Monday, February 27, 2017

Voices Lost Amidst the Chaos

I read a post from someone this morning that said The Greatest Oscar Flub In History was actually a favor to the Moonlight creators, because they will always be remembered. I call bullshit on this reasoning, and here is why. By the time any artist of any kind makes it to the Oscars, there are years, and most of the time there are decades, of work that went into getting your creativity and talents and blood, sweat, and tears onto this world stage of achievement. If you are The Winner in your category, you have been deemed the best of the very best --- that’s why the award categories are Best Actress, Best Picture, Best Sound Design. And speaking of Best Sound Design…was there anyone watching who wasn’t moved by Kevin O’Connell’s paying homage to his late mother, Skippy O’Connell, who gave him his first job in sound 39 years ago, and told him the only repayment she desired was for him to someday win an Oscar and then thank him from the stage in front of the world?

"Mom, I know you're looking down on me tonight," O'Connell said. "So thank you."

What if this 20 times nominated man hadn’t gotten the moment he earned to finally thank Mom? It would have been a travesty. It would have robbed him of making good on what was a truly heartfelt promise. It would have robbed us all by not allowing us to witness a genuine moment that is at the heart of every artist who toils and leaves their guts on the page, on the screen, in the details, because they can’t not do so. It would have robbed all of the souls behind the artists who toil, because they need to hear how much it means to have people in your life who believe in you, support you, pick you up and tell you what you are creating matters.

All of this happened last night when Barry Jenkins, Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner, along with all of the artists who gave everything they had to make Moonlight what it is, were robbed of their soul-nourishing moments of jubilant celebration upon hearing their names and the name of their film called for what is the biggest award of the night, saved to the final moments, so highly anticipated and debated is the win. Yes, they were gracious. Yes, they ultimately went home with the golden statue. But they were robbed of Their Moment. They were robbed of the completion of the circle that is the arrival to Mount Achievement. And we were all robbed of what they had to say, and the viewpoint that was uniquely their own, with stories of how they arrived to last night. And in some home, there was a child watching who was robbed of their moment of connecting with those stories in a way that would remain with them forever. Remember that bit where Charlize Theron shared the inspiration she took as a young girl in seeing the performance of Shirley MacLaine in the film The Apartment? I believe that PricewaterhouseCoopers owes all involved a series of paid advertisements where Barry Jenkins, Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner each gets to give the Oscar acceptance speech of their dreams, to be disseminated globally. It won’t be the same as getting back their moment. But it will give their voices a chance to be properly and respectfully heard by those who need to hear it.

And, as for Hollywood…maybe take a moment to consider the underbelly of what happened, the why and how. Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty saw and read the card that said Emma Stone for LaLaLand. But instead of using the wisdom of their collective 110 years in show business and well over a hundred films, including multiple trips to the awards podium, they did what Hollywood, and our country, often does…stayed quiet in the face of something not quite right going on, until they were forced to speak up, and then cover the initial silence with “no harm, no foul, it all works out in the end, honest mistake” business. The fact that we can still openly support and reward those in our midst who do harm to others, and tolerate disgusting displays of humanity, as long as the perpetrator is a talented artist, athlete, business man, politician, etc, is something that deeply affects our collective moral compass and human reflex to speak up in the moment we see something isn’t right (Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Casey Affleck, Roman Polanski, Phil Spector, etc). Dunaway and Beatty didn’t head out onstage last night to do anyone any harm. I'm certainly not saying that. But their initial silence in the face of something clearly not being at all right, is a way bigger issue than anyone seems to be noting or connecting. We all need our reflexes and moral compasses to fire and direct us in the moment, because those moments truly matter as one brick encompassing our behaviors and beliefs lays the foundation for the next, and the next after that. In the end, the Oscars showed us that we need to speak up, and we need to be heard. The benefits of both make us a better community all the way around.

Monday, August 4, 2014

When you prepare to give birth to a baby, the first thing you think about is the excitement of finally getting to meet the little person who has been incubating for 40 weeks, give or take a few. You also grapple with, for the first time in a real, no turning back way, the legendary physical pain of getting said baby out of your body. I have likened that sensation of realizing that the birthing is inevitable, to the realization that your boat is about to go over the waterfall, and you have no paddle, or helmet. You hope the equipment and your body, along with the raging forward movement, don't all join forces to take you or your baby out. You pray. You worry. You breathe. You grit your teeth, and you do what you need to do. In the end, no one's description of their own war stories of birthing can prepare you for the pain that you endure in order to bring another life into the world. It is also true that no one can prepare you for the depth of the love that comes over you, as you enter into one of the truly miraculous wonders of the world.

If you do your job right, you begin on that very day of their birth, or for those who become parents via adoption, on that very day of homecoming, preparing your new little soul, and your own, for their eventual separation from you when you launch them out of the nest and into the world. So many moments of launchings...first step, pre-school, kindergarten, overnight camp, high school, travel abroad. But with each of those steps, they circle back to you with tales of their discoveries and adventures, and the world is right again, because they are back under your wing. For the moment. The real launch looms in the too quickly arriving ceremonious send-off to life, via their freshman year at university. No matter how many books you read, or how many stories are shared with you from parents who get a certain look in their eyes of joy and pride mixed with sadness and mourning, no matter how many of these you amass, you will not be ready. You will fret about whether you properly prepared them, equipped them with all the necessary tools, warned them of all of the possible pitfalls. You make the most of every last morsel of time with them, being sure to catalogue each moment in your mind, so that it can be savored in their absence. You pour over pictures, wondering where that little tiny person, with the feet upon which you counted each toe a thousand times over, has disappeared to, leaving this young adult behind in their place.

The movie, Boyhood, captures this journey from little people to young adult launching into the world, unlike any other film before it. Written, directed, and co-produced by Richard Linklater, it was shot for one week per year, over a 12 year period, rendering a scripted, real life time-lapse view of the family of a young boy, Mason, as they do their best to all grow up, both parents and brother and sister. As a mom of a girl who is about to fly away into her freshman year at university, it held so many bittersweet truisms for me and my lovie, that it felt as though our life together had been the subject of a supreme covert spying operation. Apparently, this daily splitting in two of my heart, in order for her to do exactly what I have raised her to do, isn't so unique, after all. As she and I sat sharing our popcorn for what felt like a fraction of the two hours and forty-five minutes that unfolded the inner-workings of life for this family, it served as a reminder that the cycle of life is a universal truth that binds us all. Just as the final episode of our summer family binge watching of the television show Lost, forced us to talk about what this life we have each been given means, collectively and as a human race,  this story on the big screen left that same debate up in the air, but with less ominous tonality attached. In Lost, we were given a choice in looking at life by seeing meaning in everything, or seeing everything as ultimately meaningless. In Boyhood, we are left with the sense that how we live makes the meaning, no matter the life. Loving, and being present in both our loving of, and being loved, leads to the connections that make it all worth it. The concepts are universal. But the manner in which the film was made, allowed for a thoughtfulness and deliberateness in the story arcs and dialogue of each character to ring true and remain so beautifully and richly focused, that it will inevitably change the landscape of future films that cover a wide swath of time. 

We left feeling good about our growing pains, this baby of mine and me. We have spent the last 10 days together, just us two, in a last hurrah of extended slumber party, all-night talks, and laughing until we are doubled over, while moments later, we are in tears over the realization that this wonderful ride we have enjoyed with one another is about to venture intothe next realm.But, no matter how much I will miss this most-treasured companion of the last 18 years, I have told her that with all honesty, and in equal measure, I am so excited to be the luckiest of spectators to her next chapter. I cannot wait for the talks about the moments of life that she gathers, everywhere she adventures, and the lessons along the way. She has worked so hard to make opportunities for herself, and she has been the kind of daughter that women hope for when your dream is, as I have said many times, to grown future best friends via the grown up versions of my babies. Boyhood captured this time, and all of the steps leading up to it so beautifully, that it can be universally experienced by anyone who has grown up human. Do yourself a favor, and take a special someone to go see it. And, after the credits roll, revel in looking at how far you've come, no matter where you started or happen to be.

(If you are lucky enough to see Boyhood at The ArcLight Cinemas, stick around afterwards for a behind-the-scenes look at the 12 years of filming, and the players thoughts on the film. If you're seeing it elsewhere, take a look here.)

                                                     Official Trailer for Boyhood

Saturday, June 7, 2014


     Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of my first love. It is normally a day that I find myself busying my way through a list that makes Santa’s pale in comparison, just to keep the thoughts at bay. But, instead, I burrowed in on my home world, and spent the entire day cuddling and talking with the true loves of my life, my children. Focusing upon them helped the thoughts of sadness that still trickle in, even after so very long, dissipate into the air. I pushed happiness of the now into all of the holes of emptiness from long ago. Then, like an intuitive little fairy who finds the path to your deepest feelings, my oldest, without knowing what day it was for the mommy, asked me to spend the evening with her at the movies. “Bring your Kleenex,” she said. It sounded like a perfect place to maybe burn off the excess emotional energy in a flourish, via a good old-fashioned sad ass love story.
 Once inside the theater, the buzz in the air sounded as though we'd been dropped into the core of a bee hive. Excited chatter gave way to a camaraderie that I only remember having witnessed during the initial screening of Sex In The City the movie. Looking around, we saw the hunormous movieplex audience of wall to wall girls and women, but for a stray male date here and there. Now, the Neilsen ratings folks handing out surveys at the entrance to the theater made sense. Twenty-one minutes of bad demographic-skewed previews later, we were dropped into the world of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teen girl whose constant fashion accessories are an oxygen tank and her cancer. Hazel tells us right off the bat that this is not to be the happy-go-lucky love story we might be used to. She promises that what we will witness is The Truth. And it is assumed that is what we all want, and I like her for setting that out as the welcome mat. What unfolds over the next 125 minutes is the love story of Hazel and the plucky, cute boy, Augustus, who she meets after reluctantly attending a teen cancer support group. 


It’s based upon a book that flew off the shelves and into the hands of teen girls, and secretly, some teen boys, as well as a lot of women in the 18-55 demographic, and into the hearts of those very readers. Shailene Woodley expertly and sweetly worked her way into the hearts of her audience with a performance that was pitch perfect as she presented us with a girl who refused to fall into the sappy, maudlin mess that she was entitled to, given the fact that Hazel was dealing with Stage 4 cancer, and the inevitability of her death. That she falls in love with another cancer survivor,  makes it all the more impressive not to have fall into the maudlin.
It has been so widely read, and adored, that most of the people in the theater came in knowing that one of the young lovers would die. But that didn’t keep all of us from being swept up into the drama. Anyone who knows movies, or how scripts go, was able to predict the ups and downs of this particular ride before it ever began.

Plot Point 1:  Sick Girl is lonely. 
Plot Point 2:  Sick Girl meets Boy Who Used To Be Sick. 
Plot Point 3:  Sick Girl eschews Boy Who Used To Be Sick. 
Plot Point 4: Sick girl and Boy Who Used To Be Sick fall in 
Plot Point 5: Sick girl and Boy Who Used To Be Sick decide to 
                     just be friends. 
Plot Point 6:  Sick girl and Boy Who Used To Be Sick fall in 
                      love again. 
Plot Point 7:  One of them dies. 
Plot Point 8: Lesson learned--Love is worth the pain. 
The End.

With Robert McKee in my head, I saw the twists and turns before I even strapped on my seat belt. Even still, this movie got me. The universal language of young love and hope intertwined with our own ideas of love, either by personal experience, or dreams and hopes, and made everyone watching not mind so much that we all knew what was inevitable in the story of Hazel Grace and Augustus. This isn’t an “important” movie. It doesn’t deal with some looming geo-political issue. But it does say something about us. We crave stories of hope. We are willing to look into the abyss of sadness and pull out the love. Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber did a fine job on the script, but for the ending, that feels like an add-on once it was discovered that the story was taking too long to tell, and a Dave Chappelle Wrap-It-Up-Box was looming over Director John Green’s head. The ending lacked the depth or realness that the rest of the movie displayed. There’s a missed connection that I don’t think would have been there if they’d bothered to bring a woman on board to give some female juju to the very female-driven visual interpretation.

Final analysis is that it is a lovely story, and a lovely film that shows off the abilities of both Shailene Woodley, and Laura Dern as her mother. That they foot faulted in the final minutes, is a shame. But, I say it’s still worth it as a night at the movies. And for this particular moviegoer, it was a cathartic 4-Kleenex reminder that love is worth it, no matter what.


Friday, May 30, 2014

THE BUSINESS OF SAVING MR. BANKS and How It Surprised This Skeptic


(Since this is now available at home, I thought I'd share)

I really had no intention of seeing Saving Mr. Banks, but at the urging of a certain angel faced 8-year-old who is my frequent movie companion, I found myself spending the latter part of Saturday afternoon doing just that. He is a wise one, that one.

 The film is about the author of Mary Poppins, P. L. Travers, as she ventures away from her home in London and heads to Hollywood to finally (possibly) allow Walt Disney to make a movie of her work. There has been chatter in anticipation of the film's release that P. L. Travers is dealt with in the screenplay as overly harsh, while Walt Disney is treated with with white-animated gloves. Honestly, I think that is a bunch of hooey from a cadre of critics who strive to say something salacious so that, upon wide release, their commentary will be poised to go viral via association. Don't fall for it. Mrs. Travers is portrayed through writing (screenplay: Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith) and acting (Emma Thompson) in a manner that is not usually allowed onscreen in modern cinema. She is persnickety, sometimes to the point of rudeness. She is not warm and fuzzy, and barely even polite. She is demanding and controlling, and willing to go to the mat to protect her story and its characters. She is also complicated and stoically emotional and far more layered than any female character, all without any of her lady parts on display, has been drawn in so long that I can't even recall a similar instance off the top of my head. If you are a woman in Hollywood, she already sounds like a hero, no? The movie dances between the 1960s when Mrs. Travers came to the Disney studios after being courted by Walt Disney for 20 years, with his laser beam focus upon making her book, Mary Poppins (never Mary, always Mary Poppins, she directs the Disney team), into the Disney movie-fied Mary Poppins, and the years long before, during Travers' time as a child in Australia. Giving nothing away, I will just share that she had a sad and bumpy childhood, marked by the imaginative and charismatic father who also happened to be an alcoholic who found challenge in keeping the bank jobs that must have bored him to tears...and drink. I'm not going to give away the nuances of the story. I am just going to tell you, go see it. It is smart and insightful, without hitting you square over the head with it all. I walked away with an appreciation for each of the characters as artists who, like a lot of us, had our childhood challenges and turned them into a creative life as an adult. The story here, that is what stays with me. And the tenacity of a woman who believed in her story, and her characters, and was willing to walk away before having them diced and sliced and served up with a side of BS. As a writer, I think that is a beautiful portrayal. Maybe it isn't what we are used to seeing. But that says more about what is wrong with the state of entertainment than it does the accurate portrayal of this talented writer. Walt Disney's track record of being rather sexist can be thoroughly rooted out in another production, another movie where he gets to be the main show. But this wasn't his story. It was about Mrs. Travers and her Mr. Banks, and that was the beauty of it, from beginning to end.

(For a taste of her sass and tenacity in action, here are some taped excerpts of the writing sessions that she demanded be taped so as to not be bamboozled by the Disney machine:

(The cast discussing  the film, Saving Mr. Banks.)

© 2014 Charise M. Studesville