Longtime WADPAW reader and commenter Marie Brennan has a new book out, A Natural History of Dragons, a Memoir by Lady Trent and you should buy it because it’s awesome.
A few weeks ago I saw an electronic billboard here in LA for Flight, Bob Zemeckis’s tense drama about alcoholism, but the original poster image had been altered. Star Denzel Washington was no longer standing in the rain on a stormy day, he was now standing in much less rain in front of a blinding blue sky and the quote “FLIGHT SOARS!” blared over his head. I thought, well, for the sake of the quote they want to make the movie look like an inspirational drama, which it is, in a way, so I guess that’s okay.
Now I see that that billboard image was merely a dry run for the DVD cover, and that Flight, the studio had decided, needed some cheering up for the home video market. Pilot Denzel is no longer facing his demons in a storm, now he’s peeking at God as the rain comes to a stop. I’m sure this image is a mock-up, but I like how someone has placed the quote “POWERFUL,” without attribution, below Denzel’s face. I’m sure if Denzel wins the Oscar his expression will be changed to “beaming triumph” and the font will be changed to Trajan.
The actor James Urbaniak, who readers of this blog will know as the voice of Dr. Venture, or as the polygraph guy on Homeland, has been one of my closest friends since I met him on this very date (well, yesterday on this very date) in 1989 at a shoebox theater in lower Manhattan during a blizzard. True story.
Lately, he’s been doing these podcasts, Getting On with James Urbaniak. He emailed me and asked me to contribute a piece, and of course I was happy to do so, and you can hear it here. It turned out pretty awesome.
The assignment was very specific: not a monologue or a rant or a routine, but a monodrama: that is, a drama, with a plot, and conflict, and events occurring, premise, development, crisis, denouement, all that, starring one actor, James, playing a character named “James Urbaniak.” I’m a huge Samuel Beckett fan from way back, and the only thing that popped into my head as a suitable monodrama was an adaptation of Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, where an elderly man, a failed writer, reviews tapes he made of himself when he was younger and wonders about what happened to himself.
So that’s what I did, except I made the elderly writer James. His performance is more than I could have hoped for.
All the events James talks about in the podcast are true stories. James really did audition for the part of Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, he really did do a hit show off-Broadway where he really was too busy to meet Paul Newman, he really did walk the red carpet at Cannes, he really so forth. The only one of the stories that isn’t true at all is the first one, where he auditions for the part of Eugene in The Miracle Worker in high school but loses the part to the school quarterback. That didn’t happen to him, that happened to me, exactly as set down.
He didn’t really do an impression of Mackensie Crook at his audition for the role of Dwight Schrute. Rainn Wilson, to my knowledge, does not have a three-story mansion in Santa Barbara, and James does not live in a crappy bungalow in Eagle Rock.
The cassette recorder referred to in the text was one my family owned in the late 1960s, one very much like these:
Finally, a “frustum” is a truncated pyramid.
Yesterday I posted a bunch of flyers I made for my monologue shows back in the late 80s – early 90s. Today I’m posting a bunch of flyers I made for various play productions during the same time. Don’t forget to click to enlarge.
The "best of decade" lists are out. I note that I own four of the titles on The Onion’s list, and eighteen of the titles on Rolling Stone’s list.
I now tweet every now and then. I can’t guarantee I’ll tweet anything interesting, but I do tweet.
A well-meaning friend of mine saw today that Antz, a movie I co-wrote a long, long time ago, was recently named the 27th-best animated movie of all time by Time Out London! Yippee! That means I beat The Secret of NIMH! Take that, Porco Rosso! Better luck next time, Persepolis!
Let’s see what this prestigious arbiter of cultural taste has to say about this 27th-best animated movie of all time, a movie into which I, yay verily, poured into which my heart and soul! Hmm…
"…a drab and hamfisted Marxist allegory rammed down your throat…‘Antz’ may boast a great array of vocal talent, but it spends too much time pitching gags over the kiddies’ heads and flogging its adult credentials to ever get down to basics and actually entertain. Cartoons, of course, aren’t just for children, but ‘Antz’, in falling back on kid-friendlyby-the-numbers cartoon plotting, plunges between the stools of satire and slapstick." ALD
Ah. So, it’s not very good at all then. "Dreary Whining" is ALD’s final decree. Geez, I never felt sorry for The Secret of NIMH before, but to think that it’s somehow worse than "dreary whining," that must be quite a sad movie indeed.
"ALD"’s point, of course, is that Antz sucks in comparison to A Bug’s Life, which, well, if that’s his or her opinion, I’ve read harsher. If one hates Antz, why put it on the list at all? Or, if you feel a special need to vent spleen upon a movie that blows it, run a special side-column about animated movies you hate.
But the reason I bring your attention to this folly is the idea that Jeffrey Katzenberg, the producer of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, a man who was once described as "Satan" by a friend of mine because of his extreme capitalistic views, would make the first CGI-animated movie from Dreamworks a "hamfisted Marxist allegory." Mr. Katzenberg, let me assure the reader, can be described in many terms, but "Marxist" is not one of them. Not once in any of our story meetings was Mr. Katzenberg ever moved to utter the following: "No, no, no, no, no! Don’t you get it?! It’s a Marxist Allegory, and we’ve got to ram it down the audience’s throat!! After all, we’re a major Hollywood studio!!"
For a new project, I’m interested in my readers’ most common dreams.
For instance, for a long time, years, I had only one dream. It was a variation on the actor’s nightmare: I was always booked for some kind of performance in some faraway city, and I was always showing up the day of the show and finding out that my housing was bizarrely inadequate (one dream had me staying in a rotting trailer in the middle of a woods), my transportation confusing and dangerous (subway trains without platforms, jet planes that must take off or leave in the middle of city centers), and the venue always in a state of turmoil. And, of course, I was always showing up without a clear idea of what the show was and what my part was in it.
The other dream I’ve had for at least the past twenty years is that I’m showing up at a college campus on finals day and realizing that I’m due to take an exam and haven’t been to any of the classes that semester. In fact, I haven’t even been on the campus before.
I used to have the dream where I showed up at work naked. The strange thing about that one was that no one else ever noticed that I was there, much less that I was naked.
And, in times of great stress, I’d have flight dreams every night. I would have them so often that they became routine, I would know when one was starting and know exactly what to do. I had them so often that my flight-dream life became an easy, comfortable place, and flying became no big deal — I could just as easily fly down the hallway to get to class as soar over my neighborhood in the moonlight.
I’ve had some version of every kind of dream reported in the Wikipedia "Common Themes" paragraph, with the exception of the one with the dreamer’s teeth rotting and falling out. That one strikes me as bizarre.
The above is the seal of the county of Los Angeles. I saw it yesterday handsomely mounted at the elevator bank outside the jury pool room. My understanding of county seals is probably not all it could be, but to my reckoning, the official mascot of the county of Los Angeles is a Greek lady standing under the sun, by a riverbank, in front of some crazy-ass mountains, holding an armload of produce. But a Greek lady standing under the sun by a riverbank in front of some crazy-ass mountains with an armload of produce is not all Los Angeles County is famous for! No, many other things come from Los Angeles County. Clockwise from left, we can see that Los Angeles County is famous for its oil wells, the Hollywood Bowl (where, it appears, a Christian service is held under the stars), cows, fish, Spanish Armadas, and drafting supplies.
As it happens, the above is the old county seal. Below is the new one.
As you can see, Los Angeles County still considers itself, first and foremost, a place where a woman in loose-fitting clothes stands under the sun, by a riverbanks, in front of some crazy-ass mountains, with an armload of — something. The woman has gone from Greek to Mexican, I think, which is probably a step in the right direction. But she’s not holding sheaves of whatever-it-is anymore. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure what the new woman is holding, but there doesn’t seem very much of it. Perhaps that’s just another sign of budget cuts. What is that stuff in her bowl anyway? Olives? Rocks? Tar, from the world-famous La Brea Tarpits?
And we can see that the bounty of Los Angeles County has changed as well. No more oil wells in Los Angeles County, Charlie! They’re gone! And no more Christian services at the Hollywood Bowl either! You know what we have here instead? Spanish Missions, that’s what! They’re all over the place, now that the oil wells are gone! Cows and fish are still in plenty of abundance, thankfully, and our Spanish Armadas are still as common as ever. And no one, it appears, will ever take away Los Angeles County’s primacy in drafting supplies.