Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Sketch for a Puppet Show

Notes: The location and time period of the main action is the western front during WWI. However, this is an alternate history, or rather, a hidden history, so the design is expressive, the characterization of political attitudes and personalities should eschew the typical realism that accompanies war stories. Basically, anything that would require extensive research should be excised. The show’s opening locations, backstage at a Vaudeville theatre and a top-secret war room, should be treated similarly. Also, it appears that I have contempt for the proper written format of a performance piece. Because I don't care. ____________________________________________________

Plot: G is a ventriloquist. He is American. Vaudevillian. The play opens with the end of a performance, as seen from backstage.

G: [sets up joke]
Dummy: [says something mean]

Audience laughter, Dummy berates audience. Curtain falls. G walks backstage with Dummy, stating gentle, amusing things to his dummy in a way that indicates his awareness of the Dummy’s inanimateness. Think pre-Blue Fairy Gepetto, I suppose, talking to his puppet. He puts his Dummy in a case, closes it, and sits on the case, releasing a weary sigh.

Enter Revue Manager, Mr. White.

W: You still got it, man. You were killing them out there, etc. Say, say I couldn’t pay you tonite.
G: What?
W: Yeah, see, the receipts are even worse than last night. We don’t have a draw, a real gimmick. They’re flocking to Grapeswine’s on 47th. He’s got a trio of Chinese jugglers that sing patriotic dedications as they toss flaming daggers across the stage. They say he smuggled ‘em over here in the same briefcase. Look, pops, I’ll have your money for you by the beginning of next week.
G: Mr. White, can I at least stay…
W: Sure, sure, stay in your changing room if you want. Look, I don’t mean to do this. But not even I can eat on this scratch. [exit]
G: [sigh] Well, that’s that. At least I’ve got a place to rest. An empty stomach, but I’ve got a warm place to stay the night.
W: [popping back in] Oh, and hey… we had to move the heat stove in your room to Camilla Cluck’s room. She’s on the town tonite and her eggs need incubation. Bundle up. [exits]

G sighs and pushes his trunk off the stage to his room. Exits. Once the stage is clear, two government-military-lookin’ dudes enter.

GMLD 1: So, that’s the guy.
GMLD 2: Yeah yeah, my wife goes to see him all the time. She’s crazy about him.
GMLD 1: Well, let’s go see if he wants in.

Exit government-military-lookin’ dudes.

Thus begins the saga of G, a ventriloquist recruited for the American cause during WWI. What the government wants with a voice-thrower (desperate for cash but old enough to know what’s what) will be entirely up to me, the playwright. When I’m done with this, it will be excellent.
This post is an installment in a continuing series of content coordinated by theme or motif with posts from Enoch Allred of Chiltingham, John Allred of clol Town, Jon Fairbanks of Funkadelic Freestylings of Another Sort, Eli Z. McCormick of Modern Revelation!, John D. Moore of Whatnot Studios, Joseph Schlegel of Sour Mayonnaise, Sven Patrick Svensson of Sadness? Euphoria?, and William C. Stewart of Chide, Chode, Chidden. This week's theme: 'Ventriloquism'.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

This film is practically the definition of diminishing returns. On a first viewing, one is caught up in its breezy, snappy fun. Under closer inspection, the film's confusion about how much of itself to lampoon is much more noticeable. Once the gags are predictable, the result is a conventional, inexpressive thriller occasionally punctuated with a little pluck. High notes are sung here and there, such as Harry's subtle(r) indications of male guilt when responding to the sexualized female being (not form, keep in mind). This is more or less what makes the movie worth watching (also, it's pretty funny when it's not being painfully obvious), though I cannot tell how much of its blatant homosteria is loving (I'm not sure bromances are allowed to be homophobic, which is why I wonder). It is unfortunate that one of the more graceful of Harry's motions (the making-modest of a female corpse) is commodified by its detailing a last-minute plot revelation. This function of conventional form over character undoes much of the picture's strengths, as it doesn't seem like it acknowledges the limits to which its satire can perform (the first act reel-pausing expository flashes are a drag, then when they stop, it's just confusing). Sadly, I must admit to a feeling of exhaustion at Downey Jr.'s off-the-cuff schtick as it pertains to the vehicle of Shane Black's narrative. Despite it being one of the best things about the film, it is misappropriated. In terms of his role in The Singing Detective, where DJ's baggage combines with his actorly wit to create a truly complex character, I'm thinking that carte blanche (unmitigated Downey Factor™), fun as it is, should probably be curbed. However, compared to his tragically bland turn in Iron Man, it is a palette cleanser. So I guess there's that. Mostly I blame Black's lack of imagination (the gay guy likes Xanadu! har! har!).

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sonatine/Blue Velvet

Tonite I had an interesting double-hitter: one film steeped in static, existential contemplation, the other a bizarre, horrifying melodrama. Kitano's Sonatine and Lynch's Blue Velvet.

Sonatine is a curio. Kitano's emphasis is on violence and nothing, excising exposition, hinting at a story rather than filling it with things like explanation and emotion. His films are about human bodies placed in time, and it is about the space which those bodies occupy. Sonatine is a difficult piece because given K.'s aversion to conventional narrative, this particularly convoluted yakuza tale jumps from place to place, character to character with nary a consideration for coherence. It usually takes a few viewings to understand (or at least retain) what happens in a K. film. (The poor Mrs. whom I made watch the film requested a thorough recap of the story, and she's the smart one.) One thing that sets Sonatine apart from the rest of K.'s films is its clear bisection of gangster-life, which, by the grace of classical cinematic extension, speaks for all men. Japanese men, specifically (K. is very much a maker of films for a J. audience), which is not to say that great art, which this could be, does not span cultural boundaries. Leather cushions and interchangeable, tight interiors clash with decaying wood and an eternity of beach, placing K. and his unruly band of thugs under-flourescents-then-a-cloudless-sky. Like a pomegranate, chopped in half, one gets yellow meat and bleeding red seeds--when a character is shot in the face, the blood pours into a little red pool in the yellow sand. As K., embedded in yellow, tossing to himself a red frisbee against a sky blue ocean, the film illustrates a chunk of man, cut into his constituents of turbulence and stillness (K.'s cinema is nothing if not the place and the moment where the ocean meets the sand). Inside, outside, day, night, asleep, awake, there you are, barrel in your temple, throwing a frisbee into the wind.

Blue Velvet I don't really like. The satire of picket-fence innocence is too successfully bland to be very interesting. Compare this to his evocation of wide-eyed Hollywood dreaming in Mulholland Drive, which was able to convey the same jokey innocence with a great deal of expression. In their scenes together, Dern and Maclachlan simply go through the Nancy-Drew-crushes-on-a-Hardy-Boy motions, Elmes photographing most of it in a banal, expository way (where K. is lacking, L. is practically diarrhetic). When the story bifurcates into a tale of nastiness and horror, there is nothing cohering it to the hokey artifice of small-town values save for a vague impression of sexual allegory (wherein M. is moving from sinful masturbatory fantasy into romantic fulfillment). This could've been overlooked had the film not had so many passages executed with a safe palette that quickly relieve the tension they create. When M. is taken for a joyride by Hopper, there's this shot where H. looks back at him, profanely threatening him, his eyes stony and crazed. L. has the mind to linger on this shot, rightfully, and it's frightful. The L. of Lost Highway, M.D., and even Eraserhead, would have been able to carry this nightmare through, but the way the rest of the scene is cut, with a prostitute dancing on a car to Roy Orbison and H.'s goons doing a bit of silly-looking knockabout shuffling, the dreaming ends and the yawning begins. I attribute this inability to handle the material to L.'s burgeoning commercial art. With Eraserhead, he didn't have to make compromises. It's still his best film. He then entered a period of trying to juggle his macabre sensibilities with a necessity to have his movie seen. Shortly after B.V., he did Twin Peaks which must've slowly taught him how to reconcile his extremeness with prime-time timidity. There are plenty of great moments throughout, but its tone and expressiveness (and aim) are too inconsistent.