Basterd

bastard |ˈbastərd|
noun
2 (of a thing) no longer in its pure or original form; debased : a bastard Darwinism.

If there is one of the many things that urks me about the mainstream’s influence on high art, it is the refusal to accept the artist’s neverending attempt at redefining themselves.

It happens in all genres: acting, music, theater, dance, film, art. Of course commercialism and capitalism has its place in the art world and the business of show; it is the audience who, after all, supports all of these endeavors even if they are not entertained. With the advent of the internet and all the legalities of intellectual property, artists are not only starving to survive but struggling to keep what is theirs. Is innovation on its last leg?

At the risk of sounding less avant-garde and more cliché, I have to say that Quentin Tarantino is one of my favorite directors of film and certainly one of the most influential (or as it were, inspiring) writers in my life. One of the most common complaints (usually from pretentious film addicts overwrought with cinema trivia the like of baseball fans obsessed with team/player stats) is that Quentin profits off of the ideas of others. It couldn’t be closer to the truth.

Are we not, as artists, inspired by life and the work of other artists. Do we not go to school to study the history of our respective art? To learn about what has been done before us and to get a glimpse of what the future may or may not look like? It is no wonder then that art forms have evolved in their own right, spawned primarily due to their predecessors. White people stole soul and rhythm and blues and turned it into Doo-Wop, something that was prominent in predominantly black neighborhood corners for years until someone was inspired to put it on the radio for the right ears to listen. This happens in dance a lot, especially with cultural forms and traditions being molded into inspirations for different movement motifs. It happens on television: the spin-offs and the living room sitcoms. It happens with art: how many times have you seen a painting that reminded you of Van Gogh or Degas or Pollack? Certainly film can’t be spared.

Hence the “genius” of Tarantino. He is a story teller. He didn’t study at the most prestigious schools (he actually dropped out of high school). He was one of the aforementioned pretentious film obsessed geeks who worked in a video store and thought that he wanted to be a movie star but knew better that his talents lay in regurgitating the great films that have inspired him. He is a storyteller and a mastermind in manipulating old art onto new canvas.

I wish I could say there was a favorite film of his. Most people debate over Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, the first his highly acclaimed debut, the second the most popular and awarded film to date. The latter was much more entertaining to me for its style, the quality of acting, the pace, the surprises, the amazing dialog, the great camera work…But all of his films are so different even though they contain the same elements. You can look at a film and know that it’s Quentin Tarantino. Or is it?

I had the enormous pleasure of seeing Inglourious Basterds this weekend and I was blown away. Per usual, I didn’t do a lot of research or reading into what the film was about. Whether or not it was based on a true story, who was in it, why it was written…All I knew was that it was QT, it was a WWII film (one of my favorite film subjects no matter the genre), and Brad Pitt was in it. Also, I knew, like Quentin has the habit of doing, that he was way over schedule and over budget, so the release date got pushed back. But that is to be expected.

From beginning to end I was having anxiety attacks left and right. The build up of tension using so many different devices, the slow and steady exposition of the characters and plot, the gripping use of music, the authenticity of the period and the socioeconomic (and political) environment, and of course…the matter-of-fact and witty dialog. Every piece was in place. It was cleaner than I expected with a lot less action, but the action scenes were well worth the wait and so incredibly intricate, I held my breath.

What Quentin does here, frankly, is mind fuck you. You think you know what’s going to happen, and perhaps you do, but just when the culmination is on the tip of the screen, he cuts to another scene, another story, and you’re left ready to implode. But it is a good thing, because you are constantly reminded that everything comes together in the end, like most of his stories, and everyone is a part of everything.

I can honestly say, I’ve always hated the expression “You’ll be at the edge of your seat” but I literally was. I started to feel uncomfortable as if Quentin was sitting down behind me and laughing hysterically at my sweet pain of pent up anticipation.

I left the theatre exhausted, satiated, tired, ecstatic, needing a cigarette REAL bad…It was all the inspiration I needed to get back to the pen and paper.

I was proud that QT had fallen into this new place of his own. There was a pronounced juxtaposition of originality and copying, but it seemed as though he had a personal connection to the content of the story, almost as if he were trying too hard to make it his own.

Sure enough, after only a little bit of research, I found that there is a film entitled Inglorious Bastards (notice the correct spelling) that also centers on vigilante soldiers chasing after Nazis. Also, supposedly, the film was inspired by the spaghetti western style. Whatever that means.

I don’t watch too many films that were made before I was born although I do know that the 70s was a great time for innovative filmmaking. I don’t spare myself from the big MGM musicals and of course anything involving Bob Fosse or Gene Kelly, but I am such a Modernist that I’m always thinking ahead. Besides, it’s so sad watching old movies sometimes, the world just doesn’t accept the artistry of films past anymore.

I respect Q to the umpteenth degree. He is passionate about film and has no qualms with ripping the best parts of cinema history out of the past and shoving them into his own work for the naive like me to see, experience and enjoy. It is no surprise that most of his inspiration comes from a period of high satire and exploitation, this is what he is doing here, seemingly he is building caricaturizations of the film industry as it stands today. Kill Bill was a marvelous interpretation of Lady Snowblood, a Japanese film from the 70s, and there I saw a complete obsession and fascination with a particular film. I guess it’s time to pull out the original Inglorious Bastards and see how much he bit off of that.

I worry when my favorite artists try doing something new, especially in the music department. It is not that I don’t want them to grow and try new things, I understand completely, but when you have a formula that works, that adheres to your aesthetic and your audience enjoys, it is wise to stay on that path and not veer off on another course. But that is the curse of the artist (one of many): that Narcissistic self-satisfaction versus feeding the beasts that keep your art alive. I think I’ve found my niche, and I know what people expect from me, but I have room to grow. Luckily.

Gay Sex

Now that I’ve got your attention…

This past week I was exposed to two expositions related to characters of two of my favorite shows (that sentence was a mouthful, but it’s not done yet), “Weeds” and “Mad Men” (it’s quotes, right?). While I find it admirable and satiating that Elizabeth Perkins is finally shedding her indelible role from “Big” as Tom Hanks’ unknowingly pedophillic lover, I feel as though her character, Celia Hodes, is taking a turn for the worst in her storyline on the show.

In all of the wacky twists and turns of the show, and even despite it’s already not-so-latent homosexual overtures of some of its characters, the random and sex-driven way this discovery comes about it borderline appalling. Celia’s daughter, Isabelle, is the primary out of the closet gay in the show and she is a character who is all of maybe thirteen years-old. Celia meets Raylene, a corrupt proprietor of “You’re Pretty” cosmetics who bamboozles housewives and single women into believing that they can pawn off glamorous lifestyles to their peers. Raylene is the evangelist and the devil that comes to save Celia’s day/life.

Matter-of-factly she states to another character on the show (Doug, the wannabe womanizer), “Sorry, I dig snatch”. Standing alone, it’s one of the best line’s uttered by any of the characters in the show, but put into the context of the story, it is a precursor for the wretched stereotype that is to come.

Raylene’s blatant come-on to Celia included a very funny and necessary albeit melodramatic action in which Raylene takes Celia’s hand at lunch and proceeds to pull it under the table and up her skirt. Celia claims to her adolescently gay daughter that she is “lonely” when considering hooking up with Raylene. Later, they go shopping and have an awkward moment at the door to Celia’s place. An erratic kiss ensues, and Celia shares her dumbfounded curiosity regarding strap-ons.

What do we learn from this?

True, in times of loneliness, they’re measures that we take to relieve said loneliness. That feeling of helplessness and neediness that can only be assuaged by the attention and affection of another. But this demonstration raises not only one’s consciousness of the hilarity of the situation but the argument of the source of homosexuality. There is the nature versus nurture adage which is becoming more and more old-fashioned as people are starting to realize that you can be a right winged religious nazi and still have a gay son. There is genetics and evolution; let’s not forget that science plays a part in this too and to me, the most evidential research has been done on twins
(see http://www.echelonmagazine.com/index.php?id=173 and http://www.abc.net.au/rn/allinthemind/stories/2008/2314505.htm).

It is my belief that we are all mammals here. We learn from circumstances and through our own desires to suppress one urge over the other. There are people who go their whole lives without ever having one homosexual thought or desire, but we all know what attractiveness is in our own minds. For me, I always knew that I was different and that I was meant to be with a man emotionally and sexually, but it wasn’t until the 1990’s that I denounced my bisexuality. It is not to say that I don’t feel as though it is inherent in all of us, I just think that it is such a multifaceted paradigm, that there is no way to pinpoint its cause. There are so many factors.

On Mad Men (TV shows are italicized), there is one of one of all of the best characters on the show, Salvatore Ramano. The actor, Bryan Batt, is an openly gay man (funny and sad that term “openly” gay) who of course had qualms about being “out” when his career took off in the mid 1990s, has played roles as openly gay men in Jeffery and Kiss Me, Guido. In the show, that takes place in the early 1960s, Salvatore is not necessarily struggling, but dealing with being a married “heterosexual” man without child in a competitive New York executive environment. The slow and tortuous expositions of the characters have been genius up until the writers decided to blow their wad.

On the season premiere, Sal is confronted by a bellboy who is fixing his air conditioning in his hotel room. Since Sal is on a business trip with his womanizing, sex God of a boss, Don Draper, he is feeling loose and lost all at once, all while trying to fit into that heterosexual world of flirting with stewardesses and waitress and engaging in guy talk with his peer. Abruptly, the bellboy is in Sal’s face and they are breathing heavy and the sexual tension is palpable through the screen. While it was no surprise to see Bryan Batt play the scene so expertly, it was a fast, cheap and despicable way to develop the character’s desires and his situation on the show. Before long, the bellboy had his hand’s down Salvatore’s boxers as they kissed and he said with exasperated breath “Oh my God” over and over again. Then the fire alarm went off and he got caught by his boss. So unexpected.

What amuses me about Mad Men so much is not only its wondrous art direction, or its auspicious slow-and-steady writing, or its wonderful cast; it is also because it is such a period piece. The show does a great job of catching the essence of the 1960s, or at least, that Madison Avenue vibe and decorum that exuded such ambition, creed, tumult and intrigue. It was a time where civil rights was this newly bred embryo and no one knew what to feed it, where it was going to go, what it would look like when it came out. Closeted men and women have struggled since the dawn of time, and during this time, right after the war and after women stopped working and went back to housemaking, homosexuality once again emerged as a cocoon.

I’m lucky. I don’t have a family or a religion or an overbearing desire to reproduce. I wouldn’t consider myself flamboyant, but I am by no means in the closet in most of my endeavors but still, it’s like the proverbial autopilot that we all endure – when you don’t curse in front of grandma. Sometimes I have to force myself to act less-gay. We all do it. We do it for our jobs, we do it for our in-laws, we do it to get better service, we do it not to offend anyone, we do it so people won’t hate us. We have such a long way to go.

There are other shows that I like that have gay characters. There’s the gay son on The United States of Tara which I believe has the best cast on television right now. There’s Lafayette on True Blood who plays a positive portrayal of a gay man considering the actual pith and debauchery of the show.

But why does it all boil down to sex? Celia and her dildo, Sal and his random sex fling with an anonymous stranger. I was offended when the opening scene of Milk started with way too much sexuality and not enough dialog. Gay people use their mouths in other ways. To talk to each other first sometimes. Right? Or do they?

Don’t gays fall in love? Remember Will & Grace? Sure, that show was way ahead of its time and totally fantastical AND it was the perfect exemplification of that odd non-romance love between a gay man and his fag hag. Why can’t we have a date, then dinner, then maybe sex. If it all works out. If I take my life into account, I guess it is an accurate account of art imitating life, but why must the sex thrust so hard into the situation? Why. Someone tell me why.

The funny thing is, I haven’t read up on any backlash about the male gay sex on television. The girls I know love it, of course. I wonder how many men it freaks out. That’s something that I hope men will understand someday: women do get turned on by guy-on-guy action just the way men get turned on my girl-on-girl. I wonder then, why can’t we all just get along? With our clothes on, of course.

Play Writer

It’s submission season again. Frankly, there is no better word to describe the process.

The endless and daunting task of reviewing hundreds of listings calling for submissions for new work. The screening and highlighting and crossing off and putting stars next to. The eye strain, the headaches, the heartache, the self-doubt. The editing, the re-editing, the triple and quadruple checking. The wondering if it’s good enough. If it’s appropriate or inappropriate or too inappropriate. The wondering, the waiting. The licking, the sealing, the stamping, the waiting in line at the post-office. The expense, the time, the…doubting. In the end, you literally feel like you are submitting to the predator that is art.

Every media has its devices that literally strain the artist. All that business of the business that hinders and stimulates creativity. It makes it feel like a job (because it is a job). It is the true test of the true artist. If they never give up and live up to at least their potential and realize their dreams, anything is possible. Unless of course you have no talent, then you have to rely on the adage “It’s who you know” which counts for a lot in the business of any business, but especially in the art world.

It’s been too long since I’ve written. I was waiting for the flora and fauna of life to slow down its momentum, to grant me some chasm between the ebb and flow of drama that has been and will always be a persistent life force in my life-like life. I feel like I’m bracing for the emotional inertia that is coming. I don’t mind sounding like a Cassandra, it is Greek tragedy that got me into this mess in the first place.

I wonder if my plays are too young or too graphic. I know they are all way too cutting-edge, but I refuse to relent to all that is methodical and commercial and for general audiences. What’s the point besides money? This is not to say that I don’t want to be a rich bitch, I just have more of a desire for power and social status without the burden of fame than I do fortune. I will always work hard for money, and someday I will learn how to make it work for me.

I’ve begun the process, phase A of Z it seems. The current book I’m reviewing has added a new element this year in that it has added notes from the companies in search of new work. A lot of them are quite candid if not surly in manner, stating that too many of the submissions they get aren’t appropriate (there’s that wretched word again) for their theatre or audience and that a lot of the scripts they receive read better as screenplays. I love the convention of theatre though my plays are very dialog heavy, so I hope that I don’t fall into that category.

I have stopped writing for so long (as if there was an excuse) because as aforementioned, life has thrown some curve balls, some pitched on my own volition. I felt that I was involving way too much of my own life in what I was writing. The characters were developing but it was starting to look too much like a mirror. That’s when it happened…

After my intriguing classroom experience with the playwriting guru that is Bruce Graham, I was content with my writing ability, pretty much as a reminder that I’m kind of a genius. It was nice, and I guess I wanted not only to beef up on my writing skills, but I just wanted to prove to myself that I am good enough. Soon after, I got a job at a restaurbar, gay-owned and operated, and I realized, I would no longer need to look much further for character inspiration.

Working at a bar full of men – drunk, horny, cruisy, it is like a talent pool full of characters of my choosing. There’s Cosmo, the short, reptile like, older queen who snaps his fingers and puts his hands on his hips, cosmopolitan after cosmopolitan, chanting and raving at everyone in the bar, each sentence beginning and ending with the word “Yes”. There’s Sugar (we’ll call her – her, meaning him) who is the first and last at brunch every Sunday who goes to the back to get her own coffee then proceeds to pickle herself with scotch, taunting and teasing all the staff and patrons with witticisms quicker than any one even half her age could come up with, all while wearing the same clothes she’s had for over 20 years. There’s Bob (we’ll call him) the resident sloppy drunk who has no qualms with invading everyone’s personal space and has been known to start fights (he even came into the bar with an eyepatch one time and a cast several other times). This is the guy who loves to sit at the gay bar and complain about “faggots” the entire time and how gay they are.

The list goes on and on and on. And it’s not only the pith of these characters’ character, it’s the first hand experience that I get. It’s like free theatre except there is no fourth wall; I am center stage.

I try to look past how and why so many men feel as though it is just to accost me in such overt ways. Sure, there’s nothing more flattering than being called “incredibly attractive” while you’re delivering drinks or having someone stare at your crotch while you’re reciting the specials, but it’s not the sexual attention I’m interested in, as interesting as it is. I want to know what makes these people tick, what their lives are like. Luckily, they are partaking in the most common social lubricant, so it’s not that difficult to get a morsel or two about their personal lives out of them. There’s something scary about watching the uninhibited, it makes you wonder what the world would be like if we all just let go a little. This notwithitness comes in droves at the gay bar because this is the place where a lot of them can be themselves. The only place.

I’m lucky, being a writer and being blessed with exquisite, off beat dialog every single night I work there. Some of the things people say are so cinematic and at times unbelievable. But it happens, and I feel like a pander sometimes, in more ways than two…but it’s all in good fun. Well that, and I’m kind of an opportunist sometimes. I just need more time to write shit down.

abortion

If you know one of my other halves, DeVo, you’ve probably been delightfully inundated with my macabre sense of humor and repartee. It is no wonder then that I came up with such a hard-to-swallow namesake for this blog entry, but it is such an appropriate moniker.

Last weekend I endured the dubious albeit bittersweet task of selling my art work to friends and then total strangers. The latter came in droves, and I felt much more less comfortable about selling myself to them than I had in the past with people that I have become accustomed to.

I have always thought that selling my work is like handing over your stillborn baby to someone who is sterile. I think to myself, “Perhaps they can breathe life into this priceless, belabored work of art that will never be finished, no matter how hard I try.” Every painting I’ve sold, I miss dearly and regret having given up, but at the same time, I know they are better loved adorning the walls of their appreciators. I wince at myself in hindsight every time I have one of my cliché artistic battles with myself where I threaten to burn all of my paintings in one big heap, mystified by the smoke and flames of work I deem pieces of shit.

None of it is ever a waste of time though. Painting is so very therapeutic. Perhaps this is why most (good) artists are completely insane. That along with their self-medicating affectations, they silence that proverbial beast that roars inside the talented.

There will never be an auspicious tool or weapon with which to kill said beast, but at times, if you woo it, seduce it in the proper manner, and let yourself lose control, you can tame it for a while, look it in the eyes, pet it and feed it for a while, and allow it to get some much needed rest. Much like the plight of love.

I ended up selling approximately 20 paintings (I stopped counting for fear of caring too much). Now I am left here, in the apartment where I thought I was going to finish my novel, wanting to be on stage again, wanting to choreograph some more, and still missing the marriage that I gave up for all of this. Their siblings are staring at me- all that oil, gouache, watercolor, pastel, the sperm and egg of all my little quadrilateral embryo and fetuses. I was planning on selling all of my tools just to prevent myself from painting, to focus on my one true love, the written word, the biggest beast of them all. I didn’t. They are sitting in a box just to my left, personified, their screams so deafening. And I can’t help but to ask myself, “Why fast when others are starving?”. Well, I guess you can’t really control your own artistic metabolism, no matter how hard you try. It’s life that fuels art. Surely, not the other way around.