Tuesday, September 30, 2008

opening scene for a movie I've been commissioned to write for a Hollywood bigwig

Interior shot. We are immediately in a living room in what is a two-family home converted into apartments. The architecture is Victorian. Dark wood paneling, high ceilings, interesting fixtures. The decor, on the other hand, is contemporary shabby. The place is fallling apart, paint chipping, etc, but it is decorated sparsely. There is an oriental rug, a wooden square table littered with a few coffee cups and magazines and books. A tv with rabbit airs is in the corner, forgotten. Two pieces of art are on the walls. Both orginal, one resembles slightly the work of Miro. The other of Joseph Cornell.

But we are focused on the couch which is held in the center of the camera. It is pushed up against the farthest wall, in between two windows with dusty Venetian blinds obscuring what is obviously a bright day. On the couch sits a man in jeans, and an orange tee shirt. He is thin, and he sits on the far end of his couch complicating the otherwise nicely centered shot. He is resting his arm on the couch's same. His legs are crossed in the European style, and he is reading a book, slightly hunched over, holding the book out towards the blinds and the diffuse sunlight. He is balding. This much we can see. And he's bespeckled. We wouldn't be surprised if he is going gray. His socks are white, and of the tube variety.

It is Tuesday, 3:13 in the afternoon. He hasn't anywhere to go. And this apartment, inadequately described, is in Albany, New York. The capital of that State, once upon a time known as Fort Orange.

His buzzer buzzes.

He looks up, distractedly. He noisily pulls aside the blinds without pulling them up and cranes to see outside. He sighs. Puts his book on the couch, and begins to shuffle towards his door.

The buzzer buzzes once again.

He sighs, opens his door, and heads down the flight of stairs to the front door. He opens the door, the camera over his shoulder, and we see a young woman, dark hair pulled back into a pony tail, with a wisp curled around her attractive features. She is dressed in dark clothing and has a shoulder bag.

"Hey, I just got into a big fight with my parents about coming here. I can't believe it. It's so stupid, but they are really angry with me and...can I come in?"

She looks at him expectantly. She has an honest face.

He assents perhaps a bit too brightly, breaking an octave, "Yes, yes, of course." And he looks at her as she pushes through and gets to the base of the stairs.

"Upstairs? Or here?"

"Upstairs," he says slowly.

"I'm the girl from the train," she says slightly mockingly. "Remember?"

He shuts the front door. She begins to walk up the stairs and he follows.

"Of course I remember you. But, what are you doing here...now? I thought we were going to get together sometime over the weekend...or, like, at some other time...Anyways..." he adds, slightly mockingly, matching her tone, "how did you find out where I live?"

She looks over her shoulder, "the internet."

"The internet!" he says in exasperation.

They get to the landing and he opens his door into his apartment. She walks in and looks around.

"Wow, it's kind of ghetto here."

"Yeah well, I wasn't expecting anyone, least of all you."

"Yeah, but still, I mean you just don't de-ghettoize this place."

He stops. "Listen, seriously why are you here? I mean let me be blunt. It was good to meet you on the train, and I was looking forward to perhaps going out with you..."

"Perhaps?" she interrupts.

"Yeah, well, I'm 36. I don't know how old you are, but that's older. And I'm unemployed, I don't know how employed you are, but I'm probably more 'un', and have been for longer. I think there are other parts of my life that need to take priority..."

She interrupts and places her hand on his arm.

"I'm 22. And I'm in a shitload of trouble."

Cue Music and title screen

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Reader's report on Kanye West's "Diamonds from Sierra Leone"

To the Publications Committee:

In this song, Mr. Kanye West looks at the layers of conflict in what are known as conflict diamonds. Conflict diamonds are the diamonds purchased largely, the song would have us believe, from Sierra Leone, but of course we know that this particular phenomenon is not limited to S.L. But you do have workers, the indigent and destitute, who are forced into a dangerous labor in which, as West accurately points out, "people lose legs, arms, for real!" These laborors are the source of most of our diamonds in the west, such as those sold at Jacobs. (NB Jacobs is a recurring presence in the work of Mr West. CF, "we can't make it to the ballot to choose leadership/but we can make it Jacobs and the dealership.") We have here a narrator who is conflicted himself about these conflict diamonds, which is an intriguing topic. There is an element of self awareness that is frankly compelling - the narrator, himself adorned in jewelery, disarmingly notes, "I thought my Jesus piece was so harmless." But it's not - why? As West goes on to say, "till I seen a picture of a shorty armless."

West is particularly sensitive to the layers of this conflict. He sensibly asks what does Sierra Leone have to do with life here, in the US? He answers his own question when he writes "over here there's the drug trade, we die from drugs/over there they die from what we buy from drugs." West has a good and keen sense of irony.

However, I do think that the song ultimately disappoints and I'm afraid I have to advise against publication. It is set up as a searching piece, and we've already seen that West is self aware narrator, attuned to ironies, not all of which are flattering, and yet he does two things that fail to convince. First of all, he paints the central struggle here in following terms: "it's in the black person's soul to rock that gold/spend your whole life trying to get that ice/...how could something so wrong make me feel so right?" That is a controversial statement and West doesn't back it up, and by attributing the desire for material goods to a - what? - genetic impulse?, we lose any sort of moral, or even of further criticism of that very impulse. Why doesn't West take a moment to think critically about the culture? Or even about capitalism? Secondly, before Shawn Carter picks up the second half of the narration, West seems to say that hey, it's ok. "Throwing your diamonds in the air" seems to be ok as long as you support Roc-a-Fella records. If this were presented as some sort of Faustian bargain, with West being aware that this is wrong, but doing it anyway, compromising his morals for Mammon, it would be one of the more interesting songs that this reader has come across in years. However, as it stands, West's capacity for self criticism, otherwise admirable, fails him most distressingly.

A final word. Carter's contribution is an embarrassment and I recommend you cut it. Technically, of course, it is good like all of his work - it's smooth, clever ("I'm not a businessman, I'm a business, man") and yet in the context, it mystifies. The themes West raises in this song, however unsatisfactorily, are completely avoided by Carter. He instead talks about his own ability in the rap game, and in a particularly confusing bit recounts a litany of label mates who have his back. Indeed, he also discusses wealth in such a way that gives this reader absolutely no sense that he was even listening to the first part of this song.

Sorry for being so negative, but I hope these comments are useful.

Best regards,
Professor Xavier O'Malley

tears of rage

There are things, dear reader, that have been known to make me cry. The odd toe stub certainly, as well as the new houses for poor people show hosted by Ty Wiggington (formerly of the New York Mets, right?) which, if I'm hungover and emotional enough, will reduce me to quiet tears on a Sunday night while I eat pizza and contemplate my life of relative privilege.

But I've discovered that one of the most wrenching and beautiful things to watch is old footage of no hitters. This will - nearly without fail - reduce me to tears. I was watching recently a repeat of Clay Bucholz's no hitter for the Sox this season. Let it be known that I dislike the Red Sox and their rabid fans, and yet, and yet...watching young Bucholz achieve what is one of the rarest feats in baseball was mesmerizing, even though I knew what was to happen. Even denied of the novelty of the suspense, the suspense of the event remains. There are, to be sure, other accomplishments in baseball that are deserving of our attention. But there are no others deserving of our tears. And that is because the no hitter is the greatest team accomplishment. Yes, the pitcher goes in the record books, but it would be impossible without the perfect play of his teammates. And no other feat is as mythical as the no hitter, with its accompanying Macbeth-like superstitions, nor is there one as dramatic, that has fans and players alike rooting for it to happen.

Watching Bucholz's teammates rally around him during this game and coming up with big plays to preserve this young no name's shot at immortality was completely riveting. They don't do it because they like him, or because he's their ace, or a veteran deserving of extra effort. No matter who takes a no hitter into the 7th inning, and the beauty almost increases with the unlikeliness, everyone wishes to preserve it - the perfection, the impossibility - and there is a palpable tension on the field, in the stands, in our living rooms.

Watching this rerun of Bucholz, I looked on open mouthed on the edge of my seat as Dustin Pedroia ranged impossibly to his right and stabbed out of the air a sure hit, and then scrambled to his knees and threw with every ounce of strength to just beat the straining runner. It was miraculous. And I had a glimpse there of selflessness, of sacrifice, of noble effort.

Watching this, on my couch, on a random Tuesday night, I found myself with tears in my eyes.

And then when young Bucholz did it, when he recorded the final out and his catcher Varitek came running out awkwardly to hug him and hoist him in the air, and the players, all of whom had been watching dedicatedly, came running out from the bench, from the bullpen, from their positions, to celebrate, again I found myself wiping my eyes thinking here, here at last, is something really joyful.

There is, yes there is, joy, real joy, out there in this cold world of ours.