Comedy before Comedy Central saw their work and funded Workaholics (and even before that they were the kids in school who wrote and filmed their own material for nothing more than their own gratification).  That shit takes motivation, perserverance, and work.  So even though this is a goofy show with a bunch of teenage boy jokes, the guys behind it are hard workers who figured out what they wanted to do and kept at it until something stuck.

Now, not every hard worker is going to see their goal realized with a Comedy Central show (and that’s definitely not my personal goal), but it’s admirable and sorta warm fuzzies to see a group’s determination and work pay off.  The characters they play on the show are ridiculous people, but what Mail Order Comedy achieved professionally is basically a stellar example of “if you want it bad enough you’ll make it work somehow.”  Talk all you want about what you think you want to do, but if you’re not actually doing it or actively sacrificing for it, maybe it’s time to reevaluate what you think you want.

And nobody’s want is any better than anyone else’s want.  It’s hard to not let outside judgement cloud your goals – I am swatting away doubt flies all day, erry day.  If your want is to write skits centered around dick jokes and share them with an audience, that is awesome, because you figured out what you want.  Now, time for me to figure out what my dick jokes are.  I’ve been watching way too much Workaholics (and like a dozen other shows) and not working on my own Workaholics-esque goals.

(I also thought about writing how I intitially dismissed Workaholics and how this show is a great example of why you should never say you don’t like something until you give it a real try.  Man, serious life themes from a very unserious show!  My favorite kind of stuff. (And also why I sometimes still think about heading back to the ivory tower, land of making everything have meaning and piling on the bullshit.  Apparently I am just a crap fan all the way around. (Like how that Sorceress character I wrote as part of an online RPG in junior/high school lived in a tower and now I think about working at a metaphorical tower and maybe life and art have some weird parallels. (Okay, too many tangents.))))

Boardwalk Empire Odds and Ends.

More stuff floating around in notepads that I wrote during the most recent Boardwalk Empire season:

Textured walls and people in the corner of the frame.  Oh god, I already want to watch last night’s Boardwalk Empire episode again!

Everyone rightfully praises Breaking Bad.  It’s a tightly written story with really deliberate framing of scenes.  When something is put into a shot you know it will have some sort of significance.  It’s that attention to small (usually) inanimate objects that gives the show it’s driving force.  It can be a slow show at times, but you always know there is some sort of payoff waiting at the end of the storyline.

Boardwalk Empire also has a slow, methodical pace punctured by bursts of violent action.  There are more characters and the varied storylines are more dispersed, so the structure of the show is ultimately different.  “Attention to detail” also takes on a different meaning in this 1920s prohibition world.  While Breaking Bad’s contemporary settings are studded with items of interest, the Boardwalk world is an entire scene of detail.

The beginning to this season was especially slow.  At times I wished there were less characters to follow because the first three episodes were like getting the 1924 sampler platter.  Lots of tasty, carefully arranged nibbles that left you looking at the clock, hoping dinner would start soon before your stomach starts eating itself.

Things finally started to roll with “Acres of Diamonds.”  Thought I sometimes think there need to be less characters, I really like the college storyline with Nucky’s nephew.  The collegiate and youth culture of the 1920s is a different landscape that the show hadn’t gone to before.

Historical dramas can occasionally get kind of stagey or look hokey in their costuming and set design.  Part of me wonders what I’m not seeing because I’m a person of 2013, and I’m curious to see how the show looks from the perspective of 2030.  I think it’ll hold up pretty well, but time will tell.

________

Sometimes I think I like all the characters on Boardwalk Empire that all the general internet fans dislike.  I’ve always been a huge Margaret fan (though my fandom did lapse a bit went she went all Catholic guilt churchy).  This season I actually like the Willie storyline.  It’s fun to go inside the 1920s collegiate world, and Willie is a great contrast with Jimmy Darmody.

Sure, Jimmy had a partial college experience, but the flashbacks to his college storyline in the 1910s presented a very different atmosphere.  He left college for the hardknocks Army school and lived through terrible World War I battles that scarred him emotionally and physically.  Even before he joined the military he had a crazy upbringing with very, ermph, untraditional family relationships.

On the other side of the coin, Willie was born into a powerful rich family.  Though his dad Eli hasn’t exactly been father of the year material, he has always had a mom and dad in some fashion, as well as a herd of siblings.  He grew up in a nice home and got to go to a nice college because his family had the leverage and bucks.  Not his fractured adopted family, but his own flesh and blood, as an earlier episode this season reminded us.

Both characters leave college against the wish of elder Thompsons, but their motivations for leaving have a lot to say about the differences in their characters.  Willie poisons and accidentally kills a fellow classmate over some immature teasing.  He was publically embarrassed and rather than live through the embarrassment and move on, he takes it extremely personally and wants a public show of revenge.  He clearly has a sense of entitlement.  He knows which family he comes from, and he doesn’t consider the consequences of his actions because he has the Thompson family safety net.

Jimmy’s safety net was always tenuous.  Even though he had Nucky as ally, they weren’t related, and his life never had any truly reliable family members.  When he went off to fight in WWI he needed an escape, and he made his reckless decision fully aware that it could be his death.  WWI served as Jimmy’s emotional death, and it only took a few mistakes before Nucky made it his physical death too.  The brutal and violent physicality of Jimmy is a manifestation of all the wrongs he was served in life and how his connection with reality and security was tenuous from birth.

I don’t think Willie thought of poisoning his enemy, leaving college, and pegging the murder on his friend and roommate as a death sentence.  I don’t think he realized the levity of his actions until after they occurred, while I think Jimmy was fully conscious that his decisions placed him on a death tightrope.  Willie doesn’t seem to have that same suicidal bent.

Willie seems to embody the roaring twenties cliches more than Jimmy.  To me, Jimmy was always a product or embodiment of the legacy of modern warfare and a domestic byproduct of late 19th century machine boss politics.  His life had more to say about the 1900s and 1910s.

Willie’s a spoiled rich kid who seems to think the world owes him something.  Even though Nucky gives him Ragged Dick, I don’t think he’s going to take Horatio Alger to heart – the 1920s ethos is to get rich quick and have a good time in the city.  Though willie says he wants to work hard and earn his way in life, the Alger protagonist is a hero for older generations.  It’s only a matter of time before Willie gets swept up into mess of the 1920s and his personal Great Depression hits.

As I said earlier, I do like the Willie character, and part of me hopes that he turns out to be a stronger presence and less of a pawn for sussing out the Nucky and Eli relationship.

Don’t Get Bitten.

Sometimes I wonder if there is danger in reading things I feel such a simpatico relationship with.

I discovered Raymond Carver’s short stories through the Robert Altman film Short Cuts.  There is something so appealingly spare and non-fantastic about Carver’s stories that I find them very easy to sink into.  His characters live through mundane but profound experiences that are so far away from the usual fantasy, sci-fi, and historical that I’m attracted to.  Though the tales deal with relationships and feelings between characters, there is an overlaying emotional detachment that I find appealing.

Despite my interest in Carver’s work, reading his short stories doesn’t lift my spirits.  Instead I find myself simmering in melancholy, flopping around in a pool of muddy feeling.  I wouldn’t call the writing a downer, but a sort of satisfying status quo romp when all I want to do is have a silent tantrum within my own downed emotions.  There is fulfillment in Carver stories, but also an edge of danger.  Heck, maybe that even ups the appeal.

On a college break I started reading Sylvia Plath’s diaries, and I had to stop reading them because they were making me crazy.  I’ve abandoned many books in the past, so it’s not like setting aside her diaries was anything revolutionary, but her ramblings struck such a chord with me that I began to feel myself slip into her despair.

The other month when playing a game I said I’d come back reincarnated as Sylvia Plath – what a terrible answer!  In retrospect I wish I’d said Margaret Sanger or Eleanor Roosevelt, but my first thought was Plath, mostly based on how I became so entwined with the spirit in her diaries.  I want to go back and finish them, but I think I need to make sure I’m in a mentally good place in life first.

I’m not really sure where I was going with this, other than to say that there is both a pleasure and a danger to books.  I usually think of writing as an antidote to ailments, so it’s an inversion of my usual mode of thought to mark good writing as something akin to handling rattlesnakes.  I guess there is a thrill in risking a bite.  I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes (from a tea bag tag):

“Books have the same enemies as people: fire, humidity, animals, weather, and their own content.” – Paul Valery (1871-1945)