The Chair was lucky enough to find himself a seat in the Kodak Theater for tonight’s big event. Relive the highlights (and low points) with the Chair’s tweets below.
Oh and… GO MERYL!
When you mention FAITH in election year 2012 you get a lot of responses. But for me the response is obvious and it is love. Not because I’m religious. But because Faith is my sister’s name. Literally. And I do love her. As I am sure you love your own sister. (Note: Those without sisters, use something else you love aside from yourself and you’ll get there).
Of course, if you’re running for president these days the word Faith wouldn’t be talked about in terms of my Faith (though it would improve things because she’s a lovely, talented person). It might evoke sound bites that include words like, well: Christianity, Satan, maybe Muslim, perhaps The Devil, or, well, even poor old Whitney Houston. But these days you would never, ever, ever follow the word Faith with the word Ginsberg (as in the case with my sister’s full name). I mean, the closest thing to a Ginsberg in the faith-based national American political stage at the moment is Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and everyone knows people with her kind of last name, which is shared by both my Faith and, well, my own Non-Chair moniker, have no relevance at all in the DC fishbowl that we elevate to presidential level. (Hint: And it’s not because we Ginsbergs are all three liberals. Think about it).
When did one’s religion (nee faith) or lack of it, become of such outwardly vocal, pressing national concern? At least so publicly.
Hell Heck, I think I much preferred when this stuff was talked about in restricted country clubs or at least under your neighbor’s breath behind closed doors like it’s supposed to. I don’t know about you, but I never thought I’d live to see the day when a viable political candidate leading in many of the major party’s polls uttered statements like “Satan has his eyes on America.” But then again, I could never have imagined Kim Kardashian, Chase Crawford or even Zack Efron just a few short years ago. Yes, I do admittedly like this faith talk very much from The Church Lady, but she’s a fictional “Saturday Night Live” character (isn’t she?). There is something about seeing a white man in a sweater vest running for president saying it in reality (not a reality show, though it sure seems like one) that gives me the Rickys, uh, willies. And even though I have learned to respect people’s religious views even when their religious views have very little respect for me (Hint: I can’t be married to the person I’ve lived with for 25 years but we are both very stylish and like theatre, especially musicals), even I have to say the urge to buy out all of Netflix’s copies of Bill Maher’s “Religilous” and send it on a prepaid loop to these new brands of holy roller whackos is only surpassed by my urge to shake them by their lapels, march them into the O’Neill Theatre and force feed them every lyric to the score of “Book of Mormom.” That is, if I even knew any theatrical types who could get me tickets to the most popular show now playing on Broadway. Which is in New York City. The sacred, holy American city that was attacked on 9/11.
God uh, Gosh.
Of course, politics is not the only arena that has grabbed God by the heart and won’t let him (or Her) go. The entertainment industry is equally, if not more guilty than most. I’m not talking about defunct shows like “Touched by an Angel,” “Joan of Arcadia,” or “The Sopranos.” (Come on, the latter WAS a religion!). I’m talking about performers who use religion as part of their spectacle (thank you Grammy, or any upcoming Academy Award acceptors), and religious events that use entertainment as a way to inform and/or infiltrate the public consciousness.
As a self-admitted junkie whose religion is entertainment, almost any kind of entertainment except, well, “Toddlers and Tiaras” (sorry, I have to drawn the line somewhere), I’m a sucker for spectacle. That’s why this past Saturday (Feb 16) morning instead of my usual tuning into “Up With Chris Hayes” on MSNBC and bringing my blood to a proper boil as I see which new hell the religious right are wreaking upon the national stage, I instead found myself mesmerized by an entirely different kind of fire and brimstone. The pop God funeral of singer Whitney Houston – who died several weeks ago at the age of 48.
Whitney was younger than me, and it gives you pause when you start getting older than people who are dying, even when it’s from unnatural causes. But what I think really got to me and caused me to watch all four funeral hours, none of which seemed particularly fune-real – was the communal celebration of mourning and life and death within a very cool Black church service – the kind I have never witnessed before. It also didn’t hurt having songs sung by Alicia Keyes and Stevie Wonder, a eulogy by Kevin Costner, and the potential reality show debacle of a Bobby Brown encounter (See, I told you I was an entertainment junkie). As more than one pastor said that day – the family’s decision to allow Whitney’s funeral to be televised was particularly valuable because it allowed all of America to go to Church. Hmm, and I thought it was more of a funeral. Amen, to that. I think.
Now just because I can be had by some names, a movie star and tacky, cheap voyeurism doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the spirituality of the moment or respect my time in church. I have appreciation and respect. I also feel more than bad that yet another very talented person died due to what looks like, in part at least, a long period of addiction she was never able to conquer. In fact, I found the whole thing mesmerizing. Actually more than mesmerizing — hypnotic.
As a white Jewish kid who went to temple but was never moved, I was surprised at the intensity of belief I witnessed – the sheer power of a kind of “divine logic” that everyone could understand and relate to as religion. Sure – it wasn’t predominantly realistic or entirely logical or at least reflects the reality of life as I know it, but that was also its beauty and attraction. And, I suppose for the believers, the benefits. The congregtion/chuch/attendees really seemed to believe in the preacher’s message as it applied to real life even if they all didn’t walk the walk each day. Of course, the sermonizers even made accommodations for that. That God makes NO mistakes – that he calls people when HE decides it is their time no matter how you live your life. And that no matter what people do HIS love is infinite and bountiful and can always let you back in to love and happiness. Pretty powerful stuff. If you can make the leap and believe. Unfortunately for me – I don’t. Or didn’t. Well, not entirely.
Don’t think I don’t want to. But writing is my religion (not merely entertainment – I
sinned lied and the power of art is divine to me – call it a higher power if you want to. And if I am being totally honest I have to admit I worship at the altar of Meryl Streep, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Alfred Hitchcock, Pedro Almodovar, Woody Allen (yeah, I know he’s a heathen, that’s part of the fun), Francois Truffaut, Martin Scorsese and a host of others. Perhaps my real religion is simply the creative spirit, or the power of it.
So – if I accept everyone else’s, how come they can’t accept the validity of mine? Why are my beliefs any less than the ones they have come to on their own. You say what I’m talking about is not a religion? Who says? Okay, fine. Then substitute just about any other religion other than Christianity or Jesus. Why would that religious belief be any less valid to be a guiding principle of the world? Why should that religion not be the ultimate faith litmus test for anyone running for the highest office in our land, or to otherwise be known as – The Leader of the Free World.
Because no religion should. Because faith is personal and should have nothing to do with any of it. Because the idea behind America is that it’s a place where anyone can come and worship in any way that they choose. I should know because I literally grew up with Faith. And though I can’t image your Faith could be any better than mine, I certainly can’t get into an argument with you about it. Cause how can you ever objectively debate about who or what you love?
Oscar Note: The Chair and the Chair’s mate are going to this year’s Oscars. Here are you NotesfromaChair Oscar Pool Tie-breaker Questions:
1. Will Meryl Streep’s dress have a collar?
2. How many Yiddish words will be uttered by Billy Crystal?
3. Which movie clip will they show for Elizabeth Taylor as part of the “In Memoriam?” Or will there be a separate tribute and, if so, who will introduce it?
4. How many times will Harvey Weinstein be thanked?
5. (Tie breaker) The inevitable Variety headline when The Artist wins best picture will be “Silence is Golden.” But – can you come up with something better????
I’m not proud of what I’m about to write.
Two producers and one director I know and personally don’t like or respect at all, have scored a lot of attention and success recently. The producers on TV and the director in a big way on film. Both are for projects incredibly superficial, pat and pretty much a cop-out from any real meaning other than a kind of glossy perfunctory look at people and the world. They (the projects) are both quite slick and professional looking but lack soul. And worse yet – each in their own way masquerades as something meaningful, entertaining and, at the very least, clever and/or heartfelt.
If I let it, I can’t tell you at times how much this angers me. And if I’m truthful I can’t tell you how embarrassed I am to admit it.
Certainly, I don’t think about it much of the time. And even when I do, I don’t usually feel the raging anger. Often, I just sort of laugh it off and realize, as the old saying goes, that even a broken clock is right twice a day. But every once in a while the anger bubbles to the surface in situations like these. Occasionally I even fantasize about telling them the truth about who/what they and their project really are in front of a room full of smart knowing people – shaming them into submission that they are indeed mediocre and, at the very least, should try harder. Either that or arrange it so they’re sent away to the Peace Corp or a Middle East veteran’s hospital for a year, (okay, maybe two), so they can see what real life is and either bring it back to their work or at least experience a hardship more pressing than what they will wear to their next screening or who they will try to bed at their next industry gathering. Yes, all three are that type.
Simple jealousy? I used to think so. But not really when you get below the surface.
Whenever I get in this state of mind I have to question – why go there with them or this project now and why do I care at this particular moment in time? The answer is simple and it has little to do with them and everything to do with me.
When I do get to thinking this way, one thing has become more than apparent – I am not doing enough of my own work. Or, I am frustrated with something about my work. Or perhaps even some other element of my own life. Otherwise – why would I care about these people, who I not only don’t like but, truly, have no interest in. It’s irrelevant how they’re doing, or what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. And it’s not as if they’re taking the place of one of my projects in the creative world. Contrary to popular belief, there are not a finite number of spots available on the merry-go-round of success or the choo-choo train that is money (or even the snowmobile or ski lift of happiness).
Now mind you, this doesn’t mean what I am saying about their work, or even them, isn’t true. (Trust me, it is – the chair doesn’t lie). It means, it isn’t my business and, really, who am I to sit in judgment. It means that when something about someone else’s success really bothers you and makes you want to throw your own version of a chair against the wall or through the window, you’d do best to look in the mirror and really see what’s bothering you. And usually it can be summed up in those three letters – Y – O – U.
Sure the system is rigged and crappy things get made. Sure, talent doesn’t always rise to the top despite the old adage that gets handed down to generations in the biz again and again. As Stephen Sondheim so cleverly once wrote in Merrily We Roll Along, one of his most commercially unsuccessful shows now being revived for the umpteenth time in NY and one that is considered by Sondheimites as one of his best scores, in (So) Now You Know:
“…You’re right, nothing’s fair
And it’s all a plot,
…But you better look at what you’ve got…”
(He also has such great lines as, “Put your dimple down, now you know…”, but I digress).
In any event –-
Sondheim puts it so much more wittily and sarcastically than I could. Funny how that doesn’t make me jealous at all – not even envious. How can you be jealous of genius? He’s the gold standard in the theatre.
Last night (Thursday the 16th) I took my students, as I do each year, to hear a panel of WGA and Oscar nominated writers speak about their craft. Writers like Aaron Sorkin, Steve Zallian, John Logan, Will Resier and Annie Mumalo wrote movies this year as disparate as Moneyball, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, 50-50 and Bridesmaids. They’re all fine efforts. Plus, though I don’t know the writers personally, they all seem to be fine people willing to spend two hours sharing their crafts with an audience of many other aspiring writers who they themselves were several short decades ago. It was inspiring, illuminating and not at all jealousy making – for me at least, because it didn’t push any of my jealousy buttons.
But, as we’ve noted, (haven’t WE?), we all have our own.
I might personally lose my way when people get plaudits I feel they don’t deserve. You might go off track because you feel stuck. Or afraid. Or insecure in your talent. Or tired of fighting the good fight. Or marginalized because of your race, religion, sexual orientation or belief system. Or because of _____. Or_________. Or for a hundred other reasons.
The solution, the only thing to do is to look in the mirror and know it’s not about them. It’s only about you. And to then do something positive. Like – work through it. Though getting drunk, overeating, or imbibing something more exotic might provide temporary relief, it will surely give you a headache in the morning and won’t provide any type of real fix. But doing something positive for yourself, like working, and then working some more, will. Because, in the end, the issue, and the work, is really all about you. Not about them. Much as you (or I) try and make it be.
In closing, I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom Mr. Sorkin offered in his closing remarks Thursday night, once he realized there was no time for an audience of aspiring writers to ask questions but saw they still longed to do so.
“Get to the end. You learn a lot by just finishing. And then you’ll start again. Rid yourself of what you’re not happy with. And hang lanterns on what you are.”
He’s so wise. I should hate him. Or, at least, be jealous. But I don’t. And — I’m not.
How do you be real but not boring? How do you write what would (or could) happen but not make it a mind-numbing, contrived story? And finally, is it okay to lie when you think you’re fighting for a larger issue of something that is true?
These are all questions that surfaced this week when watching the return of NBC’s “The Voice,” the premiere of the new TV series “Smash” and the public relations nightmare of the Susan B. Komen Foundation, a charity that, among other things, has raised multi-millions of dollars for breast cancer research and awards still more millions of dollars in grant money to organizations that support women’s health.
Do these seem unrelated? Not really. One is actual life (Komen), one is total fiction (“Smash”) and the third is a hybrid of both – a television “reality” show (“The Voice”). The question is – which is the most real to you and in turn is the reality that, on any given day, you are going to choose to live in. (Obvious Note: the most real is not necessarily where you are choosing to live).
Relax. I haven’t found you out – we all live in some non-reality. And it’s not really a weighty question. But these days it is a relevant one. Because you need to be aware of the rules of the reality you’re living in to navigate it properly, even if the world you’re choosing isn’t real at all.
Let’s start with what is the most real– the Komen Foundation – which in a way is being anything but real this week. It’s particularly on my mind because my Mom died of breast cancer in 1999 and one of the first positive healing steps I took for myself in her memory was to do the Komen 10K “Run for the Cure” to raise money to fight breast cancer and pressure, guilt or cajole friends and acquaintances to donate money in my mother’s name. If I couldn’t bring her back, I figured at least I could help in the fight to prevent any other women from enduring the 7 years of cancer treatments my Mom had to deal with prior to her death. It was a good step. On several counts. The run helped me more than I imagined and I also imagine that the money, or my participation, helped someone else in some very small way I will probably never know.
Needless to say I and many other runners, judging from the public outcry, were more than disappointed – okay, royally pissed off – when we found out this week that Komen some time ago hired this woman named Karen Handel to be its senior VP. Turns out Ms. Handel is a virulent right wing Christian who ran for governor of Georgia a few years ago on a campaign spearheaded by a crusade to shut down and de-finance Planned Parenthood, and was accused of secretly continuing to do so in 2012 with Komen grants to PP due to the belief that PP was advocating abortion rather than just providing women education and legal health alternatives. Meanwhile, Komen founder Nancy Brinker went on television and publicly denied Ms. Handel had anything to do with Komen’s decision to deny millions of future dollars to PP. But her story was quickly contradicted by Ms. Handel a day later when she admitted she was instructed by the group (Komen) to find ways to back away from PP. Still others in Komen came forward to state that the plan it came up with to change its bylaws was indeed an attempt to distance itself from an organization that had took a public stance against anything like pro-life views.
If this sounds like the plot of a bad episode of a Lifetime TV series (or miniseries) – it is. You can just see – Dana Delaney as the right wing Handel, Debra Winger as Komen founder Nancy Brinker, and perhaps Viola Davis (before she broke through in “The Help”) playing the poor woman who has breast cancer but whose treatments are defunded, who is also mother of a teenage girl (Willow Smith’s first starring role) that Planned Parenthood was last week able to help but this week, well – not anymore!
However, this isn’t a TV movie – this is real life. And even though in real life these things don’t end happily, like in a TV movie, in this case it sort of did. Social media quickly exposed the scam and within days Komen not only reversed its policy but Ms. Handel resigned (or was given her walking papers) in a big cloud of black smoke, fueled by tens of thousands of very, very outraged liberals and even non-liberals who had raised money for the foundation all these years. (Note: Word is that the foundation is covering up more grant giving prejudice and its integrity might be permanently lost in the future).
The point is (and yes, I have one –- ) a choice was made in real life by the Komen Foundation to not be real – to sort of fake it and/or cover up truth for political or personal beliefs – and not come clean. Things being what they are these days, enough people didn’t believe their story and uncovered the sort of truth. See, in real life, the powers-that-be always had primary control of the narrative, like writers and documentarians do. But that balance seems to be shifting thanks to the immediacy of You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and —- ? Beware the 2 or 3 readers of this blog who find and will find themselves among the power ranks. The dreaded, consciously evil Internet might actually force manipulators of the real truth to be more real in the future. Or conversely, they might find more intricate ways to bend the truth so craftily than not even You TubeTumblrTwitterfaceBook can stop them. Only time, and perhaps a future Lifetime TV movie, will tell who comes down on the winning side.
Of course, real is certainly not the primary agenda of most television series (Lifetime or otherwise). It is more just the mere evocation of something that can pass for some better, more entertaining version of real. That certainly seems to be the agenda of the new NBC show, “Smash.” But curiously it’s lead-in on NBC, a singing competition called “The Voice,” which features budding singers in the familiar reality of a reality show, feels infinitely more real AND true and (for my money) is actually much more entertaining than anything being pushed by the expert entertainers behind “Smash” (which include Steven Spielberg).
You don’t ever know what artists are going for when they create a TV show, aside from ratings, but if we are to believe the promos and interviews, the creators of “Smash” really believe they are taking their audience inside the making of a Broadway musical. There is no reason to doubt it since many of its creators, writers and performers have actually worked on Broadway musicals.
Having known a few people over the years from the NY the-a-tre who have actually been on Broadway, it’s hard to imagine any of them saying lines like: “I don’t know why I expect people to be civil in this terrible business,” or to sum up Marilyn Monroe with thoughts like “Marilyn wasn’t about sex, she was all about love.” But it especially feels unreal to think they would get someone to finance and jump on the bandwagon to make a Broadway musical about an iconic person who was the subject of a previously grand flop of a Broadway musical some decades before (“Marilyn: An American Fable”). Nor is it easy to accept they’d be tempted to do so because they have the singular temptation to perform and write a single musical number about, of all things, baseball (!) in a show about the sexiest movie star who ever lived. (Note: Yankee Clipper baseball hero Joe DiMaggio was at one time married to said movie star).
All of this happens in “Smash” – and more. Or perhaps, less. Certainly, less reality. Okay, you can’t judge a show by solely a pilot. And, I mean, does it have to be real? Well, not if it’s objective is to entertain. But can it be entertaining if it evokes little reality to a situation? Not unless it’s really really bad like “Showgirls” or even moderately mediocre like last year’s “Burlesque.” “Smash” is neither of those. It evokes none of the nuance, rough edges or full reality of 2012 New York but its clichés and circus-like atmosphere aren’t quite campy enough either. It exists more in a nether land of, well – oddness. As it unfolds it can either be that a) in this case full reality is not preferred or that, b) clichéd reality is much more entertaining because c) we know it, d) we want to escape, and e) hell, it does have a few toe-tapping fun songs to disrupt us from the slow economic recovery and international crises that have become our true reality.
Except – except – if we want to truly escape reality – why has reality TV become a genre all its own and why is the most popular series program on the major networks this week a reality TV show that serves as the lead in — (that means it airs right before it in industry speak) to “Smash.” I’m talking about a sublime show called “The Voice” that yes, on paper should be contrived and cliché as “Smash” can be and as manipulative and perhaps dishonest as the Komen Foundation has been on the national stage. On the reality honesty meter, “The Voice” should come in third place to Komen and “Smash” but the truth, according to my Chairmeter, is that it leaves them both in the dust. Far, far in the dust. In fact, in our ratings (and the Nielsen’s) it is #1.
That’s because “The Voice” knows what it is – and doesn’t try it hide it. It’s a reality show fantasy with feel good endings. But like all good entertainment it traffics in the real by using actual real life people who tell their own stories, often a bit more unvarnished than we are used to from talent competition shows like “American Idol” or fictional shows that present the making of a Broadway musical. (Certainly more real than some real life charity organizations). “The Voice” features singers who are 40, even 50, men and women who are not always attractive, young and older people who are openly gay and bring their
spouses partners, performers who perform in pairs, vocalists who sing everything from opera to down and dirty soul, and famous pop/rock/country star judges who actually must face some (but not all) of the same rejection as the contestants. Is that why it’s a ratings bonanza? Partly. But also because it uses real, often times very experienced actual singers who are real life tested and entertaining. The fact they haven’t yet become stars feels like the only odd and made up thing here since one can imagine hearing the voice of any of the contestants on their iPod right now – the 50 year old Black Diva; the preppy male opera singer with the Josh Groban range; the sweet voiced but 37 year old undiscovered country singer.
“The Voice” evens the odds at a time when getting a break seems impossible in today’s economy while “Smash” feels like a piece of fantasy that puts the 99.9% of us who are in the majority out of the running – not exactly an appealing scenario right now.
Unlike Komen ,“The Voice” takes us from the reality to a real life that is possible. And unlike “Smash” it knows how far to stray before we find its stories ridiculous. And unlike all of our all too real lives, it can be counted on to always give us a believable happy ending, despite whatever adverse circumstances its hero comes up against.
If only real life could indeed be counted on to be just like that. Then we could all keep running forever – both alive and happy.
With all the know-it-alls in the world, it might be refreshing to once in a while hear someone publicly say, “I have no idea.” That is, instead of yourself when you’re at some personal or professional impasse.
This is quite different than you or someone else stating it in the plural: “I have no ideas.” Meaning, you are convinced you are unproductive, uncreative or on the whole not very smart compared to all of the other “geniuses” working in the entertainment business today, or even yesterday (we’ll get to the past later).
Isn’t that something? Add just the letter “s” and you totally change the meaning from potentially a good, honest admission of not knowing to a bad, self-destructive and totally fictional one of stupidity and personal self-flagellation. Clever to state it this way, huh? Well, that was my idea.
Though I obviously won’t be a network comedy writer any time soon, I did once have the idea that I could be and started my professional writing career in Hollywood (after writing one sensitive dramatic screenplay that got me the attention of a few agents and nothing more). I was writing spec episodes of “Cheers,” “Kate and Allie,” “The Tortellis” and “The Golden Girls.” I don’t really know why. But I guess because nothing was happening and I figured, hey, I’m a funny guy, maybe this is what I should really be doing rather than trying to inflict my outdated POV on the powers-that-be, whoever they are. Anyway, I got a writing partner for the big jokes, had lots of pitch/idea meetings with real shows and eventually was actually sort of promised a writing assignment for an episode of Lucille Ball’s short-lived sitcom comeback “Life With Lucy”. But the studio and the audience had other ideas, the most prominent of which was the admission of having no idea why that show was on the air in the first place. Lucy’s comeback was quickly cancelled after several episodes and I lost my patience trying to break into an insanity I clearly didn’t have the stomach, or perhaps the right ability for (I mean, Lucy got cancelled!).
Then I had yet another idea that it might be best for me to follow my heart and write the sensitive dramas I had always wanted to write in the first place despite it being the age of either “Die Hard” and/or “The Cosby Show.” A good idea? A bad idea? Well, who was I to ask at the time since I didn’t seem to be having anything but the latter? However, it turned out to be not just good but an excellent decision, because I would very soon get yet another idea for a script based on my very dysfunctional and sort of sad childhood that I had the notion (neé idea) would at least prove to people (and perhaps myself) that I could, indeed write. That turned into the best idea yet. It became not only my first huge sale but a feature film with a bunch of big names at the time and opened the many doors for listeners who now wanted me to talk about past, present and future ideas. Listeners I never dreamed I would talk to in this or any other lifetime. I mean, I had no idea….
I bring this up now because it’s the beginning of a new semester for me as a writing professor and I find myself in the privileged seat of listening to countless ideas from many, many young people who, with varying degrees of confidence, are volunteering (or being forced through requirements of a class) to share ideas of their own. Imagine – you listen and listen in a class and finally there comes the point where you are required to put up or shut up. Scary? Abso(fuckin)lutely. But it shouldn’t be. You have to expose a bit of yourself or your thought process or your point of view and, whether you like it or not, have to go with your own original idea not only in class but in life – that is if you really want to get anywhere worth going.
Saying “I have no ideas” is not an option. In fact, it’s the one thing that’s frowned upon in my classes and workshops because it’s a lie. I mean, everyone has an idea. And many more than one. The key is – do you have the courage to state it?? (Note: It’s the same type of courage it takes to honestly answer a question with: “I have no idea” because it at least puts you on the path to figuring something out).
An idea is a seedling, a notion or a thought. It can be inspiring, confusing, derivative, offensive or even just plain odd. But, and this is the biggie, is only an idea. If you look at the dictionary definition of the word, as I love to do in times like these, you will see that an IDEA is defined as:
Meaning, who the heck knows what is going to happen with it. It’s at its core just a notion that has come into existence as a by-product of using your brain. And unless you are actually brain dead (which means you couldn’t walk, talk, much less take a class of any kind), you have probably thousands of ideas in any given day.
I’m amazed at how creative, unusual or just plain cool even the oddest of my students’ ideas are or could be, even when they are mere thoughts, conceptions or lead balloons that don’t seem to be going over with anyone else. That’s because I know in my heart of hearts, and through decades of more than a few broken hearts of my own, that today’s lead balloon can easily become tomorrow’s gold standard. Or could lead us to the road for one. The question is, how do you convince students (or adults) or the man on the street of this? And, as one gets older, how do you remember this lesson each time you read any part of your own new or old work? Or engage in general in life?
The answer, as it often is, is to go back to the truth – in this case, your (the) definition. An idea is a thought. How can it be bad in itself? And since thoughts are produced by your mind ad infinitum, that’s like saying that one of your sneezes is bad. How do you quantify a good sneeze? (Doctors, please don’t write in). Or smile? Or, as long as we’re choosing random bodily functions, an orgasm? Re the latter, “My worst one was right on the money,” as Woody Allen once so wisely said. Amen.
I try to remember this when talking to the students and working on my own ideas. I also try to remember that it’s not entirely bad, when faced with a new challenge of how to execute one of my or their many thoughts, to state, “I have no idea.” Actually, it’s pretty liberating. Because if you have no idea then anything you say can’t be mistaken for one and thus absolves you from stupidity, inferiority or a factory of dumb thoughts. It does, however, open the door to explore something or a series of things that might lead to one or two notions worth listening to. Contrary to what I was like in my younger years, I try to say this “I have no idea” thing at least once or twice a week, and sometimes more often than that when I’m teaching. It’s amazing how many doors it opens up – how many random thoughts young (and even older) people can have when you admit to them you are as confused as they might be or feel they are (you mean I’m not the only one?). It also builds potential bridges because more than a few people imagine that if someone in a position of authority (or friendship) doesn’t know, maybe that one tiny thing they suddenly (or earlier) thought to say might not be so bad either.
(Note: I have to confess that each time I watch the news these days, I long to have at least one person in public life say the “I have no idea” thing and invite others to brainstorm with them).
Martin Scorsese, who has spent a 50-year career in movies, and has had and continues to have an endless supply of ideas, comes to mind right now.
I watched “Hugo” for the second time and did a bit of a favorable turnaround on the film. On first view I almost gave up on his ideas because the set up of the film was so long. But on second view, knowing the set up, I was excited about all the ideas I knew were to come because, bottom line, “Hugo” is a film about a forgotten pioneering artist who had endless ideas in uncharted territory of a then very new art – moviemaking. Riffing on the true story of Georges Méliès – and in a fictional world unlike/like our own where a pioneering master of early films had his work destroyed through age, money and lack of appreciation by the business people – “Hugo” wants to shout at the world that ideas and the people who are bold enough to create them are to be valued when everyone has turned their back on anything new in favor of just living an unimaginative life. Actually, more than valued. Treasured. And preserved.
But at one time each idea Méliès, the real or fictional one, had was a notion, a thought, a concept. Much in the same way as one of our own in 2012.
I suspect it’s because Scorsese is a veteran “idea” and “I have no idea” man of storytelling that he has managed this long a career. He knows you have to develop countless ideas (with more writers than you can shake a stick at, not that I recommend stick shaking towards my brethren or myself) than movies they make (but usually it’s a 1-10 ratio). Mr. Scorsese – a name that usually evokes genuflection in film and TV classes – is willing to jump off the net. And see where it all goes, knowing full well it might, in all reality, go nowhere. But knowing also that it might, just very might, be his next great, or at least, new, or cool, idea. As they say in life and in old Hollywood adages: “You learn from the best.”