Nobody's Perfect, indeed. If Anthony Lane can't get beyond Jack's celebrity, fine. He saw the movie at the NY Film Fest opening. His unabashed pinky-extended criticism almost always gives an enjoyable read. (Need some holiday cheer? Get his collected reviews, Nobody's Perfect, today Don't even think you can stuff a stocking with it or take it on a plane, though.)

But Salon's review by Charles Taylor seems to be such a bitter, willful misread of the film, it defies explanation. So let me explain: Taylor actually misunderstands the audience, or more precisely, large swaths of the population of the US, including the hundreds of millions of excruciatingly normal people who fail to "delight (movie directors as) eccentrics and kooks and small-town oddballs" and who would never consider themselves "vulgar and naive and tacky," just the opposite.

In About Schmidt as well as his previous films, Alexander Payne proves that excruciatingly normal doesn't automatically mean boring. Just the opposite. In a long Times article, A. O. Scott tries to place Payne's (and Nicholson's) Schmidt in a grand tradition of the "mythic cinema hero, The Regular Guy." This tradition extends from the creations of Clifford Odets, Sinclair Lewis, Arthur Miller, and John Updike to "just about every movie cop and sitcom dad." (Sitcom. Remember sitcom.) Although Scott cites Jimmy Stewart and Fred "My Three Sons" MacMurray, the only actual movie he cites is Marty, which Delbert Mann had originally directed on television. Mythic, indeed.

Marty is the classic immigrant affirmation story, which won Oscars in 1955, for its star (Ernest Borgnine, nee Borgnino, an Italian), writer Paddy Chayefsky, a Jew from the Bronx) producer (Harold Hecht, a Jew from Poland), and director (Mann, from...Lawrenceville, Kansas). Beset by his loud Italian mother and family and feeling fat an unattractive, Marty falls for a teacher; the mismatched couple overcomes the family's objections and their own insecurity on their way to their fairytale marriage. Sound familiar? It should, since it's the same damn plot as My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding.

David Denby rightly called Greek Wedding on its big, fat sitcom roots, and the story of how its unexpected success among The Ignored caught Hollywood and the culture capitalists off guard is now accepted wisdom; Denby's own New Yorker review didn't even appear until September, six months after the film's debut, and presumably, after Denby's aunts and mother wouldn't let him off the hook for ignoring it any longer. For The Ignored, it's their own story, told in the style they were trained by television to expect. About Schmidt is a remarkable film about The Ignored that tells their own story in a powerful, serious way. It may never achieve the box office success of Greek Wedding, which is too bad. For the first time in fifty years, there's actually a good film about a Mythic Cinema Hero.

December 12, 2002

Here Comes The Sun

Score one for the little guys. Scrappy upstart NY Sun shows a knack for reporting, scooping the Liberal Establishment with news of the Souvenir premiere. (auteur paparazzi photo included)

You need movie ideas? Julian Dibbell writes in Wired about the physical world economies of online games like Ultima Online and Everquest.
The messy complex of characters and possessions that had been Troy Stolle's virtual identity was broken down into parts far more valuable than the whole. The priciest items were listed on eBay within a day or two, and one by one they went off to the highest bidder.

But the most valuable of all was the last to go. Not that Kiblinger lacked for house buyers in the month that Stolle's tower stood at auction. He sold one property to a single mom in Colorado, another to a manager for a database company in California. Yet another went to a woman in Virginia, who bought the house for her mother, an Alzheimer's sufferer whose last link to reality was her Ultima sessions with her daughter...

At first he thought the previous owner was a character named Blossom. She handed off the deed. But Blossom turned out to be one of Kiblinger's avatars - and not even Kiblinger at the keyboard but his cousin Eugene, who gets $10 an hour to run around Britannia doing the deliveries that used to take up most of Kiblinger's workday.

Wired must have a news bureau in Britannia. They also report on virtual Christmas parties and spontaneous post-Sept. 11 candlelight vigils. [party on, Travelers Diagram]

December 11, 2002

An Idea, If Ever There Was One

Steven Johnson writes about an idea he's had, how to do a movie about nanotechnology right. Turns out Michael Crichton had wondered the same thing, and wrote a book about it. Turns out that book, at least the good parts, are similar to ideas Johnson has been mulling over (and writing and publishing on) for a while, too.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, "how'd that be as a movie?" is a question I'm always asking myself, too. Tonight on Dublog, was this sentence which captured one idea I've been wrestling with lately. From Jennifer 8. Lee's NY Times article about Google's Live Query display:

people who shouldn't marry

"she smoked a cigar"

mr. potatoheads in long island

pickup lines to get women

auto theft fraud how to.

Stare at Live Query long enough, and you feel that you are watching the collective consciousness of the world stream by.


You want to come up with some movie ideas, too? See how many movies you can make from this: The Weekly Standard's engrossing report from a Christian retailers' convention. There's a lot more to Church Merch than just the Prayer of Jabez brand family, after all. (You thought it was just the best-selling book of 2001? You need to repent, brother.)
The enlarge-my-territory prayer [of Jabez] also appears on wristwatches, bumper stickers, pens, candy bars, Jabez: A Novel, and much else. "It's from the Bible, so I guess they couldn't copyright it," muses one CBA exhibitor. Several others tell me that editors are scouring the Bible in search of another nobody with star quality.

Louis Begley spoke before a screening of About Schmidt last night. An extremely genteel guy, he explained why he's quite pleased with the film, even though it differs significantly from his novel. For Begley, "write what you know" means Schmidt ("known as Schmittie to one and all") is an Upper East Side lawyer, recently retired to Bridgehampton, something, presumably, a vast majority of the screening audience knows well, too. Consistently for Alexander Payne, "film what you know" means a studied exploration of the middle of Middle America: Schmidt is an Omaha actuary whose retirement plans involve a Winnebago.

Kathy Bates lettin' it all hang out in About Schmidt, from the official site image: aboutschmidtmovie.com

The only disappointment Begley voiced was the elimination of his saucy Puerto Rican waitress character who (brace yourself) teaches Schmidt to love again. Or, more precisely, she "teaches Schmittie the transformative power of sex. [audience titters] You laugh. It's true. Maybe you're just too young to understand." But then he gamely allowed that Payne may have been poking fun at this idea with Kathy Bates' hand-painted clothing-shedding hot-tubber. Um, yeah.

While I've heard it described as a comedy, the laughs were all at things that are quite real outside the culture capitals; if you've been there, or are honest about being from there, your laughter is slightly embarassed and at yourself. (I'm not talking about my own proto-mullet here.) Begley sounded a little resigned when he said he couldn't see the future holding anything good for Payne's Schmidt. As I did in September, I have disagree and side with Payne. If taken at the most superficial level, you could argue that Schmidt's transformative experience at the end is a pretty meager reward for all that preceded it. Why, it's practically a, um, a money shot. What it may be is the difference between sex and love.

[12/12 update: Alexander Payne will be on Studio 360 this weekend. AND he will be given the Work In Progress award by the MoMA Department of Film and Media next February. Stay tuned.]

December 9, 2002

On Productive Passion

viewing Rothkos at The Tate Modern

In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones takes a while to get to an interesting story of Mark Rothko's masterful series of paintings, originally commissioned for the Four Seasons restaurant. It seems Rothko painted them in contempt and withdrew them in disgust after checking out the Cafeteria of Power and deciding the moguls would be insufficiently cowed by the art. Two of Rothko's overt influences: the "bricked up windows" of Michelangelo's Laurentian Library vestibule, and Pompeii's Villa of the Mysteries ("strange," "luxurious and hellish," a Dionysian attack on Mies/Johnson's rational order ) [12/12 update: The Times reports Vivendi Universal is preparing to sell the Seagram collection, which would have included the Rothkos in the Four Seasons.]

On another note, Laura Winters, long the NYT's and Washington Post's go-to journalist for a new generation of independent and foreign filmmakers (and Harvard alum), gives Vogue's celebrity coverage an upgrade with a profile of plays-a-writer-in-Adaptation Meryl Streep. Problematically, Ms Streep and the two actresses I'd pick to play Laura in the movie--Ms. Danes and Ms Foster--all went to Yale.

December 8, 2002

Some quotes

Back from Hawaii, and finalizing the press release, invites, and guest list for the Souvenir screening on the 19th. Drop a line if you'd like to be added to my guest list, otherwise, check out MoMA's site for times, etc. I'll obviously post more about this.

Some quotes that caught my attention, except where noted, from the NY Times (Sun. Times in HI: $7.50)

"Design demands observation," Mr. Castiglioni would explain, Ms. [Paola] Antonelli said, as though there was easily a life's work in seeing, in the commonplace, what others couldn't.
- William Hamilton's obituary for Achille Castiglioni

...Even Americans of modest means have had a tradition of keeping an unused room as a carefully decorated stage set for a play that is rarely, perhaps never, performed.
- Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners), quoted in the review of her new book
It was sort of like one of those moments when it seems like a good idea to invite a hillbilly to dinner. Then the hillbilly comes and ends up ruining the carpet.
- Although it's so good it could be from anywhere, it's an anonymous celebrity aghast at Richard "Survivor" Hatch's horrible behavior at a Broadway show. Quoted in the NY Observer 15th anniversary edition.
We all have opinions about almost everything, and the temptation to toss them in is great. To air ones view gratuitously, however, is to imply that the demand for them is brisk, which may not be the case, and which, in any event, may not be relevant to the discussion. Opinions scattered indiscriminately about leave the mark of egotism at work. Similarly, to air one's view at an improper time may be in bad taste. If you have received a letter inviting you to speak at the dedication of a new cat hospital, and you hate cats, your reply, declining the invitation, does not necessarily have to cover the full range of your emotions. You must make it clear that you will not attend, but you do not have to let fly at cats.
- William Strunk and E. B. White's Elements of Style, excerpted in Jack Spade Quarterly, which, with two issues in two+ years, would be more appropriately titled Jack Spade Nonchalantly
Usually, the magazine Architecture observed in 1903, "the engineer makes the design, hands it to the architect to add a lantern or two, makes it fancy, and the artistic conscience of the interested community is at rest."
- Christopher Gray's Nov. 24 article on building the Queensboro Bridge
...Stanton Eckstut, a principal of the firm hired by the Port Authority, said that while the development corporation's seven teams of architects might be working on pretty building designs, he alone was preparing substantive plans for the site's streets, transportation facilities and underground infrastructure.
- plus Áa change. Edward Wyatt's Dec. 1 article on the WTC site rebuilding process.

Early in the editing of Souvenir November 2001, I decided to eventually expand the short film into a related series of shorts, all ultimately interconnected a la Kieslowski's Dekalog (See the movie index for more references).

A couple of weeks ago, it became clear that the original documentary project which spawned greg.org could fit in this Souvenir series in some way. The result of this confluence: Souvenir January 2003, a short film about a man's quiet appreciation of ironing. Look forward to your comments.

November 29, 2002

Dateline - Kauai

Doing the family thing in Hawaii for a while. greg.org implications:

  • I wrote a script on the plane, a new short tentatively titled Souvenir January 2003, which'll be a one-day shoot when I'm at Sundance.
  • (No, that's not an early indication of anything, but I figure it's high time to go anyway. And besides, the snow prospects in January are already pretty good.)
  • The third act of the Animated Musical gets attention in the mornings, 5-7:00, thanks to jet lag. Made real progress on one of the characters, who makes his crucial appearance at the end. It's very interesting, in a Hayao Miyazaki demon boar (Princess Mononoke)/bathhouse demon (Spirited Away) animation tour-de-force kind of way. Miyazaki portal, Nausicaa.net
    Tatari, Princess Mononoke, Hayao Miyazaki, nausicaa.net
    Princess Mononoke, Hayao Miyazaki, image Nausicaa.net

  • Reading Scorsese on Scorsese collected interviews published in the wake of Last Temptation of Christ, the scandal for which sets too much of the editorial tone of the book. Also in the queue: Thucydides (as soon as I finish Gravity's Rainbow). That reading list not pretentious-sounding enough for you? Wait till I do the animated musical version of Finnegan's Wake.
  • Gauging which north shore hike to go on, my wife said, "That's like walking from Columbia to Times Square and back," which amused the locals.
  • Posting will be a little spotty for a few days.


  • Poetry was the reportage or weblogging medium of choice for the British in WWI. "Anthem for Doomed Youth" is an exhibit of 12 WWI poets at the Imperial War Museum in London. [Alan Riding wrote about it in today's NY Times.]

    From Siegfried Sassoon's "Prelude: The Troops":

    DIM, gradual thinning of the shapeless gloom
    Shudders to drizzling daybreak that reveals
    Disconsolate men who stamp their sodden boots
    And turn dulled, sunken faces to the sky
    Haggard and hopeless...

    Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

    Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

    comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
    greg [at] greg [dot ] org

    find me on twitter: @gregorg

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