Thursday, June 30, 2011

We're back, and thank you for your patience!

Let's kick things back off with a combination Boys on Film and Writing post, won't you?

Almost a year ago I made a deal with my friend Mike.  Mike is a devourer of film and television to the point where he watched over 100 movies last year.  Mike hates cop shows (and real cops) but Mike is also a writer and considers himself extremely hardcore, so I begged and I pleaded and told him that he absolutely had to watch The Shield, if only for his soul as a writer.
He agreed, but on one term.  He would give The Shield a two-season minimum viewing . . . if I would watch Dexter seasons 3 and 4.

He loved The Shield.  He watched all seven seasons in the span of about two months.  We discussed it at length.  He bought me a Strike Team tee-shirt for my birthday.  He is the Dutch to my Claudette.

But man, this Dexter thing is killing me.

Also, I hate his horrible pink lips
and that eerie white line
around his mouth . . . ugh

I am a woman of my word, but this deal might be the end of me.  We're four episodes in and every time we put it in the DVD player I want to claw my eyes out.  The voice overs are starting to drive me mad.  What, did the writers just look around the room, pick something out and write a vague metaphor for it?

Cheese danish.  We're all like the cheese sometimes, stuck in the middle of a ring of flakey pastry, flakey people who don't understand what it means to be trapped . . . .

Lamp.  Sometimes we're on, sometimes we're off, but we're always consuming resources, burning out in a fire-fueled blaze of glory. . .

Day planner.  Our days are planned, our lives marked into neat little boxes before we're put in a neat little box, lowered into the ground, expired like last year's calender . . . .

See how easy it is?  You try it!  That's what the comments section is for!

The writing on this show is so bad.  Not only have the writers clearly never actually talked to a woman (which is why Rita, who had to be "saved" from her abusive husband, who goes to a generic job in a beige dress suit, is the "ideal," whereas Lila, being self-reliant and sexually voracious, has to be portrayed as a psycho--the writers of Dexter are scared of women . . . also, their idea of being "sexually liberated" aka Deb, means falling into bed with every man she meets) but they've also never seen a child (I imagine they're told to stay outside of 500 feet around playgrounds and elementary schools) because Astor does not speak the way a child speaks.

Also, Dexter is murdering innocent people.  That's fine, Vic Mackey kills lots of "innocent" people.  Shane kills one very innocent person and I still have the mad hots for him . . . but with Dexter there's a sadistic nature to it, an enjoyment even though he keeps harping every ten seconds that he can't feel emotion (also, there's a code of Harry, Harry's Code, Harry was his father and he had a Code, the Code of his Father, Harry.)  He kills the child molester in episode 3 even though he'd served his time and wasn't caught molesting anyone . . . it wasn't even until after he's dead that Dexter sees he has the pictures of Astor on his computer . . . what happened to forgiveness?  He makes a point, in one of his many voice-overs, that the man had served his time and was free to go back into society, unlike Dexter's other kills, who had gotten off because of a technicality or lack of evidence and Dexter was cleaning up with the police couldn't.  We could somehow agree with that . . .but his capture and intended murder of Doakes, his stalking and murder of Lila and his manipulation of Jimmy Smits brother is pushing it.

This would all be fine, of course, if we weren't given a series of rooting interests to direct us into liking Dexter.  He's getting married!  He's having a baby!  Sympathize, damn it, he's a WONDERFUL person.  Look, Casey Anthony clearly throws one hell of a party, but that doesn't mean I want to invite her over on Saturday night.  Same goes with Dexter.

Oh, and in episode 4, Deb interrogates a suspect, which would go unnoticed except that they insist on pointing out that she doesn't have her detective shield . . . and officers don't interrogate suspects.

It just comes down to lazy, incompetent writing, which I hate more than anything.  I can take bad writing, but I can't take incompetence.  I read a story in grad school that was so riddled with errors (like "steal-toed combat boots" when steel-toed boots are industrial boots, not combat footwear) that it made me want to tear up the MFA that currently hangs over my desk because she has the same one despite the fact that she's an utter moron.  There's suspension of disbelief, which is needed for all fiction, but then there's insulting your audience.  Dexter insults it's audience.  It's boring and it's tiresome and it's making me long for the cracking wit of The Hills.  Or the Forever Leather commercial that runs on the Utica Public Access.  Or the O'Reilly Factor . . . anything but Dexter.  Please.

But I am a woman of my word above all things, and I shall prevail . . . even if it kills me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It's Hell Week here on the set of The Odd Couple, so we'll return to our reguarly scheduled ranting (including the promised post on Rick Sloane) next week.

In the meantime, amuse yourself with this little gem:

Saturday, June 18, 2011

From the Vault--Happy Father's Day

Don McLean has not aged well. When I was in, oh, eighth grade or so, I thought “American Pie” was a good song, and “Vincent” a better one, but “American Pie” has been reduced to a pile of self-righteous hippy cheese and although “Vincent” still remains a haunting piece of music, when paired with the rest of McLean’s tortured-artist songbook, seems like just another trite piece of “oh, pity the artist” schlock.

I can, however, point out every single reference and allusion in “American Pie.” My dad was a master of drilling us full of two kinds of trivia—music and local history. To this day, I can still point out all the caves between my dad’s house and the church we attended. While all my friends were waiting on their dial-up internet to research each line for a frankly lazy history assignment (which is what we did before Wikipedia and Google) I simply played through the song and wrote it down in numerical order in about 10 minutes. My then-friend Caitlin said it was cheating, but let’s face it—she was just jealous.

Then again, you never know
The song that stays with me is from this same playbook, but it’s a rare one, from his first, eponymous album. “Bronco Bill’s Lament” is the first-person narrative of an ex TV cowboy. It’s sad and it’s beautiful and it’s been forgotten to everyone but vinyl junkies. Even the concept of the singing TV cowboy is something almost too nostalgic for most people. Although the western is making a mini-comeback,  I doubt we’ll see any of the old-timey cowboys with the glittery shirts and the guitars.

It’s sort of like Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” only simpler, prettier and more haunting. The eponymous narrator has finally accepted his fate and is perhaps singing to some magazine interviewer charged with digging up a fluff piece on an old legend. And he sings:

“Oh I always liked the notion of a cowboy fighting crime
This photograph was taken in my prime
I could beat those desperados,
But there’s no sense fightin’ time . . . .”

The poetics are very basic, almost high-schoolish, but in their simplicity lies their charm. Much like Elton John’s “Your Song,” (which is better sung by Ewan McGregor) “Bronco Bill’s Lament” does not suffer from complexity or an attempt to be deep, which “American Pie” has a fatal case of.

My sister had this song on a mix tape my dad made off the live album, and we used to play it over and over and over on the stereo in the room we shared for ten years. Because when you’re a kid, something like this seems so deep and meaningful, and a lot of that meaning has stayed with me. No one wants to be forgotten. No one wants to be used up and thrown away. In a way, I suppose I feel sorry for Don Mclean. He probably had something to say, in his self-righteous hippy way, and just wasn’t good enough to be remembered for anything but “American Pie.” He had all Dylan’s ambition and much of the same intentions, but his lyrics were too straightforward, too similar-sounding, too whiny. It’s the curse of a lot of musicians, to be damned by their one hit song. Hell, Warren Zevon would forever be the “Werewolves of London” guy, and his entire catalogue is made up of nothing but amazingly genius songs. Even jokey-sounding songs like “Gorilla, You’re a Desperado” still drip with his sarcastic, caustic wit and charm.

But ultimately, my love for this song comes back to my dad. My father is a consummate music lover and a musician himself, the man responsible for most of my music collection--Warren Zevon, the Talking Heads, Steely Dan, Men at Work, Oingo Boingo, the Pretenders, the Vapors, the Gin Blossoms and Cyndi Lauper. One could also accuse him of causing me to hate the Beatles from overplaying, but I say that blame rests more on my sisters than on him. We always had music playing in the car and he was constantly singing—sometimes replacing lyrics with fart noises, other times replacing them with the name of our cat, Scallion (my favorite being, “I see a red cat and I want him painted black”). Music was like breathing to him—it was a constant. My sisters and I all have very different tastes, but we all come back to those few common threads. Driving home from visiting my grandmother in the nursing home for what would be the last time, we played Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic because it’s hard to be sad during “Barrytown.” Everybody loves “Barrytown.” And it all comes back around to my dad, a quiet man in his own right, the keeper of the sacred songs.

The rest of Don Mclean, except for “On the Amazon” (which always makes me think of my friend Will Ludwigsen) sucks for the same reason the rest of the Don Mclean catalogue sucks—it’s self-righteous hippy garbage.  But this one song almost makes up for it, a gem among rubbish, a reminder that even when we think we are most forgotten, someone somewhere remembers us.

Happy Fathers Day, Dad.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

New Writing Links

My essay, "The Memory of Taste" is featured in the June issue of Umbrella Factory.

But more importantly, my friend Mike Langworthy's essay "A Dance Recital Reveals More Than Ballet Cliche" is now online.  Go on, read it, my stupid blog can wait.  It's a beautiful piece, one of the best I've read in recent memory, probably because Mike Langworthy is a damn genius in the craft.  It takes a real CNF writer to step outside the petty bullshit of bad dads/neglectful moms/drug addiction and all the other boo-hoo whineyness and allows himself to be changed by something outside of himself.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Saturday, I'm in Love

I recently rediscovered The Fontanelles, and damn it, they're awesome.

For those of you who missed the episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 where the 'bots skewed Rick Sloane's Hobgoblins (more on this on Monday) there's a scene where our heroes go into Club Scum and listen to The Fontanelles play "Kiss Kicker 99" ("Love Me Not," my favorite, plays when they're just outside).  I always liked "Kiss Kicker 99," and it wasn't until the magical invention of The Internet that I even had a chance to dream of getting it.  My friend Chris managed to find it for me, and I played it over and over and over, but it was the only song of theirs I could find, and this made me sad.

(And for those of you familiar with the MST3K treatment of it, well, we did call a guy I went to grad school with "Pig Liquor," after Mike Nelson's mis-heard lyric and declaration, "I would not want Pig Liquor"--in all fairness, his last name sounded, well, like Pig Liquor if you said it fast enough, and although Pig Liquor wanted me, I did not want Pig Liquor)

BadCultMovies is selling copies of the soundtrack on ebay, and seeing as how my chances of getting their original 45 are pretty slim, I went ahead and bought the 7-song EP as a little treat to myself.  I almost never buy CDs anymore, but this was too good to pass up. 

Holy Crow, is it good.  Even better than I expected.

It's very Cure-esq on the guitars (think "Killing an Arab" or "The Lovecats") and lyrically, there are a lot of cool fairy tale/nursery rhyme allusions, (especially on "Love Me Nots" and "ShooFly") but not in a weird lame way.  And as for the jangly melodies, well, they ultimately lack the Cure's melodramatic silliness and keep with in the originally intended punk spirit.  This is probably because Spit Spingola is a much cooler name than Robert Smith.