Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Like girls have done so many nights before...

This past weekend I saw Elvis Costello open for some band called The Police. This posting is not about that concert. Nor is it about that weekend which pretty much sucked for me all around. This post is about me putting this blog into semi-retirement.

I mention Costello because his music has been a fairly accurate soundtrack to my life ever since I really started listening to him and the song from the YouTube video below sums up how I am feeling right now.

To reference my previous post, I have to get off this train. I really thought I was headed somewhere, but it looks like I need a break. I need to get away from the blood on the tracks. Maybe someday I'll get back on, but for now it's too much. I may wake up tomorrow morning and change my mind or I may never write a word on here again.

There have been some sly remarks about me elsewhere that I happen to find particularly unfair and rather than engage in them, I am deciding to take the cowardly route and simply run away. I guess I'll sign off by giving Elvis the last word:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

When the cows come home...

Continuing this whole "defining" movie thing, I wanted to respond to some of the comments on the initial blog. A couple of people mentioned Rob Reiner's The Princess Bride. I have to admit that while I enjoy the movie very much, I don't love it as much as many of my friends do. But a recent viewing at a "movie night" at my apartment recently made me realize how the film is a good example of how movies (and books and stories of all kinds) hold our imagination--and, by extension, how these movies come to color our own personality, our own personal cultural history (which is of course the whole point of this little experiment I'm trying to conduct).

Most of my friends can quote the film ad nauseam and the humor and fantasy elements I think are what hold it in the high esteem of a lot of the people I know. But what I find particularly interesting about The Princess Bride is its framing story. With all the swashbuckling and throwaway one-liners, it's easy to forget that The Princess Bride is not about Westley, or the Dread Pirate Roberts, or Inigo Montoya, or even Princess Buttercup. Really, it's about the story of these characters. It's about "Columbo" telling the story to his grandson--you know, the one who'd go on to date Winnie Cooper. And throughout the film, the child stops his grandfather from telling the story, redirects it, and makes him skip the bad parts.

Isn't that what we do with all the movies we love anyway? We relive them in our heads and we make our ideal of them fit our particular psyche; we rewrite these movies in our memory. How many times have you talked about or thought about a movie you loved when you were a kid only to watch it again and not feel the same way about it?

It's a fact of nature (unfortunate perhaps) that once a work of art--a movie, a novel, a pop song--hits the world, it ceases to become the property of the artist and instead becomes the property of its audience. Each of us brings a bit of our own emotional history to the work, our own personal experience, and that can't help but color our own reaction to it. As a result, we are in an ongoing dialogue with the film, an intellectual back-and-forth between our mind and the screen--a give-and-take that continues, theoretically, for the rest of our lives. Or at least for as long as we continue to watch a particular film over and over again.

And that brings me to the next film on my list.

The first time I saw Federico Fellini's 1953 film, I Vitelloni, I was a young idealist, a 19-year-old college student. The five "vitelloni" (literally, "big calves" or more loosely, "big children"), though almost a decade older than me at the time, were people I looked down upon. "How could men of their age act like such boys?" I thought. Of course at the time I didn't get the irony of my own arrogance. Here I was an adult (technically) still with the mentality of a child, still a dependent, still unaware of what was out there beyond the scope of the existence I knew my entire life. I believed I was more mature than these adolescents trapped in men's bodies; I believed Fellini was pointing the finger at them, castigating them for their insouciance. I watched it that first time with an emotional distance I didn't quite earn.

Cut to four years later at the 2004 Florida Film Festival, where the film had a special screening. I was now 23, graduated from college for two years and the movie held an entirely different meaning to me. Instead of looking at the characters with superiority, I began to see myself in them. Four years later, the movie had not changed one bit, but I did. And I realized that Fellini was now pointing the finger at me. It was a complete slap in the face. "How did I get here?" I wondered. "How did I turn into one of the 'vitelloni'?" More than that, I began to see specifically how I was like some of them: the laziness of Fausto, as well as his simultaneous selfishness and ambivalence towards the opposite sex; the artist Leopoldo, who in some ways is more worried about playing the part of a writer than actually being one; the sad clown, Alberto.

Toward the end there is a character who gets on a train and finally leaves this scene of ineffectualness. He looks back in sadness down the railroad tracks, sure, but it's the right move for him. The only move really.

It's now another four years later and I haven't seen the movie since then. I wonder what the movie will mean to me now. In a way I feel like I'm at a particular crossroads in my life (for more than one reason). But unlike the character in the train, this time I hope I'm looking forward, instead of looking back.


Does anyone have a movie or movies that have drastically changed for you in this way?

Oh, and I'm still waiting on the initial list of movies from some of you. And you know who you are.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

With a thousand smiles she gives to me free...

On a warm Florida night (is there any other?), I drove to Tampa to attend the Eric Clapton concert at the outdoor Ford Amphitheatre. I also saw him about a year-and-a-half ago here in Orlando and, while last night's show was very different from that one, it was no less amazing.

For one, as I said, the Ford Amphitheatre is an outdoor facility and even though there is a roof over the main seating area, there is no roof over the lawn, which is where I sat. Also, Clapton's band is slightly different. Gone is drummer Steve Jordan and slide guitarist Derek Trucks. The setlist was also a little different and unexpected (in a good way). Among the songs he added to his list were some more of his recent blues covers like "Motherless Child" and Robert Johnson's "Little Queen of Spades" and "Traveling Riverside Blues," as well as some of his Derek and the Dominos tunes like "Tell the Truth" and "Little Wing"--which is steadily becoming one of my favorites songs of his.

"Little Wing": From a performance at Madison Square Garden this February with special guest Steve Winwood.

What remains of course are the standards: "Crossroads," "Cocaine," and obviously "Layla," the latter still being one of the greatest songs, well, ever. What I did miss about that song from his '06-'07 tour was the slide work of Derek Trucks. Of all the times I've heard Clapton play "Layla," that performance in Orlando was the best I had ever heard, in no small part because of Trucks, who might be the best American blues slide guitarist since the late Duane Allman, who--hello--played slide on the original record.

"Layla": From his previous American tour, with Derek Trucks on slide.

Having never been to the Ford Amphitheatre, I was a little skeptical. What would it be like to sit on a lawn chair without a roof, susceptible to the elements? Well, it was great. My rented chair was perfectly comfortable and even though I was far, there were many big screens so I could still get a close-up of what was happening on stage. And underneath the dark, starry sky, with all that amazing music, I couldn't have been happier. Like that now legendary sign said, Clapton is God.