21 February 2008

Best Actor

How do you know if somebody is good at acting like somebody else who isn't real? That's why actors who play people that were real are constantly being given awards (witness the last three best actors in a row - Forrest Whitaker as Idi Amin, Phil Hoffman as Truman Capote, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles ... and with the ladies SIX out of the last EIGHT - Helen Mirren as the Queen, Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos, Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf, Julia Roberts as Erin Brockavich, Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena). NOW I know the fact that these were real people doesn't mean that the traits brought to the surface by the actor aren't new to us (I bet you had never seen an Aileen Wuornos impression), but still there's something going on here. [Honorable mention for Cate Blanchett's killer Dylan in I'm Not There and Johnny Depp's Hunter Thompson]

What's more, you know the performance that people often cheer for the loudest are those portrayals of disability, craziness, etc. "Hey, Sean Penn isn't really mentally retarded! That's acting!" (I've never seen that movie, but you know what I mean).

The occasion for this post is a salon.com article about Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood. The article quotes a professional actor puzzled by all the lauding of Day-Lewis: "Weird how so many people confuse 'acting that you can see' with great acting," he says. NOW I'm pulling for DDL on Sunday ... that performance was one of the most stunning, memorable, most enormous things I've ever seen in a film. Perhaps rivaled only by DDL in Gangs of New York. But I think the article might be on to something.

But really, the problem is that I don't truly understand acting. This is something that I've thought about for a while. I mean I have actors and performances that I love and they often coincide with the actors and performances that critics think are great too. And while I'll go in for the BIG performance like the next guy, I can think of a number of counterpoints in smaller movies that blow me away just as much (for example Laura Linney in You Can Count On Me or Ryan Gosling in Half-Nelson). But I've never been sure how to spot bad acting. Anyone can see that Keanu Reeves is programmed to robot through every role with the same monotone and squint. So I solicit not only your opinion on the BIG performances, but what are some BAD ones (preferably bad ones that come from decent movies ... too easy to say Paris Hilton wasn't all that good in "The Hottie and the Nottie.")

16 February 2008

Dolor Bin

Consider these two places: the VFW Hall and the itunes store. One is creaky, brownandyellow, smells like freedom's sweat. The other is virtual. But if it were a real place the itunes store would be spaceage designed. Whitelit.

Maybe some of those veterans from the VFW grew up crewcutted and wanting to be astronauts. Wanting to be spaceage people.

I went to a record show at the VFW. A record show is clutter, collector's clutter in crates and boxes, sheathed, marked, priced. Eyes and hands run over the goods, years of fingerprints get in the grooves, help make the sound you hear on needle contact. To shop for records you have to flip through fast with your index finger. Among the special pressings and the dollar bins, I got some good things but it was taxing. All those old vinylphiles, the vanguards of taste. Looking at what you're looking at.

Last night late I went to the itunes store. It was open and nobody was looking. I could dragnclick research, dragnclick download. I made myself a mix called "Dolor Bin." Garage pop punk soul. Some of my finest work. And gotten with pajamas and beer.

I have one foot in the dollar bin and one foot in the digital ether. I'm a convert to the brave new i-world. All my songs on a pod (how spaceage sounding is that ... a pod?) indexed and organized. Virtually spread out and mobile. When I used to make mix tapes, I'd write the songs on paper and then arrange them. When I do that now on itunes, the work is 90% done already. And you can SHUFFLE. Which is reinvigorating to your catalog ... that song from the back of your head. You didn't know that's what you wanted to hear.

But I won't be hocking the record collection for a googlephone anytime soon. I still want to live in a world made of things. The record is what holds the soul, lest we download those too. I'm like Derek Zoolander in that way (and a few other ways) ... I'm not sure how my songs are "IN" the computer and I might tear it apart looking for them one day.

The Devil and Brian P.

When we were in high school, there was this kid Brian P. and he had something. Not "had something" like a talent scout says you have something, not an x factor or a je ne sais quoi. He had something like he walked a bit funny, talked a bit funny, was in some kind of way differently abled. But bright enough to be in the "regular" classes and, I suppose, bright enough to be made frequent sport of without guilt pangs too acute. And when he was teased and tousled he would grin crooked and say things like "Alright, that's enough."

When we were seniors someone thought it would be funny to nominate him for class president. But Brian P. didn't think it was funny, he took it serious. He gave a speech in the cafeteria. He won and he revelled in the job, giving over-the-top morning anouncements over the intercom. Everyone seemed to be having a swell time - laughing with, laughing at ... who cares? But it always made me a bit uneasy.

I brought something like that feeling to First Avenue the other week to see Daniel Johnston - the autistic, bipolar singer/songwriter whose already formidable cult following was bolstered by a 2005 documentary. [and a good one ... I recommend The Devil and Daniel Johnston if you haven't seen it. But not some of the crazy / tragic talent docs it spawned like the ones on Roky Erickson and Townes Van Zandt.]
Johnston has a tremendous gift for melody, which is evidenced by how many amazing artists have covered his songs (one recent covers album features Tom Waits, Clem Snide, M. Ward, Flaming Lips, Sparklehorse, Bright Eyes). And his songs can be powerful because of (or sometimes in spite of) what one Onion AV Club writer called Johnson's "crushingly naive" lyrics. So he's not like Wesley Willis (the late schizophrenic cultstar singer) - his songs feel more like songs than like crazy.

But I wonder at what we hear when we listen to DJ, what we consume when we buy his records. And the show didn't really help me with those questions. He came out with a tshirt tucked into sweatpants and joked (I think) about being in "Indianapolis." His hands shook when he wasn't holding a guitar and he played a pretty short set. Moments of it were funny, moments of it were gorgeous. But when an anonymous hipster yells "I love you Daniel" from out of the dark, why do I hear the cheers at Brian P's campaign speech? Of course he loves playing music, but I hope he loves playing shows ... he might not. He might even need the money. Or just want to get out of his parents' house (he's 47).

I'm not saying anyone should feel bad about listening to or going to see DJ. And I'm not saying DJ has anything substantive in common with Brian P. (who I hope is doing well). I'm just saying there can be a rather complicated transaction when you look at stuff, depending on what you're looking at.

You Can't Kill a Ghost

[It's been a while. Smoke: clear. Dust: settled. Here is a haiku to mark my return]

You can't kill a ghost
(I can hear the chains rattlin')
It's already dead