Archive for the ‘Reality’ Category

LEGO my nervous system

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Lego Movie

Am I the only one who got hyperventilated and got dizzy watching The Lego Movie? It was like a Pixar movie on  a Tilt-a-Whirl on methamphetamine. Which is actually an unfair comparison, because Pixar movies usually have a real heart instead of a fake one implanted at the last moment with that live action message moment. And Pixar’s stories usually unfold rather than being blasted at you like buckshot from a scattershot nuclear neon shotgun on ‘stun.’ The Lego Movie makes Toy Story look like a puppet show power point presentation.

Sure, I get the popularity of the movie. It’s like crack for kids with short attention spans. I don’t think there’s a scene that lasts more than three seconds before another chase with a thousand pieces of visual and aural stimulation bombard you incessantly into submission. I get the feeling the creators’ sensibility and inspiration was formed under ecstasy at a Rave with strobe lights flashing. The filmmakers don’t take any chances or trust that you won’t get restless unless there’s sight gags, random joke comments, recycled plot memes, first person roller coaster gyrations and explosions pummeling you every possible moment.

This film shouldn’t get three stars; it deserves six Red Bulls, because that’s what it was conceived, animated and produced on. I’m not exaggerating when I say I walked out of the theater with physical heart palpitations as if I had drunk the Red Bulls myself. That’s why the film itself is like an Adderall prescription for restless 3-10 years olds. No doubt they are pummeling their parents to take them to their nearest toy store RIGHT NOW to gobble up Lego kits they will take home to try and recreate the visceral thrill of the picture, that is… until they realize again Legos actually don’t animate themselves unless you ARE on drugs.

Okay, I’m a codger, a fuddy dud, an aging boomer. But it’s almost like our entire culture is now the movie Speed, where the bus will explode the moment it de-accelerates below 50 miles per hour.

i_love_lucy_chocolate_factory_scene_parodied_in_my_little_ponyBut what all these people drinking 5-Hour Energy drinks, Red Bull, Starbucks coffee infusions, Mountain Dew and jacking themselves up on high-intensity shooter games, and Lego movies don’t realize… is that there IS a price to be paid for pushing your adrenaline glands to the max 24/7. You WILL crash and burn out. Eventually. And sooner rather than later. It may be physical when you wipe out your adrenals, or mental when you fry your synapses, but you’re headed for a fall. Maybe we’re all headed for a fall. Think of your brain like Lucy Ricardo on  I Love Lucy trying to keep up with the chocolates coming down the conveyor belt, which keeps getting faster and faster until everything is all Fudged Up (no one gets that reference but boomers, but that’s okay).

One sign is to just look around next time you’re out and see people with the jittery legs. You know who I’m talking about. They’re sitting, but their leg is jittering like they are anxious to go somewhere, anywhere. Like the very act of trying to sit still is causing them to hyperventilate, or boil like water cooling the rods of a nuclear reactor. TMI see this EVERYWHERE now, and it’s obviously some manifestation of some real or manufactured pent up energy having a hard time being contained. I know people who would physically explode if they ever tried to harness or still their bodies and minds long enough to practice transcendental meditation.

I remember my psychic mother-in-law (yes, I had a licensed psychic mother-in-law) once told me that the human race was vibrating itself out of existence. Naturally, I put this observation into the category of many other wild predictions she made that seemed a bit far-fetched at the time.

Now… I’m not so sure. The idea that we can’t focus on any one task at a time; that we have to be stimulated constantly by multiple inputs at all times… is a pretty clear symptom of this phenomenon. No one can actually attend a concert, sit and just listen anymore. They have to sit, stand, listen, yell, sway, jazz hands, record with their iPhone, tweet to their friends, and save to their Facebook all at the same time. The idea of any experience being purely one thing anymore is passé. It’s not even allowed to be a real experience unless it’s somehow documented, recorded, relayed or re-copied or Instagramed ad infinitum and at the same moment.

Maybe this is the current evolution of the human race; to require so much multiple stimulation at one time to speed up the process of our internal coping mechanism and force that evolutionary leap to processing everything faster like the computers that serve us.

Or maybe we’ll discover sooner than we expect or are prepared for, that, unlike the lifeless microprocessors in our computers, the only thing you get when you speed up the processing of the living tissue, meat and blood we are ultimately made of… is hamburger.

Maybe that’s why zombies are so popular right now in the culture. It’s not because we fear them or the apocalypse; it’s because we envy them. They only have one thing on their minds at any time, all the time: your brains.

If you’re ten years old and you now set The Lego Movie as your necessary level of stimulation, then I will wave to you as you pass me by aging your nervous system at rate 100 times faster than any entertainment I ever grew up with. I may still be living in Mayberry, but you’re next stop in The Twilight Zone is Willoughby. (Google that while you read this, watch YouTube and listen to Imagine Dragons)

– A. Wayne Carter

 

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I believe Woody Allen

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Wooden Allen directs Cate Blanchett in his latest film Blue Jasmine

I have zero loyalty to Woody Allen, either as a man, or as a comedian or a director. I rarely see his films anymore. If he were a scumbag pedophile, put me on the list to have him go to prison and rot in hell. But sometimes perversity is in the mind of the accuser, and I believe this is one of those times.

Less than a week after Woody Allen was celebrated at the Golden Globe awards with a typically daffy speech by Diane Keaton, an accusation that he sexually assaulted his seven year-old daughter when he was married to her mother, actress Mia Farrow, suddenly surfaced again. A remarkably vivid account by the daughter of the episode from 20 years ago appeared in the paper. Could this man really be a monster instead of a beloved comedian and director? Let’s check some of the details:

The alleged assault was investigated at the time of the accusation by the police and by prosecutors and no evidence or charges were ever brought forth. Allen may be a celebrity, but if there were any strong evidence beyond heresay that the event occurred, the New York tabloid press would eviscerated him beyond any favoritism or protection from the law.

The accusation occurred shortly after Allen had broken up with his wife and after his affair with her high school-age daughter. Yeah, that’s pretty icky. But the couple didn’t live together and it wasn’t his or her biological daughter. He can definitely pass the stink test as an old lech, but if you want to condemn middle-aged men for lusting after high school-age women or perhaps their children’s nannies, be prepared to throw a wide net. We’re all a bit Jack Nicholson when it comes to a Jennifer Lawrence (and yes, he did sort of hit on her). But there’s a huge difference between attraction to a fresh young woman and sexually assaulting a child. And Allen’s ‘attraction’ for the young woman went beyond infatuation to the point where he has been happily married to her for the past 20 years. If he was such a powerful and sick-minded predator, he could have easily sidestepped that commitment.

Okay, so you have a woman, an actress no less, who was not only emotionally attached to Allen, but also professionally – she appeared in several of his movies. She’s dumped in the worse possible way, and is consumed with a hatred, spite and anger beyond anything we can comprehend. Enough that she leaves an actual message for Allen warning him, “You took my daughter, so I’m going to take yours.” And that’s just what Allen (and I) believe she did. She took the only child that, as it turns out, was biologically his with her, and turned her against the father in the most vicious way possible – by planting the seed of an assault and feeding it for the past twenty years. There’s no question the girl now believes it. But where have we seen this before? How about the Salem Witch Trials? How about the McMartin Case in California?

I lived in Los Angeles when the story of the alleged child molesting McMartin day care providers rocked the media. The trial went on for months, lives were ruined, and, in the end, it was found out the workers were innocent. One young child was coached to provide damning testimony and got tons of attention, and the next thing you know, all these other children were solicited to provide testimony and, one by one, when they were asked, “And did such and such happen to you?” “Yes, it did,” they agreed, and they got tons of attention, too. Fortunately, no one was hung or burned at the stake before the stories were proven fancifully false.

But never mind all that, let’s just use some common sense. Almost every actress who has worked with Allen in the past twenty years has either been nominated for an Academy Award or won. How does this happen? How do they give the best performances of their lives for this director? And why do they trust him so much? Don’t they have any ounce of intuition if he were some kind of secret predator, monster or pedophile? Aren’t actresses supposed to be the MOST intuitive or empathetic because of their skills? Or is it because he just creates a unique protective environment for them to open up on screen? That takes a tremendous amount of trust. And loyalty. The major actresses all flock to appear in his movies, not just because they think they will get nominated, but because they know they will have a remarkable experience in an emotionally nurturing environment.

So imagine you’re an actress who will never have that opportunity again – either professionally OR emotionally? And you were married to the man for 10 years. And he fell in love and ran off with your adopted daughter? It’s like the hate, spite and anger trifecta. What could you possibly do to get back at him? And at a time when, once again, an actress – not you – is going to win an Academy Award for Best Actress for being in one of his pictures (Yes, Cate Blanchett is going to win for Blue Jasmine). Would you casually and spitefully reveal that his other supposed biological child is not his, but Frank Sinatra’s? Ouch, that’s got to burn. And would you help revive an old accusation that he assaulted his one biological daughter and with some new details that were magically never presented during the original accusation? Would that hurt him enough?

Would it hurt him more than the Valentine’s Card you once sent that actually had needles stuck into the faces of all your seven children, and a knife with your adopted daughter’s face stabbed into the heart?

Sometimes perversity IS in the mind of the accuser, and sometimes it’s enough to poison the mind of a child and spew more hate than anyone can imagine.

Woody Allen is no angel. He’s a neurotic, old man who made an indefensible lapse in judgment initiating an affair with the one young woman who his wife would see as the greatest betrayal. But he’s still with that other woman 20 years later and she still loves him. Sometimes love is blind and stupid and hideously unfair, but sometimes the heart wants what it wants.

And if another woman is incapable of ever reaching a point of forgiveness, if only for her own sake, she will just continue to stab and stab and stab at that heart.

 

– A. Wayne Carter

 

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Time Enough At Last?

Monday, January 6th, 2014

timeenoughatlastHappy New Year!

The classic The Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough At Last” features Burgess Meredith as a harried bank employee and henpecked husband who longs to have peaceful time alone to read his beloved books. When nuclear annihilation of the world occurs while he’s safely hiding in a bank vault reading during his lunch hour, he emerges to a new dawn where he has no responsibilities other than ‘all the time in the world’ to read. He gathers books into piles on the library steps assigning each pile a future year to read, and then clumsily drops and shatters his Coke bottle glasses, essentially leaving himself blind.

Baby boomers didn’t grow up with Aesop’s Fables as their moral compass or their primer on the karmic twists and cruel ironies of life – we got all those lessons on The Twilight Zone.

And there is no more cruel irony than realizing you are in the fourth quarter of your life (sorry, boomers, but it’s not the ‘third act’), and though you may have carved out considerable more time after relinquishing child-rearing duties and full-time job constraints, there just isn’t enough time left to enjoy all your favorite media you’ve accumulated again and again.

I love music and I love movies – to the point where, over the years I’ve collected thousands of LPs or CDs, DVDs and now Blu-rays (I never collected VHS tapes because it was just a poor ass inconvenient medium). Media LibraryAt some point I began restricting the collection to about 500 CDs and 500 movies on DVD or Blu-ray. Shelf space was a consideration, so any time my collection exceeded the space, I had to weed out the less essential and trade them in. It was a good system that created an ever-evolving library that kept me re-defining exactly what was ‘essential.’ But now I know that, even at this level, the time I have to review all the television series or films or albums I love is limited to the point where I’ll never hear or see all of my library again. Not unless that was all I spent my time doing, which, of course, is not going to happen. I actually watch less television now than I did as a kid (maybe 3-4 hours a day versus 6 as a kid). And the only time I listen to music at the levels I want (loud) is probably in my car or through my ear buds at the gym.

There used to be a time where, when a new album by one of my favorite artists came out, I would wait for the perfect unencumbered 40-50 minutes to listen, position myself between my 80-pound ESS Speakers, lie back, and just fully devote myself to the listening experience. The only equivalency to that today is if I have a drive over 30 minutes alone in the car. Otherwise, it’s just songs here and there.

We like to accuse millennials or our children of shorter attention spans and less focus on reading an entire book or listening to an entire album. But if we are honest, we know it’s not them that have changed, but the culture they are dealing with, where there is just ten times as much media competing for our attention at all times. Media BombardmentThey don’t buy albums; they just buy a song on iTunes. So is it any wonder they don’t collect physical media like CDs or books? Because the nature of everything now is so micro-transitory and momentary. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, and it keeps us more in the moment. But I can’t help but think that by trying to absorb everything that’s coming at us in smaller and smaller bits and pieces – songs, films, television, youTube, texts, gossip, twitter, news, etc. – we are actually absorbing NOTHING.

Wayne w Scripts sWhen I write a screenplay, I spend maybe hundreds of hours focusing on the structure, story and character to deliver as deeply rich an experience of the tale as possible. But no producer, agent or studio exec has two undivided hours or wants to read 120 pages, so they skim it or just read a two-page coverage. And, even if they love the story and buy the script, they provide notes based on a very superficial understanding of what went into the story. That’s why films are so bad today. The deal is everything. Nobody reads, or takes the time to grasp the full vision.

The pure experience of melding with the intention of the artist has been reduced from the time it takes to read a novel, or a screenplay, or listen to a full album, to about the length of one song or a YouTube video. With so many things competing for and dividing our attention, that’s about all we’ll give it.

Where this goes or ends up, I have no idea. But I enter the New Year a bit sad that I won’t have the time to fully re-experience all the great movies, albums and books that really combined to make me the artist and person I am, and with the full attention I once devoted to them. time enoughAnd that my son will never share all the same interests or devote his time to going through my library. But why should he? He has to create his own persona.

One of my resolutions this year is to put some filters on, use extreme discrimination, and realize that 90 percent of what’s being blasted at us through media is just useless distraction. And, beyond all the other more essential life experiences – family time, friends, work and travel – try to give the films, music or books I actually choose to re-visit the time and attention they deserve. Like old friends, they’ve given me so much.

– A. Wayne Carter

 

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Merry Christmas 2013!

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Speaking of 1963…
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0000999-R1-E009And the son also beams…

xmas2002002

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Where were we in ’63?

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Fourth grade. Miss Booth’s class. Miss Booth wore glasses and had a big bun of white hair. She looked like George Washington, but she was also my favorite teacher in elementary school, and a very sweet person to have looking over you when the P.A. system came on and the principal announced that our President had just died after being shot. I was nine years old.

We were told to be silent and I can remember just putting my head down on the desk and trying to grasp what it meant that “Our President” had just been killed. Then they sent us home. I can’t remember if I ran or walked the mile or so home. Because of the Cold War and nearby Washington D.C. being a ground zero target for Soviet ICBMs, we often had Civil Defense drills where we were released from school and told to run home as fast as we could. This was no drill. I can only remember getting home and finding my mom red-eyed and crying on the couch in front of the television in our living room.

We lived in Maryland about 15 miles from the White House and everyone we knew in our universe liked President Kennedy. He was young and vibrant and optimistic. The Cold War with Russia was tense, but the ‘hot’ wars were over and America was in a boom economy. He promised we’d be on the moon within the decade after the Russians had gotten the jump on us to space with Sputnik, and we believed him. We envisioned the future like the cartoon, “The Jetsons” with our families living in dwellings among the clouds and scooting around on our own private flying saucers. The press labeled the glow of optimism that surrounded Kennedy and fueled our belief in the future as “Camelot” – a magical kingdom on a hill.

It seems that few people to this day can believe that a lone gunman discontent or looking for glory could bring that kingdom down with a cheap Italian rifle and two bullets. I couldn’t believe it. I spent years later in California going to lectures by Mark Lane and other conspiracy theorists trying to weave some fantastical story that gave such a senseless tragedy the mass complex story line it deserved. But I’ve spent the rest of my life learning to understand that, more often, the simplest explanation is usually right, and today, single lone disturbed gunman cause havoc almost every day. The problem with most mass conspiracy theories is they involve human beings, who are flawed and often susceptible to paranoia; they involve other human agents who are never as brilliant as we attribute their plots to be; and most people (who are not professional spies or soldiers) can’t resist the attention from spilling secrets if they know anything. Human behavior demystifies the myths almost every time. (For my full view on conspiracy theories see this blog).

Here’s what I do know is true: John F. Kennedy saved the world. At the most tense moment in the Cold War for thirteen days in October of 1962, when Russian was placing nuclear warheads aimed at the United States in Cuba, Kennedy resisted bullying five-star hawk generals like Curtis Lemay demanding we immediately attack, which would have certainly ignited World War III. Instead, he challenged and stared down the Russian Leader Khrushchev both through public denunciations at the United Nations, and through secret emissaries communicating indirectly, and made a face-saving deal for Khrushchev to back down and withdraw the missiles. Strong arm diplomacy instead of knee-jerk reaction won. And for nine year-olds like us who were shown 18 millimeter films in school of how we could somehow protect ourselves from a nuclear bomb by ducking and covering under our desks, the imminent threat of a worldwide exchange of thousands of inter-continental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads was lifted.

A year later, and long before the details of that story were ever fully revealed, our President was dead. Two days later his assassin was shot by police wannabe Jack Ruby (a George Zimmerman for his day); a familiar Dallas nightclub owner with aspirations for his own vigilante glory. And we spent the next few days watching Kennedy’s funeral. There were only three television channels back then and they were all tuned into the funeral events nonstop. We saw the flag-covered coffin in the caisson move slowly through the cold streets of Washington. We watched six year-old John Jr. salute at his father’s grave. We watched the widow, usually fashionable with a stylish hat and sunglasses, sheathed in a dismal black with a veil. And we experienced the optimistic spirit that so pervaded his presidency being gradually lowered into the ground along with his remains.

I guess you can say we just grew up. We learned to no longer believe in the shining kingdom on a hill. JFK had Addison’s disease. He took steroids. The steroids destroyed his back. He slept around. His wife remarried a Greek tycoon. John Jr. died piloting his own plane. Personal details soon overshadowed the mythical qualities of a president who could actually represent a nation’s collective hopes and aspirations.

Where were we in ’63? Naïve, but blissfully optimistic.

– A. Wayne Carter

 

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Linda Ronstadt “Simple Dreams” – Book Review

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013


Dear Linda,

When will you be loved? Now and forever. Thanks for your magnificent talent.

Okay, on to the book.

I guess I must have been dreaming if I thought we were going to get a story about sex, drugs and rock n’ roll from my favorite all-time rock goddess. But sadly, you pretty much dismiss your rock n’ roll years in this sweet little memoir that is strictly about your musical evolution from barefoot Tucson mariachi granddaughter, to country, to rock, to standards, to opera, and back to mariachi again.
And the rock records – the stuff you’re most known for – gets the short shrift. You practically disown your period in rock because you claim you were naïve about the technicality of your instrument – your voice, and that your singing was terribly flawed through all those classic songs we grew up with; “You’re No Good,” “When Will I Be Loved,” “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” etc.

Well, excuse me, but it’s precisely because you weren’t so technically-oriented on hitting every C sharp with precision that those songs have the resonance, character and raw appeal to those of us who love them. There’s a down-to-earth realness about them. I continued to support your journey and bought all your standards LPs such as “What’s New,” but then promptly handed them over to my mother. I’m sure you hit every note correctly, but there was a sterile coldness about them precisely because it came off more like some technical stretching exercise rather than genuinely from the gut. Those are the songs of a different generation, who earned the right to own them through different experiences. Even my mother preferred the original singer versions.

I even bought “Canciones de me Padre,” your first mariachi collection. And Si, you can yelp with the best of them. But again, even though you have Spanish heritage roots, it’s obvious this was not your natural first language and you were also attempting a physical stunt by trying to recreate these classic mariachi songs. But, again the stories they told didn’t come from your gut. Those songs weren’t written by someone with experiences such as yours.

“Heart Like a Wheel,” “I Believe in You,” “I Never Will Marry,” (you never did) “Hasten Down the Wind…” Maybe these songs weren’t technically perfect, but they were chosen specifically by you or for you (by your insightful producer, Peter Asher) and they fit the life you were going through at the time, as the hippie chick hooking up with songwriters, hiring future Eagles members as your backup band, checking out the scene at the Troubadour, and finding your way through the strange and lost world of Southern California.

I understand your reluctance to get into any gossip, or tell more detailed stories about your liaisons with former beaus such as California governor Jerry Brown, author Pete Hamill, songwriter J. D. Souther or others, but I would have been interested in hearing the positive aspects of what each of these mentors meant to you and how they affected your progression. That’s some pretty heady company.

I remember walking by and seeing you having dinner with Jerry Brown at Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood one night back in the 80s. What I would’ve given to eavesdrop on that conversation, or to even ask you for an autograph at the time, but I was far too respectful of your privacy.

The main beef I have with this book is that so are you. You don’t have to get into the saucy stuff, but what an incredible set of experiences you could have talked about; more than just fretting about the instrument, the instrument, the instrument. People read books to find a point of intersection to relate to either enrich or inform their own lives or interests, but who of us can relate to having so singularly powerful or beautiful an instrument as your voice? We KNOW that part. What can you tell us that you learned personally from your loves, triumphs and losses? I realize this isn’t People magazine, but it doesn’t have to be gossip. Just human.

You apparently wrote this memoir prior to finding out you have Parkinson’s disease, which has abruptly ended your singing career. This is crushing information and I can’t even begin to imagine how that diagnosis has affected you and your passion to interpret music through your voice. Personally, I think you should write a book about coping with this disease and, hopefully, how you find more strength and other passions to move forward. Baby boomers everywhere are going through similar types of experience, having life challenges and chronic conditions that force us to adapt how we live, love and move on. Your journey can inspire you forward and also help the rest of us. Whether you own it or not, the mantle of being an icon to so many of us fans requires some stewardship.

Ironically, or perhaps cynically because of the disclosure of your condition, you have finally been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this very year. I’ve ranted that you should have been in there ages ago. But after reading you so disclaim your own rock heritage in this book, I now understand the Hall might be reluctant. No matter. I think you get in, and I look forward to seeing you accept the award at the ceremony, and also to some of the other powerful women vocalists of our time (Trisha Yearwood?) try to recreate some of your hits. They might do well, but, just as when you tackled the standards with Nelson Riddle, it won’t be the same.

No one else can own your sound on those rock and roll hits.

So, can you? Please?

Sincerely,

A lifelong fan

– A. Wayne Carter

(P.S. – Please issue a compilation release of all the covers you did of Neil Young songs (and include the songs you sang with him on his albums) and call it “Forever Young” or something like that. We believe in YOU!)



 

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The Cialis Matchmaker Game

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Your first clue that the aging couples in the Cialis commercials aren’t remotely married is how lovingly they look each other in the eye as they cuddle and graciously share their wonderfully active lifestyle.

If ever a married man watching television was made to feel like he doesn’t… measure up, these Hallmark cards of women adoringly snuggling up to their hubbies effectively gets the message across. You want your woman to lovingly adore you again, then you better get it up and keep it up.

But the twist on the game in real life is that may be what the husband wants at that age (and, after all, he’s buying the product), but probably not the wife. The wife wants the snuggling. The man wants to go all night again like he did at 20.

And no, I’m not divulging any personal secrets or issues; I just happen to find these commercials comically amusing as they are endlessly rammed down our gullets during the nightly news like a stiff… shot of non-reality.

The thing I find most amusing is thinking about the casting and the shooting. I’ve scripted and produced dozens of corporate videos and commercials of happy couples checking in at hotels, eating at restaurants, children bouncing on the hotel beds, etc. I know the drill. And for some reason, you never cast the actual spouses together in a video or commercial, even if both are working actors. It just rarely happens.

For something as… short as a Cialis commercial, the chemistry of the actors working together doesn’t matter as much as how they look together. And it’s very rare that an aging Brad Pitt is married to an aging Angelie Jolie. More often, the actress is married to Wally Shawn or Milton Friedman the banker, broker, real estate developer or plastic surgeon (who else can afford to support her commercial career?), or the really good looking actor guy is either gay or so narcissist that the only one he can truly looking adoringly at, is himself.

So the next time you watch these commercials, appreciate that these two actors have met just prior to the shoot. They are asked to pretend to be long-time marrieds, and they somehow equate this with locking their eyes to one another in adoring gazes, peppered with delightfully light kisses. The kisses are light because you can’t really ask two people who just met before coffee at the craft services table to really go at it jamming their tongues down each other’s throats. Which, for some reason, I would find more believable an action as a real couple about to embark on a Cialis adventure. But it might creep out any Gen X-ers or Y-ers who, by some wild improbability, happen to be tuning into the nightly news instead of the Internet or YouTube.

Since these commercials have no dialogue, I also like to imagine the director behind the camera being able to yell out directions to this stage couple who have been put in the challenge of pretending to be long-marrieds fantasizing about having sex with each other very soon. How can he get the hungry look and effect he really wants?

The first thing he might yell out to the woman, who just slipped her pretend husband’s baseball cap on her own head backwards and has to smile seductively and stare back at him like she wants to gobble him up, is… “He’s NOT your real husband! Go for it!”

But the real husband is either off camera or will be seeing the commercial a hundred or more times, if he ever watches the news.

So, she never does, ‘go for it.’ That might constitute grounds for divorce.

Instead, she just continues to look adoringly at him. But you can almost feel the distance she is actually so self-consciously projecting and maintaining. It’s a look that says:

“I’ll give you another innocent little peck, stranger, but don’t you dare come near me with a Cialis-fed pecker.”

 

– A. Wayne Carter

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That ol’ black & white magic

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

(Revisit this oldie but goodie – the kid’s now 20! – or check out the archive while I commit my beleaguered brain cells to finishing a thriller feature screenplay in the next few weeks. )

Whenever I hear someone say they can’t watch a black & white movie or television show, I cringe … with pity. No student, lover or fan of cinema ignores the 50 plus years of artistry and lighting evolution that went into perfecting the black & white image on film … before color became the common palette.  And all that brilliant contrast of light and dark went the way of that gold dust blowing away into the wind at the end of Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Citizen Kane.  The Third Man.  The Maltese Falcon.  Casablanca. Strangers On a Train. Night of the Hunter. I’m sure you have favorites. And it wasn’t the lack of technology that made these classics black & white.  Color was around long before Dorothy landed on the Yellow Brick Road in 1939. In these and many other films, it was often the artistic choice of the director or cinematographer.

Many directors more recently have tried to recapture that look. Peter Bogdonavich with The Last Picture Show in 1971. Robert Rodriguez with Sin City in 2007. And even Hitchcock revisited it as late as 1960 with Psycho.  The very translation of the classic style of Film Noir is Film “Black.” Black as night. Full of inky black and veiled gray shadows, in alleys and across faces. There’s just nothing quite like it in color.

Especially for horror.

I wondered if my young son would ever watch black & white, let alone come to appreciate the gothic style horror lighting so perfected in black & white long before his time and even long before mine.

Just yesterday (it seems like), when my son was seven years old, he collected Yu-Gi-Oh bubble gum cards that included ‘monster’ cards. They reminded me of cards I collected as a kid from a science fiction horror TV anthology series in the early 1960’s called The Outer Limits. Each week a disembodied ‘control voice’ took over your television set and introduced a gothic-style horror or science fiction story with new characters, and featuring at least one new monster.

Because this was 1963 and most television sets could only play black & white, the show was filmed and broadcast in black & white. But this was the ‘perfected’ black & white shot by a master cinematographer (Conrad Hall), who would later go on to win Academy Awards. I was only about eight years old when the show first aired and I remember that it scared me out of my wits. I went to bed every Saturday night with nightmares, and yet I couldn’t wait until the next week to have some new ones. Perhaps this was the beginning of an adrenaline addiction. I just know I wanted to be scared silly, and The Outer Limits never failed to do the job.

So I retrieved the treasured deck of monster cards I had collected back in 1963 to show my son. Each card featured a hideous creature from one of the episodes. There was the bug-eyed alien with the razor sharp boomerang from “Fun and Games;” the shimmering, negative image radioactive man from “The Galaxy Being;” and the one that gave me the worst nightmares of all … the over-sized crawling ants with human-like faces known as “The Zanti Misfits.” In this episode, these insect monsters crawled out of their spacecraft atop a military post headquarters in a deserted Western town named “Morgue” and attacked everyone in sight. I couldn’t sleep for weeks.

I went straight to my DVD box collection of the original series and put the episode on to show “The Zanti Misfits” in action. My son took one look at the rather primitive animation of the ants crawling out of their cheap, tin-looking aircraft and immediately scoffed in ridicule, “That’s not scary.”

I was crushed. What could be more terrifying than loudly buzzing, over-sized ants with human-like faces crawling up your leg and biting you with poisonous teeth?

I cued up another episode called, “The Mice,” that featured what appeared to be a man on two legs covered from head to waist with a huge blob of snot-like gelatinous material with two protruding, claw-like hands. It was obviously a man in a costume fitted with a huge glob of fake jelly slapped on top.

He watched this ‘Jelly Man’ picking up lake scum with its claws and stuffing it in what appeared to be a slit-like mouth. He watched the Jelly Man running through a forest back to a laboratory. He watched the Jelly Man use its claws to attack and kill one of the workers in the laboratory where the creature had first been transported to Earth. And he watched as they eventually captured and sent it back to the planet it came from in the same transporter. And that was it. No major reactions from my son. But somehow he couldn’t take his eyes off of the Jelly Man until he had seen its final moment on screen.

That same night he insisted his mom come and lay down with him in his bed when he prepared to go to sleep. He told her to leave the closet light on. And when he finally and fitfully fell to sleep, his mother came out to the living room with a sour look that and scolded me for scaring him with the ‘Jelly Man.’ She went to bed mad as hell. And, as soon as the bedroom door slammed closed, I found myself grinning from ear to ear.

An old black & white TV show that had scared me as a kid more than 40 years ago could still scare a kid today.

It may have been the ‘Jelly Man’ and not the human-faced crawling ants with poisonous teeth, but it still counted. That old black & white mojo still worked.

I shouldn’t be proud about scaring my son with this stuff, but when he so easily scoffed at one of my most powerful childhood fears with, “That’s not scary,” well, I couldn’t help but feel glibly vindicated. And so I grinned.

And a week later he was still insisting on sleeping with the lights on in the closet and secretly talking about the ‘Jelly Man’ to his mom (but never admitting his fear to dad, of course).  I apologize to him to this day. I’m deeply sorry.

But wait until he sees the episode with the space rocks that come alive and cover your face with smothering black goo.

– A. Wayne Carter

Destruction of the Clay Man

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A brief rant on men’s fashion

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Okay, I’m the last guy in the world qualified to talk about fashion since I haven’t been seen out of loose-fitting, soft T-shirt, shorts and socklets with sneakers since I gave up bosses. But sometimes a trend so abominable it rankles your senses just forces you to go rouge, er, I mean, rogue.

I’ve always had a problem with men wearing suits, anyway. Did we really evolve and fight for our freedom over thousands of years to wear a colored noose around our necks? Do we really need a suit to proclaim we are a successful hunter-gatherer? Obviously some people don’t think so, and they are usually the richest and most successful in Hollywood. Take a look at Larry David, who’s worth about a half a billion dollars, and see if you ever catch him with a noose around his neck, or anything that remotely looks uncomfortable.

So what’s the trend that’s got my wrinkles rankled? It’s overly tight suits with overly short tight pants. And where are we seeing it? Such fashion mavens as Nick Cannon on America’s Got Talent, and Bill Maher on HBO’s Real Time. Are they really fashion mavens? They seem to think so. And what exactly is a maven? A raven with a hair lip?

First, Nick Cannon and Bill Maher both obviously take pride in their fashion sense. You can tell that immediately by their peacock strut that screams, check out how fit I am to wear this ridiculously tight suit and pants. Suits with narrow lapels buttoned in the middle, but so tight the gap under that button exposes their narrow ties hanging out like a loose tongue gasping for air. Pants tapered down and coming up short above the shoe like they’ve been shrunk in the wash. Who is the inspiration for this fashion trend? They have to be delusional (or at least their fashion consultants) to they think they impress.

We all know the deal. At least for men’s fashions. And how what once was considered hip is soon considered laughable. Take a look at the pastel-colored suits and wide ties and lapels of the 70s. Johnny Carson’s checkered sports coats. Skip to the 80’s and look at the slick tight pants with a sheen, shiny fake leather, tight suits, big hair and narrow ties. Skip to the 90s and look at grunge. Skip to the 00’s and see very few actually following any trend, but the five-day beard stubble is big (have you ever HAD a five-day stubble? Not comfortable), as are shaved heads that have to be shaved more frequently than a woman shaves her legs. That’s just a little OCD, if you ask me.

And then realize that no matter what the fashion is, like the neon day-glow sneakers everyone wears now, sooner or later it all looks ridiculous.

Which is why I stick to non-descript loose-fitting T-shirts, jeans and whatever sneaker is the most light or comfortable. It’s true, I’m no peacock seeking to attract a mate or any other kind of attention at this late point in my plumage, but it’s also because, as a writer, the last thing we want is anything that can possibly distract us from the ridiculously deep focus task of writing. We look for any excuse not to face the blank page of oblivion, so a tight collar, scratchy underwear, overly warm sock, and any presence of finger rings or neck jewelry is just going to interfere with the process. Shit, I bet I could feel a year-old tattoo on my skin. Sensitivity is our gig and it’s also our bane. To create characters and invest them with life, we literally, or at least figuratively, have to walk in their shoes.

So when I see a Nick Cannon or a Bill Maher walking around in an overly tight suit, colored noose, and clearly uncomfortable tight shoes with scary high lifts, I feel their pain. And I wish they could feel the pain I feel for them.

Now I realize any woman reading this right now is laughing out loud at what I feebly characterize as an uncomfortable outfit for the sake of fashion. But that’s a whole other conversation. We’re talking about men here. Or at least men who for some reason want to wear tight suits and short pants that could have only been inspired by that maven of all fashion mavens; Pee Wee Herman.

– A. Wayne Carter

 

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A most unusual horror film

Monday, August 26th, 2013

John Frankenheimer’s cult masterpiece “Seconds” just came out on Criterion Blu-ray and it’s even more disturbing than when it was released almost 50 years ago in 1966. Especially if you’re close to the age of the picture itself.

I remember seeing this picture on television probably around the time I was in college because the first screenplay I ever wrote for a film course was heavily influenced by it.

But first, the plot. A bored, middle-aged Wall Street banker, Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), is slipped a business address on a piece of paper before boarding a commuter train at Penn Station for his Scarsdale home. His job is numbingly dull, his marriage is devoid of any passion, his daughter is gone off on her own life, and his life is… lifeless. A call from someone claiming to be a close friend from the past eggs him on to go to the address, but how does this complete stranger’s voice know so much about him?

Curiosity piqued, he goes to the address; a cleaners, where he’s shuffled into the back of a truck and taken to a meat-packing plant, and then to a secret business location. It’s revealed this company offers life do-overs or “seconds” to high-paying customers. They substitute a corpse for your ‘untimely death’ in a fire or car crash, perform complete reconstructive plastic surgery and physical conditioning, and then set you up in a completely new life direction that you may have always regretted not pursuing.

And, just to make sure you keep your mouth shut about a business that requires secrecy (and as a surefire deal closer) they drug you and shoot staged blackmail footage of you in a compromising or criminal situation.

A gruesome operation, grueling physical therapy, dyed hair, and months later you come out looking like Rock Hudson, are a successful but unknown painter, and live in a house on the beach in Malibu among the hedonistic and hard-partying California set. What’s not to like? You’ve had your ‘seconds.’

But, of course, no one changed your brain or your mind or the way you think, and you are haunted by your former life, and these new ‘friends’ seem just as phony as you are, and when you get overly drunk at a party and start blabbing information about your former life, those new ‘friends’ are not so friendly because your loose tongue is jeopardizing all of their ‘second’ chances.

And when you go AWOL back to your old town and try to see the woman you were married to for 20 years who has no way of recognizing you, but painfully reveals the depressing truths of a passionless relationship to a veritable stranger, it’s like being a witness to your own worst funeral. What happens next when Arthur decides he wants a ‘third’ chance completes the ultimate horror.

It’s a shockingly powerful and apocryphal tale that completely subverts what so many people bored with their lives think would happen if they had a second chance. The black & white photography, framing and camerawork by Oscar winner James Wong Howe are bizarrely unnerving, and the ending is as disturbing as anything you will ever see in film.

I don’t know why this film resonated so powerfully and horrifyingly to me as a kid. I think it must have been shocking for a suburban kid to see the main character who had everything we were taught in America to cherish; plenty of money, a nice family, and a beautiful home in the suburbs… be so desperately empty. And even when he gets a second chance with a new face and as a painter, he’s still stuck suddenly longing for his old life. Maybe it’s the ultimate ‘grass is always greener’ story, that is revealed as an inevitable nightmare.

The first screenplay I ever wrote (at 18) influenced by this tale was called “Pay the Devil His Do,” about a bored school teacher with disrespectful students, who makes a deal with the Devil. In a twist, the Devil is a Calvinist, who believes in predestination, so he doesn’t have to buy souls since you are either pre-destined to go to heaven or hell. But he will commission people to speed up the fate of those who are destined to go to hell. The teacher, ‘Arthur Banks,’ commits one of these deeds, and his wish is to go on live national television and give a speech that shakes the rafters and wakes everyone up and tries to stir their souls into more passionate living. It’s the typically amateurish and overly philosophical tale every first-time screenwriter tries (and as a professor of screenwriting, I read hundreds of them). The speech was almost entirely the thrust of Howard Beale’s “Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore” rant from Paddy Chayefsky’s classic “Network,” though not nearly as beautifully written. It was written a couple years before “Network,” though, and it was inspired by the frustrating horror of “Seconds.”

(Later, in Hollywood, I was commissioned to write a screenplay called “The Donor,” where the brain of a rich old dying guy is transplanted into the body of a young stud basketball player. That one didn’t work out so well, either.)

I guess the obvious moral to these tales is to live the one life you have with all the gusto possible and without any regrets, but that’s sometimes easier said than done. I consider myself lucky I got this heads up message early enough in my own development to boldly go for the ‘artist living and partying in California’ life soon after college. But I feel even luckier that I got that life out of my system first, and ultimately found myself happier back in the quiet comfortable suburbs with a nice family, where Arthur had begun (only he had no real perspective to appreciate it). He also didn’t have the luxury of pursuing alternative lives through the craft of writing and the characters we can create in our heads and in our stories. It’s a hell of a lot safer. And you don’t have to make a deal with the Devil to do it.

– A. Wayne Carter

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