Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Pharmacy Years, Institutional (Reprise)

One of the themes that contiunally emerges among Lamplight Drivel postings is that of looking back. I'm not a person who lets the past eat up my thoughts or time to the point of current inaction, but I feel that a good hard look at your past is exteremely valuable to your well being, your understanding of self. So many dismiss the act of looking back, as it is a sure way to stunt growth, to relive old failures. That can certainly be true, but a clear-eyed, healthy examination of what lead you to where you sit is crucial, invaluable. If we're only focused on the future, we'll never really have any perspective on ourselves and how we've developed.

So as before, I found myself wandering through an old haunt. Only now it was a furniture store that had once been an institutional pharmacy. It was almost a decade after I had quit. The building's interiors still strangely looked and smelled the same, even though all of the old counters in the back and the entire retail section out front had been ripped out to make way for wicker chairs and such. I was the only one there that afternoon; the woman at the register was engaged in something and to my relief, not practicing any hard sell tactics on me. This left me free to just gaze around, lost in memories.

As you read, my time in this segment of pharmacy was far from grand. While therewere some good moments, most of my 5 off and on years there usually found me with a pissed off demeanor. When I think back on much of my pharmacy career, I remember anger, frustration. Yes, it is what you make of it, but sometimes the environment is so antagonistic, so beyond your control, so seemingly hellbent on entropy....I learned most of my basic Rx knowledge within those walls, so I owed the building that much.

Every corner of that place had a memory, most of which I laughed off that day. I remembered those surprise visits from the Board of Pharmacy. We would only have a few minutes' heads-up courtesy of a warning buzzer sounded by the pharmacist out front. As our tech to pharmacist ratio was a bit out of bounds by law, most of the staff had to run out the back door until the inspectors finally left. Lucky ones. They would go hang out at the resturant next door and/or smoke in the alley. Guess who usually got stuck inside with these less than pleasant snoops? Sometimes, there were citations. Every time an outdated med was found, I wondered if the inspectors didn't plant them? We tried to be thorough, keeping the inventory current.

I also thought of *George, the very highly stressed pharmacist who one day got so angry his body went into a full spasm and a shoe flew off his foot and hit the wall. Lots of George memories. He was an old school chauvanist who indeed had a few harrassment charges leveled at him. He was fond of tired inneuendoes like "Lie down, I wanna talk to you!" and "Let me get something straight between us." I guess that was no worse than one of the techs who loved reciting a filthy poem that included, "This is the legend of Piss Pot Pete, Forty Pounds of Swinging Meat."

George passed away my final year during a pharmacy dinner sponsored by one of the drug companies. Right at the table.

I thought also of *Walter, a very hefty old Jewish man who had ferocious flatulence problems. It was positively eye-watering on some days. One of the more outspoken techs loudly slammed a can of potpourri spray on the counter in front of him once. He pretended he had no idea of why she did that. I went to that tech's wedding, by the way, one that had a 2 hour sermon before the vows and some of the best collard greens ever.

There were so many co-workers. I tried to recall many of them. Some weren't there long enough to register. Their faces raced through my mind. As you read, I dated a few. I also tried unsuccessfully to hook up with one woman, about 10 years my senior, who worked in medical records. We had great chemistry, but she was not interested in crossing the line. It was an excellent lesson in humility for me. But to add insult to injury, she explained how she had had a lengthy affair with one of the other techs, a guy 5 or so years younger than me. I sat and wondered "What's he got....?" I later learned that several of the girls I worked with had a thing for him. One of them married him!

I wandered the furniture store for maybe 1/2 hour. It was long enough. My thoughts would follow me in the car and homeward bound. The pharmacy had moved to an industrial park further north a few years after I had exited in 1997. I'm not sure if it still exists at the time of this writing. I don't look back on those years with any fondness. More, curiosity. Embarrassment, too. As crappy as it may have been, it was a necessary phase. I may be tempted to feel those years were wasted while I stew in regret, but then those who would damn the ideas of recalling the past would be right. And you know what? They're not.


TO BE CONTINUED...

*Not the real name

Monday, August 27, 2012

Headhunters

Potential Spoilers

By the close of the serpentine 2011 Norwegian thriller HEADHUNTERS, it becomes clear that for all of the twists and convolutions of plot we've been through, this is essentially, primarily a story of 2 people who just don't communicate, with a whole lot of perilous fallout. Make that one person, actually: a high-level, though short in stature, very polished recruiter for a top agency named Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) who explains in voiceover that the expensive lifestyle he and his wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund) lead is really all her idea. Their home is an architectural marvel of sleekness, right out of a magazine. While his job as headhunter presumably pays well, it's never enough.

That's why we see a montage of Brown's down-to-a-science methods of art thievery, a sideline gig that proves to be exotic, a real rush, but is mainly just to pay for those costly gowns his wife wears. Brown and his lowlife associate Ove (Eivind Sander), who works for a security company and has a thing for Russian call girls, break into homes and replace original paintings with who-can-tell-the-difference? reproductions. Brown is so industrious he finds a way to use his headhunter job to scope out potential marks. The profits from the sales of the stolen artworks are healthy...but still insufficient.

Brown has other problems. His wife is pressuring him to give her a child. His girlfriend Lotte (Julie Ølgaard) doesn't go quietly when he breaks off the affair. On opening night of her new art gallery, Diana introduces her husband to a man named Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a former CEO of a company specializing in microscopic GPS devices, the kind that can be hidden in someone's hair (remember that).

Clas is a lean, handsome figure whose smiles barely mask someone you just know is a predator. Brown learns that Clas is in possession of a rare Peter Paul Rubens painting (worth untold millions of kroner) and uses his considerable skills of persuasion to get the man to agree to a business lunch; valuable time to allow him to make Clas his next mark. The score is potentially so huge, Brown may even be able retire from his moonlighting. But Brown also learns that Diana may be more than just friends with Clas. To top it off, there's also a famous, meticulous detective at the gallery opening, who's recently narrowed his focus to nabbing art thieves.

Director Morton Tyldum's HEADHUNTERS is the sort of crime film about which it would indeed be criminal to disclose too much. The early scenes suggest a sophisticated, quiet puzzler (ala THE SPANISH PRISONER) confined to the upscale world of Oslo's wealthiest. But what appears to develop into an art heist movie becomes something far more brutal and earthier. As the action moves from the elegance of the cityscape into the countryside, Brown's slick veneer is systematically worn down to an almost primal level. This allows Hennie, whose features echo those of Christopher Walken's, the opportunity to give a dynamic, multifacted performance. He handles it quite well.

The screenplay maintains the sort of darkly comic tone familiar to fans of A SIMPLE PLAN, FARGO, and SHALLOW GRAVE, to name a few. It does get pretty violent, even gruesome, at times. Ultimately though, HEADHUNTERS proves to have less of a Nietzsche world view than some of the other films. The Norwegian vista lends a novelty to the story, its natural beauty itself a work of art, though tainted with some rather rough brush strokes, courtesy of our human characters with their seemingly bottomless capacities for evil. This somewhat echoes another contemporary noir, THE ICE HARVEST.

But back to the beginning when I talked about the end of this film. Watching the wrap-up, it occurred to me the screenwriters were stating that sometimes you have to traverse a wilderness of despair before appreciating and understanding what you have. True love isn't always recognized - sometimes you have to be over your head in a world of shit before you take stock, speak with transparency, and learn to nuture the relationship with your soul mate. As you'll discover in this movie, sometimes that "world" can be quite literal.

In a strange way, this film could be observed as a cautionary tale as to what can happen when you let dialogue between you and your beloved trail off and become non-existent. It isn't until Roger endures a series of horrible events that he is able to open up to Diana. If only the prima donna little prick had just taken the focus off himself for a bit....

HEADHUNTERS is not a film that knocked me out of my seat, but it is a wildly entertaining traipse through the noir landscape with several clever touches. Its fans will doubtless be bitching about the already planned Hollywood remake to come.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hearts and Minds

Why is it that when we happen upon a "documentary" film we expect undiluted objectivity? How is that even possible, short of leaving a camera running in wide shot and without edits? Even then, the "eyes" don't explain every point of view. The very interests, causes, or passions that drive filmmakers are the very ones that serve to create a bias, often not exactly hidden. These days we are wary of the phrase "fair and balanced" because we realize any entity that makes such a statement is protesting too much. Even when someone tries to give equal time to warring parties, invariably the scale will tip.

1974's HEARTS AND MINDS, which makes no secret of its point of view, has proven to be one of the most controversial docs ever made. Nearly 40 years on, it continues to inspire extraordinarily fiery debates and inflammatory posts in periodicals and on the Internet. When this film took the Best Documentary Oscar, Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra openly denounced it during the ceremony. Many films divide opinions and fan the flames, granted, but when your subject is one of the most unpopular, longest, and casualty laden wars in American history, there is a virtual built-in powderkeg. What perhaps stirs the kettle with a bit more brio are the editing choices director Peter Davis makes.

What to make of two back to back scenes, one of military commander William Westmoreland stating that "The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient," and then cutting to a Vietnamese funeral, where a mother attempts to climb atop her son's casket as it is lowered? Juxtaposition such as this was also used in Michael Moore's later docs, particularly FARENHEIT 9/11. It is supremely effective, and supremely orchestrated and manipulative. But is it any different than what an attorney would do to make a case? Using the "facts" to support a particular conclusion? That's all Davis is doing here. He is bringing his case to trial, with viewers as his jury.

And he and his film are unashamedly leftist, damning the powers that be that ignited and perpetuated a senseless war. Davis interviews many key figures, one of whom smells a rat and right onscreen chasties the filmmaker, who is never seen but occasionally heard. Unlike Moore in his rabble rousing films, Davis does not provide narration, a correct choice.

Moore, who's on record as saying that HEARTS AND MINDS greatly inspired him to get into documentaries, uses his sad voice and accusations which serve to hurt his films, providing an ivory tower piety that sometimes turns the viewer, who may be even be aligned with his views, against him. I cringed while watching him in SICKO as he spoke to doctors in a hospital in Cuba, baiting them to say what he wanted, perhaps editing things out that might've muddied his viewpoint. Things are rarely black and white, and any partisan who actually thinks beyond party lines recognizes those troubling things that may undermine their points. But what does the attorney do? Presents evidence, yes, but often out of context to achieve a desired verdict.

My verdict? I think HEARTS AND MINDS is often brilliant and yes, awesomely one-sided. I've become increasingly skeptical about documentaries where interviewees are ambushed by the crew, sounding ignorant, imcompetant, or even heartless. Even if they are articulate, it's nothing that can't be fixed in post, as industry folk say. Consider the significant screen time Davis gives to George Thomas Coker, a Navy pilot captured by the Vietcong and held prisoner for over 6 years. He is shown speaking to a group of grade school children, explaining that Vietnam was a pretty place "if it wasn't for the people" and describes the Vietnamese as "backward." I wonder about the footage on the cutting room floor. Surgically precise editing, here. Like the whole film.


NOTE: HEARTS AND MINDS is the 8th and final film produced by the BBS company. The previous seven titles are included in a deluxe box set released by Criterion (and reviewed on this blog). This doc is also a Criterion selection and it was wise to offer it separately, in my opinion.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains

I remember well the 4 years of the administration of Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States. From the derogatory remarks of my punk classmate ("Jimmy should've stayed on the peanut farm") to the nightly drama of watching the Iran hostage crisis, it was an eventful time during which my political awareness (such as it was) began to come into its own. Also, the very devisive nature of politics, of how much as a society we're fond of "us against them". My impressionable mind was saturated by the largely conservative bent of people at church. They could not believe a man who so openly spoke of his Christianity could be a Democrat. Clearly he was a "carnal Christian".

Carter's policies and defense responses were endlessly denigrated among the adult figures in my world. Even today, my father-in-law still curses the former President for the Mariel boatlift, which in 1980 brought well over one-hundred thousand Cuban refugees (some from prisons) into Miami. When Ronald Reagan won the election that same year, promising the "new hope" associated with every regime change, there were cheers all around my church.

Since then, Carter is often described as having a legacy of a failed presidency, but few would argue he has revealed himself to be a great humanitarian. His efforts with Habitat For Humanity in India, New Orleans, and elsewhere are well known. This is not a man who rests on his laurels. He is one of the few ex-Presidents who has contributed to society rather than disappearing into some unknown good night. He refuses to be paid for speaking engagements.

Director Jonathan Demme captured Carter and his handlers for the 2007 documentary JIMMY CARTER MAN FROM PLAINS, the title referring to the Carter's hometown of Plains, GA, where the end credits inform us he and his wife Rosalyn still live amongst the other 630 or so residents. The film opens at a barbeque at home, where he easily mingles with young and old and unashamedly shares his faith. Later, he describes that even when he's away from home, nearly every night he and Rosalyn read verses of the Bible together.

MAN FROM PLAINS follows Carter across the U.S. as he promotes his highly controversial book Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid. The title alone enrages the Jewish community, and famously drew the ire of attorney Alan Dershowitz. Crowds of protestors gather in front of bookstores in every city. In one especially charged segment, an angry pro-Israel demonstrator shouts back to the Palestinian group that they are "worthless". You might call this selective editing, though despite the filmmaker's liberal bent I didn't find this film biased towards Carter's views, necessarily.

I have not read the book but am intrigued enough to do so. Thus, I won't try to take sides or pick holes in Carter's thesis, as MAN FROM PLAINS only highlights his position. But I am disgusted and saddened by atrocities and terrorism at the hands of both sides and have always been alarmed and puzzled at the willing demonization of all Palestinians. This is most certainly a minority view, as Carter is reminded over and over. Folks don't take to any efforts to step back and actually examine and think about the state of affairs, the history that lead up to it. Most are content to adopt the mantras of their political party or their religion and to denounce any alternate point of view as wrong.

During his tour, Carter is shown comfortably fielding tough questions from students at Brandeis, talking business with his editor, and, in the only dark cloud moment I can recall, calling an unidentified journalist "obnoxious" after a contentious phone interview. The film also documents a visit with one of the former hostages and discusses the historic 1978 "Camp David Accord" during which Carter witnessed the signing of a peace treaty between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

Demme has made several documentaries throughout his diverse career. He has captured the concerts of Talking Heads and Neil Young and the monologues of the late Spalding Gray. There also was THE AGRONOMIST, about Jean Leopold Dominique, who managed an independent radio station in Haiti over several years, and COUSIN BOBBY, which followed the director's cousin, an Episcopalian minister in Harlem. Both have long been on my "to see" list. If they are anything like MAN FROM PLAINS, they will feature men whose actions back up every last utterance. Demme is attracted to individuals with integrity. Regardless of your feelings about Carter's views, you can't deny him that.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Movin' On Down

So how's condo life? I've adjusted well to the homogenized, gated apartment complex thing. Yessir. It is generally peaceful and I really like the neighborhood in which our apartment resides. I especially love the cultural diversity of our neighbors. Unfortunately, a sweet elderly white lady from down the hall (who's lived there for 20 or so years) stopped and lamented to me one afternoon that "this place has changed, ever since they moved in. Once they're in, you can't get 'em out." Yet another dubious spokesperson for the "greatest generation".

I'll bet she felt validated this week when not one but two hold-ups occurred in the development's parking lots. Unsettling. The police apprehended the criminals from the first job. At the time of this writing, I'm not sure about the second. Generally peaceful. Lest one believe that guard gates are total security. The development plans to change outside lighting from orange to white.

AND, my wife and I had to move again last week! Unlike last year's cross-town jaunt, we merely went from 4th to 1st floor in the same building. The floor plan is reversed, but same square footage. As with any move, there was much tedious hauling (we had help with the back breaking objects), but no stunt driving of a rental truck this time. Don't think I mentioned that before. I alarmed my wife (who had stopped up ahead to wait for me to catch up) when I took a corner a bit too sharply and brought the vehicle's left side wheels several degrees up in the air. I also grazed a telephone pole.

Why the move? Our landlord...let's just say she was a bit erratic. Last New Year's Eve, she called and asked if we wouldn't mind moving into her apartment in the same development. Seems she wanted our place back, before the end of the one year lease. We refused. Two months later, she asked again, offering even to pay our moving expenses. No go. There were other concerning phone calls. We were done. There are pieces missing from my explanation, invisible audience, but don't ask.

Our development's property manager, who's also a real estate agent, helped us find our new place. We looked at several units before deciding. Some had newer kitchen cabinetry, but with older appliances. There was always a con for every pro. Our new place has those old fake wood looking cabinets, and we may paint them.

We were able to begin hauling things down a week before we moved in. During that time, we did paint over the master bedroom's hideous yellow with the soothing green we had in the old place. This new arrangement seems to be kosher. But so did the last one!

We were initially against living in a first floor apartment, mainly for noise and potential flooding concerns. After several nights, I'm happy to report that noise is a non-issue. We've also had some serious rain days lately and flooding was non-existent. The parking lot has an efficient drainage system. No gutters on the buildings, though.

The unpacking continues. I'll write more as we settle in. I hope I won't be composing another "moving" entry one year from now?!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Burden of Dreams

German director Werner Herzog has much legendry attached to him. It is written that he pulled a gun on Klaus Kinski when his lead actor attempted to walk off the set of their 1972 masterpiece AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD. The director also allegedly hypnotized the actors and crew of that film to get a certain effect.

There's the story of the wager Herzog made with documentarian Errol Morris, betting him that he would not complete his documentary GATES OF HEAVEN. When Morris won the bet, Herzog, per their agreement, boiled and ate one of his shoes. For the filming of his 1982 epic, FITZCARRALDO, Herzog had a group of South American natives haul a huge, 300 + ton ship across a 40 degree sloping mountain ridge. An engineering and logistical nightmare and a real danger to the participants.

Director Les Blank joined Herzog and his crew for the filming of FITZCARRALDO, the subject of Blank's fascinating 1982 documentary BURDEN OF DREAMS, and indeed captured this magnificent and mad feat. No special effects (and certainly no CGI) were used to bring it off. When engineer and financeer alike told Herzog that the scene was impossible and had to be reworked (or excised entirely), the director cried out, "But then I'll lose my central metaphor!".

The opening of BURDEN OF DREAMS features Herzog summarizing his film (still unseen by me). He tells the story of a European entreprenuer in Peru around the turn of the century named Fitzgerald (called "Fitzcarraldo" by the natives) who dreams of building a grandiose opera house deep in the rain forrest. He learns of the plentiful presence of rubber in the land and sees a plan to finance his dream. A steamer ship is acquired to reach the resource which he plans to sell in the marketplace and perhaps hire famous Italian tenor Enrico Caruso to sing in his new venue. Complicating the plan are treacherous rivers and a lack of understanding of the men Fitzcarraldo hires for this impossible mission.

And of course, not just Fitzcarraldo's. Blank's camera captures a classic man obsessed, a meticulous director insisting on location shooting, evocation of local color, real natives as extras. The latter are not accustomed to lengthy periods of living amongst those of other clans, and a host of crises and drama arises. Some of the women decide to fight over someone's husband, with knives.

Kinski, who has hired to play the lead character, was not known for his tact or niceties, and is interviewed in one scene displaying his disdain for such a chaotic, dirty environment. He does not ingratiate himself with locals when he refuses to drink their customary yucca concoction, fermented and spat in by the distillers. For a key scene involing the beverage in FITZCARRALDO, Kinksi, who was concerned about infections (certainly not insult) drinks evaporated milk instead. One source states that Kinksi was so detestable that a native told Herzog he would offer to kill the actor. The director declined.

BURDEN OF DREAMS is a perfect title for the study of a man who repeatedly justifies his mission as an inherent essential, something found (or he would add) on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Nearly everything Herzog says reveals an artist who craves the fantastic, the artistic struggle. He's the sort of person who creates problems when there are none to solve. Herzog is also a paradox, a man who one minute laments how the forests and its inhabitants are disappearing, then damns the whole scene by saying it's not magical enough, desiring more fantasy. He's not seen as a dictatorial, cruel director, but rather one believes he can beat Nature, even in the face of repeated failure.

The delays and set-backs on FITZCARRALDO were significant. Originally, Jason Robards played the title character, with Mick Jagger as his sidekick. After nearly half of principal photography was completed, Robards fell ill and was forbidden by his physicians to return to the jungle. Jagger eventually had to drop out to tour with the Rolling Stones. Herzog scrapped all of the footage (and apparently burned all the celluloid) and started from scratch. He had to choose a new location a thousand miles north as warring tribes made shooting risky for all. From start to finish, Nature laughed at his plans. An often fruitless battle, but so goes the life of one burdened by dreams......

Friday, August 10, 2012

North Dakota

One of the most evocative songs in his catalogue.....


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Death Watch

How fantastic did 1979's DEATH WATCH seem to its original audiences? The premise of a popular network program in which a terminally ill patient's final days are documented by an amiable young man who befriends, then records them via his eyes wired to a camera implanted in his brain? A "reality" show. Would people really watch? Would network executives practice deception (quite evil, at that) on their subjects just to get "the shot", the expected emotional outbursts that make "great TV"? The foundation of this story is science fiction. Its themes? Take a look at what's been popular on television the last decade plus.

Roddie (Harvey Keitel) is the "cameraman", owned by Glasgow's NTV for which Vincent Ferriman (Harry Dean Stanton) produces "Death Watch." The show is a Scottish sensation, nightly exploiting some poor individual reconciling a degenerative disease. Odd, because in this society of the near future, cancer, heart disease, and most of the other usual malignancies have been eradicated by medical science. Nonetheless, Katharine (Romy Schneider) is told by her doctor she has a month to live, and behind what appears to her to be a mirror, Ferriman and Roddie are monitoring, planning for their next featured "guest star".

Katharine is a novelist, though she doesn't actually construct her books, rather merely feeding ideas into a computer with artifical intelligence that spits out a completed tome. Yes, DEATH WATCH truly is a prophetic movie. NTV offers her a sum to allow her last days to be filmed, but she argues for her privacy. "Nothing is private," states Ferriman, uttering something as relevant for a viewer in 2012 as it ever could be.

It finally seems that Katharine relents, taking an upfront payment from the network but then executing her own exit strategy. Roddie, who she does not know, or of his unique faculties, catches up with and becomes her friend, her compadre on the lam. Along the way, the dying woman will begin to show signs that her disease, whatever it is, is progressing faster than expected. The ratings go through the roof.

I will not reveal further details of Katharine's plight, or what happens in the closing passages of DEATH WATCH, as their discovery made me quietly gasp and smile grimly as to the cleverness of the screenplay (by director Bertrand Tavernier, David Rayfiel, and others). There is an ice cold moral to this tale that should make anyone blanch as they think on contemporary television fare.

But there is also a beating heart amongst the biting commentary. Schneider's performance is tremendous, a powerhouse of the dynamic emotions of which I would imagine for someone coming to terms with their final days. Knowing that this was her screen bow and that she died a few years later only enriches this performance.

Keitel does quite well as a man who has been reduced to a mere instrument, until an moment of clarity will precipitate a correction of wrongs that is near Oedipal in its tragedy. Stanton is interesting, as always, as a man who seems to have a conscience, but has sold out beyond redemption. His Vincent possesses a calculated, cold hearted protocol, but he plays it with an almost apologetic tone, adding another disturbing layer to this parable.

While DEATH WATCH may not be as penetrating as NETWORK (and perhaps it is an inappropriate comparison for many reasons), it stands as another fine example of one of the most useful methods for the science fiction genre: using the advanced technology of the future to comment on the present. I hope we never catch up to it.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Pharmacy Years, Institutional, Part IV

Whirlwind night. We shot pool and imbibed a dangerous assortment of mixed drinks and beer. Judgment? Ha! *Adrianna matched *Mike and I drink for drink. We ended up in the parking lot in the early AM (and it was a work night), talking nonsense. It dragged on, as if Mike was waiting for me to leave. I was doing likewise for him. By now, my reservations about Adrianna had faded. More small talk. Mike finally climbed in his truck. Within 5 minutes, Adrianna and I made out, right up against her car. Kid you not. Like in the movies.

It was electric, that night. But the next day I realized I was fishing off the company pier again. Despite these nagging thoughts, I began to date her. I justified it in that I did not work with her every night, as she still did hours in the Ft. Lauderdale location. As I said before, she wasn't really my type, but we had some sort of mysterious chemistry, despite having very little in common. We even behaved ourselves at work and were productive.

But.

Adrianna was, at least at that time, not really interested in singular dating. I was still in my so-called carefree years, but I wanted exclusivity with her. She indicated that she wanted the same, but her actions and cover-ups spoke louder. It was history repeating itself. I am not going to recount specifics, and you really don't want to hear a lot of it anyway. But when I returned from a trip to Chicago/Wisconsin, I knew it was over. I had brought her back a foam cow from the dairy country (she had a thing for vacas) and wanted to grind it into hamburger minutes after I gave it to her, when she told me she wanted to break up. I didn't take it well, but I was able to separate business from "pleasure" and continued to work with her. Sometimes, through clenched teeth.

She was, faithful Lamplight Drivel readers, the girl to whom I was referring at the opening of my review for DAZED AND CONFUSED. That day she had helped me set up my new apartment. We had broken up by that point, but were still intermittenly dating. After a fight, she sped off.

What made it worse was *Rachel, the Pharmacy Director I not so lovingly told you about last time. You recall her, the unfailingly blunt one? Every job I've held since my teen years has paired me with at least one such individual. This includes a woman with whom I currently work who one day informed me that "your lunch smells like ass."

Rachel never liked me, telling Adrianna that I was "wrong for her." The Director even set up a date for her with *Todd, another co-worker, to a Miami Dolphins game. Todd later came to me and explained, hoping there were no ill feelings. Honestly, it was hurtful, but I shrugged it off, and moved on. Adrianna became a ghost, like so many of the others.

I saw her one more time, about 2 years later. There had been sporadic communication online and over the phone. She drove up one night to West Palm, where I was apartment sitting for the summer. We hit Clematis Street downtown for a charged evening of drinking and dancing. Like old times. Everything clicked that night (aside from her continued smoking habit. Ever kiss a smoker? Bah!); I couldn't have dreamt a better evening, right down to the music in the car on the way. We had more fun that night than any time previously. There was even something almost magical about it. It was a nice bit of closure. I realized that the relationship was best taken in infrequent, small doses. I'm sure she had long since concluded the same. And it was done. I haven't seen her since that reunion, some 13 years ago.

Oh, I also quit the institutional pharmacy for good in the fall of 1997. I had had enough of Rachel, the discord among employees, the long hours. Of passing myself out the door as I entered. I think I even began to mumble "Time to make the doughnuts". Having 2 jobs finally wore me down. I would miss the extra money, but it had to end. And unceremoniously, it did. I had been given going away parties for my previous departures. None were expected or necessary this time. The year had been marked with near non-stop aggravation and weariness. I was ready to just be a 9-5er for awhile.

But that gig would bring its own aggravation, high systolics, and real peril......

*Not the real name


TO BE CONTINUED...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Artist

Like many other so-called armchair movie pundits, I do not believe that THE ARTIST deserved to take the Oscar for Best Picture of 2011. Let me get that out of the way. The wave of hype and acclaim for this film was huge, and, IMO, understandable. Writer/director Michel Havanivicius designed a stylish, black and white movie to evoke the silent film era in Hollywood. And yes, his film is silent save for a few utterances in the very last scene.

Bold experiment? Gimmick? Iffy on both counts. Risky, for certain. Artistically and financially. The dangers of lapsing into pretentiousness were considerable. And how many twenty first century audiences have the patience for a silent film? To actually have to read (at least not as much as during, oh dear, a foreign film with subtitles!). Even those of a certain age bracket who you would expect to be more accepting of such a thing? But THE ARTIST found its audience, and many were cheering. Excited that such a film could be made, that someone cared enough to compose a love poem to a long gone era. I concur, but I just wish the film was a bit more substantial.

But what should I have expected? A sympathetic ode to old Hollywood is unlikely to be anything but a featherweight confection. A self-congratulatory celebration of the make-believe. A silent film sensation in 1927 named George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) dazzles his fans and the paparazzi with his panache and endlessly expressive visage (this serves him well in films where there are no audible voices, of course). At a premiere, he literally bumps into a young fan, a would-be actress named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). After being captured by a horde of shutterbugs, the pair are featured on the cover of Variety. "Who's That Girl?" reads the headline.

Doris (Penelope Ann Miller), George's wife, is not amused. It is just another wedge in an already icy marriage. George will nonetheless help Peppy win a small role in his latest picture (against the wishes of skeptical studio chief Al Zimmer, well played by John Goodman), allowing them time together on the dance floor, very nimbly and effortlessly bringing off a nifty routine. It is clear that there is a certain magic between them, offscreen as well.

They do not engage in the expected affair (not a physical one, at least). Rather, George provides mentorship and guidance. In one sweet scene, he takes a grease pencil and applies a birthmark near her lips, to distinguish her from the other starlets. Peppy's career begins to take off - bit roles give way to leads. She makes a smooth transition into "talkie" films. George, suspicious of such films from the beginning, does not.

Valentin's life then suffers a sharp decline: loss of acting roles, a failed directorial effort, Stock Market Crash of 1929. He wife finally leaves him, adding insult to injury by recommending in her goodbye note for him to go out and see Peppy's latest film, a box office sensation. George suffers nightmares: in an effective, thoughtful sequence he hears environmental sounds like a glass placed on a tabletop with great intensity, yet can't hear his own voice.

Only his unfailingly loyal butler Clifton (James Cromwell, who is terrific) and dog Uggie (who does some impressive work, it must be said) remain by his side. But Peppy is always watching from afar....

THE ARTIST is a fairly brisk view, and it worked on two levels for me: the sheer novelty of its presentation and the building emotions surrounding the plot. The latter sustains the film in the second half, as Valentin's situation (and his response) grows increasingly dire and melodramatic. But by that time I realized the film's script was little more than a riches to rags to....story, seen countless times in the cinema.

I'm not one to attribute a film's worth solely on the screenplay; sometimes the music is what matters, not the mere words. But THE ARTIST proves itself to be paper thin, an easy tribute. Regrettably, this film is oddly unambitious and content with itself. As much as I enyoyed this movie, I wish Havanivicius tried to emulate the richness and depth of Chaplin, Keaton, or Vidor rather than just producing a forgettable valentine.

And when you finally hear George Valentin speak at the end, you may rightly wonder how successful he would've been in the talkies.