I Can Catch the Moon in My Hand

FAMEJust a few minutes ago, I finished watching a French movie called Beau Travail that I’d dvr’d on Turner Classic Movies, it is a movie about, wait, never mind, there is no need for me to tell you what the movie is about, there is no reason for you to watch it.  It’s boring and it’s not even long.  For 90 minutes, I sat on my couch, sipping a little whiskey and eating cheese and crackers, wondering why I was watching this movie.  My answer came at the end, or rather, after the end, when after the credits, TCM played a mini-documentary about the making of my favorite movie (one of my favorites, anyway) Fame.

I remember when I saw Fame for the first time.  It was the summer between my 6th and 7th grade year, in the living room of my childhood home (imagine that!) and I watched it on HBO with my cousins Tracey and Stacey who were visiting from Colorado.  I already loved anything theatrical (I was just coming off of that Charlie Brown high from 5th grade) and something about the movie: the songs, the dancing, the acting, hooked into something inside of me, something at my core.  I remember how nervous the Montgomery character made me.  Gosh, I thought, I wouldn’t want to end up like that guy!

And even though I was a land-locked Kansas boy, I dreamed that one day, I would attend the High School for the Performing Arts.  Alas, that did not happen, but I did make my way to New York eventually, and from the minute I stepped off that Greyhound bus, I did feel like I’d entered a city that pulsated like the choreographed, gritty, magical, mercurial 1980 New York that Alan Parker gave me (ME!) in that movie.  And if you’ve been reading this blog, even just a little, you could understand how this movie might have resonated with me through the last 35 years, through every phase of my life.

Which brings me back to tonight, those few minutes ago, when this documentary came on my television.  And I loved watching these young actors, kids at the time, talk about the characters they were playing.  I always think of those actors, Irene Cara, Maureen Teefy, Paul McCrane, Barry Miller and the rest, in this revered way, the way a freshman looks up to the seniors at his high school, but I was struck by the fact that these actors were probably 16 to 20 at the time, just babies.  The documentary showed behind the scenes of filming many musical scenes, including Hot Lunch Jam, I Sing the Body Electric and of course, Fame, where the entire cast is dancing in the street, on car roof tops and such.  Perhaps it was the whiskey, perhaps it was something purer, but I felt the need to rise up and dance along with these teenagers, my idols, as they danced through the streets of Manhattan.

Where am I going with all this?  Well, I’m not completely sure.  I will say that one thing I love about art, be it paintings or music or movies, is it’s propensity to incite time travel.  As I watched this documentary, I was every age I’ve ever been since I first saw the movie.  I was 12 and 17 and 24 and 34 and 39 and 45.  And then I thought how wonderful it is that a movie or anything, really, could make this 45-year-old get up off his couch on a Tuesday night at 10 pm and dance without abandon.  It makes one think that they could live forever.

Laughter Through Tears

Picnic-dancing-scene-Kim-Novak-hot-heatIt’s been over a week since my last post.  I had a show on Saturday night that I was nervous about, I felt that I had to conserve all my creativity for that.  It ended up being a great show and my set went pretty well, if I say so myself.  That being said, all I can think about is the saying that goes something like, it never went as good or as bad as you think it did, which, of course, I only think about when something goes well. I tried googling the expression, but just came up with a lot of articles about this.

Anyway, I will tell you what I talked about on Saturday.  The theme was theme and the show’s host, my good friend, Traci Swartz, asked us to explore our themes.  What’s your theme?  Everybody comes to Hollywood with a theme.

A couple weeks ago, I was at home by myself with the dogs on a Friday night.  Eric was in Temecula visiting his parents.  There is something that I like about being home by myself, like it’s a little date with myself.  I had a nice bottle of wine, some leftover pizza I’d made (in my show, I said I’d made a delicious turkey sandwich, which was an unintentional lie, I found some old notes, indeed it was pizza, not that it’s integral in ANY way to this story), and I curled up on my couch like the Little Mermaid to watch Turner Classic Movies, specifically, an interview with Kim Novak, the notoriously shy pinup girl from the 50’s and 60’s, most famous for movies like Vertigo, Pal Joey and of course, Picnic. I’ve always been a little judgemental about Kim Novak’s Madge, that she was a little too much of a movie star in the role, but listening to her talk about the film and the character, I realized I’d been wrong.  Much of Novak’s own life echoed Madge’s and I understood how Madge’s beauty was a burden for her.  Novak spoke of director Josh Logan’s autobiography where he commended her performance and wrote that Novak wore her Queen Neelah crown as if it were a “crown of thorns.”  And I think throughout Novak’s career, she always had to fight to be seen as an actress instead of as a movie star.  

Later in the interview, Robert Osborne (and let me just take a moment to say how much I love Robert Osborne, no one could be the spirit and voice of Turner Classic Movies better than him) asked her about the movie Liebestraum she made in 1991.  She said that she’d been nervous about making a movie, because she had not made one for a while, but when she talked to the director, Mike Figgis, she felt like they were on the same page.  Then when filming started, things went awry, she and Figgis had problems communicating.  She became quite emotional sharing that she wanted to talk to him about it, to get things on track, but she didn’t and that she regretted it.  Fidgeting with a crumpled tissue, tears streaming, glistening down her face (even today, nobody cries more beautifully than Kim Novak), she confessed, “I just couldn’t make a movie after that.”  Maybe it was the sauvignon blanc, maybe it other things, but I immediately burst into my own, less videogenic tears.  It resonated with me, because I have my own tormented relationship with acting, that at times, it’s just too painful.  And I have this thing about how much we all need our art to survive.  We are all artists, and that’s not to say we are all good artists, but I believe it’s something our souls need.  

And then I became VERY emotional, I got up from the couch and walked into my bedroom and flung myself on the bed where Millie (named after Picnic, btw) was on her pile of pillows, licking them.  I took her into my arms and buried my face in her fur, drowning it in my tears.  I wept for Kim Novak, that I’d been so judgemental all these years about her Madge, for her hypersensitivity, that she might someday act again.  I wept for myself, weeping for the acting class that I left because the teacher told me my Vanya was too weepy (can you imagine?), for the fact that I had not had an audition in weeks.  I wept about my day job, that has become increasingly soul crushing.  And I wept about a few others things, too.  And the weeping sort of turned into wailing.  It turns out, I had a lot of pain that night.  Ricky had joined Millie and me on the bed and he couldn’t understand what was going on.  I was moaning and wailing.  Millie was growling because she doesn’t like anyone touching her pillows.  And then Ricky started howling.  Wail, growl, howl.  Wail, growl, howl.  We made for a loud, dramatic chorus.   While I was weeping for all that made me heart break, I had a little out of body experience where I could see, or rather, hear, how we must have looked, and it made me laugh.  Actually, it made me laugh pretty hard.  And then as I lay on the bed, tears, growls and howls subsiding, I immediately felt better, something had been released.

Big surprise here:  when I was little, I cried a lot, and I always remember my mother holding me, patting me on the back, saying, “It’s okay, get it all out.”   I think we all have a few themes, one of mine is that I cry, a lot.  Someone once told me that I luxuriate in my tears and if I wasn’t so true, I would have been offended by such an outrageous statement.  But we need our tears, as much as we need our laughs.  Stresses and sadnesses and hurts build in our body until there has to be a combustion.  

I feel like Robert Harling really nailed it when he wrote Steel Magnolias, that there is something synergistic about crying and laughing, that not only can they feed the other, perhaps it’s their job to feed the other.  Either way, I agree with Mr. Harling and Truvy Jones and Dolly Parton, in fact, it is my theme:  Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.