Friday, July 30, 2010
A FILM TO WATCH FOR
For the second year in a row, I was lucky enough to attend the New York International Latino Film Festival, sponsored by HBO. (Last year's LOVE SIMPLE, a charming unpretentious romance, is slowly going on to a real life and, I believe, is now available on iTunes.)
This year, one of the real gems is the debut film of twenty-seven year old William David Caballero, a multi-talented gentleman who directed, shot, edited and scored a really wonderful documentary entitled AMERICAN DREAMS DEFERRED. Caballero, a NYU film school grad, decided that the well-stream of his art and soul was his family, with all their trials, tribulations and dysfunctions, and so he chose to make a documentary about them. Risky, that--turning the camera on your family. (My mom won't allow even snapshots and when she does, she makes a face--even did that in family wedding photos!) Not only do you risk potential alienation, but then the process for the artist to pick and choose from so many, many personal details becomes a painful process. Objectivity can go out the window or shut the artist down completely. It turns out, however, that the love and pride that all of them feel for him (the family calls him David) creates a trust and they open up for the camera with astonishing honesty and feeling.
The film never sugar coats, and there are moments in the lives portrayed that are harrowing, dark, and painfully sad. Problems of chronic illness, drug abuse, violence, sex abuse and aging are revealed, but they are infused (as they are in life) by the joys and complications of true caring that comes from family ties. The sense that no one will ever be abandoned, no matter how difficult the trials, is truly awe-inspiring and a testament to the strength of family. And as with any family, humor is the survival key and a moment can flip from dark to light--and then possibly dark again--in an instant. But what makes the film so rich and astonishing is the sense of love that continues through truly difficult circumstances. The director's parents share a devotion through the father's many years of devastating illness, and this is revealed so movingly, both in actions and in certain moments of stillness, that the audience was audibly moved to tears. And a scene where his hospitalized father sobs that he doesn't want his son to go back to New York shows a directness and depth of emotion rarely seen on screen. That we were moved to such a depth of emotion not by editorial or artistic manipulation but by simple, direct honesty--the sign of a wise film maker. His grandparents, his aunt and her children, his cousins, are all intimately a part of Caballero's life--and of his documentary, and by concentrating on nuances only a close intimate would know, he creates an enormously revealing portrait.
It is not the generalities of each of our lives that makes a work universal. Ironically, it is those unique details specific to our experience that make us connect, as we recognize the truth about our lives and the depths of our feelings. With its use of incredibly intimate candid detail, AMERICAN DREAMS DEFERRED is an absolutely remarkable portrait of love and family, an ultimately uplifting and moving experience that anyone who's ever been a family member will find riveting.
There is one more showing in the New York International Latino Film Festival--Saturday at 1:30pm at the Chelsea Cinema, West 23rd between 7th and 8th Avenues. But hopefully, this will just be the beginning of the distribution of this wonderful documentary, one to keep on your list of things to see.
Friday, July 23, 2010
WHAT'S HIDDEN, WHAT'S REVEALED
With an able assist from the MAD MEN design team, first-time director and fashion designer Tom Ford ably evokes the early 60s, with all of its awakenings and phobias, in a stunningly moving and simple tale, A SINGLE MAN, now available on DVD (and no doubt various cable outlets). Based on a Christopher Isherwood novel, the film received largely critical acclaim both here and England, yet inevitably missed many viewers to its "art house" scope. In fact, it no doubt would have escaped most viewers note, were it not for the splendid, Oscar-nominated performance of Colin Firth, playing the sad and understated college professor George Falconer, a mostly-closeted gay man (this is 1962) who has lost his lover of sixteen years in a car accident and has been forbidden by the lover's family to attend the funeral. The film spends a day in the life of this forlorn man--a particular one, where from the start it is clear he plans to end his life--and follows him through his path of trying to put his life in order. If this sounds painful, it is--so many times you want to scream out to him to stop and look at all the possibilities. But the film is so engrossing and so easy to identify with that you'll find yourself fully drawn into Falconer's experiences. As you would expect from this production team, the visuals are continually breath-taking: sensual and spot-on. Yet they never pull you out of the emotional tug provided by Firth's marvelous performance, duly deserving of the accolades it received. You so much want to reach out and help this man--and show him that life is worth living. The screenplay by Ford and David Scearce is never overly maudlin, and each time Falconer starts to move towards self-pity, a twist occurs that provides both a fresh look at life's opportunities and also some truthful comic relief. While small cameos are provided by the likes of Lee Pace (PUSHING DAISIES) and Mad Men's Jon Hamm (as a phone voice), strong support is provided by Nicholas Hoult (all grown up from ABOUT A BOY, where he was the kid befriended by Hugh Grant) as a persistent student, Matthew Goode (as the departed lover), and by Julianne Moore (in another amazing, Golden Globe-nominated performance) as the professor's long-time, somewhat boozy friend. To tell you too much more story-wise would be to give too much away, although admittedly the film is more character study than plot-twister. But you will be moved, teased, torn and in many ways healed by the lovely, direct storytelling. If you missed it in the theater as I did, you will be very happy to catch up with it in the comfort of your own space (which may ultimately be the ideal way to view this film.) Released by The Weinstein Company.
Friday, July 16, 2010
(or letting the old folks in!)
It is clear that most new theater companies, at least in New York, are created by and for young(er) artists. That makes sense. After all, it is hard, HARD work, requiring energy and determination--often requiring every waking hour of life when you're not at work at a "rent job" to make enough money to pay for the damned thing! (Breathe.) It is not LIKE having a second job, it IS a second job. (I know--I was there once. Kinda still am, but that's another discussion.)
It also makes sense that artists spending all this time and energy on forming a company would deal primarily with issues, concerns and aesthetics that please them and their target age group. After all, to put in THAT much hard work and make that many sacrifices, you surely are going to want the messages and the work to be something you care about artistically. Makes total sense.
But oddly, while plays used to feature a range of characters of different ages, there now seems to be an overabundance of plays with "twenty-somethings" as the only characters--and as the sole target audience. (Even "thirty-something characters" are having a harder time.) And when festivals of one-acts, etc., come along, any plays with "mature" characters get swept under the rug, and if these plays do appear, they get buried while plays about "coming of age" and "getting laid" seem to sweep. (Or as a fellow middle-aged theater artist said to me recently, "If I have to watch one more f%&-ing coming of age play, I'm gonna yell 'fire" in the theater!") Again, I guess understandable--but a little sad. (Which? The old fogey reaction or the youth bias? Um, I'm not quite sure!)
Understand, I KNOW that I'm getting older. There is definitely a new generation in charge. And no one wants to spend their 20s in their parents' basements--it is time to get out there and explore! It is your right, as it has been EVERY generation's right. This is finally a time when your opinion matters MORE than the heavy-handed authority figure who's been ruining you life for . . . okay, see, I do understand and if you don't deal with it NOW, you never will!
But when you don't include a mix in your mix, you lose out in several ways. You lose out because middle-aged audiences still DO like to see theater, and not just conservative "Broadway" fare. Older audiences have needs to see their lives and interactions explored, too--and they will pay cold hard cash to see it! And just as we are reminded about youth as we watch the stories you crave, so might you learn a few things in preparation for your middle years--not to mention that it might help you connect with a whole other generation that you will be entering sooner than you think! By doing plays with older artists also involved (yes, we write, direct, act, design and even sweep floors!), you set up connections that may serve you when other projects, sometimes decently funded, come along. Doing plays with mixed age groups really does reflect life--and might do something for yours. And finally, though not guaranteed, older audiences may have some disposable income that can be sent your way--but they want to feel that at least sometimes they get to see themselves in those plays, and not just as the rotten parent!
To put it another way: you know how much you hate it when older software can't read documents created in the newest version? Like a document created in Word 2007 or higher can't be read in earlier versions of Word? UNLESS YOU SAVE IT AS A WORD 97-2003 VERSION?! You'd like there to be backward reciprocity, right? A document is a document is a document and you don't want your creations excluded!
I am trying (humorously, I hope) to make a point: Real artists are ultimately ageless, and the sharing of ideas, passions and dreams are what make us all related, all part of this really odd and neurotic species called human beings. No one ever said older people are necessarily smarter--they just have more experiences to share. By interweaving generations, stories get passed along. Lore is shared. Rituals are handed down, developed and embellished, each generation adding their own embroidery to the tapestry. And, yes, understanding each other paves the way in BOTH directions for the future.
So . . . let's open up the doors a little, people? (Pretty please . . . !)
Paid for by FART (Fostering Artist Relations in Theater)!
Monday, July 12, 2010
I’m not a big traveller—I like being places but I hate the “getting there.” Nonetheless, I took a JetBlue flight this weekend (thanks for great service!) to Carrboro, NC, where The ArtsCenter, a really wonderful place where art, music, theater and dance combine, presented the 9th Annual 10 By 10 Festival, an evening of ten ten-minute plays performed by ten actors, with a ticket price of only $10. My play, CLOSET CASE, opened the evening and was enormously well-received, under Chris Chiron’s concise and clever direction. Kenneth De Abrew and Lori Mahl (who along with Chris appeared in the other nine plays), were wonderful as a man who finds a strange woman living in his closet—and the woman in question! It’s an odd, absurd comedy, based on a “true” news story out of Japan. The whole evening was beautifully directed and acted—and FUNNY and thought-provoking. On my evening, I was part of an audience talkback with four other playwrights, having a panel discussion with those who stayed after the show (for discussion and a wine-and-food reception). It was a really terrific evening, largely due to the quality of the work and the wonderful people I met on the journey. People who still wish to see the show, by the way, still can—as it plays Thursday-Sundays thru July 25th (Th-Sat eves at 8, Sun Mat at 3). The ArtsCenter at the Triangle, Ste G, 300 East Main Street, Carrboro, NC (919) 929-2787
Sunday, July 04, 2010
LET IT GO
Though it pains me to think of the whole nation being as flummoxed as I am on this July 4th--I've never found misery to love company, frankly--I think the only way to get through all our current trials and woes is to return to my hard-to-learn mantra, "Let it go!"
Let it go.
You've had an argument with your loved one over a momentary comment intended one way, interpreted as another. But you love each other. Let it go.
You thought you were going to end up with more cash and more self-esteem as a result of hard work, determination, craftiness and plain dumb luck. You wanted to be a great experimenter BUT you also wanted to end up with some modicum of security. Let it go.
People you care about offer suggestions helpfully that just plain don't help. Let it go.
You're afraid of making a choice or a decision, fearful that things COULD always get worse, and the unknown ahead is far more fearsome than "the demons you know." Let it go.
You feel that your best efforts don't suffice--and even you start to question whether or not you know what's best, or whether your contributions will matter to the world in the long run. Let it go.
Let it go.
All we have is the moment. We've had the past. We need to clear the way to embrace the future. But that can only happen if you . . .
LET IT GO!!!
Wishing all a good day of cool drinks, warm memories, and a new and refreshed sense of purpose. Forget about worrying that it won't be perfect. Just put it out there. Let it be. Let it fly! And as for those worries that stop you from flying . . . let it go!