The thing that upsets me most about a film is a failure of logic.
A movie is supposed to transport the audience to another world. At its best, it should make us almost forget our own world. I brought Charlie to Paddington 2 a month ago. In the middle of the movie, he bolted upright in his seat and shouted, "Wo! I almost forgot who I was!"
I loved this moment so much. What he really meant was that he forgot where he was. In his mind, he was existing within the movie.
That is magic.
This is why we cry at scenes that our objective minds know never happened. Two people - actors who we've already seen pretending to be other people in other movies -are pretending to be two people in a moment that never actually happened.
We know all this, yet still we weep.
This is what makes stories great. It's what makes movies great. It's magic.
A failure of logic destroys that magic. When something illogical happens in a movie, you find yourself wondering questions like:
Why did that happen?
Why did she do that?
Isn't anyone in this movie going to notice this?
Why don't they just do that?
The magic is broken. I don't get to almost forget who I am. Instead, I find myself wondering what is wrong with these people.
I watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri last night with Elysha. A film that scored a number of Academy Award nominations and a handful of victories.
Boy did I love the performances in that movie. Woody Harrelson the most.
Boy did I hate that movie.
Why? Logic. Or a lack thereof.
Without giving away any spoilers, below is a list of fallacies of logic that ruined the possible magic of the movie for me. They are the fallacies of logic that I believe should've ruined the movie for everyone.
- Police stations have back doors. All buildings have back doors. This is a basic fire safety requirement. No building in the world has a single exit. Especially a public building.
- People who commit assault - in some cases multiple times - are prosecuted for their crimes. This includes assault against dentists, teenagers, salespeople, secretaries, and former police officers. You don't get to walk through the world unscathed and unfettered after brutally assaulting other human beings repeatedly.
- Crime victims and their assailants are not placed in the same hospital room during their recovery.
- Police officers whose employment has been terminated are not encouraged to return to station late at night after everyone has gone home in order to retrieve their mail using keys that no one has bothered to collect. Also, do police stations ever really close? Even in a small town, doesn't someone answer calls at all hours?
- People who are dying and leaving behind a beloved wife and small children don't spend large sums of money on amusing acts of petty revenge. They leave that money for their family.
For all of these reasons, I never believed this movie. At every turn, I found myself saying:
"What? This makes no sense?"
At that point, I was no longer captivated by the magic of the film. I was distracted by the obvious fallacies of logic.
Movies also are permitted a coincidence, but they only get one. One coincidence per film. More than one coincidence causes the audience to wonder what the hell kind of world these characters are inhabiting. More than one coincidence reminds the audience that this story isn't real. It was written by human beings who chose to manipulate events in a way that feels unreal and dishonest.
More than one coincidence makes it feel like the writers cheated, because they did.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri relies on a hell of a lot of coincidence. More than the permitted one.
The movie was also nominated for best screenplay.
That makes no sense to me.
The performances were brilliant. The cinematography was top notch. I loved the score.
But the screenplay? No. You don't get to put a police station in your movie with no back door and be nominated for an Academy Award. You don't get to create a world where assault goes ignored again and again and be considered great.
Movies require logic. This movie did not have any.
Just one writers opinion.
My son Charlie, age 5, watched episodes 4, 5, and 6 of Star Wars with me and Elysha over the past two weeks.
It was quite the experience.
Though he knew almost nothing about Star Wars, he owns about a dozen action figures and received a Millennium Falcon for Christmas this year. He knew there were good guys and bad guys, but that was about it. He had sadly realized just a couple weeks before that the movie's title is Star Wars and not Star Whores.
He was primed for viewing.
He loved the first Star Wars movie, originally titled Star Wars when I sat in the aisle in The Stadium in Woonsocket, RI back in 1977 to watch it for the first time.
Today it's titled A New Hope, and although George Lucas has tinkered with the film several times over the years, it's just as great as it was when I watched it as a six year-old boy.
The first picture was taken as John William's opening began and the famous Star Wars scroll appeared. He was saddened at the death of Obi Won Kenobi and shouted with joy when the Death Star was destroyed.
When I told him that the next episode was titled The Empire Strikes Back, he said, "Uh oh. Doesn't sound like the good guys are going to win."
It was a tough movie for him. The Rebellion struggles throughout the movie, but what was most upsetting to him was the discovery that Darth Vader is Luke's father. The second photo was taken as that information was revealed for the first time.
He was genuinely upset. Confused, too.
A day later, he asked me in a hushed tone, "Dad, will you ever turn to the dark side?"
I realized that this was the first time Charlie saw a father behave badly. It shook him to the core.
Later, he said, "Dad, I think Darth Vader will turn back to the good side."
Of course, he was right. In Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader sacrifices himself in order to save his son's life and kill the Emperor. Charlie cheered again but was saddened to discover that Darth Vader was dying.
"But he's good now. Why does he have to die?"
Later, Luke cremates Vader's body. Charlie asked what was happening, and I explained that some bodies are buried and others are burned into ashes. Charlie said, "You'd better not burn me."
He has all three movies available to him now on his iPad, which is unbelievable to me. I watched that first film in a theater so jam packed that I had to sit in the carpeted aisle, and then I didn't see the movie again for more than a decade.
He has them at this fingertips.
He's watched A New Hope a couple times since that first viewing and still cheers when the Death Star is destroyed. I suspect that he may go back to Return of the Jedi at some point, too.
But it might be a while before he returns to The Empire Strikes Back. Charlie prefers to live in a world where fathers never turn to the dark side and the good guys triumph in the end.
Who can blame him?
Not really, of course, but damn do I love this sweater.
For those of you who can't quite pick up on the reference, it's Die Hard, the greatest Christmas film of all time.
In the movie, our hero, John McClane, has just managed to kill his first terrorist and acquired a machine gun. He sends the lifeless corpse down to Hans Gruber, the terrorist boss man, in an elevator with this note written in red Sharpie on his sweatshirt.
There's nothing better than a barefoot underdog taunting his well armed enemy.
For the record, while I'm not interested in owning a machine gun, I'm not at all opposed to the second Amendment. I believe in the right of Americans to own firearms. I simply want every gun owner to undergo a thorough background check, restrictions placed on criminals, perpetrators of domestic abuse, individuals on the no-fly list, and the like, and a complete ban on assault weapons.
You know... reasonable, rationale gun ownership. The kind of gun ownership our founding fathers envisioned with they wrote the Constitution.
Except for John McClane, of course. He can have as many machine guns as he wants.
I was listening to an interview with Bob Saget, who once starred in a show called Full House, which featured the Olson twins.
Other than what I just stated, I know nothing about this show. I never watched the show, and I wasn't even aware of its existence until well after it had ended its run. This may not seem like a big deal, but it turns out that this show has enormous cultural relevance.
The Olson twins, for example. They seem to be everywhere. John Oliver makes a joke about them on his HBO show all the time, and every time, I think, "Is this just a twin joke, or is there something more to this joke that I don't understand?"
There was also a guy on that show who wore terrible sweaters (I don't know how I know this or if it's even true) and a bunch of other kids, and Bob Saget, of course, who I know as a comic who tells jokes that are definitely for an adult audience only but who somehow appeared on a TV show with little twin girls.
The show is a mystery to me.
I have similar problems with almost all of television, film, and music from the time when Full House was on the air.
Boy Meets World, for example. I once worked with an attorney whose son was a star of the show, but I had no idea that the show even existed. I also work with a teacher named Mr. Feeney. When I mention his name to people, they often laugh and say, "Like Boy Meets World!"
I have no idea what they are talking about.
This is because from 1992 until about 1994, I didn't own a television. I was homeless and then living with a family of Jehovah Witnesses, working two full time jobs in order to pay the attorney who would represent me in court during the trial for a crime I didn't commit.
Then, from 1994 until 1999, I was attending two colleges full time (earning two degrees) while managing a McDonald's restaurant full time and working in the college writing center part-time. I was also Treasurer of the Student Council, President of the National Honor Society, and columnist for the school newspaper.
In 1997, I launched my DJ company with my partner.
Looking back, I really don't know how I did it all. But one way was to stop consuming almost all media. Almost all popular culture from 1992-1999, and especially from 1992-1994, is lost to me.
This means I have no understanding about things like Saved By the Bell, Family Matters, Northern Exposure, Twin Peaks, Home Improvement, The Wonder Years, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and many more.
I've managed to catch up on Seinfeld, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Friends, but not until much later.
I missed out on all those 90's slacker films like Dazed and Confused, Clerks, and Reality Bites. I missed classics like Boys in the Hood, Pulp Fiction, and The Usual Suspects. I've since caught up on many of these films, but it turns out that if you're not watching a movie like Reality Bites in the early 1990s or Clerks when Kevin Smith is still a relative unknown, it's just not the same.
I missed out on the rise of bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Green Day and Radiohead. Again, I caught up with them later on, but if you're not listening to Nirvana in the '90's, you can't help but feel a little detached to what they are singing about.
And then there are shows like Full House. I'm never going to watch an episode of that show. Even if I had the time, I can't imagine that it's worth my time. Instead, I will move through life slightly lost, wondering if the Olson twins were two separate characters on the show or body doubles for each other.
Wondering why so many children live with three men and one woman.
Wondering if Uncle Jessie is a Full House reference (he seems to get mentioned in conversation surrounding this show) or a reference to the Uncle Jessie from The Dukes of Hazard.
Wondering how a foul-mouthed comic like Bob Saget got cast to appear on a show alongside so many children.
I had a Groundhog-like Day dream last night. The same day repeated again and again.
It was a more precarious and intense day than Bill Murray's character experiences in the classic film, but the premise was otherwise the same:
The same day, in the same town, again and again. No matter what happened during that day, I started the day over every morning in the same place, in the same condition as when I started.
Here is what I learned:
Bill Murray's character was crazy to want to escape this day. An eternal, consequence-free existence of endless possibilities was amazing.
Perhaps after a century or two, the novelty of this existence would begin to wear off, but a solid 100-200 years, the endless possibilities and consequence-free lifestyle is something I would take in a heartbeat.
I recently caused a bit of an uproar by admitting that I have never seen The Sound of Music because it looks incredibly boring.
When I wrote these words on my blog (and transitioned them over to Facebook), I knew that I would be met with backlash. I had already admitted this out loud and been scolded for my obvious stupidity.
Several passionate fans of this musical wondered why I would say such a thing. Why would I waste my time writing about how a film that I had never seen before looked boring, particularly when I know how almost universally beloved it is?
Here is how I responded:
I've always found that I reach more people when I share my least popular thoughts, my most embarrassing moments, my worst decisions, and my greatest moments of stupidity or thoughtlessness. These are the stories, thoughts, and ideas that generate the most energy, empathy, passion, interest, and conversation. In many cases, my stories of questionable decisions and unpopular ideas have been the things that bring people closer to me.
This may seem counter-intuitive. I know. I declare that a person's favorite film looks boring. How does that bring us closer together?
Through the passionate exchange of ideas. Through honesty and authenticity. Through vulnerability. You may not agree with my opinion or a decision I make, but you'll always know who I am and where I stand. You'll know my unvarnished self, and in today's world of carefully curated photography, social media massaging, personal branding, and political correctness, I think that the unvarnished self is refreshing.
We're all broken and flawed and foolish in some way, and those who are willing to admit to these unfortunate bits of ourselves often garner greater respect for doing so. I believe this. I see it everyday.
A friend of mine once said that "I live out loud." It was a good description. Truthfully, it's how I've always been. For as long as I can remember, I've always spoken my mind. Shared my stories. Tried to be my authentic self. Authenticity has always been something that I prized about all else. I'm not entirely sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with my desire to be known. Be heard. Be understood.
Admittedly, it's gotten me into trouble at times. I've shared honest moments from my life that have caused people to react strongly. I've been asked questions and felt the need to answer honestly. I may not share my unpopular opinion in certain social settings, but if asked, I feel compelled to do so.
Friends of ours don't allow shoes to be worn in their home. They ask guests to remove them upon entering the house, and they are kind enough to offer slippers to their guests. I hate this rule but said nothing about it for years. It was an opinion that needn't be shared. Then one day, the wife asked, "You don't mind taking off your shoes. Right, Matt?"
I had to answer honestly, and so I did.
The wife wasn't thrilled.
Then the husband, who knows me well, said, "Never ask Matt a question if you might not like the answer. He's nothing if not honest."
My friend was right, and he is fine with this. Undisturbed by my opinion on his shoe policy and accepting of my adherence to authenticity. He knows where I stand. He's never going to receive fakery from me.
Ask me a question, and I'll answer honestly.
As annoyed as some people were with my presumption that The Sound of Music looks boring, the expression of that opinion resulted in a fascinating, interesting, engaging, and energetic discussion, both online and in real life. We discussed this particular musical but also how we filter our media choices in a world inundated by content. People were vehement and forceful with their opinions, but in the end, I don't think anyone liked me any less for expressing this opinion.
In fact, I would argue that I became a tiny bit closer to those who disagreed with me the most. Our thoughtful exchange of ideas may have not resulted in agreement, but even better, it generated greater understanding and respect.
I also learned a lot. A friend of mine who I would never have expected to enjoy The Sound of Music told me that he has watched it at least ten times and offered this perspective on the movie and the song Edelweiss, which appears in the film:
"Edelweiss is a flower that only grows at high elevations in the Alps. In WWI, Austrian soldiers wore it only if they were able to climb by foot to pick it. It symbolized grit, strength, and patriotism. They’d pin the flower to their uniforms. My great grandfather served in the mountain battalion for the Austrian-Hungarian empire in WWI.
In WWII many Austrians fled Nazi Germany by climbing the Alps to Switzerland. Edelweiss became a symbol of freedom. They knew if they climbed high enough, they’d find the flower and peace. That’s what the song is about. My grandfather moved to the United States in the 30’s to escape the war and then served as a POW interrogator for the US because his first language was German. He cried every time he heard the song. It means a lot to Austrians."
Now that makes me want to see the film and listen closely to the song. I still may not enjoy either, but the historical background intrigues me, and the story of my friend's grandfather lodged itself in the center of my heart.
I would've known none of this had I not expressed an knowingly unpopular opinion.
Speak your truth, even if you know people won't like it. If you are being honest, authentic, and true to yourself, the road may get bumpy at times, but it will be a far more interesting road than the one driven by the cautious, the filtered, and the inauthentic.
I've always thought that Bruce Springsteen should be frozen in time. Not permitted to die. Experienced by all future generations.
I think Carrie Fisher fits that category as well.
Below is a moving, tear jerking tribute to her by the Star Wars team.
But anytime I see someone so young and vital who is no longer with us, it kind of destroys me.
I Am Legend is a post-apocalyptic science fiction film loosely based upon Richard Matheson’s novel of the same name. It stars Will Smith as one of the few survivors of a plague that has killed most of humankind and left many in a zombie/vampire-like state. It opened to the largest ever box office for a non-Christmas film released in December and was the seventh highest grossing film of 2007.
The film also sold 7 million DVD's, making it the sixth best selling DVD in 2008. However Warner Bros. was reportedly “a little disappointed” by the film’s performance in the DVD market.
And I’ll tell you why sales were disappointing.
While helping to save Will Smith’s character from certain death, his dog becomes infected with the virus, and after much consternation, Smith’s character is forced to put the animal down.
It is the scene that prevents me from ever watching this film again, and I suspect it’s the scene that has suppressed DVD sales and has kept the film from being plastered all over the basic cable channels like so many other of Will Smith’s blockbuster movies.
It’s not the violence or gore of the scene, because there is none.
It’s because no one wants to see a dog die.
It’s that simple.
Kill mothers and fathers and children galore, and people will be more than happy to watch the movie again and again.
Smith’s blockbuster Independence Day is a perfect example. Millions of people are killed in that movie, including the President’s wife, who dies tragically under the watchful eyes of her husband and daughter.
A father gives up his life while his son listens on and a best friend dies while Smith’s character looks on and can do nothing.
And like I Am Legend, there is a dog in that movie, too. Once again, it’s a dog owned by Smith’s character. In fact, the two dogs look so much alike that they could be the same dog.
Perhaps they are.
And guess what?
The dog in Independence Day survives.
It appears in the final scene of the film.
Independence Day airs on basic cable all the time.
Warner Bros. left a lot of money on the table when they decided to kill that dog in I Am Legend.
For a great many people, including me, that film became unwatchable the second time around.
If you're worried about watching a movie in which a dog dies, there's a solution for you:
This website offers three ratings on films:
- No pets die.
- A pet is injured or appears dead but ultimately lives.
- A pet dies.
Don't be surprised by the untimely death of a dog, or even a cat, a hamster, or a goldfish anymore. Go into every film prepared for the possible death of a beloved pet.
Or avoid the movie altogether.
If you search doesadogdie.com for I Am Legend, you will find this entry:
"Dog is infected by a zombie-esque virus and is killed by her owner."
Sounds pretty unwatchable to me.
When my daughter was three years old, still unable to read, she taught me three invaluable lessons about the craft of writing. Specifically, she offered three specific pieces of criticism made an impression on me as an author and remain with me today.
1. Don’t overwrite. More importantly, don’t refuse editing.
After watching some of its more famous musical numbers on YouTube, Clara and my wife sat down to watch Mary Poppins in its entirety for the first time.
Three years later, she still has yet to see the complete film.
While her interest admittedly waned throughout the film, her most telling comment came just over thirty minutes into the movie when she stood up from the couch and said, “Too long!”
She’s right. At 139 minutes, the film is far too long for most three-year old children, and it might be too long in general. As much as I loved Mary Poppins as a child, a two hour and nineteen minute children’s musical probably could have stood a little more time in the editing room.
Authors often have a great deal to say. We try to restrain ourselves as much as possible, but it often requires the expertise of an agent and an editor to bring our stories down to a length that will maintain a reader’s interest. It’s not an easy process. My agent has chopped whole chapters out of my book. My editors has murdered my characters. Hours and hours of work and strings of carefully honed, treasured sentences lost forever.
But better to lose an entire chapter than to have a reader toss down the book and shout, “Too long!”
2. Conflict is king. Backstory and resolution are secondary.
With almost any television show that Clara watches, she exhibits the same pattern of interest:
As the conflict in the story rises, she remains riveted to the program. But as soon as the resolution is evident, even if it has not yet happened, her interest immediately wanes. She will walk right out of the room before the resolution even takes place if she can see it coming.
It’s a good lesson for authors to remember. It is conflict that engages the reader. Backstory and resolution are necessary, but these elements should occur within the context of the conflict as often as possible and should probably occupy the fewest number of pages as possible. Keep the tension high throughout the story and keep the conflict ever-present in the readers’ minds and you will hold their interest throughout.
3. Keep your promises to the reader.
Clara does not appreciate when a television show goes off-book or changes genres midstream. Her favorite show for a long time was The Wonder Pets. It’s a program about three preschool class pets who moonlight as superheroes, saving baby animals around the world who are in trouble.
But occasionally the writers of The Wonder Pets decide to step outside this proven formula. In one episode, The Wonder Pets save an alien who is trying to return to his planet. In another, two of The Wonder Pets must save the third from peril. One episode is essentially a clip show in which the baby animals that they have already saved return to thank The Wonder Pets for their help.
Clara hated these episodes. The alien episode scared the hell out of her. She fled the room saying, “Not this one! Not this one!” The other more experimental episodes never manage to keep her interest.
Clara is invested in The Wonder Pets because of the promise of baby animals being saved and returned to their parents by the three characters who she adores.
It’s a good lesson for authors who sometimes offer the reader one thing but then give them another. This can happen when authors fail to remain faithful to the genre in which they are writing, infusing their fantasy novel with a sudden splash of science fiction or bringing serious social commentary into what was supposed to be an escapist detective or romance story.
Authors make promises to readers and then must deliver on them because readers are not simply empty vessels awaiting for the author to impart whatever wisdom he or she deems worthy. Readers are discerning customers who need to be able to trust an author before investing time and money into a book. There are many reasons that readers purchase books, but it is rarely because they think the author is a wonderful person and whatever he or she has to say will be worthy. Most often, they buy books because of a promise made by the author. A promise of genre or character or plot or quality of the writing.
Authors must be sure to keep these promises or risk having their readers shout, “Not this one! Not this one!"
Director JJ Abrams has announced that there will be gay characters in future Star Wars films.
My first thought:
I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of bigoted, small minded, homophobic voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.
I love it when the news can ruin a bigot's day.
Charlie is starting to come around to Star Wars. His sister is not a fan (only because the boys at school love Star Wars), so he has assumed the same position out of blind loyalty. But he is beginning to crack.
- He likes R2-D2 a lot.
- We are constantly battling with our faux lightsabers.
- He recently saw a photograph of Chewbacca and asked me lots of questions about him.
Eventually we'll watch the films together and enjoy them.
Another thing that will sadly change in regards to Charlie and Star Wars (but hopefully not too soon): He doesn't call the movie Star Wars.
He calls it Star Whores. It's hilarious.
Out of curiosity, I looked to see if there is a movie called Star Whores.
Of course there is. Actually, it was the an adult sci-fi comedy pilot that never went beyond a pilot. The IMDB description of the show goes like this:
Follows the adventures of Commander Nymphette and her droid, Six-of-Niner, aboard the SS Deep Thruster.
Reading the IMDB page for this TV series is quite entertaining. I won't share all of the amusing tidbits found on the page except for these two:
- The producer of the film is listed as "Big Jim."
- Special effects on the film are credited to "Ken and his dad."
Strikes me as a tad informal.
For the record, I also have an IMDB page (which I rate as one of my greatest accomplishments ever). I'm listed as a writer for the film Unexpectedly, Milo, which is currently under development.
I'm hoping that someday soon, we will move past development and into production. And with people other than Big Jim and Ken and his dad.
The new Wonder Woman film is more than a year away, but a "trailer" was released last week showing the first glimpses of the film.
It got me thinking about Wonder Woman's invisible jet.
I hope the filmmakers abandon this ridiculous concept in this new iteration. While I certainly see the value of an invisible mode of transport, I cannot understand the value of an invisible jet that does not also make the passengers and their belongings invisible as well.
What is more noticeable?
A jet flying through the sky at 33,000 feet or a half-naked Amazonian princess with golden wrist band and a lasso flying by in an oddly seated position?
I have friends who didn't like the new Star Wars film. Despite admitting that there were moments of enjoyment while watching the movie, they nitpicked it to death after the fact and declared the whole thing a failure.
I think they're crazy.
I embraced my inner child (which is admittedly a sizable part of my interior) and adored every bit of the film. It made me feel like a boy again. It brought back memories of sitting in the carpeted aisle at The Stadium in Woonsocket, Rhode Island in 1977 and seeing Star Wars for the first time. My heart soared at the appearance of Han Solo. I felt absolute joy upon seeing the X-Wing fighters fly into battle for the first time. I experienced genuine heartbreak at moments that will go unmentioned here in case you haven't seen the film yet.
But I didn't try to argue with my friends about the greatness of the movie. I didn't attempt to convince them that they were wrong. I didn't defend my opinion in any way.
I'm always extra happy to discover that I love something that someone else cannot.
Never be embarrassed about the things that you love. If you adore the music of Justin Bieber, then the world is a little brighter for you than it is for me. If you think Taco Bell makes the best tacos in the world, then you have inexpensive, readily-available, world class food available at thousands of locations across America.
It's a wonderful feeling to know that you're living in a bigger, brighter, more beautiful world than the next person.
Mike Chasar of Poetry Magazine writes about the lost art of poetry memorization. While it’s true that the academic demand to memorize poetry has all but disappeared from the American school system, I’m happy to report that this dying art remains alive and well in tiny corners of the world, including several of my own.
I took a poetry class in college with the late, great poet and professor Hugh Ogden, and he required us to have a newly memorized poem “of substance” ready for each class.
“Of substance” meant that it had better not be four lines long.
We sat around a large, wooden table and recited our poems as our classmates listened on. Remarkably, Hugh had many of the poems that we recited committed to memory as well. He would close his eyes as we recited, almost as if he were listening to music and not the fumbling, occasionally inarticulate words of an nervous, undergraduate English major.
It was an incredibly difficult but incredibly rewarding expectation. I still have about half a dozen of those poems committed to memory, including Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” which I fell in love with through the process of memorization and still love today.
Later, when I had students of my own –third graders and then fifth graders – I would require them to memorize at least one poem “of substance” each year. My students would grumble and complain about the requirement, but once they had the poem memorized and performed it on stage, they were happy to have done so.
Today, my students perform Shakespeare, and they memorize dozens and sometimes hundreds of lines with nary a complaint. And we still memorize our one poem of the year, myself included, in honor of Hugh.
Years ago, in a time when Elysha and I still exchanged a present for every night of Hanukkah, I memorized Elysha’s favorite poem, William Blake’s “The Tyger” and presented it as one of my gifts to her. With the poem committed to memory, I told Elysha that she had access to it at any time as long as we were together, and I would always recite to her on demand.
She loved the gift, or at least pretended to love it. And I can still recite the poem today, as can she.
But my favorite moment of poetry memorization occurred about ten years ago when the teacher in the adjoining classroom began using the following call and response with his students:
Teacher: Oh Captain!
Students: My Captain!
I asked the teacher if he knew the Whitman poem that he was using – which I had memorize in college for Hugh and still have committed to memory to this day – and he did not. He had taken the idea from Dead Poet’s Society, the Robin William’s film about an English teacher at a boy’s boarding school in the 1960’s.
I thought this rather unfortunate, so the next time he was absent from his classroom, I handed a copy of the poem to each of his students and asked them to begin memorizing it in secret. I explained that I would pop into their classroom whenever he was out to help them memorize the poem and rehearse, and one day, when they all knew the poem by heart, they would leap to their feet in the midst of the call and response, and instead of simply saying, “My Captain!” they would proceed to recite the entire poem to him.
It finally happened on a morning in April. Since our classroom had an adjoining door and window, I was able to wait and listen for him to shout his first, “Oh Captain!” of the day. Then I watched as they all stood and recited the poem back to him. Shouted it back to him.
In my memory, their recitation was universal and flawless. I suspect the truth was something not quite so cinematic. Still, it was amazing.
Had I been more familiar with the film at the time, I would’ve had them all stand on their desks. That would’ve been cinematic.
My wife, Elysha, and I were eating dinner in a pizza joint with friends last night. My friend and I were quoting Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I have no idea why, but we were. “You chose… wisely,” I said, quoting the Grail Knight near the end of the film after Indy chooses the real Holy Grail.
No,” my wife said. “You have chosen… wisely.”
That’s right. My wife corrected my quoting of an Indiana Jones movie.
I have chosen wisely. I clearly married the greatest woman of all time.
As if that wasn’t enough, my wife then reaffirmed her assertion that if she were pregnant and in labor with our first child, and I was scheduled to play in the Super Bowl at that very same moment, she would expect me to play in the game and miss the birth of my child. ____________________________
To cap off the evening, another friend said, “Actually, I read something this week that I liked a lot… Oh, you wrote it!”
That’s right. My friend was about to quote me back to me. ____________________________
Maybe not the greatest night ever. My wedding night was pretty amazing, and there have been other nights equally memorable, but this one was pretty damn good.
For the second year in the row, Forbes has declared that Adam Sandler is the most overpaid actor in Hollywood for 2014.
This fact is often stated with derision.
Just for the record, my life goal is to be overpaid for my work. In a country where CEOs earn 33 times as much as the average worker and 774 times as much as minimum wage earners, I have no problem with anyone trying to be overpaid.
Good for you, Adam Sandler.
If you haven’t heard, Twin Peaks is returning to television. For me, it will be my first chance to watch the show. Though I was alive and well when the show first aired, I didn’t watch it because it fell between the years of 1992-1994.
My lost years. My cultural blind spot.
I’ve had many tough times in my life, but the period from 1992 through 1994 were probably my toughest. I was homeless for a period of about four months. This was followed by 18 months spent living in the home of Jehovah Witnesses, working two full time jobs – 18 hours a day, six days a week – in order to pay for my legal defense in a trial for a crime I did not commit. I was also the victim of an armed robbery during this time, which resulted years of post traumatic stress disorder.
As a result, for more two years, I watched no television, saw almost no movies, and listened to very little new music.
For at least two years, I was completely detached from popular culture.
The television, film, and music that I missed during that time was vast, but certain things are more prominent than others. Some cultural touchstones and ubiquitous references pop up more than others.
Things that I missed during that time are and have almost no knowledge of as a result of this culture gap include:
- Twin Peaks
- Northern Exposure (which I thought was the subtitle to Twin Peaks)
- Saved by the Bell
- The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
- The State
- Boy Meets World (though I doubt I would’ve watched this show anyway)
- Whoomp! (There It Is) and Whoot There It Is (and the fact that both songs were released and played on the radio at the same time)
- Reality Bites
- Glengarry Glen Ross
Some things, like NYPD Blue and The X Files debuted in these years but lasted long enough for me to catch up years later in syndication.
And I eventually watched many of the popular films released in those years and listened to the most popular songs, but when you don’t catch these things in their moment of greatest cultural relevance, they often fall a little flat.
On a recent trip to Indiana, I spent some time in Hammond, the hometown of Jean Shepherd, the writer and narrator of A Christmas Story. The person most responsible for planning my trip is a big fan of the movie.
Perhaps the biggest fan ever. This woman likes the movie a lot.
She took me to the Lake Country Visitor’s Center in Hammond, where there is an elaborate, animatronic display of the most famous scenes from the film, complete with a real life Santa Claus and a pile of fake snow for the kids.
The scenes are exceptionally well done. Incredibly detailed. Slightly surreal. A tiny bit creepy.
Jean Shepherd died in 1999 at the age of 78. He led an exceptionally successful life in radio, print, television, and on the stage.
Still, I’m saddened that he didn’t live long enough to see this annual homage to his movie.
Death is the worst.
As a writer and performer, I can only hope that one of my stories becomes beloved enough to live on in some small way like the people of Indiana have done for Shepherd’s film.
Either that or a Matthew Dicks action figure. That would be fine, too.