Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Random Thoughts: Vexed in the City

Don’t ask where this came from. If you hop aboard my train of thought all I can guarantee you is a derailment… I anticipated that my first post back from vacation would be about something I saw or did whilst out of town. A movie I watched, a book I read, a meal I ate, a wine I purchased, a slot machine I lost at, etc. To be honest, I haven’t yet been in that reflective place. Don’t get me wrong, there were some great things about my exploration of the west with CSD Julie, but I have not yet quite gathered my thoughts in that ‘write a blog post’ way as of yet.

I have however, gone off on a tangent this morning.

Is there a more dysfunctional relationship than the one between New Yorkers and New York City?

From working with, talking with, and witnessing first hand the wily New Yorker in their native environment, I have come to the conclusion that unlike anywhere else in the world, living in New York City shares a close bond with the following:

1. Being trapped in a loveless marriage
2. Spending the rest of your days happily ever after with your soul mate
3. Surviving in the world’s largest family
4. Ruling the world
5. Eating 5-star meals, morning, noon, and night
6. Contracting bowel-shaking food poisoning on a weekly basis

Notice the dichotomy? I realize, I was pretty subtle there… Feel free to read it again if you need to… Yep, there’s some opposites in there, but every single one of them seems to apply when considering a life in New York.

First off, I also fully recognize that a non New Yorker writing about living in New York is about as popular as Carrot Top performing in blackface, but the subject of New York from a New Yorker’s point of view has been explored to death. The subject of visiting New York from the outside has equally been trod into a finely worn path, but I cannot recall ever reading a non New Yorker’s view on what it must be like to live in the city. Why, you ask, do I feel I have that right? Honestly, I don’t, but the thought has been kicking me in the ass for a few weeks now, so I’m just getting it out there. Besides, upon visiting New York my first goal is always to look as little like a tourist as I possibly can. As a matter of fact, my favorite New York moment occurred on my last visit, when I was stopped in Central Park by a couple of mid-westerners asking me for directions. At that moment I knew ‘oh yeah, I could be a New Yorker, provided I could spend my days wandering the streets and not, you know, *working*’

Back to my point. Let me examine the above New York states of mind…

Being trapped in a loveless marriage- No matter the time of day or night, no matter the month of the year, the year of the decade, or the decade of the century, the noise in New York City never quite stops. Like a nagging spouse over your shoulder, 24 hours a day, New York is always expecting more from you while refusing to give the moment of piece you so richly crave. Just as it seems the city is opening it’s arms for you, giving you your every desire, you get mugged, or hit by a taxi, or it starts to rain even though it’s 95 degrees out. New York give you nothing unconditionally.

Spending the rest of your days happily ever after with your soul mate- It’s not all gloom and doom. From virtually any spot in Manhattan you are within walking distance of great food, world class entertainment, culture, shopping, and landmarks. Taken as a whole, the city is a love letter to the American dream. Anything you can imagine is not only possible in New York, it likely already exists. New York is saying ‘I will give you everything you’ve ever wanted, and all I ask in return is that you take it from me.’ Isn’t that how we all want our romances to go? Perfection is for suckers, real love is 24 hour pizza parlors and an unfathomably hot cup of deli coffee on a chilly, wet spring morning.

Surviving in the world’s largest family: New Yorkers relate to each other both as enemies, and comrades in arms. They will at once steal each other’s seats on the subway, yell, honk, and curse at each other, while still defending one another to the death from outsiders. Like siblings, they are free to beat and mock each other mercilessly, but anyone not from the city is strictly forbidden from the familial bonding. New York is not unique in this camaraderie, but it may be more stern in it’s practice than most other places in the world. This is not a product of September 11th either, just ask former Atlanta Braves pitcher and all around jerk-off John Rocker…

Ruling the world: If a tree fell in the woods, how would it effect traffic on the Long Island Expressway? In California, we are taught to be global citizens. In foreign countries, it is imperative to know what your neighbors, and what the United States is doing. In New York, there is only New York. I am not saying that New Yorker’s are not aware of the world around them, because in many ways they are far more connected than a lot of other parts of our great nation. The difference is New York views the rest of the world like a weather report. Wars, famines, floods, ethnic cleansing, devastating earthquakes, violent uprisings, Toyotathon, New York knows of all of these events, because New Yorkers need to know if they need to wear a jacket out to Chelsea Piers.

Eating 5-Star Meals, morning, noon, and night: True on both a literal, and figurative level, everything you want you can find in New York. Peruvian cuisine, knock off handbags, skyscrapers that pierce the heavens and mock God himself, a hot dog stand every 14 feet, used vinyl in both record and clothing form, art, books, movies, music, parades, parks, history, everything but a parking space. New Yorkers, like natives of any cultural center, tend to be numb to the greatness of the city while still being acutely aware that they are privy to an experience few of us in the rest of the world will ever understand. How I long for midnight pastrami and wish for a 24 Hour Deli in my small corner of suburbia. Alas, this is the price I pay for being able to safely stow my car.

Contracting bowel-shaking food poisoning on a weekly basis: As much joy and reverence as I gain from visiting New York, attempting to blend seamlessly with the native throng, the pace of life, the constant noise, the lack of traffic laws, the amount of foot traffic, the high cost of living, the overwhelming sense of being surrounded by a machine much larger than yourself, and the ever vigilant side stepping to keep from becoming grist in it’s mills, there is nothing like stepping off a plane back in Southern California. Living in the city, I wonder when and if the denizens of the grand Metropolis ever get a chance to exhale. Like overloading on grease at the state fair, or one too many street side falafels there is such a thing as too much of a good thing…

Well, that was cathartic, and will give me a chance to see if anyone from the city reads this blog… If so, I’m sure I’ll be sufficiently flogged for overstepping my non New Yorker bounds, but the next time I’m in the city, I dare you to recognize me as a tourist… I’ll get back to my usual film/music/book fascinations soon enough. I just had to indulge the demon chomping on my cerebrum. Hay, maybe by the time I take a vacation elsewhere I’ll be ready to write about Las Vegas…

Friday, July 11, 2008

Enjoy the next 10 days folks!

This marks post #30, and the last one before I take off for vacation...

Enjoy life, eat out more often.

Don't take any wooden nickels.

Never rub another man's rhubarb.

Always bet on black.

Never put salt in your eye.

Stay Classy, San Diego.

Rock it like Joyce...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

6:00 On A Christmas Morning…

So is it just me, or has this week been interminably long? It seems like I’ve been here at work for the last 314 days straight. I’m sure it couldn’t have anything to do with the fact I’m going on vacation next week… Speaking of things that seemingly go on forever driving one to madness, I’m currently listening to some Dream Theater (Hence, the name of the post). Now I know what you’re thinking, ‘but OCK, I never pictured you as a prog-rock geek… Do you have long flowing hair and posters of unicorns on your bedroom walls?’ I’m sorry to disappoint, but the answer to both those questions is sadly no… Cruise Ship Director Julie has instituted a ‘no unicorn’ zone in the inner sanctum, and besides, you don’t have to obsess over which incarnation of Thor is closest to the original Nordic myth to enjoy progressive rock. (BTW, It's the one to the right, if you're still debating...) Prog-rock can be for everybody, at least everybody with a good amount of patience and a minimum of 12 minutes to devote to each song…

I feel it is my duty as an unknown Internet babbler and lover of all things Prog to convince ‘mainstream’ music listeners that you don’t have to play D&D in your mom’s basement to enjoy the likes of Yes, Dream Theater, Genesis, Spock’s Beard, King Crimson, Liquid Tension Experiment, etc. You too could make Prog-rock the music for ‘cool kids’ all you have to do is find the RIGHT prog-rock. I’m the first to tell you, if you pick up a random mid 70’s Yes album, say Tales From Topographic Oceans, the first thing you’ll notice is the Tolkienesque scripting on the album cover. I can totally understand that you may very well want to drop the album immediately and run for the nearest television showing a sporting event before your shirt spontaneously starts sprouting the words ‘Live At Budokan’ across the back… First and foremost, I highly suggest you don’t judge an album by it’s cover. Secondly, if you are not heavily into prog-rock already, I suggest you avoid TFTO the same way a beginning reader would want to avoid War and Peace. Accept the fact that you may NEVER want to listen to a 20 minute track entitled The Revealing Science of God - Dance of the Dawn. That’s OK, contrary to popular belief, one can enjoy SOME prog-rock, without enjoying ALL prog-rock… Instead, start with one of these 5 albums, you’ll be glad you did, and maybe, just maybe you’ll pick up a new musical obsession… Maybe you’ll grow out your hair, maybe you’ll decide to start your own witches coven, or perhaps build your own Viking ship… More likely, you’ll just add some additional great music to your large and varied collection.

1. Genesis- The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
If you are like me, and I know I am, you probably enjoy both music, AND movies… I’d go so far as to say that if you DIDN’T enjoy both music, AND movies, you probably wouldn’t be reading this right now… I don’t mean to take liberties with your personal tastes, but I feel this is a limb I can safely go out on. If I have overstepped my bounds, I would apologize, but since you’re on the other end of a computer, it’s not like you’d hear my anyway.

For those who ARE willing to admit that they enjoy music, AND movies, why not listen to an album that plays like both music AND a movie? That’s an easy question to answer, there’s absolutely NO reason not to, not a single one… Except, maybe you don’t have an hour and a half to devote to an album the way you would to watching Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo for the 12th time… If that’s the case, I can’t help you, but I can suggest a couple of great stand alone tracks to throw on your next iPod mix that may get you in the mood to give this full album a listen so you can fully experience the tale of New York born Rael on his quest to save his brother, and himself from a lifetime of captivity in a strange new world…

· The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway- The album’s title track has been covered many, many times throughout prog-rock history, but the original Peter Gabriel vocal stylings just can’t be reproduced. Aside from being the best for stand alone listening, this track also gives you a good intro to what the rest of the album is all about, and it’s under 5 minutes, that’s shorter than most prog-rock Moog solos…

· In The Cage- So when you think Genesis, you may think of soft-pop ballads like Invisible Touch, Hold On My Heart, or Taking It All Too Hard. While you wouldn’t be totally wrong, there was a time in which Genesis was more rock than pop, and that time was called the 70’s… Few tracks capture this hard edge quite like In The Cage. Think more organ and guitar that synthesizer and tambourine on this one…

· The Colony of Slippermen: The Arrival/A Visit to the Doktor/The Raven- At some point, if you’re going to give prog-rock a shot, you’re going to have to listen to a epic story song broken into multiple parts. You could go with Jethro Tull’s 45 minute long Thick as a Brick, or you could stick with Pete and the boys and enjoy 8 minutes learning about the land of the Slippermen… Your reaction will likely lie someplace between ‘vaguely rockin’ and ‘man those dudes were high’. Either, and both are appropriate responses, and a pretty good summary of what prog-rock is all about.

2. Dream Theater- A Change Of Seasons
Now that you’ve been baptized into prog-rock glory, maybe you’re thinking ‘I’m all about living in the past, but that album is like, 33 years old… Isn’t there something just a LITTLE bit newer out there?’ Yes, yes Internet, there is most certainly something just a little bit newer out there. 20 years newer to be exact. 1995 brought us a prime textbook example of prog-rock greatness in the form of Dream Theater’s A Change of Seasons. Don’t believe me? Let’s just say the album is over an hour long, but only contains 5 tracks…

A Change Of Seasons- The opening title track is a seven part medley that clocks in at roughly 23 minutes, but don’t be intimidated, it breaks up nicely for listening, and there is no Iron Butterfly-esque 15 minute guitar solo or 3 minute long drum interlude to be found. The All Music Guide Review calls this track ‘one of the most impressive pieces of music ever written in the progressive metal vein.’ I personally feel that might be a bit overstated, but if you’re going to pass judgement on prog-rock one way or the other, you should give this track a listen. If you enjoy it, you’re probably going to enjoy a good number of other prog-rock tunes. If you don’t enjoy it, this is not the genre for you…

The other 4 tracks on the album are progged-up cover tunes of 70’s standards that in many ways are superior to the originals, if nothing else, because they blend together so well with other era hits. The Big Medley is a welcome addition to any classic-rock themed iTunes playlist, as long as you’re not loathe to include modern cover tunes in with classic originals. I’m of two minds on this topic. For the most part I avoid modern covers like a zombie plague, but I make a few exceptions, and one of them is for Dream Theater.

3. Pink Floyd- The Wall
People who like Pink Floyd, but do not like Yes tend to refuse to accept that Pink Floyd is prog-rock. People who like Yes and do not like Pink Floyd tend to agree. People who fall into either of these categories are hopelessly wrong. I fully agree that Pink Floyd and Yes are not the same band… I would go so far as to say if Yes opened for Pink Floyd, they may get beer bottles tossed at them until they stop just 6 minutes into Roundabout and are forced to leave the stage. Just like modern rock fans can enjoy The Killers and find The Strokes too studio enhanced and ‘posery’, prog-rock fans can enjoy the hard edged sulk of Pink Floyd’s epic coming of age in repressive Britain tale so succinctly captured in The Wall without owning your very own Lonely Heart.

If you’re not familiar with The Wall, I suggest changing that through the album, rather than the film. There’s nothing wrong with the film per-se, but I feel the imagery and magnified story telling for someone who has not already formed their own opinions about the music tends to push people into a particular direction that may not be the same as they direction they would naturally gravitate to with just the music alone. This belief is not specific to this album, or even to the genre of music vs. film. I tend to think the same is true of film adaptations of books. If nothing else, give the original media a chance to take hold before seeing what someone else’s vision is of it…

4. Side 2 of Abbey Road- The Beatles
By invoking the spirit of Floyd I came dangerously close to losing my ‘Prog-Rock Fan’ membership card, by bringing up The Beatles final recording, I’ve more or less set it on fire. I chose Abbey Road not as a means of labeling The Beatles a Prog-Rock band, but as an educational tool to show where the idea for an epic storied prog-rock album came from. The second side of Abbey Road has been cited by a litany of artists as influential musical story telling and was in my opinion a necessary step toward the prog-rock albums of the 70’s and beyond.

From Because through Her Majesty, The Beatles intertwine 9 separate tracks without a break in the music. In addition to the tracks running together, the same chords and tunes pop up throughout the ensemble, and even characters cross from one song to the next (we first meet Polythene Pam half way through Mean Mr. Mustard). Had this album been released during the prog-rock heyday of the mid 70’s, these individual songs likely would have been billed as one track, or course had this album not been released in 1969, prog-rock as we know it likely would have never existed… Just keep in mind, if you find yourself coming to the end of She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, gearing up for Ringo’s only drum solo committed to an album, you’re more than just a Beatles fan, you’re a prog-rock fan, like it or not.

5. LTE I- Liquid Tension Experiment
Whilst prog-purists are furiously typing away slanderous comments right now, threatening to avenge my soul with their 15th level Dwarves for sullying the beauty of their commercially disasterous rock genre by acknowledging the existence of The Beatles on the prog-rock timeline, other, less… ummm… passionate readers are probably thinking to themselves ‘hey, maybe this guy has a point… Maybe prog-rock isn’t just for those who like extended synth solos and hair-metal inspired guitar work taken seriously. I might just be a prog-rock fan afterall!’

If you’re a former, type away… no press is bad press. If you’re a latter, here’s your litmus test. Liquid Tension Experiment is a prog-rock supergroup made up of John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy, long time members of Dream Theater, Jordan Rudess, a newer DT denizen, and prog-rock giant Tony Levin known mostly for his work with King Crimson… The kicker is, it’s also all instrumental.

I’m a big fan of lyrics. I tend to enjoy music based more on the substance of the lyrics than the quality of the music behind them… Case in point, currently playing on my iPod is Kim Carnes’ Bette Davis Eyes, and I’m not enjoying it because of the synth-clap background of the non-threatening drum line laid ever so quietly in the background to keep Kim on point… I’m enjoying it because all the boys think she’s a spy… ‘cause she’s got Bette Davis eyes…

LTE hits on a specific point in my brain however that is usually reserved for especially well crafted movie soundtracks. The musical coagulation formed by replacing Kevin James LaBrie’s vocals with Levin’s bass lines makes me imagine the original Star Wars trilogy, only Han Solo is played by Shaft’s Richard Roundtree and Luke Skywalker’s character is replaced by Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolemite… ‘When I see a Storm Trooper, I cut the mutha fucka…’

If this doesn’t make you want to rush out and purchased a horned helmet and head for the enchanted lands of the Nordic gods, that I don’t know what will… Just remember, prog-rock is NOT a gateway to life as a jobless slacker in a cheez-whiz stained Porcupine Tree tour shirt, unless you want it to be… Keep on rockin’ for at least 20 minutes…

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Like Visiting An Old Friend

First and foremost, I make no apologies for this being my first post of the week. Consider yourself lucky that you haven't had to listen to my rambling nonsense for a couple of days... I'm pretty much in full on vacation mode, so I've had no desire to write about much of anything... That all changed last night though my friends... Why, you ask? Well I'm going to tell you why, right the eff now!!

I watched Chinatown last night for the first time in a good long while, and I was left wondering why I always seem to go so long between watchings. Sure, it’s not exactly the most happy-go-lucky of stories, but it certainly isn’t the kind of movie you’re glad to have seen, but never, ever want to watch again a la Apocalypse Now… For the most part, in spite of it’s very Polanskiesque twists and turns, it’s pretty standard film noir faire. If you take the film seriously, you will likely be quite disturbed by the whole plotline, and it’s eventual outcome, but if you look at it like a well made adaptation of a dime store novel, it’s a whole hell of a lot of fun…

Heads up, moving forward I do plan to talk about the movie, and in talking about the movie, will reveal the twists and turns referred to above, so if you decided to wait 34 years to try this one on and are afraid of having the film ruined, I suggest not reading any further. I also suggest you see films in a much more timely manner... It's not like we're talking about the Raul Julia TV movie Ace's Up or William Elliot's turn as Ken, a cop with a soft side in Hangup. His job was busting junkies, his mistake was loving one... Anyhow if you have seen the film, hopefully you will be inspired to watch it again. It’s worth another viewing just for Jack’s one-liners…

Author’s note: I’ve been trying to write a compact point by point write up of the plot of Chinatown for the last 45 minutes, and I’m only about a quarter of the way through the film. As a result, I’m going to skip the formal plot outline, and instead focus on some killer scenes that make this movie worth seeing. I’ll try and throw in as much context as possible, but it could be tough unless I make this post about 100,000 words long, and NOBODY wants that. I recognize that the best blog post falls someplace between 'long enough to kill some time off the clock at the end of a work day' and 'Holy shit, it's 4:00! I started reading this thing at 10am!'… Keeping that in mind, here's what you need to know to get the general idea of the film:

· LA is in a drought
· Jack Nicholson is a private dick
· There’s a scandalous conspiracy surrounding the water department
· John Houston makes for a very convincing old bastard
· Roman Polanski plays a knife wielding baddie who serves no real purpose except to wreak havoc
· Faye Dunaway’s character Evelyn Cross-Mulwray has had a seriously messed up life, and subsequently has a very gnarly family tree…

With these things in mind, I now present 5 reasons to go watch Chinatown again, or for the first time for those of you residing under rocks...

1. Jack Nicholson’s JJ Gittes is a badass.

Gittes is a hard boiled private dick, like those made famous by Humphrey Bogart a generation earlier. The big difference between Bogey and Jack? Jack’s not afraid to work blue, and he manages to find the comedy in life’s great tragedies… Early in the film, Gittes is snooping around the LA aqueduct after hours and gets caught by a fellow gun for hire and his slight associate. Instead of running for his life, begging for an apology, or trying to weasel his way out of the situation, Gittes says ‘Hiya Mulvihill, who’s the midget?’ Gittes soon learns ‘the midget’ portrayed by our director, Roman Polanski, is not a man to be trifled with. Polanski’s character, billed simply as ‘Man with Knife’ promptly sticks his switchblade in Gitte’s left nostril, and slices outward. Does Gittes scream and cry, nope, he simply cups his nose in his hands, tells the thugs he won’t be back, and goes on his merry way. Later in the flick he gets a chance to beat the hell out of Mulvihill, and finds opportunity to use the nose as comic relief. When talking with Mrs. Mulwray Gittes opines ‘But, Mrs. Mulwray, I goddamn near lost my nose. And I like it. I like breathing through it. And I still think you're hiding something.’ Still later when having a tête-à-tête with an LAPD detective, Gittes is asked what happened to his nose, but you won’t get a sob story from old Jake Gittes, instead he responds with ‘Your wife got excited. She crossed her legs a little too quick. You understand what I mean, pal?’

In all seriousness, aside from the running gags and sub-plot surrounding Gittes’ sliced nose, the scene itself where Polanski does the cutting is possibly one of the most realistic uses of violence ever committed to film. Aside from a small spurt of blood into Gittes’ eye, and his bloody hands from attempting to hold the wound closed, there is no fountain of gore, no gratuitous shots of flesh hanging from Jake’s face, no overreaction on the part of the victim or victimizer, and as a result, the wound seems even more painful and gruesome because of it’s realism.

2. John Houston, the man could do more than just direct.

If John Houston’s legacy was centered around nothing more than this film, he may have ended up one of the most hated actors in the history of Hollywood. From the outset, Houston’s Noah Cross seems like a kindly old retiree, trying to do the best he can with his fortune to better the city in which he loves. After all, he’s just trying to bring water to the people of Los Angeles. As the film unfolds however, we find that Cross isn’t really all that concerned about the citizens of Los Angeles, he’s far more concerned about amassing even more wealth, even more power, and ruining even more lives in the process. In the third act, we discover hat Cross has been purchasing large parcels of land in the San Fernando Valley, which he plans to irrigate with the water the citizens of Los Angeles will pay to bring to the area through a new dam project. We also find out that he was the one who killed his former business partner and son-in-law Hollis Mulwray, and most disturbing of all, we find out that Mulwray’s supposed lover was actually the offspring of incest between Cross and his then 15 year old daughter Evelyn.

As disturbing as the character is revealed to be, what really makes him so dastardly is the turn Houston takes in portraying him. Gone is the kindly old grandfatherly figure who seems to want to do one more good thing for the people of Los Angeles before his life is at an end, and instead Houston seems to capture the true greed and degradation of the character more through facial mannerisms and inflection that through his lines themselves. We find that his true reasoning for wanting Gittes to find his son-in-law’s concubine was because he knew the girl was his daughter, the daughter his first child had hidden from him so he could not damage her the way she had been.

3. Great Film Noir Styling with 70’s Era Storytelling

The ultimate resolution of Chinatown, and the way the whole film unfolds could not have been told in the same way in any era of film before or since. Polanski’s film making, coupled with Towne’s writing captured lightening in a bottle that fit perfectly in the high violence, high kink era of 70’s film making. Combining that with classic film noir characterizations and set design gives the whole film the feel of a true Dashiell Hammett noir novel rather than the more watered down films of the Hays Code era. I certainly do not wish to take away anything from the earlier noir films in which Chinatown is based, but the openness of both Hollywood and film going audiences of the 70’s allowed Chinatown to be told in all it’s gritty and exploitative glory. Many of the earlier noirs implied similar story lines of incest, far reaching government corruption, and characterized the hard living private eye lifestyle, but none of them opened the book as widely as Chinatown did, more because of society’s views at the time than because of the film maker’s desires to stop short of telling the whole story.

Ultimately, the same could be said today. We are now in an age of film that many film makers are concerned with having their films branded too gratuitous, or hyper realistic. Film makers are finding ways to cut corners to not truly express the evils that men do, and instead imply the horror. In some ways this adds an additional element to the films in question as our minds always conjure up more depraved and salacious acts than a screen writer could ever envision, but there is something so simple, so direct, and so menacing about Polanski’s willingness do display the incest plotline in Chinatown, and Houston’s willingness to embrace it as an actor, that we just do not see in film today. I’m yet to decide if that is a bad thing or a good thing, but for whatever it’s worth, it’s a thing…

4. A Solution To The Theory Of Proper Plot Twists

As I mentioned at the very beginning of this post, it is almost impossible to commit to a full write up of Chinatown without revisiting virtually every scene in the film. As a matter of fact, I’m about 4/5th of the way through the write up I decided to do, and I’m roughly as far as I was with the review I scrapped because I was only about half an hour into the film when outlining the whole plot. Some may see this as overly complicated, creating plot twists just for the sake of plot twists. I could not disagree more. There are examples of films out there that tried to do too much with the story and left the viewers thinking ‘What?’ The most classic example that comes to mind is The Big Sleep. It has been said that not even the actors could explain what the film was really about. There are also films that have sub-plots that are designed to throw the audience in one direction while the actual story heads in another. A prime example of that device can be found in Pulp Fiction. So many people, especially those who study film, will debate ‘what’s in the briefcase?’ At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what’s in the briefcase. The briefcase is not the central plot device, it’s more of an homage to noir past, and an extra twist to keep the audience wondering what’s going to come next.

For the most part, the twists and turns in Chinatown do reach fruition. The overarching story of corruption in the water department ultimately takes a back seat to the struggles of the Cross/Mulwray family and their personal tragedies, but without it, there is no conflict to spark the murder of Mulwray, Gittes’ involvement in the story, or the eventual uncovering of Cross’ improprieties, so it does serve a very necessary purpose beyond shifting the focus of the audience. The only plot point that is not fully developed, leaving the audience wondering about the film long past the last reel, is what actually happened to Gittes in Chinatown, all those years past? This is where Polanski allows the audience to use their imagination conjuring a story far more twisted and evil than anything Towne could have penned.

5. Polanski’s Wrap Up

Those who have only seen Chinatown once or twice and never really looked any deeper into the film would be surprised to find out that the original script did not end in tragedy. Gittes is the hero, Evelyn and her daughter find peace beyond the clutches of Noah Cross, and good triumphs over evil. Unfortunately for Roman Polanski, the story of good triumphing over evil was not based in reality. Polanski was born to Polish parents who were both imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps, his mother dying there. Young Roman was forced to flee from his family, taking refuge with various Catholic families through Poland to avoid his own imprisonment and possible death in spite of the fact he was not yet even a teenager. As most people know, the tragedies did not stop when Polanski reached adulthood. Chinatown was his return to directing after the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate at the hands of the Manson family 5 years earlier. Considering the life of pain and loss he had lived up to this point, it is no surprise that Polanski chose to take the script in a darker direction.

In the culminating scene, all the major players in the film gather outside a Mulwray servant’s quarters in the titular Chinatown. Evelyn and her daughter Kathrine are fleeing the city, on their way to Ensenada, Mexico to escape the clutches of both the law, and Noah Cross. Gittes leads Cross to Chinatown in an effort to expose him to the police, whom he knows will be hot on Evelyn’s trail. Gittes’ plan seems to be coming together perfectly, except you never know how a situation is going to play out in Chinatown… Evelyn confronts her father, telling him he will never have a chance to do to Kathrine what he did to her, Gittes is arrested on site for aiding Evelyn in alluding the police, who are there to arrest her for the murder of her husband. Gittes explains to the police that it’s really Noah Cross who killed Hollis Mulwray, not Evelyn, but they will have none of it. Evelyn speeds off in a convertible, with her daughter at her side, the police open fire on the car, attempting to disable it. Instead, one of the bullets hits Evelyn in the head, killing her instantly.

Wishing to cover up the murder, the police let Gittes and his associates go free, and Kathrine ends up in the care of her father/grandfather, Noah Cross. Nothing works out in the good guys favor, and we are all reminded poignantly of this by the look on Kathrine’s face as Cross is dragging her from the car. From this glance we can see she is not just horrified by seeing her mother’s lifeless body slumped over the steering wheel, but also because she knows what horrors await her now the she is under the care of Noah Cross.

This is ultimately how the film HAS to end. Any other conclusion would not be true to what we all know of the life and times of Roman Polanski before and since it’s making. Chinatown works on so many levels. It is a historically based fiction piece on the founding of Los Angeles, a more modernized version of the highly entertaining genre of Noir Cinema, and with the benefit if hindsight, even works as a slightly disjointed documentary on the life of it’s director. There are no happy endings, lifelong loves die, children are destined to experience loss and suffering, and the rich and powerful will always win out over the forgotten masses. Let it be said, I do not condone Polanski’s actions later in life. There is no good excuse for grown man to be involved with a thirteen year old girl, and as a human being, his failures certainly out number his accomplishments. However; as a film maker, he achieved two grand successes with this film, and the earlier Rosemary’s Baby. Some people may have a hard time separating the man from his work, and that is wholly understandable. I, do not…

In a nutshell, go watch yourself some Chinatown, and look out for your nose…

For more detailed write up on the film, and how it connects to LA's history, go here...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Happy Birthday, America!

Been busy @ work the last few days, and will be busy drinking and playing whiffle ball tomorrow, just as our forefathers envisioned... In the mean time, here's a weak post I wrote a few days ago and just hadn't had the time or desire to put up... I figure, I wasted half an hour writing it, I might as well put it online for others to mock and cackle at...

Yes, I know my participle is dangling...

Name That Band

Welcome to July! It’s a whole new month here at The Dance, a month where your friendly webierhood blogger will get a little bit older, and take a nice long vacation to the lands of Sin City and... someplace else... Wine Country may be out of the question since it's all on fire and stuff... Maybe Arizona instead, and a month that we’ll kick off with a brand new kind of post…

If you’ve read a good number of entries on this site, you’re probably thinking to yourself ‘Man, this OCKerouac guy doesn’t seem to put ANY thought or effort into the stuff he writes… He pretty much just craps his soul all over his keyboard and then expects me to read it… What a loser!’ The thing is, you’re only kind of right… Sure, I am kind of a loser, no complaints there, but past that, I actually do put in at least a minimum of research into my ramblings from sources as varied as IMDB and Wikipedia… I KNOW! How can one man do so much in so little time? I really am quite amazing, I assure you... Occasionally, I’ll even visit a band’s official website, though often this leads to purchasing music, which leads to trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with ‘B’ and that stands for Broke…

My mostly mindless and completely worthless point is that I typically DO put more effort into a post than one would expect from the finished product… I’m not looking for sympathy, or acknowledgement, I’m just making a point to show how THIS post will differ from MOST posts… Namely, this post is nothing more than my own sick and twisted inner workings… It’s not based on a movie, or an album, or something I read someplace that made me do a thing that was kind of like this one time that I thought I should write about or anything… It’s just me… Mad, lazy, looking for an excuse to drop a post me… Not because I thought you’d be interested, but really because I don’t feel like doing a music or movie review…

Instead, I’ll spill my own personal feelings about picking the perfect band name…

So, you want to be a Rock and Roll Star, well listen now to what I say… Oh, wait… Never-mind-all-that-now… So you’ve got yourself a band of wily misfits, and you all make noises that someone else may want to purchase and listen to that you like to call music… Alright then, answer yourself THIS burning question, what do you CALL yourselves?

Still not set on the perfect band name? Still trying to figure out what would look the coolest on an overpriced low quality concert tee? Well fret no longer my friend, keep on reading because I have some sure fire ways to pick a band name that will make all the ladies and gents scream for more of your sweet, soulful sounds…

Option #1: The Mad Libs band name generator…

If you were alive in the 80’s, you’re probably familiar with Mad Libs… If you were involved in any long distance car trip in the 80’s you’re DEFINITELY familiar with Mad Libs… If you were not yet born, or barely cognizant in the 80’s, then you’re making me feel old, but I’ll be pleased to explain… The elders can feel free to listen in as well, just in case you’ve murdered some brain cells in the last 20 years…

So the fine folks at Mad Libs would put together a funny little story, and remove key words prior to printing them up in their book… They would then prompt you with a type of speech to drop in the blank spaces. Verb, adverb, adjective, noun, person’s name, famous place, etc. etc. etc… After you’d pick all your special new words, you’d read your story aloud, and all in the room would chuckle mightily. That was the play anyway, but most of the time you’d end up with a story about a smelly poo making smelly poo with poo Empire State poos, mostly because Mad Libs were typically enjoys from the age range of 8 to 12, the prime age for use of the word poo.

Now that we’re older, and allegedly wiser, all that obsession with bodily functions and parts of speech wasn’t a complete loss, because you can use the Mad Libs formula to build yourself the perfect band name! Just fill in the blanks with your much more adult, expanded vocabulary…


Examples include:
The Jumping Breath Mints
The Bleeding Tailpipes
The Weeping Housekeepers
The Humping Reptiles

Real World Success Story:
The Screaming Trees

Rather not be a ‘The’ band? Try:

Examples Include:
Punch Minnesota
Jaunty Lincoln
Dance Chrysler
Merry Eskimo

Real World Success Story:
I don’t have one… It COULD be YOU!!

Option #2 Random Crossword Answers

If you’re like me, you enjoy a good crossword. You also have no musical talent whatsoever and should NOT, I repeat, NOT be a member of a band. This is a dream that is long ready to die, just give it up already. However, if you’re not like me, but know still enjoy a good crossword puzzle, or know someone who does, a completed crossword can by your window to band name bliss. Simply pick two random crossword answers and slap them together. Add a ‘The’ if you want, or don’t, it’s up to you. They’re not ALL winners, but a whole lot of them are.

Examples (From my July 1st Crossword-a-Day calendar, Happy Canada Day by the way…):
Gas Orchestra
Bear Opera
Nutcracker Bake
(For the Spanish radio crowd) Agua Fumar
Oboe Bang

You can see just from those 5 examples there’s a myriad of combinations that would look great emblazoned over the words ‘World Tour’

Real Life Success Story (I can only assume):
Afgan Whigs

Option #3: You’re a REAL artist, and you’ve got something to SAY!

Afraid that picking your name randomly from a crossword, or playing Mad Libs until you’ve spotted a winner won’t accurately express the world’s evils that you and your band mates wish to combat through the awesome power of rock? No worries, you can still play along. Just get yourself the latest copy of Soldier of Fortune and start leafing through for the names of military equipment…

M1A1 (As in the tank)
Heat Seeking Missile
Smith & Wesson (Would be especially fitting if your names happen to be Smith and Wesson…)

Real Life Success Stories (Obviously):

Feel free to set out on your own and blaze new trails of band naming glory, all I ask in return is front row tickets to Dance Chrysler at the Hollywood Bowl…