Not Joking

I’ve decided to wait a bit to see Joker.

Not that you asked and not that I’m afraid to venture out to a movie theatre showing Joker on its opening weekend.

Oh, yes.  Apparently, there is reason to be afraid.

My students actually brought this to my attention, noting more than several sets of their parents called them this week to warn them of the perils of venturing out.  These were mothers and fathers who were truly afraid their college juniors and seniors could possibly be shot at in a public venue that dared to show a movie that addressed the evolution of a cartoon villain into a gun toting vigilante who wanted revenge.

America, 2019 #sad

But it never even occurred to me to be scared and I have fears about pretty much everything.

Not being a parent and never one to miss the opening weekend of a movie I was desperate to see (Note:  Yes, I did see Judy on opening night.  Please.) I thought of venturing out to Joker.  But it wasn’t the prospect of the ridiculous crowds that go hand in hand with those huge box-office projections that made me stay home.

Reserved seating ensures you don’t have to wait in line for a ticket and I was willing to take my chances in the off chance of a flesh and blood gunman given I survived the eighties.  But, well, the rat f-ck in the parking lot, the talking in the theatre during the film, the inevitable crying kid who shouldn’t be there or texting teens with neon-screened phones who have to be there– I mean, really, I can wait.

I’m fine with this

And anyway, Martin Scorsese says any film that’s part of the Marvel Universe isn’t real cinema so I doubt that he feels any differently about DC/Batman origins.

Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” —  Martin Scorsese to Empire magazine this week.

Scorsese throws it down

If Scorsese is venting about high and low art we moviegoers are really in trouble.

Still, I get it, don’t you?  A steady diet of anything eventually makes it less special and inevitably, less than satisfying.  So how frustrating must it be for someone who is acknowledged as one of the best filmmakers of the century to watch the market for what he produces narrow further and further.

It’s the slow execution of everything he has given his life to.  The existential extinction of a widespread and very particular art form.

On the other hand, (and quite honestly) I can’t say I’m excited to see another Scorsese gangster movie, are you? Really excited?  I mean, are you really, really excited about the release of his latest three and a half hour long epic The Irishman early next month?  As excited as you were to see Goodfellas, Casino or even, say, The Departed?  Be honest.

I feel seen #truth

A superhero movie fan could argue a new gangster film from the director is the cinematic equivalent of a Scorsese theme park ride.   Others might, too.

This in no way lets the glut of Marvel/DC comic book movies off the hook.  Looking at what’s playing at what we used to refer to as real movie theatres at any given moment is a far, far cry from the last true golden age of cinema in the late sixties through the early to mid-seventies.

You know… before this #imissyoucarrie

The entertainment business has always revolved around making money, especially easy money.  So no one can blame movie studios, producers, directors, actors, et al for focusing on the broadest possible market with an emphasis on the key 18-24 year old demographic.

It’s said studios are most interested in a four-quadrant film, meaning the movie that will appeal to the widest swath of the population (Note:  What quadrant are you in?) but this is no longer the case.  It’s not even the case that whom they want to most appeal to are 18-24 year olds.

Most people when they go to a comic book movie #ifeelold

What is true is that superhero films accounted for more than 25% of total movie ticket sales last year, the equivalent of $11.38 billion.

Truth be told, this is a lot it is still far less than what we (okay I) might have imagined.  Until we realize, large as it is, it’s still a misleading statistic.  Those films might account for a quarter plus of releases but how wide of a release do the non-superhero movies get and how long do they really stick around?

In other words, 75% of the movies we have the option of going out to see might not have anything to do with Marvel or DC but if these films only play just one or two weeks in smaller, not easy to get to (or particularly desirable) theatres in not many cities, than what are the chances any of us will get to see them?  If a comic book hero is monopolizing 5 screens at an 8-screen multiplex do you want to brave the crowds on the weekend in order to see the latest indie offering starring Catherine Keener?  You might not even show up for a Jennifer Aniston rom-com or a Spike Lee joint.

Forget about the cost of a helmet or your bulletproof vest.

… and yet this is the film Catherine Keener did in 2018 #sigh

This is especially the case if you can wait a week or two and view them in the comfort of your large screened living room, which, in some cases, will offer images almost as large as the ones you might be treated to at one of the smaller multiplex screens that the non Marvel/DC movie you chose to attend would be relegated to.

It’s not an accident that Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is backed by Netflix, which will make it available online three weeks after it debuts nationwide at what Steven Spielberg refers to as real movie theatres.

in unison: “you talking to me?”

Okay, I’m paraphrasing.

What he actually said is that Netflix films (and those from other streaming services) should not receive equal treatment at the Academy Awards and should be nominated for Emmys.  His belief is once you commit to the TV format you are a television movie and not a film.

But does his point of view extend to movies primarily backed or financed by Netflix and other similar platforms?  Or does Scorsese’s The Irishman get a pass because clearly HE makes cinema?

What IS 2019 cinema, anyway?   What is NOT 2019 cinema?

.. and what the hell is this??? #geminiman

As famed multiple Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman once said of those of us in and around the film business, nobody knows anything.

And that, unlike most of what’s offered at your local multiplex, includes everyone.

The Late Ones – “The Joker” (cover of Steve Miller Band)

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Freak out!

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I don’t know about you but when I read on the front page of the New York Times that …the Islamic state is seeking to attack, infiltrate or sabotage nuclear installations or obtain nuclear material or radioactive material at vulnerable facilities in Belgium and elsewhere it raises the moderate yet consistent level of anxiety I walk around with each day to high.

But, being a master of denial, I quickly remembered that my beloved Times was also the paper that once employed Judith Miller, who once acted as a shill for former Vice President Dick Darth Vader Cheney and printed all kinds of misleading stories about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities under President George W. Bush – stories that in turn created a groundswell of political and public support for probably the worst foreign policy blunder in modern American history – the Dubya-led march into Iraq – which in turn led us into the current massive destabilization of the Middle East.

Stefan only speaks the truth

Stefon only speaks the truth

Yes, I know this is what the terrorists want – for me/us to be terrorized. And it would sort of be working on me had I not lived much of my early life in terror and, in turn, become a master of denial. This, of course, led to decades of therapy that allowed me to understand there is no point worrying about stuff I can’t control – like my own personal demise and the end of the world. But at least I know how to block it out and put it in perspective. For me that means – oh hell, may as well enjoy what little time we have left while we can, because clearly we’re all doomed.

On an existential basis this is not all surprising. I mean, aren’t we all doomed anyway? Not to bring down the room with homilies like – no one gets out of here alive but…uh…guess what…you don’t. And this whole afterlife thing really needs to take a rest. Because if there is an afterlife then doesn’t that mean all of these terrorists are celebrating with a dozen virgins somewhere you and I can’t see? Since who is to say whose after-life is it, anyway?

#deepthoughts

#deepthoughts

This being the case I refuse to become preoccupied or outraged anymore about potential nuclear wars. Yes there are exceptions that will get me – like the 31 dead several days ago in Belgium and any time the proliferation of gun-toting Americans decide to shoot up a movie theatre or classroom full of people. Not to mention the next time any white law officer shoots a non-White young (or old) person. Or vice-versa for that matter. Still, that seems to happen only every month – well, let’s say every few weeks to play it safe. I can certainly handle that amount of sadness in monthly or weekly increments if it stays at that level because I’ve learned to portion it out.

Yet there are any number of news and pop culture events I refuse to get upset or even annoyed about anymore.   I’m actually rather enjoying the food fight The Republican Apprentice and Grandpa Munster are having over whose wife is prettier, smarter or more worth staying monogamous with. Frankly, I’d cheat on both of them, though not with either of their husbands – nor any of the other deposed competitors for GOP presidential choice. I might, however, consider one of the deposed competitors on the Democratic side who has dropped out. Not that I’m naming any O’Names.

Uh... Abssssolutely

Uh… Abssssolutely

I also don’t give a rat’s ass that the just-released Superman v. Batman is by all accounts a leading contender for next year’s Razzie awards; Ben Affleck’s sad sack expression when being unfairly ambushed by a journalist on a press junket who asked him how it felt to have the movie so poorly reviewed; or the fact that the movie has just grossed more than $400,000,000 at the box-office worldwide in its opening weekend. Yeah, you heard it right.

Certainly this, more than anything else, makes a case for the proposed company The Screening Room filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams have been touting the last few weeks.

This new venture/platform/vehicle would provide us all – for the mere price of about $50 – the opportunity to legally beam in any movie to our large home screen mechanism of choice on the exact day it opens at movie theatres.   Industryites are objecting all over the spectrum but really – I’m not upset in the least. Nor should anyone else be in the industry. The only chance they have of more people going out to theatres to see much of their sort of corporate swill is if it’s offered in the comfort of one’s own home where one can freeze it for bathroom breaks or group hate watch it amid chugs of wine or puffs of their prescriptioned pharmaceutical of choice.

OK, maybe I'd miss these little fellas

OK, maybe I’d miss these little fellas

Certainly, the above applies at least to me. I’ll pay $50 to have friends over so I can luxuriate on Mr. Cavill’s shirtless image with my eyes while downing a glass of Chianti. Or perhaps that’s vice-versa in the case of the latter two phrases. Well, whatever works. As for Mr. Affleck, he’d be old news at that point. Literally.

Yes, the world is cruel and old age is not for sissies, as Bette Davis once said. Do you know there are theatres where I can now get in as a senior citizen? That’s cruel but I’m also enjoying the irony of continuing to pay full price. I think of it as my middle finger at the patriarchy still in charge and a revolt against the yet one more category it’s attempting to throw me into against my will.

Senior discount realness

Senior discount realness

People will, of course, always try to throw you into categories you don’t see yourself a part of or, by any objective (or non-objective) measure are clearly not a part of. I’m voting for Hillary Clinton but still consider myself a liberal. I like but am not voting for Bernie Sanders yet fellow Democrats consider me a privileged white male sellout. My GOP friends consider me misguided. Others in the GOP think I’m… Oh, I’m lovin’ all the nasty adjectives the latter throws at me. I’m like #Drumpf – every time you challenge me my contributions to her, like his Wall, get the equivalent of five feet higher.

I am unsure how long my newfound light-heartedness will last but I’m betting given the current news cycles of the last few months, not to mention the world at large, it won’t be ending any time too soon. There are too many clowns and clown cars to laugh at these days. As the great and prescient George Carlin once so cleverly said:

God Bless America

God Bless America

Watching the Gross

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I thought I’d grown used to the movies I like grossing very little money but it’s sobering. Still, this shouldn’t be surprising. I can now get into films as a senior citizen in some places. I know, I’m shocked too.   When I went to see the Steve “Jobs” movie a few weeks ago I almost passed out. But still paid full price.

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Clearly, I’ve permanently strayed from the “youth” demographic Hollywood covets no matter how many times my peers say 50 is the new 40, 60 is the new 50, 80 is the new 20 and death is something that happens to OTHER people. That’s scary enough. But to realize that not one of my favorite films is among the 50 top grossing movies of the year – well, that’s positively un-American. It’s like my entire country has turned on me when I wasn’t looking. And in more ways than one. On the other hand, it’s not the first time. I lived through the eighties, Ronald Reagan and Forrest Gump winning the Oscar yet I am still here whining about it all as our first African American-president completes his second term of office and Birdman was last year’s best picture winner. Inevitably, these types of things, as well as life, do run in cycles.

And yet…

Hard as it is to recognize I have come to understand that like many Americans the movies are my touchstone. Each year at least a handful reflect what myself and our culture were thinking or feeling en masse and, when they worked really well, even showed us alternative ways to cope. Did Michael Keaton really go out the window at the end of Birdman? Who cares – it raised the question of just what are the alternatives we all face when trying to survive as an artist of any kind. And if one believes, as I do, that anything you attempt to do well in life does indeed have some sort of artistic element to it, it is essential we continue to consider these questions. And spend less time pondering how high of a gilded wall we can build around ourselves to keep out those who are different. Ironic, isn’t it? That a country built on a melting pot of difference should be faced with the 2015 Shakespearean question of how we engineer and preserve our current gene pool to exclude as many others as possible.

There’s a reason why, at its essence, drama hasn’t really changed very much since the Elizabethan period or even as far back as the ancient Greeks.

Still works!

Still works!

Which in a roundabout way brings me back to The MOVIES, 2015.

If you’re a member of a Hollywood guild each year you’re fortunate enough to receive DVDs of many of this year’s movies so you don’t have to move your privileged ass off the couch and make the effort to go to the movie theatre if you so prefer not to. (Note: Well, you wouldn’t either if you didn’t have to and had a decent TV setup at home – give me a break)

So being the lazybones (nee whore) that I am I decided that after gorging myself on turkey I’d continue gorging myself on some of the movies I got in the mail and have not yet seen. I also decided to go out to the movie theatres and pay for a few others as well as attend several industry screenings (Note: Yes, for free – I’m not only getting lazy in my old age but also cheap). And what continued to amaze me is that without exception the films that I really enjoyed continue to make very, very little money at the box office. How long before these types of films are not made at all? I fear, not very long.

Maybe there are better movies on Mars? (I'll ask Matt Damon)

Maybe there are better movies on Mars? (I’ll ask Matt Damon)

Now before you go saying I’m part of the problem because I’m not going out to see my films enough – you’re only partly right. Like all of you, I should venture out and support my local theatres more than I do. But also know that part of the marketing budgets of all production companies include sending out free DVDs to guild members not to be kind but to get us to VOTE for said film in an enormous array of awards competitions that the industry will use to promote the winners and get you/us – the audience – into the theatres to see or into the stores to buy or into our heads to stream. For better or worse that’s the way the system works. Bottom line dollars.

I suppose this explains why as a Writers Guild member two of the early DVDs I received were for Furious 7 ($353 million domestic box-office gross) and Jurassic World ($652 million). Did anyone really think these would win any writing awards? (Note: That question was rhetorical). No, it was about spreading the word. Well, fyi, I’ve previously seen both a Furious AND a Jurassic movie before and was entertained. I tried briefly with both of these. Oh God. I might be old but I’m not brain dead. Yet. Which is why I turned them off.

As for some of the others – well, here I am to do the job that I was sent to do by the studio overlords – spreading the word. (Note: As if I wouldn’t give my opinion anyway).

TRUMBO

He is Spartacus?

He is Spartacus?

This is the story of blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and how his intellectual liberal leanings sent him to jail for a year in the 1950s merely for being subversively un-American as a member of the Communist party. (Note: Think of him as a Muslim under a future Trump administration).

More interesting is the tale it tells of how Trumbo, once out of a jail, worked secretly writing tacky low-budget movies under assumed names and got his other unemployable writer friends jobs doing the same via a hidden writer’s clearing house he ran out of his house. With the help of his wife and children. Who answered five different telephone lines and served as their script couriers.

As played by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, this Trumbo is a witty, erudite crusader, family man who takes advantage of the people around him while at the same time loving them and his country in the most unorthodox of ways. It’s a wonderfully nuanced performance that will surely get him an Oscar nomination. The movie takes a long time to get going and in the first half especially feels a bit like a choppy, TV movie biopic from the 1970s. But ultimately it’s smart, breezy, clever and not without some meaning. And slickly made by director Jay Roach.

AND — It’s made less than a $1 million after three weeks of limited release.

Verdict: Watch it.

TRUTH

Would you... Rather?

Would you… Rather?

I was where most of you probably are on this. Robert Redford playing Dan Rather in a movie that shows us how Rather got pushed out of the anchor chair at CBS because of a 60 Minutes story he did on George W. Bush’s questionable military record of service? A story where sources recanted their original claims but nevertheless a story that was never proven factually inaccurate?

#1 – I don’t want to hear any more about Dubya. #2 – Redford is about as similar to Dan Rather as I am. #3 – It’s my private time, I want to be entertained by a film not forced to think about unpleasant stuff I was forced to live through all too recently.

Well, the film is not really about Dubya at all but about how the news you see on TV is put together and just how influential political dynasties can be “behind the scenes.” More importantly, Redford might not look anything like Rather but he’s got his speaking cadence down pat and is ultimately absolutely believable as the veteran Texas newsman – in fact it’s the best he’s been in a movie in many years. Who knew? Not any of us because no one is going to see it. Since it’s release in October it’s grossed about $2.5 million.

Oh, and then there’s Cate Blanchett starring as Rather’s real-life producer Mary Mapes, a tough-talking Texan she gets exactly right because she doesn’t slather on the accent but instead accentuates her intelligence. The whole film is smart. And –

Verdict: WORTH WATCHING.

SICARIO

Yawn. Sigh. Bleh.

Yawn. Sigh. Bleh.

My students will hate me for this because they seem to love this movie. Why? I have zero idea. Emily Blunt is as good as she can be as an FBI agent drawn into the web of breaking up a Mexican drug cartel by her CIA overlords as well as by others. But…it’s a labyrinth of action with character development and logic so spare as to be almost non-existent. And after a while it simply becomes preposterous. And a bore.

I’ve experienced first-hand as a writer notes on the strategy of throwing audiences right into the world of a movie without much of a convincing setup and allowing the viewer to play catch up. This sometimes works – as it did in the first season of True Detective. And it often times fails, as it does here. But then again, it depends what you mean by failure. Sicario has grossed $49 million in the U.S. alone and another $34 million overseas so far. That makes it a bit more than a modest success in the world of the balance sheet of a film with no above the title movie star or director. It’s also a world where logic and dialogue don’t matter as much the various kinds of actions that are ultimately delivered.

Verdict: SKIP IT. Though you could do worse (Note: See Furious AND Jurassic).

CAROL

Costumes by a 3-time Oscar Winner... what can ya say?

Costumes by a 3-time Oscar Winner… what can ya say?

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as two seemingly mismatched women falling in love in the repressive 1950s under the direction of Todd Haynes (Safe, Velvet Goldmine, HBO’s Mildred Pierce). This movie was MADE for me!! You’d think.

It’s beautiful to look at. Cate Blanchett’s mink coat and shimmering blonde hair and red lipstick are breathtaking. As is every single room, piece of jewelry and choice of scenery and period motor vehicle and hotel room and tacky apartment and cheap motel room. Which is a big part of the problem. It’s a movie in love with artifice – and itself. The drama is real and sometimes palpable but as someone is said to have once said, “it’s like watching paint dry.” The same emotional beats are played over and over. Time and again.   It’s based on the seminal lesbian romance novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, which she published under a pseudonym in 1952.   But never for one moment do you feel as if you’re watching anything other than a book unspooling in movie time without any of the nuanced language that made it so special.

The two actresses are wonderful. Everything is pretty. And it does show us how much a great deal of the world has changed. But…well….

Verdict: PASS – which is not to say there is not a great deal of skill and intelligence here. Would I watch it before Jurassic and Furious again? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I should just force myself to get all the way through the latter two for the first time. Though Carol needs the money more. It’s grossed about $500,000 in 10 days of limited release. And I doubt there’s a ton more to come. DVD/streaming sales? Maybe. But…OK, I’ll stop now.

BRIDGE OF SPIES

A Spielberg movie written by.... The Coen Brothers?

A Spielberg movie written by…. The Coen Brothers? 

I popped the DVD to this in and had low expectations. I mean, it’s the tale of the reluctant negotiator spy type American hero of the 1950s as played by Tom Hanks and directed by Steve Spielberg that somehow you believe deep down in your soul you’ve seen before…. but directed by Hitchcock and starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman or by Michael Curtiz and starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Except it’s not any of those. Or really that much like them.

Tom Hanks is very good, very believable and very likeable – in an authentic, throwback Americana way. It’s a tough act to pull off an insurance lawyer turned hostage negotiator in period clothes but somehow you buy it all. At this point it’d be shocking if Mr. Spielberg did not direct an infinitely watchable movie. And this one is pretty darn watchable – thanks also in great part to Mark Rylance’s brilliantly understated performance in a role you need to see rather than read about from me. He anchors the film. And if you think that’s easy when you’re not a movie star, you’re wrong.

Verdict: WORTH WATCHING. It won’t change your life but it’s engaging. Though at a $67 million box-office gross it’s the equivalent of Trumbo or Truth in dollars for a Spielberg pic. That may not be fair but it’s the way the industry thinks. And for our future films bodes a bit ominous.

Feel free to agree – or disagree. But just know the top five grossing films of 2015 are Jurassic World ($652 million); Avengers: Age of Ultron ($459 million); Inside Out ($356 million); Furious 7 ($353 million) and Minions ($336 million). And that’s just in the U.S. alone. Films that are more adult – nee a bit more complicated or intellectually challenging – are in trouble. And need our support. At theatres, on DVD, or yes, even for free. It’s who we are. Or were. Our choice.

Oh you'll be adding me to that list pretty soon....

Oh you’ll be adding me to that list pretty soon….

P.S. Note #1: I did very much enjoy Inside Out but it’s an animated film and they’re in a category of their own. This is not a snob thing but everyone likes at least one animated movie a year except a dear friend of mine who I still can’t convince to embrace Aladdin – the gayest animated movie that’s ever been made. I’ll work on him, though.

P.S. Note #2 – Just got home from a screening of The Danish Girl. Eddie Redmayne and his co-star, the Swedish film actress Alicia Vikander, will both receive Oscar nominations. As will others behind the scenes. It’s mainstream yet unusual. Thought-provoking though not too complicated. And timely in that it follows one of the first medical cases of gender reassignment. Verdict: See it. People actually speak in full sentences, and often more than one sentence at a time. Plus, nothing blows up.

At least that’s something.

Pro-Choice

Is every day like the perfect wedding or is every day the end of the world?  And which is more accurate?  (No, you can’t say it depends; it’s somewhere in the middle; or why are you asking me this question).         

Survey says..... NO

We’re talking choice here.  And not just by me.  These are the questions asked (literally!) in the new Lars Von Trier movie “Melancholia” – a film that doesn’t leave your brain easily and, unlike most of what we see nowadays, deserves some sort of response other than, as they used to say in my grandmother’s native language, “Oy vey” (translation:  Oy).

For those who hate, are annoyed by or are simply not fans of the crazily brilliant or just plain crazy Danish director, rest assured this is not a mad recap review of the film (I stopped doing those in 1983 when I left Daily Variety – probably because one of the last movies I had to review was Chuck Connors’ horror extravaganza, “The Tourist Trap” at a 12:30 afternoon show on Hollywood Boulevard.  But I digress).

Where was I?  Ah, yes, “Melancholia.”  Though I happened to be floored by the film, which doesn’t necessarily mean I loved it, or I think it’s flawless or can even recommend it (God knows my parents would HATE it!!!), I will tell you that it affects audiences like few movies do nowadays – simply BECAUSE you (actually I) still can’t get it out of your mind days after seeing it.

This is a great thing for a filmmaker though perhaps not so great for you as an audience member since “Melancholia” does not evoke a particularly pleasant world.  In truth, it makes “On The Beach” and “Testament,” my former two most depressing movies ever made, seem like “His Girl Friday.”   But even those who would rather have their wisdom teeth removed than sit through any film of this genre ever again, would have to admit that Mr. Von Trier does, if nothing else, have a strong, distinctive point of view.  He makes very specific choices, even outrageous and perhaps indulgent ones – never shying away from alienating or thrilling you often managing to do both at the same time.

Spending the last day on earth with Mr. Skarsgård... Not. Too. Shabby.

How many filmmakers or any artists nowadays approach their work with the intensity he does?  Okay, let’s count………………….

How many do you have?  My list is, well, paltry.

Baa! Baa!

And that’s the point.

I said publicly this week that I’m not sure if “Melancholia” is brilliantly depressing or depressingly brilliant.  The latter because it reminds me of classic films – the kind that aren’t really made anymore  – sort of Ingmar Bergman by way of Fassbinder (or vice-versa) with a little plain old post millennium nastiness thrown in.  The nasty, clinically depressed heroine, one might say, is actually the writer-director surrogate, by his own admission.  Mr. VT has done some brilliant and some controversial and some thoroughly misfired movies over the years but the one thing you can say is that he often gets his borderline (again, literally), nihilistic POV on screen.  I say that with admiration,  and will tell you it’s such a cop OUT to dismiss this with lines like, “well, he has all this power, talent, financing,” blah, blah blah, blah. I know that because I say this all the time. (Though never in front of my students, and hopefully none are reading this.  And if you are – stop right now.  Oh, and I better also take this off the school website – that is if I knew how to do that – but hey, that’s another story).

As for POV, if you’re going to work as any kind of communicator, that IS the story.  Sadly, it’s not always what you’re saying but if you have a commitment to not only say it – if you’ve chosen and staked out a position and ran with it.  (For example, look at the popularity of various political candidates right now, okay, sorry, I know that is even more depressing than “Melancholia.”)

Well... we're screwed.

I’ve been talking to a lot of people on television writing staffs recently and it seems the greatest challenge is to write in a voice so universal that you won’t actually be able to tell it apart from any other member of the writing staff – in other words – the voice of the show (while keeping something of yourself).  This is certainly financially and sometimes artistically quite profitable.  But it is light years away from what you have to do in the kind of film I’m talking about.  Or even what you have to do to be noticed as a writer.  The irony is that almost all writers – film, TV, theatre – have that kind of voice.  It’s actually what gets you noticed.  Only to then get tempered by reality.

Much like how you wake up in the morning, you can choose to see that either as depressing as the end of the world or as fantastic as your dream wedding.  Fantastic because a) you’re getting paid handsomely to be creative, b) you get your take in on the material in some small way, and c) months after your shows get aired receive these cool checks in the mail for nice chunks of money called residuals.  Depressing because , well, if you want to be yourself and can’t fit in, it’s goodbye, Buster.  This is not much different in the film world, where studios seem more and more bent on some bizarre cookie cutter version of film-a-tainment to form the hub of a cottage industry that produces simultaneous Happy Meals, theme park rides and distinctive movie star roles guaranteed to draw in audiences from 6-60. If you’re past that age, let’s face it, you’ve died.  But don’t tell that to, oh – Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Robert DeNiro, Helen Mirren, Sylvester Stallone, Diane Keaton or any number of big time movie stars you’re used to consistently seeing on the big screen.

Food for thought. Maybe this isn’t bad either.  You (we?) might not belong in that world, compellingly wedding-like though it might be.  You might belong in Mr. Von Trier’s world.  Or in Arianna’s Huffington’s blogosphere (perish the thought of starting a blog!).  Or in the realm of someone like Henry Jaglom. For those who don’t remember – he’s a writer/director who outside the studio system on his own did, oh, 15 movies and often made a tidy profit from them, getting to say EXACTLY what he wanted in indie rom coms in the seventies long before they became cool again.  Mr. Jaglom once had a nasty thing or two to say about Hollywood and Steven Speilberg, criticizing the latter for his work on “The Color Purple” and how he reduced a gritty book into what he considered Hollywood pabulum.  It was sort of a low blow from a fellow director.  Yes – you could argue that Steven Spielberg is probably the only one who could have made a film about the Nazis killing Jews and still come up with a sympathetic non-Jewish hero and a happy ending – but what is wrong with that?   “Schindler’s List” was a terrific film and manages to still have Spielberg’s POV.  In pretty much the same way as “The Color Purple.”  Had Woody Allen tried to direct either of those well, I guess you might have gotten something else.  “Interiors?”  “Another Woman?”  With Alan Pakula would it have been “Sophie’s Choice?”  Roberto Begnini  — “Life Is Beautiful.”  Jerry Lewis – a still unreleased rumored Razzie for the notorious “The Day The Clown Cried?

The point of all this is that in order to get in a position of REAL power in anything you need to BE PRO-CHOICE.  Not in the same sense as in the issue of abortion (for the record, I’m for a woman’s right to choose – like you couldn’t surmise that), but on the issue of –- you.  There’s nothing worse than not making a choice because you’re marching to someone else’s drummer.

To put it in another perspective – I think of choice this way – take a stand, any stand, any stand at all.  I don’t care if you’re as bleak as Ingmar Lars Fassbinder Von Trier or as happy go lucky as a Sandra Bullock rom com (Isn’t it about time for a new one?).  The worst punishment is to be “Michael Bay’d” to death with Transformers 4 6 863.  That is anything but fun and actually pretty depressing itself because it will mark the end of a certain kind of world as we know it.  The one Mr. VT, in his perhaps very small way, is trying to bring back in full force.