Aretha, Charlie, and Doll Sex?

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Watching Charlie Kaufman’s new film Anomalisa this weekend I couldn’t help flashing back to Aretha Franklin’s diva-perfect performance of Carole King’s “Natural Woman” on this year’s Kennedy Center Honors. Ms. Franklin so astounded me that I alternately shouted at the TV and sat slack-jawed speechless for what seemed like a full 10 minutes of her just over four minute performance. And before you chalk it up to my over-the-top gay reaction (Note: That moment when she dropped the floor length mink coat, I know) understand that Ms. King herself stood, shouted, pointed and cheered almost the entire time while the usually too-cool-for-school Pres. Obama, seated a mere five feet away, wiped tears away from his eyes over what he was seeing, fist-pumping the air in glee.

How in the world does this at all relate to a stop-motion animated film like Anomalisa and to Mr. Kaufman, who for several decades has been my favorite voice in the Hollywood screenwriting game? I’m still trying to process that.

Though I think it has something to do with another one of Ms. Franklin’s iconic hits – “Respect.

I can tell were going to need a dictionary definition on this one.

Re·spect

noun  1. 
a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.”the director had a lot of respect for Douglas as an actor”

verb  2.
 to admire (someone or something) deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” “she was respected by everyone she worked with”

This is all to say that at any moment someone or something you greatly admire, adore – nee respect – can leave you reduced to a puddle of joy or wallowing in a sea of confusion and resentment.

Oh, Anomalisa. If I wanted to see stop-motion puppets having real life sex I would…seriously, there is no chance of that. Except in this case I found myself viewing it voluntarily. Suffice it to say animated/doll sex is far better in one of my friend Don Mancini’s Child’s Play/Chucky movies or on random episodes of Archer and/or South Park.

Made for each other

Made for each other

Are we all that isolated these days that the new frontier is that we have to see our romantic lives played out as if we were in a 2015 virtual version of a neo-Realist Italian film? Have “live” people gotten too scary or, dare I say it, cliché? Cause I swear, if Kaufman is turning into the more ironic alternative to 21st century Terrence Malick I’m gonna scream.

Of course, have to implies this was involuntarily. I suppose I could have left at any moment. But c’mon, it’s Charlie. So much as I find the bizarre pseudo humanness of stop-motion incredibly creepy and strange to so little personal effect (that is to say, on me) I stayed.

Probably the worst review

And I found myself wondering, is the skeevy factor just another Kaufman-esque meta element? Like, we as a society have reached a sort of nadir of solitary creepiness that can only be truly represented by something less (or more?) than human? Or am I just overthinking all of this and have been tricked into taking an experimental ride with my favorite screenwriter that is making me nauseous and unsatisfied yet determined to complete. Well, maybe a little bit of both.

Which is probably as it should be. At least that’s what I try to teach my students. And tell myself.

Certainly, there is a lot more to Anomalisa than watching less than human yet quite human images engage in what is passing for new millennial coitus. But I was far more comfortable and satisfied with Spike Jonze’s Her because even I could imagine myself falling for my computer in my most lonely, neurotic moments if it were voiced by Scarlett Johansson. And yes, you read that correctly. She is pan-sexually appealing – vocally, that is. And far more interesting than any cartoon visualization.

This just works

This just works

Still, is comfort really the point these days? Is that what it’s come to? Lulling yourself into your cocoon where you only feel protected within a world of, if not your own ideas, an absence of all those that on first thought bore or offend or, plain and simply, just annoy you?

I don’t have to think about the last question because it’s haunted me since I left the movies, p.o.’d at Charlie.

This brings to mind that time I went to see Aretha Franklin in concert once in the late 1990s. (Note: See how I did that?) To say that she seemed to have little or no desire to even be on that Wilshire Blvd. stage would be an understatement. In fact, I doubt if she spent more than 45-50 minutes in total singing to us all night. Not to mention that in almost all of that time she could only be heard in tandem with backup singers.  All told I’d say, erring on the side of generosity, a total of 8 bars was probably sung on her own – and that’s on every song combined.

Uh... we came to hear YOU sing, Ms. Franklin.

Uh… we came to hear YOU sing, Ms. Franklin.

Did this mean the voice of my and everyone else’s generation at that time was a phony and not worthy of our admiration (Note: Not to mention the small fortune most of us had spent up to that point on all of her albums, eight tracks and then CDs)? Hardly. Merely that we caught her on the wrong night or at the wrong time in her life.

This, of course, didn’t stop me from holding a grudge. I don’t think I listened to a note from anything of hers for at least two years. Yeah, that showed her. And perhaps there are even a handful of a few stubborn others who still refuse to listen. Their loss.

One off moment, concert, year or even decade doesn’t mean much at all no matter what the reason. Only that in that moment, it – or they – didn’t work for you. I learned that this week from Ms. Franklin. And I truly learned it once again from Anomalisa, which I still find myself thinking about despite my better judgment.

Don’t take that as a recommendation. Merely an admission.

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