Songs for the Struggling Artist


Men Most Macho in the Theatre

When I saw Ray Liotta had died, I was shocked and saddened. I was a fan of his work and he seemed like a good human. In his honor, I listened to an interview he did with Marc Maron on the WTF podcast a few years ago and enjoyed learning more about him and his journey. It did make me think, though. And it did make me wish for change in the way we do show biz. Apparently, Liotta had no real interest in acting when the opportunity to do it presented itself to him. He got talked into auditioning for a show because of a cute girl and stuck around because a teacher encouraged him. Nothing too crazy there. I’ve definitely heard this sort of story before.

But it’s the reason that Liotta theorized that his teacher encouraged him that got me thinking. Liotta had always been a jock and, it sounds like, a fairly macho guy. His teacher responded to him because they didn’t get a lot of guy’s guys there in the college theatre department. He saw a kindred male spirit and a kind of rare bird that they needed on the stage. Liotta really wasn’t that keen on acting in the beginning but he got to play some very juicy roles at his university and it’s not just because he was good. I’m guessing Liotta’s college decided to do A Streetcar Named Desire because they had a guy who could play Stanley Kowalski. They did Taming of the Shrew probably because they had a guy who could do a macho Petruchio. Liotta got to learn how to act by doing some of the best roles in the canon and the college got to do some shows on its list. All very reasonable. Many a school will choose their season based on who they have in casting pool. I get it on all levels.

But it also troubles me – because while I’m glad we had Liotta’s talents to enjoy on the screen – the way the path was smoothed for him (when he gave not two figs for it at the start) and the way it is not smoothed for so many others, just doesn’t feel FAIR to me. The way the American Theatre (and Cinema) fetishizes macho men is disturbing, really. There are endless roles for them, despite the fact that the theatre is largely populated by women and gay men. “Fellas, is it gay to be into theatre?” Maybe a little bit! Yet in spite of the inherent queerness in the form, or maybe because of it, the macho man is embraced, encouraged and given pride of place over and over again.

The American Theatre is dominated by macho plays and macho actors. How many revivals of American Buffalo do we need? A lot, apparently. I loved True West the first time I saw it. And even the second and third time. Then there was that time I assistant directed a production of it at a college of 75% women. Enough’s enough. Anyway, Liotta wasn’t in the theatre for long – because this pipeline between the theatre and film was built for men like him. Macho men from the theatre get snapped up into film, which also has a high demand for men who could be mobsters and so someone who had no interest in acting at first could be swept up into one of the most prestigious careers around. And I’m glad that it happened to Ray Liotta because I’m happy we had him while he was here but I can’t help feeling sad for all the people who LOVED the theatre, who ate, slept and drank it, who would have done anything to have a shot and no one ever took them under their wing and helped them to a wide range of opportunities. No one ever chose a season based on their presence in the casting pool. No one saw them in a play and put them in a soap opera. No one ever saw them in a soap opera and put them in a prestige film. I hate looking at a class full of actors and knowing that the person most likely to find success will be the man most macho, no matter how much more talented or dedicated or passionate his peers might be.  Sorry, ladies, non-binaries and gays, the theatre is dependent on there being thousands like you but it will always choose the macho fella who doesn’t care about it first. The theatre loves a cool disinterested man who can help it grapple with masculinity, I guess. Anyway – RIP Ray Liotta, even if I am a little mad about how your success came to you. One day I’d love to hear a story about a woman who just didn’t care that much about theatre but some teacher just had to have her in the show anyway and she became a big big star.

I mean, I get it. I’d cast this guy too – even if he wasn’t Ray Liotta yet.

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The Macintosh in Tick, Tick…Boom!

In the first couple of minutes of the film, the character of famous theatre writer, Jonathan Larson, introduces us to the year (a pan shot of a Calvin and Hobbes calendar that reveals it is January 1990) and a lot of his stuff. He tells us about his two keyboards, his music collection and his Macintosh computer. My brain did a little record scratch of “Huh?” at this but I had a movie to watch so I watched it, occasionally squinting my eyes at his machine when he’d type a single word on that computer, throughout the film. Then I went to bed. And I started thinking about the Macintosh computer. I thought about how odd it was for a struggling musical theatre writer to own a computer at all in 1990 and how extra odd it would be if he had one that was new like that. I mean, I didn’t know the exact dates, but I knew most people didn’t start really getting these things for another couple of years.

So this computer in his apartment in 1990 could only mean two things. One – Jonathan Larson was also a computer nerd, in addition to being a musical theatre nerd. And in 1990, this was just highly unlikely. Like, it’s like a computer nerd and musical theatre nerd could not have been the same person. They might meet at a party and make out but those two circles of being were probably closed at that time. I knew both of those types of people then and they were not the same. You could find one now, no problem. But in 1990? No way. So – given that this musical theatre nerd was not likely to also be a computer nerd, the only other reason a man who cannot afford to pay his electric bill would have a fancy new computer was that his parents bought it for him. This would mean that his parents had some cash to burn and the other evidence for the privilege his family must have returned to me as I went over some facts I learned from the film. His family lived in White Plains (a wealthy suburb of NYC) and they have a summer place on Rhode Island. This would mean that this composer cannot pay his electric bill, not because he has no access to money but because, very likely, mostly others had taken care of those things for him before. (Again, there is evidence for this in the film when it is suggested that his friend and former roommate, who had only recently moved out, used to take care of these things.) Suddenly a story about a struggling artist becomes the story of a man with a certain amount of privilege, carelessness and entitlement. I have a feeling this is not the myth the filmmakers wanted to make.

Anyway – the next morning I looked up when the Mac Classic came out because the (two second long) shots of it made me think it was like the computer in the 90s I knew best. I wanted to find out how weird a choice it would be for a musical theatre guy to get a Mac and when I saw that the Mac Classic came out in October of 1990, when the movie takes place in January of 1990, well, now I had a THIRD explanation for how Jonathan Larson, a musical theatre writer, had a Macintosh computer in his struggling artist apartment so many months before they came out. He’s a time traveler. He went to the future, not super far, just far enough to pick up one of the first Macs and brought it back to his present moment in January 1990. I’m sure he could have probably done some more useful stuff than picking up a computer a year before other people got them – but that’s like, a whole other movie.

I sort of liked this explanation best, fantasist that I am, but then I looked at the film again to grab a little screen shot of the computer and it turns out the model in the film is NOT the Mac Classic but the earlier, more expensive model, the Macintosh Plus. So at least it’s clear that this character is not a time traveler. (Alas!) But now I know that someone spent $2,599 on this computer in 1990 or before. And that’s almost six grand in today dollars. This becomes an even more unlikely item for a struggling composer to have in his apartment.

What is he using it for? Ain’t no internet on that thing. He’s not emailing his agent from it. He COULD be using FINALE, the music software, which was invented in 1988, but if so, he’s a really early adopter. Like – is a waiter at a diner likely to be using cutting edge software to write his rock musical? In 1990? I’m gonna guess no.

I know what those 90s Macs were like. It’s not a thing you want to write a song on. Not in the early 90s anyway. I can say that as a person who was starting to write songs at about the same time as I got my hands on a Mac. You can check my floppy discs; I didn’t do my songwriting on the Mac.

Based on the screens on the Mac in the film, he’s not using any kind of music software. He’s using that Mac as a word processor. Just like I did at the time. He’s using it to type “Your” and “You’re.” This movie did not need a computer of any kind. Pen and paper would have done the same job.

I’m trying like hell to understand why this Mac is in this movie. Like, was this in Larson’s original show? Did HE want us to know he had a Macintosh in 1990? If so, why? Well, I looked at the script for the 2001 version of this thing (This is the version that’s available to the public. It’s adapted by another playwright.) and there’s no mention of the Macintosh. It’s possible that in earlier editions that the screenwriter had access to, Larson mentioned his computer but I think it’s most likely that the screenwriter made this call. The screenwriter (Steven Levenson, writer of Dear Evan Hanson) was born the same year as the Macintosh, 1984. He has never known a Mac-less world. Perhaps he cannot imagine a world where someone could write a musical without one. So maybe he’s added this Macintosh without realizing. It’s understandable. It’s just a mistake then. That gave me a kind of peace.

I thought I’d hit the bottom of this rabbit hole and just found a mistake but then I happened to see some production research for Larson’s apartment and there is a photo of Larson’s actual desk from the 90s. There IS a computer on that desk. It’s not a Macintosh Plus, though. It’s not even clear that it’s a Mac. But the actual person had a computer. It was not just added by a young contemporary screenwriter who hadn’t done historical research.

Screenshot of the Macintosh Plus which occupied my thoughts more than, perhaps, it should.

Emily, you seem really worked up about this tiny detail in a sweet little movie about a fellow struggling artist theatre guy. What’s your problem? Are you trying to get a job as an historian for films or something?

Meanwhile, I know there are several among you who would like to know my thoughts about this film. I would like to know my thoughts about this film but all I can focus on is that Macintosh and why they thought they needed it. Did Lin Manuel Miranda get a Mac as a young theatre dude and he wrote his stuff on it, so it’s like, meaningful for him in tying his own legacy to the legacy of Jonathan Larson? I’m making stuff up here because that little Mac is just sitting in the middle of this whole experience for me.

Did this movie give me some feelings I might be just funneling into this silly prop and I’m making a big deal of nothing? Possibly. Maybe I’m just reeling from some nostalgia for the period? Could be. But I also think that details like this ARE important because of all the side stories they tell that we, as storytellers, might not be aware that we are telling. Others might have seen a loving tribute of a bio pic musical. I saw a confusing movie about a Macintosh.

Oh why do I care about this? I guess I know something about being a struggling theatre artist. I’ve done it a long ass time. The lesson he learns in the movie is that he should write what he knows and the stuff he knows, I know, too. Having watched the rise and fall of many struggling theatre artists, my eye is pretty finely focused for spotting the secret advantage someone has. The reality is that this guy is not doing nearly as badly as this movie would like us to believe. Sure, he forgets to pay his electric bill but he clearly has a financial safety net, he has the phone numbers for fancy famous people and they take his calls. He has an agent, two keyboards, a mixer, a microphone and, I’m sure you haven’t forgotten, a Macintosh computer. The actual person has, at the point that this play takes place, won an extremely prestigious award, though the film NEVER mentions it. For a 29 year old, he’s actually doing amazing. Like, really super well. The film wants to make us think it’s a super sad struggling difficult life and from this struggling artist’s perspective, his “terrible life” is actually as good as it gets for some folks. To see a film romanticizing the struggle, made by a bunch of guys who are multi-millionaires, is just a little hard to swallow when their vision of the hard life is way better than my actual life.

I mean, sure, I currently have a Macintosh computer, too. It’s nicer than any computer Larson ever had his hands on – but that’s because technology gets cheaper and better as time goes by. A Macintosh in 2022 means something very different than it did in 1990.

We now live in a world where a computer is a necessity to do most any job but particularly any job in freelancing arts. In Larson’s time, it was still a rarity. You might find one in a family’s house, with parents trying to give their kids a leg up in the coming computer age. But struggling artists would mostly have had other priorities then.

I’m still confused by the discrepancy in the computer from the research photo and the set they came up with. I watched a video interview with the set design team and I gotta tell you, these folks cared about the details. They got the sag in the bookshelf. They searched for just the right model of Yamaha keyboard. Why would the computer be any different? I mean – these people got their hands on Larson’s cassette tapes and they didn’t put the actual tapes on the set, no, they scanned the covers so they wouldn’t lose, or damage, his originals. They cared about getting his exact copy of Led Zeppelin IV.

And maybe this is part of what gets under my skin about all this. Like, we all had that Led Zeppelin tape in 1990. I’m pretty sure I still have mine in a box in my mom’s house somewhere. To watch a dude, who is basically like a lot of people I know, get canonized like this is super disconcerting. I have known many musical theatre writers more skilled than this guy who will never have their tapes lovingly scanned by a set decoration team. Nor would they like to, really – they’d just like to have gotten even a hint of some of the opportunities that Larson got, or to have started out with some of his privileges. Obviously, this Macintosh in the movie is standing in for more than just a computer. I know it. You know it. But I really do want to know what it’s doing there.

I was sent the booklet with this page in it. Little did I know, this piece about the production design would lead me further down the Mac rabbit hole. I mean, look at that research photo. If it’s a Mac, it’s one of the few models that didn’t look like a Mac.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Context Is Everything: A Gen X Look at The Lost Daughter

There’s a little bit of a conversation happening in feminist circles around the movie The Lost Daughter, written and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal. I felt it was my duty, as a feminist on the internet, to watch it. I didn’t really think I’d have anything to SAY about it necessarily but I like to be informed and it turns out I do have something to say. Funnily enough my thoughts are probably more Gen X related than feminist related, though. I suppose at its heart it’s Gen X feminism that’s gotten under my skin.

The movie takes place in the more or less contemporary moment (though not precisely, as it is a covid-less world) and Olivia Coleman plays a 48 year old woman. When the movie flashes back to her twenty something self, it is to about twenty years ago, though it has a vague sense of being in the 90s. The character wears foam earphones, like back in the day. The song she tells us she loves is the Gen X anthem of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” The context of the film says, “This is a Gen X woman.” But very little of this makes sense. Like, I guess a Gen X English woman could go crazy for “Livin’ on a Prayer” but it’s odd. It would mean something in real life. I don’t know what it would mean exactly but whatever it means doesn’t add up to the person in the movie.

Look, I, like the character, am also 48 so I may be overly tuned in to the specifics of this woman who is meant to be my age – but I would be awfully surprised to meet a woman my age who grew up in Leeds, became a passionate and respected academic translator of English poetry into Italian AND her favorite song was “Livin’ on a Prayer.” I’d need a whole movie to explain how that could be. Honestly.

Also – one of the central events of the movie  is just so weird and out of generational character that it would need another movie’s worth of explanation to make it make sense. In the movie we learn that Coleman’s character has two daughters in their mid to late 20s – which means she had them in her early 20s. This would be extremely unusual for a highly educated ambitious Gen X woman. Certainly there are Gen X women who had their kids young, no doubt. But it is incredibly rare in a character like this one. Most Gen X academic nerds would wait years to have their kids. And to have TWO kids so young? Again, as an ambitious academic? One, I can buy. That’s a mistake, probably. Two, seems crazy. Like, I need an explanation for it, or I’m going to spend the whole movie confused. Which I did.

Anyway – (and this is a spoiler so skip ahead to the * towards the end if you want to be surprised)

SPOILER FOLLOWS:

 

– when her kids are five and seven she leaves them, whole cloth, never to be seen again until three years later. The movie tries to make this understandable but it’s just – weird.

As my Gen X friend, with whom I discussed this, said, “There WAS child care in the 90s.”

Like – leaving their kids is just not something I’ve ever heard of anyone doing.  Tempted? Sure. Kids’ll make you crazy, I’m given to understand – But to just leave? When divorce, joint custody, childcare and blended families are all options that are on the table? She leaves her family for a rewarding sexy professional life. Seems like a nice life she’s leaving them for but the choice is super weird. Gen X moms know how to work it out. We grew up with working moms. The work/life question really isn’t this giant a conflict for Gen X moms. It still sucks. Don’t get me wrong. But it’s not so extreme that leaving for years at a time makes any sense. Our conflicts in this arena are much more subtle, more nuanced. We didn’t have to flee the people we love to have a life of the mind.

The thing that seems important to recognize is that this film is based on a book by Elena Ferrante – who writes about the specifics of Neapolitan women in earlier eras with razor sharp analysis. I haven’t read The Lost Daughter – but I’ve read her Neapolitan quadrilogy, with which it would seem to have a lot in common. I’d imagine they are set in similar time periods. I assume, from the structure of this film, that the book takes places decades ago. I know from the articles about it that it is concerned with both the mom character’s Neapolitan background and the bits of that she shares with her fellow tourists in the group. I assume that the main character, Leda, is of an entirely different generation. I can probably even guess which one. Based on the choices she makes and the desperation she feels and how limited her scope is – I’d say she’s a contemporary of Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton. These are women so backed into corners they feel they have no other choice but to stick their heads in the oven or permanently walk out the door.

These choices are perfectly readable in a time of extreme oppression. And I’m delighted to realize that the 90s were not a time of extreme oppression. Gen X women did actually have choices in the 90s. If we wanted to study Italian poetry, we did it. It’s not that extreme, actually. So this character just seems like she has a need for some medication and a good therapist, at the very least. This story, as told in the film, makes no sense. But – if I just sort of overlay the events on to say, the 1950s or early 1960s– with a bunch of Neapolitan roughs – it all falls into place. Context is everything.

Let’s do some math. Let’s assume this film is set in this current moment. So – this character is my age, right? Which means she probably graduated from college in 1995. Her eldest child is 25 – so she had her two years after she finished undergrad so that’s 1997. The character is a serious academic so she must have gone on to get a masters, probably a PhD. Did she get pregnant while she was in grad school? Probably. Unless she’s supposed to be in grad school at the point when we first meet her? And that old guy is her advisor? I don’t think so – because a well regarded scholar wouldn’t be citing the work of a grad student. She’s published somewhere. She had her two kids somewhere in the middle of getting a PhD and getting published. I’m not saying that’s not possible – but it is pretty unlikely in the late 90s. At the point when we meet this character, her kids are 5 and 7 which means it’s around 2002.

This Gen X mom abandoned her kids in 2002. It’s not 1957. It’s 2002. There WAS childcare in 2002. Again, not great childcare- but childcare. Also, there were cell phones. I got one in 2002 and I was very late to the party. AND – as my friend pointed out there was feminism. There was serious feminism. I’m sorry but you couldn’t be a serious scholar in this era without some encounter with feminism. It’s a whole field of scholarship and no Comparative Literature scholar could get through academia without a serious grounding in it. I’m not saying every academic in this era was a feminist but to not have any relationship to those issues at all in this era? Sorry. No way. You’re either in the game or you’re Camille Paglia and no one’s going around just translating a bunch of male poets in 2002 with no awareness of what feminist scholarship would have to say about it.

But set in the right context – in, say, an era that had problems “that had no name,” like what Betty Friedan was talking about, and when second wave feminism was really just strapping on its boots, sure – it all would make total sense. We would, in fact, root for a character to get out in that context. This character would be a singular person up against the tide of her culture and her time and we would have her back.

I mean – the thing is, both feminism and childcare had been around for decades by the time this character leaves her kids. A lot of Gen X kids were raised on both of those things. Many of our mothers were feminists. Many of them were working mothers who sent us to daycare. Our parents got divorces when things didn’t work out. And it was fine. Not a big deal. But this film somehow lives in a world where there are neither Gen X feminists nor Baby Boomer feminists or Millennial or Zoomer feminists for that matter. This is probably because it’s based on a book that takes place so long before.

Do Gen X moms fantasize about leaving their families and disappearing for awhile? I’m sure they do but fantasizing is very different than doing – and the choice to chuck it all, just generationally, doesn’t make sense. I feel like a lot of Gen X moms waited to have kids so we wouldn’t feel the need to abandon them.

 

*SPOILERS COMPLETE

Is the film well done? It is actually. The performances are excellent; Coleman is always amazing and Gyllenhaal has done extraordinary work. I loved how the eroticism of the character’s work was palpable and exciting. There’s an artful quality to it all – but it’s just weird. And not in a good way.

As Nylah Burton said, in Bitch Magazine,

“We need more messy female characters, but “messy female character” does not have to mean illegible female characters. Sometimes the two are mixed up. Confusing the audience about who a character is at their core doesn’t endear us to them or make them feminist heroes;”

Making Coleman’s character specifically Gen X makes things that would have been legible, absolutely opaque. The good news is that this movie makes me see some incredible progress that has been made over the years – that Gen X women are actually more together than I’d have thought.  

I feel like you could MAKE it make sense – with another few hours of story and context and explanation. Just the way I’d need another movie to figure out how a working class Gen X academic woman from Leeds ended up a big fan of Bon Jovi, I need another movie to make this movie make sense. It might be an interesting story but it would take a long time to explain.

I mean, this is a pretty Gen X look. I can’t argue on that point.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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The Time Machine of Music

Music can be a time machine. Play Duran Duran’s “Rio” and I am instantly transported to a carpeted spot in front of the Barbie doll mansion I’d created in my closet in the mid 80s. Put on Primus’ “Nature Boy” and I’m in a cargo van in 1997 with several Shakespeare dudes who are wildly flinging themselves around, while the Shakespeare dude driver nods his head in time. I did not like this song at the time but now I do, not just because I’m angrier these days, but because of how quickly it can return me to the past.

Music can evoke a time and place more directly and precisely than just about anything. (Smell can be a direct line to the past. It’s maybe more immediate but, it’s also often less specific about time.) Music is an incredibly powerful tool – which is why I’m entirely flabbergasted at a trend I’m noticing on television. Why would you use music from a different era than the one you’re trying to evoke?

The otherwise delightful Pursuit of Love mini-series used 80s and 90s tunes throughout, despite the fact that this show takes place in the 30s and 40s. I enjoyed hearing that Joan Armatrading song after so many years but I couldn’t tell you what happened in the show during it as I was pulled into the late 80s for its duration. (It’s from 1977 but it was much later that I discovered it.)

Then there’s the show that got me all fired up about this. 45 Revoluciones or 45 rpm. It’s a Spanish show (surprise!) about a pop music business in 1962. I enjoy a lot of things about it, like the way the woman music producer and her assistant deal with some overt sexism from her tech crew or the way it models a male boss fighting for his female “mano derecho.” But…the music is a disaster. The pop star’s hit song, the one we hear over and over again, is not a song from 1962, nor is it a contemporary song written to sound like it’s from 1962. It is, instead a song from 2012 that went to number one in 24 countries. It is a hit song from 7 years before this show was aired and 50 years after the show is meant to take place. Where exactly do they want to take us in that music time machine?

I hate this song choice so hard. I think they’re trying to say “This artist is so ahead of his time he sings songs from the future!” Or they’re trying to connect contemporary music listeners with this period drama? Or they’re trying to evoke some kind of blend of time periods? I don’t know. But the story of the show is a singer who nobody’s seen the likes of before playing fresh new music that blows everyone’s minds. Then to represent him, the creators choose some of the most middle of the road music from the last couple of decades. “Let her go” may have gone number one around the world (Number 3 in Spain) but it is a song so banal that I only recognized it from hearing it in the grocery store on occasion and found it entirely unremarkable. No disrespect to lovers of this song but it does not represent a stunning innovation in pop music.

Similarly, Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” which also makes an appearance on this fictional Spanish rock star’s album from 1962 is not a pop revolution in any way. Lady Gaga is glorious but she’s not out here busting up pop norms. She IS pop norms, albeit with wild costume and style innovations.

As I continued to watch 45 rpm, it got even more ridiculous with its music, careening wildly through time, moving from “Total Eclipse of the Heart” to “Shiny Happy People.” I shouted at the screen more than once.

I’ve learned that this show had the lowest viewer ratings EVER on that channel – and I don’t know if the music was what tanked it but I feel pretty confident it didn’t help.

Here’s the thing. All of that music featured in the show must have been VERY EXPENSIVE. With the money they spent to clear several worldwide hit songs, they could have hired multiple songwriters and composers who could have written them songs that evoked the period and ALSO felt a little modern. They could have had a soundtrack of new and exciting music that might have been a hit and might have drawn people to their show. Look at “That Thing You Do” which is a movie about a hit song from a similar period. The title song that Adam Schlesinger wrote for it became a hit and was nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Oscar. Hit movie. Hit song. Could have been you, 45 Revoluciones!

Or alternatively, they could have used actual music from 1962. They name checked Los Pekenikes – which is such a great band name, I had to look them up and listen to them and apparently, a band called Los Brincos was an inspiration for the story. They’re really fun to listen to! Is there some belief that the youth won’t respond to old music? I’d like to direct you to the soundtrack of Stand By Me (which I played relentlessly as a teen) which came out in the mid 80s and was filled with mostly old 50s tunes. Because of that film, the title song (from 1961) made another journey to the top ten in 1986. All that music placed that film firmly in its period and it was a giant hit. It’s happened before that contemporary youth get super into music of the past.

But maybe the youth of today are different from the youth of yesteryear and somehow can only tolerate banal contemporary pop? Somehow I don’t think so. I do think they’re being fed an unusually dull music diet, though. There is a flattening of sound, of genre, of time that has been happening over the last 20 years and it can’t be good for us. As Jaron Lanier has pointed out, there hasn’t been an innovation in pop music since Hip Hop and Grunge  – several decades ago. Can you distinguish the sound of something from the first decade of this century from this last decade? I sure can’t. It has a timelessness in its consistency and conformity. This is weird, folks. Can you imagine not being able to distinguish music from the 70s from music of the 60s? Or the 40s from the 50s? There’s a little crossover, sure, but you can make a kind of generalization about pop sound decade by decade until you get to this century. I suspect that one of the reasons this weird time bleed is happening on TV has to do with that strange sameiness of music: Who cares when music is from, when you have no way to tell any of it apart?

I start to wonder if this is connected to the conglomeration of the music business. There are currently really only three music companies. Warner, Sony and Universal own pretty much everything. Things like the Grammys are company celebrations of those three corporations. With a distinct lack of diversity in the business end, is it any wonder the music has had all its edges smoothed over? (The same thing is happening in publishing, btw. There are three major players who just eat up the little guys.) I suspect all this leads to an ahistorical music business which bleeds into an ahistorical film and TV business and now we have TV shows where the music time machine takes us to all the wrong places. You set it for 1962 and half of you ends up in 2012. That is a problematic time machine.

And it may extend beyond just the music in the shows. 45 Revoluciones, which, I’ll remind you, is set in 1962, made casual references to both The Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the dialogue. Now – I was not yet born in 1962 but even I know that neither of these bands was a worldwide sensation yet in 1962. You know how long it took me to confirm that fact? Less than a minute. I didn’t even have to go to the library. The Rolling Stones hadn’t even heard of the Rolling Stones until July of 1962 so there’s just no way a Spanish rocker would be excited to open for a band that did not yet even have a single recorded. (This sort of error, btw, is a great example of why it’s important to have age diversity on a team. I cannot believe NO ONE on this show flagged this highly irritating detail.)

I think being cavalier about music’s role in time is a huge mistake. It’s a mistake for broken time machine purposes in that you might take your audience to a different place than you were aiming and it’s also a huge mistake in making it harder for all the other elements in a scene to establish the era. The costumes can’t do all the work. Neither can the props or the production design.

If you want to pull the audience in two directions time-wise, okay, but if you choose only really popular songs, then your audience will inevitably have prior associations with that music. The odds that something bad has happened while listening to that song for any of the millions of people who have heard it many times before are very strong. Just…you know – triggering someone’s memories of their assault is one reason why you might not want to use super popular songs in your TV show. Hire a composer! The average song on Spotify has 8 listens. Maybe use one of those?

I don’t mean to pick on 45 rpm – everyone is doing this dumb music flattening – but there’s something particularly ironic about a show that has the word revolution in its title that shows us music neither historical nor revolutionary. The show takes place in a moment in Spain where pop music was creating some interesting cracks in the regime of the fascist dictator. The show gives us glimpses of what the collision of rock n roll and Franco’s Spain was like. It shows us the big dilemma of being obliged to sell out to a dictator and how people resisted, either directly or covertly. (Ironically, this show has literally sold out to an entirely different sort of regime by virtue of the flagrant Coca Cola product placement.)  The regime creates real problems in the lives of artists and record execs alike. Apparently, instrumental music, as well as music in French and English, escaped the censors in those early years or rock n roll just because the regime didn’t take any of it seriously. I’ve been listening to the actual music from that era in Spain and sure, it doesn’t sound revolutionary now, because we’ve had 50+ years with things that sound like it.

But since no one’s invented a new genre in decades, since we can’t experience a current music revolution, why can’t we take a trip in a musical time machine and discover, at least, what a revolution sounded like in the past? When The Rite of Spring was first performed, it was so new, so revolutionary, people rioted. We’ve lived in a world with that music in it for over a century, so it’s not a revolution for us, but if you make a show set in the early 20th century about modernism and you don’t use The Rite of Spring, you better play us something that sounds like a modern riot. Maybe you’ll even find us our modern Stravinsky. But why not take us on a trip in your music time machine? It’s a mellifluous way to travel.

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I reference a lot of music in this post so I made a playlist of it so if you’re curious to hear any of it, it’s here.

Concert à la vapeur by J. J. Granville
It’s not technically a time machine but wouldn’t it be cool if it was?

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Should I Quit Acting Because of X?
May 23, 2021, 11:53 pm
Filed under: Acting, advice, art, business, movies, musicals, Quitting, theatre | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Since joining the acting subreddit, I’ve been seeing a lot of posts with a similar theme. They boil down to, “Will X prevent me from having an acting career?” or maybe more accurately, “I’m X or have X or did X. Should I quit acting?” In this equation, let X be a quality or physical attribute or life history.

I have such complicated feelings about these posts, mostly from young actors looking ahead at a possible professional life in acting. Because on one hand, yes. You should absolutely quit acting and do something else if that’s an option for you. Absolutely you should, if you’re looking for conventional success, run in the opposite direction of an actor’s life. No question.

But on the other hand, the reason to quit is not whatever you’re imagining. You shouldn’t quit because of your science degree or your scars or your background. It won’t be THOSE things that are obstacles to having an acting career. The obstacles to an acting career are everything. Everything is the problem. The problem is not whatever flaw you perceive yourself as having (or whatever some asshole teacher might have said to you). The problem is that it is a very hard business that almost everyone struggles in, in one way or another. The obstacles to an acting career are being born to non-celebrities or not having access to a generous trust fund. The obstacles are a lopsided system that values money and connections more than talent. The obstacles are a commercially driven capitalistic theatre scene that is not accountable to the public in any way but the question of whether or not they will buy tickets.

One thing I did not understand as a young actor is what an ongoing hustle working in the theatre would be. I imagined that I would get one acting gig and it would lead to another and that would lead to the next and so on until I ended up on Broadway. And once I was on Broadway, that would be it! I would have made it and I would be on Broadway until I died.

I think the moment I fully understood this wasn’t so was when my friend (and acting colleague) closed her show on Broadway, the one featuring several movie stars, and the next day went back to her catering gig. It’s possible there were a few actors in that show who went straight to another acting gig. There may have even been one or two that were slated for another show on Broadway. But for most of them, they closed the show and then went home to hustle up the next job. Possibly even the movie stars had to do this. (Though they surely had a lot more help from their agents and their next job wasn’t food service.)

Any acting career is a cycle of working and not working and an acting career is full of dumb reasons for not getting a gig. Mostly, you will never know. Sure – you could lose a gig because of your hair. But you could also GET a gig because of your hair. You cannot know. And while casting directors or agents may tell you some opinion about your appearance or your background, it’s not actually the casting director or agent who gives you the job. They are gatekeepers. And they are not always right about what the people inside the gates actually want. They might tell you a person with glasses like yours will never be cast but then you meet the director and the glasses spark their imagination and you get a call back because you were that interesting one with the glasses. So much of casting talk is about making people more average, more like the conventional but in my experience of running auditions, I have much more often cast people because they were fully themselves or quirky in a way that captivated my attention. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Sure, there are those who have no imagination and just cast the person like the last person who played Juliet so they’ll fit in the costume from ten years ago. That’s a thing, sure. But the artists out there, the visionary directors and writers, are looking for something more. After a full day of looking at people who all look the same, you, with your X walk in and maybe you change the view.


On the subreddit, it feels important to be optimistic and supportive of these young people’s dreams and just answer the question they asked. Should they quit because of their appearance? No. Absolutely not. They should quit because it’s a heartbreaking business but not because of whatever their imagined obstacle is. Is it possible that their obstacle, their X, will make it even harder? Very possible. But, I know some people with all the advantages. They are Adonis-looking white dudes who have talent to burn and no obvious obstacle, who gave the business their all for decades and are hustling now just like they were at the start. There is no guarantee. Not even for the children of movie stars, who generally have the most legs up of anyone.

Should you quit if you’re not the child of a movie star? If you’re looking for security, then, yes, you should quit.

But will you? That’s the question. If you’re tenacious and determined, no cold water of reality will stop you – and that is what you really need in this business. Not the “right” hairstyle or the “right” body or the “right” background but just some talent and ability to keep showing up and giving it a go. But still – I will only say these things here. In conversation with these young aspirants, I will only give them all the examples of people who had “X” and did it anyway. This is partly because I feel that whatever X represents, it is always something we need more of in theatre. We need more people with X, whatever it is, because they don’t see that represented onstage or onscreen and think they would not be chosen because of that. That’s a sign that we’re failing in representing the diversity of humanity well. So, if that person – with X – can ride the roller coaster of life in the arts, then they should not quit. They should get in here and make things better. Are there possibly fewer opportunities for them? Yeah. Possibly. But there are few opportunities period. Get on in and ride the roller coaster and don’t let X stop you.

Each generation re-makes the business. Your colleagues now can, and will probably, be your colleagues later. If you all have X and you want to get together and make an X movie or an X play, that’s good work! No one with X will worry about X in the future because you kicked open the X door for yourself and made room for those with X behind you. That’s what I want you to do, instead of quitting.

Someone told these actors they should quit because of those Xs. That someone is very silly.

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WTF with Jake Gyllenhaal

Granted, I’m a little wound up. Theatre’s been on (really stinky) mothballs for a year and I’m really tired of my tiny apartment. So. Forgive me if this response to a little podcast episode I listened to is a little overblown. But – WTF! Actually the name of the podcast is WTF and that is also literally how I felt after listening to the episode with Jake Gyllenhaal.

It’s not Gyllenhaal’s fault – or Maron’s fault. (Marc Maron is the host. It’s his podcast.) It’s just that their talk about theatre made me feel a lot of things and most of them weren’t good.

First, a couple of people who spend most of their time in the Film and TV worlds waxing rhapsodic about theatre is always a little triggering. Like – Yes. You’re right. There is magic in a theatre with an audience. It is the greatest. Damn it. Ouch. Now go back to making your money.

Second, and this is the bit that is getting me all itchy and twisted, Gyllenhaal was describing how the show Sea Wall/A Life came about – and on one hand, it is a super sweet story about how a collaboration became a show that a lot of people really liked. (I did not see it.) On the other hand, it is an infuriating journey through the fame-hungry annals of American theatre. I mean. Listen, Gyllenhaal is a movie star. I like a lot of things he’s done. I got no beef with him. He seems nice and he’s fun to look at on a screen. It’s charming that people fall asleep next to him on the subway.

But lord have mercy. This movie star loved a little personal piece by a writer he worked with and wanted to perform it, even though it was not written to be performed. But the movie star wanted to do it so he eventually persuaded the writer to let him do it and that writer was buddies with another writer who also had a short monologue that wasn’t really for the stage and so they put the two pieces together and voila! Play! Which – you know – cool! That’s cool. Put on whatever you want!

But. Then there’s the part where the movie star gets a year’s worth of development of this piece at the Public Theater. He got to fuck around for a YEAR at the Public, with all its resources at his disposal, discovering what this piece could be.

And FLAMES. FLAMES on the side of my face!

Why, Emily? Do you not WANT to go see Jake Gyllenhaal on the stage? I mean, I’d go if someone gave me a ticket. I can’t afford those prices! But that’s not it. I don’t object to a movie star getting to put on a play. I don’t object to him taking all the time he needs to make something he loves. But what I DO object to are our non-profit institutions giving time and space to movie stars when there are so many worthy, unsupported theatre folk out there who would take a year residency at the Public and absolutely murder it. I know that’s not how the Pubic works. I know that it will give space to celebrities because they’ll bring in audiences later and it’s all very logical.

But it does rather feel like if a movie star read a cereal box that they thought might be a fun show, the Public would give over all its resources so we could all see the story of Honey Nut Cheerios or whatever. Maybe we got lucky and Jake Gyllenhaal’s buddy’s piece was really the best thing seen on a stage and so yay! (Again, I don’t know. I did not see Sea Wall/A Life.) But it is indicative of how stuff goes on. Or went on. I don’t know what sort of theatre we’ll get back when we get back.

I don’t expect the Public to let me come develop a show there. It’s not about me. (Though, give me space in a major institution with their resources behind me and watch the fuck out!) But what it IS about are all the resources that artists need to be able to get a leg up in this theatre world being given over to celebrities and corporate interests and more and more narrow pipelines. The Public wants to be seen as an inclusive diverse bastion of creativity – but when it comes down to it, their choicest reserves are for a group of a white movie star guys. Also, the guy who runs the place is a white guy whose compensation adds up to a million dollars a year. He gets paid that money to give space to movie stars.

And it’s not even about the Public. Any theatre in the country would have given Jake Gyllenhaal space to develop his little idea. But anyone who’s not a movie star will probably have to go to Yale Drama School first and even then no one will give them a year to develop something.

And listen – I know Gyllenhaal is not unaware of his privilege. He knows theatre is elitist. He explains that that’s why he became a Broadway producer and produced Jeremy O Harris’ Slave Play. And that is a good thing. It is good to see a play by a Black playwright featuring Black people on Broadway. And congrats to Yale grad, Jeremy O Harris for breaking a barrier. But this barrier breaking play took a Yale grad AND a movie star to get there. Also – I was struck by the fact that in the WTF conversation about elitism on Broadway, the extremely unaffordable ticket prices never came up.

Anyway – whatever. It’s fine. It’s really just a silly little reaction to a podcast I listened to and then couldn’t stop thinking about and feeling things about. There might not even be any theatre when this is all over. There’s no reason to get all worked up right now.

But after listening to that podcast, I worry it’s going to be JUST movie stars in our theatre from here on out. They’ll be the only ones who can afford to do it at a certain point. And all the theatres will line up to give them space.

Usually WTF stands for What the F**k and it does here, too – but maybe also Well, Theatre’s F**ked

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Snot Acting
January 13, 2021, 12:40 am
Filed under: Acting, art, Creative Process, movies, theatre, TV | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’m going to talk about snot today. I’ve been trying to formulate thoughts about this abhorrent coup attempt that just happened but snot is a lot less disgusting so I’m going with snot right now.

Why am I writing about snot? Well, I was reading an article about the best movie performances of 2020 and they were talking about Viola Davis’ work and said, “Davis has never been hampered by vanity, as past scenes of snot-dripping emotion attest.”

I have thoughts. Not about Viola Davis. (Aside from she’s amazing and we’re lucky to have her and she came from the stage so, also, we miss her.) I have thoughts about these kudos for snot acting.

Here’s the thing about snot pouring down an actor’s face when they’re crying. It is NOT a lack of vanity on an actor’s part. It is bait for awards. Because of responses like that article. It is, in fact, a kind of showmanship – an expression of pride in one’s ability to cry real tears and snot real snot. One might call that a sort of skill-based vanity. Or maybe it’s just something encouraged by those watching.

Anyway – the reason I am not impressed by it is that I have seen people cry in real life and have also cried myself, believe it or not, and real people generally do not let snot stream down their faces when they cry. Children do, up to a point – but grown-ass adults will almost never just sit somewhere with snot on their faces for minutes at a time. Likewise, most people watching someone cry are unlikely to just sit there watching snot drip all over their face without handing them a kleenex or a handkerchief.

To snot is human but only an actor will leave it there on their face as a sort of trophy of their tears. Most of us wipe away snot and tears when we cry. Not because we are vain or even ashamed but because….we just do!

Why do I care what those screen actors do to earn their awards? I don’t know. I suppose I chafe a little at the way actors on screen are praised for realism when things like snot acting are not, in fact, human behavior. It is a choice. Maybe it’s the actor’s choice, maybe it’s the director’s, maybe it’s the awards committees, maybe it’s a ploy for Oscars and Emmys – but it is a choice, a stylistic choice and I feel like it should be acknowledged as such. In my house, it’s become a performance category and we laugh every time we see it. While someone is acting their snot out, trying to show us tragedy or pain or something, we can’t help giggling and saying, “That’s some high-powered snot acting right there.”

I’m not saying an actor can’t snot on screen. If you’re crying and you snot, that’s normal – just, you know, treat it like you would if you snotted in real life. Pull out a kleenex or something. Use your sleeve! The back of your hand! Anything.


We don’t fetishize crying in quite the same way on stage so it’s not something I’ve encountered in the theatre. Actors crying on stage just try and clear their faces so they can keep acting. They’ll get it done any old way they can so the show can go on.

But on screen, they’re probably waiting for someone to call cut before they can deal with tears or snot or whatever on their faces.

Hey – being an actor ain’t easy. Crying for a living isn’t a walk in the park. I’m not trying to make it harder for folks. But critics and awards people might want to slow down their praise for snot acting or we are going to be looking at a lot of people’s snot for years to come.

You know what this crying girl in Pietro Rotari’s print would do if her nose started dripping? She’d use that handkerchief, of course!

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Bill and Ted’s Bogus Handling of Older Women

We did it. We watched the new Bill and Ted movie. The trailer made it look kind of charming and our Gen X nostalgia for the original was strong enough to put us in front of, what we knew would be, a very silly movie. And it was! They brought back all these cast members from the original. Ted’s Dad. Ted’s Dad’s girlfriend. A hologram of George Carlin. But significantly, despite the medieval princesses’ appearance in the earlier movie, the actresses who played them did not play them in this new movie. Instead, the filmmakers cast two women who are about ten years younger than the original princesses. This made me mad. And curious.

I investigated the women who played the original roles. Maybe they were too busy to play the parts. Or maybe they were dead! I mean, if one of them was busy playing Hedda Gabler at the Royal Shakespeare Company, I could understand that she might not want to do a sequel to Bill and Ted. But no. Their IMDB pages suggested that they were still acting, though not with really high profile credits. A couple of years ago they were photographed at a Bill and Ted convention event. In other words, they were probably available – the makers of Bill and Ted just didn’t ask them.

I’m assuming. Maybe there’s a great story about this that isn’t the usual sexism – but I somehow suspect that it is the usual sexism. The two women in their 50s were not hot enough for film anymore. (Though, frankly, I’ve seen recent photos of these ladies and they’re gorgeous.) So while the producers were happy to look at Bill and Ted with male middle aged bodies – they needed younger models to represent the hot princesses they married. That’s pretty gross and sexist but, you know, fair point. If I recall, correctly, the original princesses weren’t written to be much more than hot – so if the actors’ hotness has faded, then perhaps it was necessary to get new ones to represent the one trait they possessed.

But even hot people age and not all of them look like Catherine Zeta Jones as they do. Even hot medieval princesses might get a few lines on their faces or find the shapes of their bodies changing. But this movie chose to focus on the hotness instead. They gave Bill and Ted new wives, who were still hot, even though they were in their 40s! (Please read Gen X sarcasm there.)

And I mean no disrespect to the women who ultimately played the wives this time around. They’re both very funny women and I’ve enjoyed their work in other things and even, briefly, in this, where they were given almost nothing to do but complain that their husbands were losers. (Man, women are such a drag, aren’t they?! – Gen X sarcasm again)

But I am furious on behalf of the women who originated those parts, whether they wanted them or not. The film’s treatment of them as expendable is so common and so careless and I noticed it constantly as I watched the movie. In early scenes with Bill’s wife and daughter, I found myself asking “Which one is the daughter again?” Jemima Mays may be 41 but she still looks like she could be twenty something.

And so, despite the sort of feminist message of the men passing on the torch to young women, the movie made clear that older women can take a hike. Women who look like they could be the mothers of children in their mid-twenties are not to be looked at or admired on the screen. They’re not the sort of mothers Bill and Ted would fight for their marriages for. They somehow need hot chicks for the plot to make sense that way.

In some ways, the new Bill and Ted movie wants to be feminist. It wants to say that the future is female and that the people to change the world will be the young women. It has something to say about fathers fighting to keep their families together. That’s often a trope for female characters and it is refreshing to see two dudes try and save their marriages and their children. It feels like a shift.

But if the future is female, it is only for hot young women, not older women. Holland Taylor plays the ruler in the future and she is fabulous as ever but her character does not look like a hero in the end. The movie seems to suggest that old women need to step aside and be replaced by younger women who are more chill and know what’s going on.

Were there some fun moments? Sure. I would watch a spin-off buddy comedy between the couples therapist and the killer robot. And surely the original movie was not a beacon of feminist thought. They have made progress. But someone get me a phone booth so I can go back in time and tell these guys that feminism is not just for young women. It’s for everyone. The movie that denies them is bogus.

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Something About Juliet, Naked

Despite generally being a Nick Hornby fan, I resisted reading Juliet, Naked for a while because of the title. When I finally read it, I remember being glad that it wasn’t actually about a naked woman. I remember liking it but I’m fairly certain I was in a different decade of my life then.

After watching the film version, I find I’m curious to re-read the book – to find out if it’s as problematic as I found the movie. I was going to say “sexist” instead of “problematic” but I’m not sure if the movie is as sexist as the world is. It just highlights some of the ways the world is sexist and it’s problematic for me because it’s also a bit seductive.

Ethan Hawke plays a rock star who has gone full Salinger and fallen off the map. Chris O’Dowd plays the leader of his fan club and Rose Byrne plays Chris O’Dowd’s girlfriend. It’s a funny little music love triangle, that deals with fandom, art and change. Chris O’Dowd is clearly the Baxter and Ethan Hawke is the sexy grandpa and who will Rose Byrne choose? Spoiler Alert: It’s Ethan Hawke. As every Gen X-er knew she would. Because Ethan Hawke is the Gen X dream man, even as he lies in his hospital bed, surrounded by all his ex wives and neglected children as a man who has always been a troubled cad. He’s just become a grandpa and he’s grappling with all his past mistakes and boy, does that guy come with a whole train full of baggage. As a woman who is only a few years younger than Ethan Hawke, I found myself wanting to warn the younger Rose Byrne character to steer clear. Don’t do it, Rose! All that baggage might seem like it’s fun to overcome from where you’re standing now – but you’re not going to change him!

But it’s Ethan Hawke. So you sort of get it. Yes that guy is trouble but he’s trouble in a way that seems fun. He has a heart attack and terrible relationships with all but one family member but still a charmer. He’s a heck of a project for a guy in his late 40s.

But the thing that troubles me is that there is no comparable story with a woman in her late 40s. No younger man comes along to absolve her of all her past sins and to help her make a come-back.

In the Juliet, Naked film, there was nary a woman over 35, as far as I could tell. Maybe one of his exes for a few seconds but mostly not. The lead romantic interest had to be young because she wants to have a baby and the drive to have a child is what drives a large portion of the plot.

And I don’t know, I guess I agreed with cranky grumpy face O’Dowd’s character who’d just rather not have kids. And I’m mad that there are never female characters who feel that way. There’s something in the way movies always talk about this that makes it feel like it is a woman’s innate natural desire to reproduce and if she doesn’t, it’s because some uptight man, like Cranky Grumpy Face, is in the way.

The movie of Juliet, Naked tweaks the standard romantic comedy story just enough to feel like it’s subverting the genre while it actually reinforces it. There’s just no way we could ever see its opposite. It’s the same reason the gender swap of High Fidelity doesn’t really work. Because those types are so strongly gendered and any reversal just makes it clear that is not a world we live in.

There are so many barriers in the way of gender swapping Juliet, Naked. Let me pitch it to you and notice where all the stops are. In it, I’ve recast Ethan Hawk’s character as Parker Posey, an indie Gen X dream girl. Byrne and O’Dowd have just switched roles here. SPOILERS implied.

Chris O’Dowd is feeling unfulfilled in his life and relationship. He wants kids but his long term girlfriend, Rose Byrne, doesn’t. Rose Byrne is a mega fan of a Patti Smith-like reclusive rock star, played by Parker Posey. Parker Posey had a number of artistically successful albums and then disappeared. The mystery of what might have caused the disappearance keeps Rose and her fellow fans very busy on message boards. Then someone sends a demo copy of Posey’s hit album to Byrne – but O’Dowd hears it first. He listens to it before Byrne and declares it not as good as the finished album. Then Byrne hears it and falls in love with the rawness of it. There is conflict – but they both write reviews of it and Posey emails O’Dowd to tell him he’s right.

Posey and O’Dowd start an email relationship wherein they confess their baggage. Posey’s is that she has had and abandoned four children, and is finally giving motherhood a go with her 5th. She becomes a grandma when one of her erstwhile kids has a kid and so she comes to the country O’Dowd is in. Then she promptly has a heart attack.

O’Dowd comes to the hospital and discovers the noisy family who have come to see her. Posey invites herself to his house to recover from her heart attack. A romance blooms between the young O’Dowd and the aging Posey.

Do you see how this movie is sort of impossible? I mean, I’d watch it – because I love Parker Posey and it would be super weird but also, it would be super weird!

But whatever, you know, man, whatever. The movie is problematic, so what? So what? I don’t know so what. For me the so what is that there are so many things about this movie that I liked, so many twists on the romantic comedy structure that I found it very compelling and it is its compellingness that makes it especially problematic for me. I felt sucked in by it and melancholy when it was over. I wanted those crazy kids to get together! Do they?

But should they get together? No. I don’t think so, actually. I think Ethan Hawk’s character should get together with a woman his own age and not go around fathering any more children.

And Rose Byrne’s character should hook up with some nice man who’ll make her dinner and worship the ground she gorgeously walks on. I mean. I don’t know. There was just something about this movie that so insidiously cracked open the seams of the genre while also making me feel the usual things this genre makes a susceptible person feel. I don’t like being a susceptible person and I felt like this movie made me succumb to its charms – and then left me in the record bin, nostalgic for some lost time and also like, disappointed.

I can’t recommend this movie, obviously. But if you watch it, please tell me. I feel like I need help sorting out the box of problematic things it revealed. And by problematic, I might mean sexist. 

Here’s Parker Posey in a photo via WikiCommons by Tabercil. Don’t you want to see her play Ethan Hawke’s part just to see what would happen?

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Toilet Paper and Art

My improviser friend used to talk about his craft being toilet paper – that you pulled off a square and then threw it away. It was impermanent and that was its appeal. It was a uniquely disposable craft.

In our new toilet paper obsessed society, I’m not sure this analogy works anymore. No one is hoarding improvisers. They’re stuck at home like the rest of us – their skills going wanting.

But I had already been thinking about this analogy fairly often, even before the coronavirus made us fetishize toilet paper. I was thinking about it in relationship to things made on the internet, which often feel like toilet paper art as well. That is, we make something, we put it on the internet and the internet does whatever it’s going to do with it and then it gets washed away in the flow of whatever happens next. Almost nothing has a sense of permanence.

The first website I was a part of making was back in 2002 and it really felt like we were constructing a building. Our designer created a bit of art out of the art we had made and we felt it would be around forever. When I made a MySpace page, I thought of it as a place – and a place people would visit and spend time in. I thought they would click around and listen to everything.

I continue to have this old fashioned view of what happens on-line. When the virus sent everyone home, I thought, “Oh, now’s the time that someone will start reading the back catalogue of the blog. Someone’s about to go very deep into the library of Songs for the Struggling Artist.” But, of course, no one’s doing that. They’re not even reading the most recent blogs. In fact, the views on both my blogs have never been lower.

I suspect that this is mostly because everyone is panic reading all they can find about the virus and shutdowns and quarantines and such but ALSO because everything on the internet is disposable. We don’t go looking for interesting corners to click around in anymore. We don’t read anyone’s entire oeuvre or listen to anyone’s entire repertoire. We just watch the stream of information and ideas go by and pick out whatever looks interesting to us. Sometimes something comes up from the past – but for the most part, we consume our internet in an ever present present. It’s all toilet paper now.

As a person who makes things that live in this digital space, I don’t love this. I don’t find it encouraging. It’s hard to put one’s heart and soul and sweat and skill into something and watch it sink into the stream never to be seen again. It can be just as discouraging to, say, put on a play and have not many people come to see it – but at least in the live medium, you have the moment, you have the exchange. One of my favorite performance experiences ever was a show we put on for one audience member. No one showed up but her but we didn’t cancel and it was extraordinary. In remembering watching her watching it, I am transported to the sense of wonder on her face. That look is sustaining, even all these years later, in a way that a few likes on a post that disappeared into the internet ocean are not.

And now everyone’s livestreaming because what else can they do? It feels like you could fill a day with all the live concerts and performances that are suddenly popping up in a Facebook feed. Now, it seems, with everything shut down, the disposable nature of making things on the internet becomes even more disposable. We do it today and forget about it tomorrow.

The endless scroll of many social media sites makes it feel like the internet happens in front of us and it is seductive and hard to break free of. I know it’s hard for me to stop watching the flotsam go by to go purposefully look at something more permanent that I want to know about. But I suppose that’s my plea, that while we’re stuck at home, largely on-line, that we all go clicking around in the weird places on the internet like in the old days. Go investigate somebody’s entire web comic. Watch all of a choreographer’s recorded dances. Explore the back catalogue of someone’s writings. There are so many stories that got placed hopefully up on the web never to be seen again. It’s not like watching someone’s live performance in a theatre by yourself, of course, but taking a deep dive in some artist’s pool might offer something a little different than what floats by every day. It might all be toilet paper but some of it has been carefully sculpted into something wonderful somewhere. There are a lot of undiscovered treasures that have sunk to the bottom of the internet ocean, hoping to one day be revealed. Go diving, if you can.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help me find a more permanent place in the internet ocean?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis




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