Tuesday, May 27, 2008

This and That



Bloggers are their own editors, and that is a sad thing. Because if I had an editor, I'm sure that s/he would find all my misspellings and grammar errors. I often find them the day after I post, and I cringe. And a good editor would never let me get away with a headline like This and That, which is a journalistic cliche that probably went out of style with The Reader's Digest and Ladies Home Jounal. I wish Amanda Lorber were my editor.

Who is Amanda Lorber? Well, just when I thought there was nothing good on TV this spring, I had a verymarkmccormick synchronistic experience: I read about The Paper in the New York Times one day and the very next day on JetBlue, coming back from my friend Tim and Lee's place in the Hamptons for Memorial Day, I caught an MTV marathon of the series, and I have just three words: dee-lish-ous. Oh, and as an aside: I encourage everyone to cut up their United Airlines frequent flyer cards and switch to JetBlue. Costs a little more, but with extra leg room, planes that leave on time, overhead bins big enough for a hat box, 36 stations of mind-numbing television in every leather seat, and all the Lorna Doons you can eat, worth every penny.

The Paper is about a high school newspaper in Florida and its imperious, precocious "love to hate" Editor-in-Chief Amanda Lorber. Actually, though she makes some serious mis-steps in the episodes I saw (she should have joined the team on the ropes course instead of finishing her NYU application), she is a mature manager. She dresses down her managing editor for contradicting her in a meeting, and it was a fine example of one minute management: "look, you made me look bad in front of the editorial team, it was inappropriate, and I'd prefer it if you didn't do it again, and if that ruins our friendship, fine."

It took me back to my days as editor in chief of my high school yearbook, The Pocatellian. In those days we didn't have computers; we pasted things up on graph paper and typed out our copy, put it all in a big envelope and waited three months. The newspaper was mimeographed, I think. Now they've all got Macs, of course. It's a tense moment as all 34 pages are "PDF'd" then burned to a disc. I suppose they take the disc to Kinkos and wake up the next morning to boxes and boxes of four color glory: instant gratification for the particular brand of ego-inflated intellectuals-in-training that comprise high school newspaper staffs (and adult bloggers for that matter).

This seems like a rich high school. It's clean, and the boys are metrosexual, bonding and gossiping over expensive haircuts at the spa. There's a delicious bit of hero worship as the paper runs a feature story on some kid named Jan (something like that--someone please correct me), who can apparently do everything: he is a track star, cello player and has perfect SAT scores. He's like a high school celebrity. But some of the alpha males on the newspaper staff get fed up with the girls' idolatry (and their own ambiguous stirrings no doubt) and challenge him to three duals: Rubic's cube, basketball, and a foot-race. I can't tell you the results!

The teacher /advisor is a gem, though; she will remind you of your favorite teacher from high school. The one you could find at her desk at 4 p.m., ready to answer any question you might have had about "a friend" who thinks he or she might be (fill in the blank): gay, pregnant, an atheist, addicted to marijuana, or have an STD.

The last line of the New York Times review describes the lesson that teens (of all ages) might learn from The Paper: "A whole lot of working life involves talking about work, and the hard-driving loudmouth usually wins"

If you're already a fan of The Paper, and have lots of time on your hands, here's a sweet little interview of Amanda Lorber by a fan:



In finding this, I realized that most of the episodes of The Paper are on YouTube. I'm very late to this craze. Gotta catch up. . .

On a totally unrelated topic--or related by the thinnest thread, TV--can we just pause for a moment and collectively reflect on the American Idol season that just passed? Did it not deliver? I think it did. So many of us (and by us I mean me and my loyal group of friends who gathered on Tuesdays for this frothiest of guilty pleasures) were saying that this season did not have the emotional impact of others, or that the franchise had lost its appeal somehow as its warts started showing (what? you mean the judges watch dress rehearsal and even practice their critiques? ohmygawd!), but that the talent at least this year was good, especially the boys, but soul-less somehow. We fretted about the tyranny of David Archuleta's stage dad, and we fell over ourselves laughing as Paula delivered yet another incoherent, slurring, syntax-mangling critique. (Yet she really nailed it when she said she wanted to hang Archuleta from her rear-view mirror--he was just so cute and talented.) We fell in and out of love with Jason as he slipped into a pot-induced stupor of forgetfulness and apathy. We were embarrassed for Amanda as she suffered through yet another Up With People medley choreographed, somehow, it seemed, by the very same person who must have been gainfully employed in the seventies working for The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and the Donny and Marie Show. We speculated on David Cook's hairline and Ryan's sexuality. We pined nostalgically for our first albums, or the only albums we liked AND our parents liked as Brooke sang another Carole King, another Carly Simon.

In the end, what pushed David Cook over the top? Was it the cougars?

Whatever. It was a good season. And you can make fun of it all you want, but the New Yorker music critic (does anyone know if Sasha is a boy or a girl) finds some merit.

If you're wondering, for my money there is only one Idol and that's Fantasia:

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Yellow Brick Lane


When you watch the Academy Awards, and the Foreign Film category comes up, do you feel guilty that you haven't seen more of the selections? Do you find yourself guessing as you fill out the ballet, then feeling like a total philistine? I do. That's why I was determined to see at least a few films at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival. Thank god for my cinephile friend Jane who looked at the catalog and picked out a few good films for us to see, only one of which I actually made it to, Brick Lane, which I saw last week with Jane and her glamorous friend Kristina. More on the film in a minute.

Film festivals are a trip. You often have to buy tickets in advance, and if you didn't have the foresight to do that days in advance for a hot film, you have to stand in line for "rush" tickets. It somewhat demeaning, but reminds me of yet another verymarkmccormick film and theater-going rule (I must compile these soon): I have never NOT seen something for lack of a ticket beforehand. If you want to see something, even if it were the hottest, hottest possible show you can imagine, like if, for example, Rufus Wainwright decided to do a three evening set called Just Joni, Just Sondheim, Just Barbra, at, say, The Plush Room (if it existed anymore, which it doesn't, which is sad), and IF for some reason you didn't buy tickets to all three, because, for example, maybe you were away in a third world country, in a village without Internet access for a year, well, you could JUST SHOW UP and SOMETHING would happen to get you in. You have to get there early and sometimes pay top dollar, but what is money for, if not culture (and hair treatments apparently, but more on that later, Miss Lee). Anyway, the only time my "just show up" rule has failed me was once in London to see Alan Bennett's Lady in the Van with Dame Maggie Smith. I was something like eighth in line, for cancellations, and the first seven got it. I was stricken. It took me years to get over that.

Anyway, to make a short story longer, I'm just saying, we stood in the "rush" line and got in.

Rush lines can be good. You can catch up on your reading or get to know things about your friends as you stand there in bone chilling San Francisco wind, making conversation to stay warm. I learned these two things. Jane's hair treatment--she gets it straightened to fabulous effect, both visual and tactile--costs $550, and she has to have it done twice a year. I swear I don't think I even spend that much money on shoes. Maybe. No, definitely not. And Kristina once smuggled a bunch of money into some foreign country. Okay it was barely over the maximum amount, and it was for work, but still: glamorous. If we hadn't stood in line, I would not know these things.

Enough about that: on to weightier subjects. This is really a mini-review with a lot of fluff above, because this movie may not get wide distribution. But I'll make my comments general: the best kind of art experience, I've discovered, is one that mixes at least two art forms--musical theater for example, or a dramatic reading of a poem, or a prose poem for that matter (more accessible than a poem), or even a photograph with a strong narrative, a painting with some text, a dance that tells a story--you get my drift.

Brick Lane works as about three different art forms. As a film it is engaging, with a good plot, likable characters, good actors. It's the story of a Bangladeshi woman who moves to a drab street in London, Brick Lane, for an arranged marriage. It is a loveless marriage, but she endures; she misses her sister terribly, and they have an active correspondence over many, many years. Her sister's life, though wildly unpredictable, is at least full of romance and adventure. Still, her sister pines for an idyllic youth that she remembers as being full of laughter and natural beauty. Her memory edits out the poverty, death, and uncertainty that represented life in her Bangladeshi village. Her husband is feckless at best, and when he loses his job, she starts sewing to make ends meet. She meets a dashing young man who wakes her up sexually and politically, but who ultimately objectifies her ("you are the real thing: a simple girl from the village"--though she is no girl and clearly not simple). But to my point about genre-mixing, the film succeeds, because it has all the elements of a well-crafted film, but it is cinemagraphically magical--stunningly shot, especially the scenes in Bangladesh. And at times it morphs into poetry--the flashback scenes, the letters between sisters, an unlikely scene of a woman in a sari making a snow angel.

I loved this movie for the acting and the look of it, and how it worked as poetry and pure cinematography. Yes, it was sad but satisfyingly redemptive. I would say that every single character grows in some small way, as does each strand of Jane's hair, inspiring this haiku:

Jane's black locks
Shining in the rush line wind
Five Fifty??
See, even a blog entry can be two genres at once!