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100 Things About Me
The Bull's Testicles Project
Russia Trip: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
Best of 2002: Movies, Books, Music.
Best of 2003: Movies.
Best of 2004: Movies, Books.
Best of 2005: Theater, Books.
Best of 2006: Theater, Books, Television.


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Thursday, October 31, 2002

A Director Speaks
A very cool thing happened today. Two weeks ago, after I saw Between Two Women at the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, I did a little write-up, in which I said: "I'd love to know more about the movie’s back story ... It’s hard not to imagine that it’s not autobiographical in some way." Well, in the world of blogs, I guess it's a question of ask and ye shall receive. I don't get a ton of readers, but if one of them happens to be a movie director you've asked a question of ...

Here's what Steven Woodcock said about his motivations for making the film (The Jealous God, which he refers to, is his second movie, recently finished shooting, based on John Braine's novel of the same name; here's a New York Review of Books review of the novel from 1965):

BETWEEN TWO WOMEN is autobiographical in the sense that the family and the way they live—and where they live—is identical to how I was brought up. Some of the scenes were filmed in places I had known since I was a boy. Also, I used many props, curtains, and fabrics that came from my grandmother's house after she died. Only I know they are there but it is very important to me, in somehow acknowledging the influences on my life and where I have come from. Even the jewellery the two women wear belonged to my mother and grandmother.

The white 50s shopping bag that Ellen carries throughout the film has been with me all my life. I have photographs of me sitting next to it in 1961 as a toddler on the beach, with my parents. It originally belonged to my grandmother (bought in the mid-50s) and was then passed on to my mother. Besides producing, writing, and directing my films, I also production design them under the pseudonym Christopher Sutton and organize all the set dressing and costumes, and source all the locations. So every single visual element in the film is mine, which is why all the textures and colours and places gently work to compliment one another.

You mention "Northern cliches" but this is how people lived and there were so many men who worked in the mills it is inevitable that when films portray their lives it will seem as if there is a tendency towards cliche. Many people still keep sauce bottles permanently on their dinner tables even today, by the way! (Although we don't.)

The boy Victor—who was played by my own son Edward in real life—is really me. I was very artistically gifted as a boy but attending working-class schools in England I was given no encouragement. In a way, Miss Thompson is the teacher I wished for but never had. (Although I do remember having an obsessive crush on a very pretty teacher called Miss Pinnance when I was about six years old.)

She is also a manifestation of various aspects of me—she was revealed as a vegetarian in a scene that I cut from the film (as I am) and also as a fairly accomplished landscape photographer (which I also am). This is why there is the reference to the photographs at the flat but I removed a scene where we saw Kathy showing Victor how her camera worked in the classroom. Her car, the grey A35, was the first car I ever drove and my mother passed her driving test in 1953 in a grey one exactly the same—which is why I wanted it to be the same colour.

By the way, the same grey A35 is the "lead car" in THE JEALOUS GOD. Vincent, the lead character, was described by John Braine in the novel as driving an A35. I want my films to appear to be part of the same universe—although THE JEALOUS GOD (set in 1964) is far sexier and more upbeat than BETWEEN TWO WOMEN—and so I have written in a scene where Vincent goes back to his girlfriend's flat for the first time, and she asks him if he has had the car since it was new. He says that it had one previous owner, "a woman school teacher from Bradford". This is a deliberate reference to Miss Thompson, so that it is made plain for those who are interested in my films that Vincent now owns her car, which presumably she has sold since 1957. It sort of links the two films together, as if we have dipped into the same universe at two different points in time, when events begin to intensify.

On a more serious note, the relationship between the two women is not something I have any experience of but I do know that women experienced love as Ellen and Kathy did and I heard occasional rumours when I was younger. I wrote a novel first then adapted it as a screenplay. When I started writing the novel in 1995, Miss Thompson was originally Mr Thompson. But I just couldn't get the story to gell, and banged away at it for weeks producing some nice chapters but with something still missing.

One morning—I remember this very clearly—I woke up at about 6.00am and laid in bed brooding about what I would write that day, then like a lightning bolt, the idea flashed into my head that the teacher should be a woman. It was like an explosion going off; and then the novel took on a poetic, understated quality and suddenly had an edge. I seemed to find the right tone of voice in which to tell the story but became so convinced that I was somehow "channelling" events that had really happened that I made enquiries with Bradford Education Authority to find out if a woman teacher called Kathy Thompson had taught in the city forty years earlier. (They could find no such record.) Having said that, a couple of minor but quite spooky coincidences occurred that still leave me wondering ...

My wife says I write sympathetically about women, and says that when she first met me, she noticed that I didn't try to dominate her intellectually but treated her exactly as an equal, and made no attempt to impress her. The women I write about are always quite strong and are usually shown as being—dare I say it—superior to men. If there is a reason behind this (and why, to refer to your review, I should have made a "women's film") it is perhaps because my father died when I was only four years old and I was brought up by a single mother in quite a harsh industrial working-class environment. This shaped my outlook during my formative years.

My mother worked in a mill and all her work friends were women. I therefore related to the world very much from a woman's perspective from an early age and as a consequence have always felt easier in the company of women. If anything, Ellen's emotional predicament is a metaphor for what I remember noticing about my mother, who always seemed at odds against a predominantly masculine/ industrial environment.

Many people have asked if I will make a sequel to BETWEEN TWO WOMEN. I wouldn't want to do this, but having just shot THE JEALOUS GOD, I am wondering whether I could do a "prequel" instead, so that we learn more about Ellen and Hardy. It's just a thought, but when I was developing the novel, I wrote lots about Ellen's and Hardy's life before they moved to the new house and Victor started at his new school. Whether it would work, or whether it would lose its impact because we know, ultimately, what the outcome of the story will be, is something for me to think about.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Where I Talk About Trade Tariffs
Still sick as a dog. Every illness has its weird presenting problem, and for me this hideous cold/flu has been the TV-free sickness. For some reason I just can't bring myself to watch TV, and the prospect of vegging out in front of a DVD is equally unappealing. R—a non-drinker and a non-TV-watcher—usually judges how sick I am by my attitude to alcohol. She knows I must be ill right now because I haven't had a drink in about a week, but I think the lack of televisual stimulation has her quite worried.

Apart from coughing and moaning theatrically (though not professionally, if you know what I mean) all I've done is stare at print. I'm still not really sure that I'm actually reading, but I've fair ploughed (or "plowed" as we say over here) through some of the magazines that have been piling up next to my bed for months (much of our apartment consists of narrow, mazelike passageways with the "walls" of the maze consisting of piles of books and mags). My movin'-kinda-slow brain cells actually stayed still long enough to read Foreign Affairs, which I subscribe to but rarely actually read. One of the pieces in the latest issue on the unlikely topic of trade tarrifs (as opposed to taxation of trade routes) was astonishingly fascinating. Did you realize that "Young single mothers buying cheap clothes and shoes now pay tariff rates five to ten times higher than middle-class or rich families pay in elite stores. Very poor countries such as Cambodia or Bangladesh face tariffs 15 times those applied to wealthy nations and oil exporters"? You didn't, did you? OK, now you, dear reader, are probably as worried as R is about the state of my health.

I have one thrill to report. Yesterday I received a magazine that had something I'd written in it. The November issue of Tennis includes a (short) profile of Anastasia Myskina (the one seen naked on the back of a horse in a recent GQ) that I wrote back in early July. I'm so used to instant publishing that I'd almost forgotten about this piece (not entirely because I'd answered fact-checking questions semi-recently and deposited my check!), but it certainly feels like a very long time since I was interviewing her at Eastbourne. Next week I'm off to Los Angeles for the tour championships to work on a piece about Daniela Hantuchova. I suppose I should be reading about backhands instead of trade policy.

Monday, October 28, 2002

Bowling for Columbine
Urgh. I haven’t been this sick in years. I spent the night coughing and wheezing, and the day alternately napping and staring at the printed word. At least my stomach and my head were relatively unaffected. I actually read an entire book before 10 a.m. this morning (since I was wide awake at 5 and didn’t want to keep R away with my incessant hacking, I went into the living room and had at The Cheese Monkeys), though I’m not sure how well I’d do if someone quizzed me on its contents. It had me laughing out loud in places (fever laughs, the best!), though strictly speaking I think it’s more of an overlong short story or a treatise on design education than a novel.

I presume this hideous cold/flu is the result of a virus rather than my comeuppance for walking home from the movies in the drizzle last night. I made it to Bowling for Columbine, and overall I liked it. Although he seems to be hated by just as many lefties as righties in the U.S. (and that’s saying something), I feel like Michael Moore is “my people.”

The problem with the movie is that it’s propaganda—not that there’s anything wrong with that, unless it’s ineffective propaganda. Since I pretty much believe most of what he was propagandizing (we differ on Kosovo, and I think some of his connect-the-dots links were over-reaching), it’s hard for me to judge if Bowling for Columbine would change anyone’s opinion about America’s culture of fear (which, it seems, Moore believes is responsible for the stunningly high incidence of gun deaths in the United States compared to other Western countries), but I doubt it. Although he doesn’t hesitate to make fanciful connections between the bombing of the former Yugoslavia and the Columbine school massacre, he doesn’t really do a very good job of saying what is up with America, and he doesn’t offer any solutions for what can be done to change things. Much as I think Charlton Heston is an insensitive bastard who should’ve stayed away from towns that had suffered through school shootings and even as I was revolted by the “gotcha” moment when he suggested Americans shoot each other more than folks in any other Western country because of America’s mixture of ethnicities, I’d rather the time spent mocking him had been spent suggesting concrete steps that Americans could take to bring about the social changes that make Canadians more relaxed—national health insurance, a real welfare safety net, etc.

The fact is—and don’t ask me why, because I’ve never figured it out—most Americans don’t want Canadian-style health insurance, even though more than 40 million Americans don’t have any health insurance; they don’t care about welfare and unemployment, even if they’re worried about their own job security; and they must like the if-it-bleeds-it-leads approach to TV news or they wouldn’t watch it (there are alternatives, even for folks without cable), but they do—in large numbers.

And there’s something to be said for the underlying self-reliance that the “gun nuts” cite as their justification for owning and using guns: They want to be responsible for their families, rather than abdicating that task to someone else with a gun. Still, the 11,000+ gun deaths per year show that something’s wrong in America's responsibility cycle.

I still believe that if Britons had guns they’d use them with U.S.-style profligacy. In my years of wandering U.S. city centers (and as a non-driver, I’ve not been avoiding hot spots by getting in my little mobile isolation tank), I’ve never come across anything like the palpable mood of violence that descends on British towns after a night on the piss (or during the day given the right circumstances, like a football match). And talk about a culture of fear: These days on the street where I grew up, an underclass shit-hole if ever there was one, everybody has state-of-the-art alarm systems and more locks than a county jail, and if there’s anything worth stealing on the entire street I’d be surprised.
Back in My Day, Music Magazines Were Actually Worth Reading
I read a couple of music magazines this weekend for the first time in decades. When I was at school, I was obsessed with music (and other things—what’s adolescence for if not obsessions and providing your friends and family with the means to embarrass you years later on This Is Your Life). Back then, the highlight of my week was the arrival of the music mags—Sounds on Wednesday (rather poppy for my tastes, but it was something), then the NME and Melody Maker on Thursday. I read, nay, inhaled them all, but there was nothing like the NME. On the long bus ride to and from school on Thursdays, I’d read and inwardly digest the news and reviews, and then I’d get to the real thrill: the NME crossword. (The knowledge that was required to successfully complete the crossword didn’t entirely conform to my tastes. It was years before I actually heard the song that appeared in more crosswords than any other—all those vowels—Iron Butterfly’s “In a Gadda Da Vida.”) In my university years I’d buy Rolling Stone from a very sordid and yet incredibly well-stocked newsstand in Manchester. But that was 20 years or so ago.

Last weekend I picked up the women in rock issue of Rolling Stone, and man has it changed. True, it was a “special issue,” that red-headed stepchild of marketing and ad sales departments, so perhaps I shouldn’t judge on the basis of this one issue, but ooh it’s hard not to. Although they managed to include prominent women from a relatively wide range of musical genres (I’m way out of the mainstream music scene these days, but there was only one artist that I hadn’t heard of—Nikka Costa), the only kind of article they could dream up was a bland Q and A, recycling a lot of the same questions among the different interviewees. Sure, I read pretty much every word in the magazine, which says something for the choices they made, but everything was appallingly superficial.

The saddest part was comparing the current shallow quick-take approach to the old-style RS. Here and there the magazine featured old magazine covers, crammed with the names of big-name-author contributors (everything in this issue was written by second-tier stringers) and serious topics—George Wallace, Nicaragua, Vietnam. And the back-of-the-book ad pages that used to be full of bumper stickers and T-shirts now seem to be the exclusive domain of erectile-dysfunction pills and porn videos.

The other magazine I read was Songlines, a “world music” magazine published in Britain. I’d bought and been rather disappointed by the first relaunch issue, but No. 2 (actually No. 15 if you include the original run) was much better. I’m a keen consumer of world music, but it is a genre (yes, yes, I know it's lazy and silly to roll all the non-mainstream/non-Western music of the world into one category, but humor me) that requires a bit of hand-holding. For all that's objectionable about the star-maker machinery of popular music, it does (reluctantly) serve an educational purpose. It’s much harder to figure out which new Eastern European gypsy release is worth buying (for, say, folks who prefer Taraf de Haidouks over Boris Kovac & LaDaABa Orchest) or when Radio Tarifa will release a new CD. And this is definitely the kind of magazine where the ads are just as interesting as the editorial content. The covermount CD—featuring acts that record on Germany’s Piranha label, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year—was also excellent. A nice variety of styles and some very appealing tracks by artists I wasn’t familiar with, such as “Ayga,” by Ali Hassan Kuban; “Raggasthausten,” by Daniele Sepe; and “Kochav Tzedek,” by Emil Zrihan.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

The Anniversary Waltz
Yesterday was the one-month anniversary of this blog, and instead of posting inches, nay, feet of fascinating observations on the art of blogging, I was strangely silent. Why, oh why? Because once again I wasted the weekend being sickly. It really shouldn't be allowed. It's one thing to be ill on company time (yes, even in the land of scarce vacation days you can pull a sickie 10 times a year—though I've always suspected there'd be repercussions if you did), but to waste precious personal moments feeling feak and weeble is just not on. Although I still managed to fit in a bunch of chores—getting a haircut, doing the laundry, voyaging out to the burbs to see a friend to seek advice on visiting Moscow in mid-winter, actually watching the videos we'd rented before they became overdue, finishing the mystery novel I've been reading in ridiculously short snatches over the last week—I have not yet seen a movie. And no matter how fabulous the weekend, it always feels unsatisfactory if I don't see a film. I could journey into outer space, cure cancer, and meet Julie Burchill, and if I didn't also view a moving picture on a big screen, the weekend would be a miserable failure.

So, despite the annoying cough and a lack of energy shocking even for a naturally enervated soul like me, it is my intention to brave the cold and dark and head on down to the Egyptian to see Bowling for Columbine. Wish me luck, dear reader.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

In Just Seven Clicks, I Can Make You a ...
I don't know that it actually says much about stereotypes, but there are some incredible portraits here. Both the ones Eric Myer provides, and the ones you can make.
Don't Cry for Me ...
Ay! Why? I keep reading blog entries by PWH (people with hangovers) who seem to manage to write beautifully crafted piece-ettes that even identify the type of hangover they’re suffering that day. I, on the other hand, can barely type. My hands are shaking madly—I suspect I may have donated blood late last night, but I really can’t be sure.

It all started with The Revenge of Cine-oke. When we got to the Rendezvous, which was hosting the event, we were locked out of the Jewel Box Theater because the techies were performing emergency surgery on the sound system. Consequently we had to stand out in the ante-room sipping cocktails. I’d been sick during the day (a weird out-of-nowhere cold that seems to be going around; one minute you’re fine, the next you’re sniffling and belly-aching), so I hadn’t eaten very much. Or that’s my excuse.

Of course, since J and I had a big number to do, we had to have another drink just to fortify us (even though about half the people in the audience were our vanpool/friends/supporters). “America” went well. J looked awesome in a fabulous red dress (though her blonde hair was rather un-Anita-ish). I was a bit cowed—I swear I spent half the song pinned to the wall, but that choreography is pretty intimidating and it took me so long to figure out the clapping, I couldn’t manage to learn Jerome Robbins’ dance steps too. We were rewarded with souvenir T-shirts. (I can see my next project now!)

Then I went back to our booth basking in the glory of the crowd’s adulation, and I knew I needed more, more, more attention. I also needed another cocktail, of course. By the time I got on stage to do “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” my inhibitions were well suppressed. By then I’d developed an affection for several members of the audience—the guy in front of me who knew the difference between Hayley and Juliet Mills; the guy called Sam, who’d sung a lovely version of something or other, and his boyfriend, also named Sam; the Chris Farley lookalike who’d done something from Little Shop of Horrors and something else from Grease; J to show off that lovely red dress again; the peeps from the film festival who’d been Che and Evita earlier in the evening; that vanpoolie who’s such good value when he’s drunk; etc., etc.—so I called them up on stage to be my descamisados. It was divine, and at the end I was worshipped like only Evita/Madonna can be.

Then I woke up this morning. I had to spend a good 10 minutes holding my head, sweating, and trying not to drool too much before I could even feed the cat. My cold seems better though.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Sir: Just a Normal Guy
Another evening, another film festival movie, this time a documentary charting 15 months in an FTM transition from a pre-hormone point where Jen was wondering how it would be to start using men's bathrooms and asking people to start calling her Jay, through the changes that testosterone made to his voice and appearance, through "top surgery," and what appears from the outside to be his living a "normal" heterosexual life.

Technically the film was unremarkable—basically it was an hour of people talking to camera in iffy lighting—but in the end I was glad of that since it provided no distractions from the basic narrative. Both Jay and his friends—his ex-husband and best friend, who was a total sweetie; his other (female) best friend, who was a college crush; his girlfriend, who continues to identify as lesbian despite the appearance of being half of a straight couple—were refreshingly open and honest and articulate. Jay wasn't afraid to indicate uncertainty or embarrassment or to admit that he wondered if becoming a man might just be another phase just as wife or dyke had been. His ex-husband, who still seemed to carry a bit of a torch for Jay, admitted that he was conscious of feeling odd about telling his friends that not only had his wife left him and become a lesbian but also she was now a guy. And his partner talked freely about her lesbian identity, the negative effect that the transition had had on their relationship, but also the partnership's many strengths. The sight of the scars from Jay's "top surgery" (breast removal/reconstruction) were hard to look at, but everything else was very easy to take and understand.

Early on in the process, Jay talked about feeling that he would always embrace a queer identity and the impossibility of ignoring how spending 29 years of a woman had affected his personality and behavior. By the end it seemed as though he wasn't so sure that he was queer—odd-queer maybe, but not necessarily sexual-politics queer. I have to think that Jay spent 29 years as a lesbian (albeit a straight-acting one for some of that time) was part of what made the movie so compelling. After all, who talks things out more than lesbians? (Speaking as a lesbian who doesn't really care to share, let me tell you: no one.)

I've always been mistaken for a boy. All through my life, whatever I wore, whether my hair was long or short. When I was a kid on holiday in Blackpool, I remember going to the bathroom with my grandma and someone saying, "Don't you think he's old enough to go to the gents now?" This has carried on throughout my life: Just a couple of years ago, I went home to visit my folks and someone who'd recently moved to our street saw me and said to my mam, "Has your grandson come to visit?" (People in my home town never address me directly, but that's another topic for another day.) In Spain, I've been asked several times if I'm "chica o chico" (they need to know for the purpose of adjectives!). I've never really understood why. True, I'm not at all girly, and I do dress more like a teen-age boy than a middle-aged woman, but I'm no big butch thing either. I'm slight, short (well, not tall), and my wrists are about the thickness of curtain rods. When I was young—5 to 9 or 10, perhaps—I used to spend a lot of time wishing, hoping, praying that I would be transformed into a boy. Then puberty hit and I never wanted that anymore. Girls rock!

Sir: Just a Normal Guy Extra: You can view one-third of the movie, available in various media formats, on the PlanetOut Web site (the guy in the photo is Jay's ex-husband Dave). Here's the movie's official site.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Harold's Home Movies
Sunday began down at the glorious Cinerama for a special film festival treat: Harold's Home Movies. Hal O'Neal is a 92-year-old man who has been making 16 mm films since he was a young strippling. Several years ago he donated his copious film archives to what the programmers always referred to as "the San Francisco LGBT Historical Society." The historical society, in turn, got a grant to transfer one hour of the footage into a more accessible format (I think it was video, though I'm not sure), then that hour was shown at this year's San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, where my vanpoolie Sean happened to see it. When he found out that Harold and his partner of 50 years lived in the Puget Sound, he talked to them and started the courtship that eventually got Harold's Home Movies and Hal and George into the Cinerama.

The hour that the historical society selected was pretty San Francisco-centric, beginning with an almost touristy "This is San Francisco" documentary of SF in the early 1940s. Even this generic stuff was great, though, giving a sense, for example, of how "exotic" Chinatown must have seemed at the time, even for the West Coast. Hal was clearly a great cameraman who was technically very competent—indoor scenes were well-lit and well-composed, the subjects were grouped together in interesting ways, and the camera was always focused. God knows I have enough trouble with those things even in these days of automatic point-and-shoot jobbies.

After the generic mini-documentary, we got to the really incredible stuff: images of Japanese-Americans on their way to internment camps (it was shocking to see them smiling and waving); groups of well-dressed, well-coiffed young men in dashing suits knocking back cocktails and eventually dancing together; house parties on the Russian River with the men in tiny bathing suits cavorting and flirting or performing in impromptu drag shows. Everyone was so young and beautiful and nicely turned out, and although the films themselves were silent, you could tell from their expressions that each and every one of them was a wit worthy of the Algonquin Round Table.

Then the action jumped to the San Francisco Pride parades of the mid-to-late '70s. I've been going to U.S. Pride parades since around 1983, but it was still shocking to me to be reminded just how radical we used to be. It was the gay and lesbian liberation movement, and it was radical and revolutionary and wild. Dykes were decked out in ill-fitting jeans and chamois shirts (and disco shorts and every other kind of outfit), everyone carried signs and yelled and took huge risks just being there, even in San Francisco.

Now we're all assimilated and march with our dogs and our Nasdaq-listed companies and fight for pension plans instead of jobs. It was saddening to be frank. I don't want to go back into hiding, but there's something to be said about the hunger of those times. (In the big, hellish 2000 March on Washington, the only person who got rapturous applause when she took to the stage was Ellen DeGeneres. I don't begrudge her the cheers, but I wish some of the badly paid or unpaid political and social activists had gotten a fraction of the attention she garnered.)

After the screening, Harold and George took questions. Harold didn't always answer directly, and it's hard to know if he was hiding something from his past (he just said he had worked for the government and had "top secret" clearance) or if he is just a bit vague, which is to be expected in someone of his age. George was a cut up, though, entertaining the audience with the story of how he and Hal met (Harold cruised down Market Street, rolled down his car window, and said to George and his buddy, "Hey, sailors, want a ride?").

If the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force had been outside when the movie let out, I swear they would have doubled their Seattle membership in a matter of minutes.

Monday, October 21, 2002

Between Two Women

Saw my first Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival movie Saturday night: Between Two Women, a British period piece, starring Barbara Marten as a ‘50s Huddersfield housewife with an artistic son and a boorish husband. Despite the Northern clichés—has there ever been a film set in Lancashire or Yorkshire that didn’t have sauce bottles on the table and at least one character working in’t mill—some inauthentic speechifying, and the most heavy-handed symbolism this side of a Tehran talkie, it was a lovely romantic movie.

I suspect that the American audience was a bit mystified by the various discussions of class, and I wonder how many really knew what dad was doing when he went into that little building at the end of the yard, but the fidgeting stopped when the romance kicked into high gear.

Forbidden love is a subject that’s hard to screw up, and Between Two Women did a great job of setting up the hurdles (husband, family, society, class) keeping Ellen from her son’s art teacher, Kathy. The scene where Kathy realized that Ellen wasn’t going to walk away from her family to be with her was heart-breaking, and their reconciliation was similarly heart-stopping.

Barbara Marten was amazing. She has the kind of face that’s made for melancholia and sadness, and few actors do moody stares better, but maybe because of that, her happy face is all the more affecting. It’s really too bad that she usually plays hard bitches or common-as-muck fools (e.g., her turn as Rose’s mother in Bob and Rose). Her transformation into a beautiful, happy woman in love was incredibly touching to witness.

I’d love to know more about the movie’s back story—it was obviously a labor of love, written, produced, and directed by Steven Woodcock. Why would a guy make a women’s movie set in such a different time. It’s hard not to imagine that it’s not autobiographical in some way (his mother? an aunt?), but who knows.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Northwest Bookfest 2002
On Saturday morning, we went to the Northwest Bookfest for a few hours. Although we arrived at around 10:30, there were floods of folks heading down to Hangar 39 in the old Sandpoint Naval Station. It did a booklover’s heart good to see such crowds. R went to the Nick Bantock interview, while I went to see one of my homies in the panel “Writing the Revolution: Political Writers Sound Off.” It was a great discussion, the sort that makes you want to seek out the work of the panelists and reassures you that readers really care about news, newspapers, and news Web sites. One of the panelists didn’t show up, which left the podium an all-male space, but the three guys were a nice cross-section: the moderator an old-time newspaper columnist in his 60s, Panelist No. 1 a middle-aged guy who has worked for years on alternative weeklies and now does a lot of writing for the Web, and Panelist No. 2 in his mid-20s who has spent most of his career writing and editing for the Web. And yet, despite their varied backgrounds, ages, and political views, they were all on the same page when it comes to journalism.

Walking around the bookfest was slightly weird since this is the first year I’ve had absolutely nothing to do but shop and panel-hop. In the festival’s early years I had to staff a stall, then last year I was on a panel (since a couple of folks didn’t show up it was just Dan Savage and I). It’s a nicely organized event combining mainstream publishing; a lot of space for local authors, most of them slightly crazy self-publishers; some big-name writers (Bantock and Chuck Palahniuk were just two of the famous types wandering around yesterday); a cool book arts section; and goofy things like big chess, a Scrabble station, and crafts areas.

I didn’t buy much—in fact just a wacky-looking book called The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters, which won me over with its crazy genius design. Oh, and naturally I also bought a souvenir T-shirt.
So, Farewell Then, Bull's Testicle Project
So, it's official, I've run out of bull's nads. That means the winner is Mr. Troubled Diva, whose prediction was drop-dead accurate. (Mike, please send your address to ystblog[AT]hotmail[DOT]com. I'll dig out a really hideous shirt for you.)

To relive those magic T-shirt moments, here's a gallery of all those bull's testicle shirts.
The Bull's Testicle Project, Day 6
It's slim pickings in the big You Say Tomato bull's testicles T-shirt closet. After some giant nads earlier in the project, we're down to some pretty notional testicles.

This shirt by—guess who?—Kukuxumusu celebrates Pamplona's fiestas of San Fermin, known to most as "the running of the bulls." I've never been San Fermin, and I don't think I ever will. I have a very low tolerance for crowds and, with all the thrill-seeking know-nothings about, I don't think I'd have a very good time.

Some years ago, my local sports radio station ran a contest whose prize was the chance to attend any sporting event in the world. If I'd won, I'd've chosen something—anything—in a far-off expensive-to-get-to place I've always wanted to visit rather than focusing on an event, but it appears I'm in the minority since I believe the winner picked something in the United States. When the station was revving up interest, they asked folks to call in to say which sports experience they'd pick, and a surprising number said Pamplona's running of the bulls. As any fule no, bullfighting isn't a sport (it's an art), but since I'm already afraid this little Bull's Testicle Project has already identified me as a bull bore, I'm not going to pursue that.

Anyhoo, this shirt portrays 18 faces of San Fermin, most of which seem to involve drinking, crying, fighting a hangover, and drinking some more. Oh, and two of the panels feature bulls. They're bulls, therefore they have testicles, but I admit you can't see them very well.

The T-shirt design and close-ups of two of the panels

This may be the end of the line, bull's-testicles-T-shirt-wise, but I'm going to take one last look in the closet before crying uncle. For the moment, though, that famous shirt model the Troubled Diva is looking astonishingly prescient.
The Bull's Testicle Project, Day 5
Saturday's shirt works hard for a ... no, actually, it's another Kukuxumusu shirt, this time from their homeland, the Basque Country. It's shows 20 Euskara (Basque) words translated into English and fabulously illustrated by comic book artist Asisko Urmeneta, brother of Mikel, who was responsible for the shirts in Days 1 through 3 of the Bull's Testicle Project. The final item is "Zezenak," the bulls, and some cute—and well-hung—critters they are. I bought this T-shirt in the Kukuxumusu store in Bilbao.

Since I'm trying to be a good Internet citizen and keep the images small, I've included a detail of the final box—"Zezenak," the bulls.

Saturday, October 19, 2002

The Bull's Testicle Project, Day 4
To give us all a break, Friday's shirt was not a Kukuxumusu creation, but rather a T-shirt featuring a Picasso drawing. It still counts as a souvenir, though, since I bought it to commemorate an art exhibit I visited down at the Tacoma Art Museum about four years ago. Tacoma is Seattle's smelly neighbor city, and there isn't much there other than the Tacoma Dome—a huge, well, dome that often hosts big arena shows of the Bruce Springsteen, Britney Spears variety—a distinctive aroma caused by local pulp mills, and the Tacoma Art Museum, which boasts "the largest public collection of [Dale] Chihuly glass" (Chihuly was born in Tacoma). Actually, Chihuly has provided one other point of interest: Union Station, the city's former train station, which now features some spectacular Chihuly glass.

Anyway, back to the T-shirt and its testicles. I don't wear it very much because it's too damned big. I have since sworn off buying shirts from organizations that refuse to provide anything smaller than Size Large, but this was pre-swear-off. Since you might be distracted by Pablo's artistic stylings, I'm providing a close up of the bull so you can inspect his gonads.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

The Bull's Testicle Project, Day 3
I have a wicked headache, and it is Must See TV night, but as George used to say to Gracie, the Bull's Testicles Project must go on.

Here we have yet another Mikel Urmeneta jobbie, this time a bog-standard round-neck white T in a nice but, well, let's admit it, pretty ordinary cotton. Once again, we join a standard revenge fantasy in progress. On one of my trips to Spain I was given a pair of used banderillas, stained with blood, and still with the tips in place. Very cool, but the tauromaquia trinket I'd most like to own is a montera—the hat that the torero wears. (In her essay about Cristina Sanchez, "The Bullfighter Adjusts Her Makeup," Susan Orlean compared a montera to a set of Mickey Mouse ears. Whatevah.) Either way, you get a nice view of the back of the torero's montera in this drawing.

Shockingly, there were only two entries in the Bull's Testicle Project contest. Mike of Troubled Diva, revealing a realistic streak, reckons I'll run out on Oct. 21; Moira, that puppeteer of online communities, envisions a massive pile of bull's ball shirts all stacked up in my closet and guesses I'll run out on Oct. 31. I'll award the fine company Pride shirt to the person who is closest to the actual day.

The Bull's Testicle Project, Day 2
I'm still having problems with photos, and I promise I'll replace these cruddy snaps with better images soon, but here's today's bull's balls T. You can't tell from this photo, but it's a beautiful shirt. A lovely shade of sage green, a perfect three-bears V-neck (not too high, but definitely not too low), and a cotton so soft I swear you could mistake for cashmere. Like yesterday's, it's a Kukuxumusu product, designed by Mikel Urmeneta, the company's Uber-designer. You may have seen Kukuxumusu's designs in Spanish or Portuguese souvenir shops. These days they're hitting that market pretty heavily, and consequently their designs aren't as edgy as they once were (radical Basque messages have been replaced by cute drawings on a lot of their mainstream wares), but it's apparently impossible to completely sanitize Urmeneta's stuff. They got their start providing tchochkes for San Fermin—Pamplona's "running of the bulls"—so there's a lot of bull's testicle images in their output.

Yesterday's shirt was a Kukuxumusu twist on the traditional Osborne bull getting its revenge on a torero; today's is, in theory, a souvenir of Toledo, a town famous for its swords (and El Greco paintings and cool architecture and streets that are guaranteed to mess up even the best-developed sense of direction). Once again, the bull seems to have the upper hand, erm, hoof, as well as a nice set of gonads.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

The Bull's Testicle Project
All this talk about shirts has had me wondering about my own sartorial choices. I very rarely wear shirts with collars these days, but I do have a uniform of sorts. Almost every day, whatever the weather, I wear a T-shirt, a V-neck sweater, and whichever pants I can squeeze into at the mome. The perennial nature of the outfit is explained by my temperature-controlled office and our naturally cool apartment. I commute between one and the other in an air-conditioned vanpool, and I rarely go anywhere other than office or home, except perhaps an air-conditioned movie theater, a freezing cold store, or some other artificial biosphere. Accordingly, I don’t have to worry too much about adjusting my clothing to suit the weather. So, I suit myself.

I occasionally stray and wear a sweatshirt or a polo-sweater (I can’t remember what this is called in England—it’s the kind of jumper with a shirt collar), but this is a rare exception. Either way, I pretty much always wear a T-shirt, and even though it's almost always covered up, I usually wear a T-shirt with something written on it. I feel guilty about this, not in the sense of “middle-class guilt” (not being middle-class I am completely and utterly immune from such emotions), but rather because I know with absolute certainty that T-shirts with things written on them are hopelessly naff. I’ve always known this, but I just can’t resist. I’m powerless over T-shirts with shit on the front (and/or back). (When I was at university, my roommate used to rag me relentlessly about the slogan shirts I always wore. One day when we were staying in dorms in an American college, she locked herself out of her room after she’d showered. I forced her to choose between greeting the RA who could open her door in one of my besloganned T-shirts or a towel. As I recall, she chose the towel.)

For years I wore political shirts. Womyn’s this, lesbian that, radical this, progressive that. That’s pretty much in the past, now, but I’m still a sucker for a souvenir shirt. Every year I spring for the Pride shirt of my company’s lesbian and gay employees’ group. I don’t march with them at Pride—I don’t even wear the shirt at Pride—but I can’t resist making a purchase. It’s usually a hideous mishmash of company logos, rainbows, and pink triangles, but I still buy one, sometimes two.

Today was one of the days I chose not to wear a V-neck, and because I was wearing a zipper hoodie (I have no idea what that is in England, so screw yez) my T-shirt was visible. It was one of my rather extensive collection of Kukuxumusu shirts featuring bull testicles—not just bull testicles, you understand, but since testicles are an integral part of a bull, where there’s a bull there are bull testicles.

So, I present to you the You Say Tomato version of Troubled Diva’s “Shirt off My Back Project”: The Bull’s Testicles Project. Using the Comments feature, guess when I’ll run out of shirts featuring bull’s balls, and you’ll win … one of those bloody company Pride shirts I keep buying every year. Collectors’ items, they are. (Note: This is a real contest. Please make your guess by midnight--Pacific Time--Thursday, Oct. 17.)

Being the shy, retiring type, I’m not going to actually model the shirts, but I’ll present an image of the shirt I wore that day. You can trust me.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Morning Glory
When I was younger, I was most definitely not a morning person. In fact, I was one of those people who had very little experience of mornings, sleeping right through them most days. That's all changed now, though. The latest I leave the house is 7:20, and usually I'm in the line for coffee by that time. This morning, though, I needed to catch up on some work before I reached the office, so I got up at the ungodly hour of 5:15 and was at Victrola just a little after it opened.

When I got down to 15th Street, I couldn't believe how much activity there was: The QFC, being a 24-hour store, had several cars in the lot; a truck was disgorging its wares outside Rainbow Grocery, and there were already several workers inside stashing away the fresh new produce; and inside the coffee shop at least five tables were already occupied with folks reading the paper, writing the Great American Novel, or studying from massive text books. Meanwhile, thousands were asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh, asleep in granite Aberdeen.

In general, the workday starts earlier on the West Coast. There's the obvious time-zone aspect: To maximize the shared working hours with East Coast clients and co-workers, we start early and they start late. But I swear Seattle has more early birds than any city I've lived in: Crew teams are in the water by 5 a.m., smart commuters avoid evening bridge traffic by getting their hours in before traffic gets crazy, and folks line up outside coffee shops at 6 a.m. to get their first espresso of the day.

UPDATE 10/15: Spookily enough, the Seattle P-I did a piece about 15th Street's (Sunday) morning mood today.

Sunday, October 13, 2002

The Rules of Attraction
I was nervous about seeing The Rules of Attraction after the Stranger’s film critic, a guy whose taste usually coincides more or less with mine, said in this week’s paper that he couldn’t think of a film he “enjoyed or admired … less.” Still, I was also curious, having seen a disquisition on a pretty innovative split-screen section of the movie on the Sundance Channel’s Anatomy of a Scene. Metacritic’s score for the movie was decently high—even though there were several pans from smart critics. (The Charlotte Observer’s Lawrence Toppman said The Rules of Attraction “ranks with the Great Pyramid of Khufu as a monument to self-indulgence.”)

The first odd thing that I noticed was that of the 25 or so people in the 1:30 showing at the Varsity, only three of us were women. It’s definitely a guy film for the strong-stomached (there are some very harsh sights—not the horror-movie “avert your eyes and isn’t this fun” sort, but rather the Roman shower, physical degradation kind of unsettling visuals). It’s a movie where a scene of a guy taking a shit on-camera is one of the least unsettling images.

It’s set at an elite East Coast college (in Bret Easton Ellis’ novel it’s clearly his alma mater, Bennington) where dorm life seems to consist of sex, serious drug and alcohol abuse, and the phrase “rock and roll.” In other words, the self-obsessed lives of young rich people. She wants him, he wants him, and he wants … For the second time in three days, a movie made me glad I’m not a kid anymore.

The movie used the kind of non-acting that I sometimes like (my very favorite movie, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, almost completely eschewed realistic characterization), but in this case it just felt like the leads, especially James Van Der Beek (the eponymous hero of the teen TV drama Dawson’s Creek in his first nasty ass-wiping-on-screen role), just weren’t capable of anything beyond a sneer or a stare or a shrug. And the adaptation didn’t manage to satisfactorily incorporate all the interior-monologues that make up the bulk of the book.

Still, there were some genuinely innovative elements to the movie’s direction: the long split-screen shot that was on Anatomy of a Scene really was breath-taking—especially when you consider the movie’s modest budget—and some of the temporal tweaking was very smart. The “what I did in Europe this summer” in two minutes section was astonishingly energizing, even though the character involved was truly revolting. There was one scene where I felt the director underlined something that viewers would’ve understood without extra hand-holding (I won’t go into details so as not to spoil the dénouement, but feel free to mail me if you’ve seen the film), but on the whole he respected the audience’s intelligence.

Ay, but once again with the inappropriate laughter! It’s not a laugh-out-loud funny film—such humor as there is comes from observing the characters’ attitudes to life—but there were a couple of scenes where really appalling things happened, and only then did people giggle up a storm. I swear I sometimes want to shout out, “What are you laughing at? This is pain, people!”

Saturday, October 12, 2002

Hell House
On Friday night we walked down to the Little Theatre to see Hell House, a documentary about an original Christian house of horrors (see clips here).

Haunted houses are an American Halloween staple: People pay a few bucks to get scared in familiar ways, like a sort of walk-through version of a fairground ghost train. But instead of ghosts and goblins and bags of peeled-grape eyeballs, Hell House shows the Christian vision of hell: alcohol, which inevitably leads to murderous drunken driving; “rave” dancing, which inevitably leads to drug-taking and rape; homosexuality, which inevitably leads to AIDS and death; the Internet, which inevitably leads to illicit relationships, family violence, and incest; stuttering, which inevitably leads to classroom suicide (as dramatic as that re-enactment of Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” video was, it was hard to glean the theological point); sex, which can either lead to abortion—and therefore death—or to suicide; and the slippery slope of Harry Potter novels/ouija boards/role-playing games, which inevitably leads to the occult and … well, who knows, but most likely suicide, since that seemed to be the consequence of first resort.

These late-October Christian theme parks are all over the country these days, but the movie focused on the original and best-known, organized by the Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, Texas, which draws 13,000 people every year. After passing through the various rooms of the house, the tour groups get an intense soul-saving pitch, and according to the organizers’ claims, in the last 10 years, about 15,000 of the 75,000 visitor have been “saved” after their visit to the house.

The movie focused on the preparations for the show—deciding the year’s themes, writing the script, holding auditions, building the house, rehearsing—with the last 15 minutes or so devoted to the live performances and some attendees’ reactions. The director also threw in a few semi-random scenes from the participants’ lives—a single father of five, two of whom have cerebral palsy, struggling to cope with the hectic morning routine (his wife left him after an Internet affair), the dating habits of Christian teenagers, the curricula of Christian schools (although it would’ve been a tangent, I wish I could’ve seen a Christian Spanish class—when the movie flashed on the Trinity School textbooks, I wanted to see them in use), the beliefs of the participants, and lots of scenes of speaking in tongues and laying on of hands, which looked very, very sketchy.

In the end, they were just a bunch of kids playing parts—even the adults involved: the preacher tricked out in T-shirts and a hideous Hitler mustache so he could appeal to his youth “audience”; the sad loser of a Spanish teacher living out his fantasies in a weird Hell House race-war scene; the smug, creepy tech dude twiddling his knobs and dials; the “DJ” desperate to look like a hip rave-scene expert but clearly clueless. And then lots of teenagers getting to act out intense scenes of torment—a drama teen’s dream, in other words.

Toward the end there was a strong scene of some slacker teens who had been through the house confronting the cop who organizes security and supplies the guns they use in the show. The cop didn’t have an answer as to why the show was so focused on death as the inevitable consequence of straying from the straight and narrow—why should the only image of gayness be a dude dying on AIDS; why should the only consequence of going to a rave be that you’ll be drugged and raped; why should reading Harry Potter lead you straight to Satan? (I’d add to that another unasked question: Why does the script present men as evil pigs and women as helpless victims?)

In the very earliest stage of conceptualizing the show, the preacher made it clear that some topics were off-limits—there would be no lesbian or gay couples for the same reason there are no boy-girl scenes: the kids spend so much time together … He trailed off, but it seemed he was afraid that by working together for so long in the rehearsals and the performances, the “actors” might actually become a couple and. Way to have faith, dude.

Despite the general creepiness of most of the adults portrayed in the movie, I was impressed by the sincerity and articulateness of pretty much everyone involved. I’m very glad I didn’t grow up in a small Texas town like that, but as long as you can get out of it without too many scars, there are worse ways to grow up.

Once again, the plague of inappropriate laughter was in full force. These days it seems that people feel the need to laugh like a drain whenever there’s something “difficult” on the screen. Sometimes—as at Punch-Drunk Love or last year’s The Royal Tenenbaums—the audience seems desperate to show how hip they are, to signal that they appreciate the director’s ironic or arch sensibility. Last night it felt as though people needed to show that they were different from those crazy Christian rubes; more urban, less gullible, more sophisticated. No doubt they are, but it strikes me as disrespectful. It reminds me though of something director George Ratliff said on NPR: When asked how general audiences’ reaction to the movie differed from the Hell House congregation’s, he said, “They just laughed in different places.”

Hell House bonus: Check out the Hell House feature on the excellent Public Radio International show, This American Life (it’s the second story), and this piece from NPR’s Weekend Edition. Also, the real Hell House XII kicked off this weekend; this year's show appears to have a 9-11 theme: Check out their site!
Without an Accent
I’ve watched the first few episodes of Without a Trace, the show CBS has put in the post-CSI slot this season. It’s a missing persons show that focuses on reconstructing disappearances and finding the disappeared, combining CSI-style flashbacks/reconstructions and a Law and Order-style focus on process. It’s pretty compelling, even though most of the recurring characters are rather cold.

What interests me most, though, is that two of the five leads are foreigners playing American. Anthony LaPaglia is an Aussie who has played American characters many times (and his brother Jonathan was in what might be considered a quintessential late 20th century U.S. cop show, New York Undercover) and Marianne Jean-Baptiste, of Secrets and Lies fame, is a Brit. Lots of British actors move to America, but very few do American accents. Jean-Baptiste is pretty convincing in this part, partly perhaps because so far she’s been portrayed as a schlubby pants-wearing kind of G-woman, in sharp contrast to the blonde, beskirted agent who gets to have all the sexual tension with Anthony LaPaglia.

I’m sure it’s great to get work in a relatively high-profile series, and I’m happy to see her on-screen every Thursday night, but I miss her “real” voice, and I certainly miss her smile. And it’s a sad commentary on American television that the actress with the Oscar nomination has the least exciting role in the entire show.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Edsel Nova
Yesterday, while at the right-on grocery store, R. excitedly picked up what she thought were broccoli florets. This was a good thing because, like most people, she's more interested in florets than stalks. This evening when she pulled the veg in question out of the refrigerator, she was astonished to find that she had actually purchased "asparation," a marriage of broccoli and asparagus. Since she's not keen on asparagus this was not a good thing, though apparently the veg in question went down well.

Still, you've got to wonder how they came up with the name. It's easy to imagine a bunch of baggy-suited young things sitting around a novelty table brainstorming names, but it is very difficult to figure out how the contest was won by what sounds like a cross between the not terribly good for you sugar substitute aspertane and the thing they put in your mouth to suck out your saliva when you're in the dentist's chair.
Catching Up
For various reasons too dull to go into here I wasn’t able to use my home computers Monday and Tuesday, and even though I’ve only been reblogging for two weeks, I was really jonesing for my fix. So, what’s been going on?

1. Russian is coming along nicely. Now I’m grateful that there was an alphabet to learn. It’s just an alphabet—nothing complicated like a syllabary—so even after just 4.5 hours of class I’ve moved from looking at the textbook and getting a headache to experiencing one of those movie moments where the letters blur out of and into focus and suddenly start making sense. I still read with the halting manner of a kid in a “Hooked on Phonics” commercial, but at least I can read.

2. I have a big decision to make. Two weeks from today, as part of the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, it’s “Revenge of Cine-oke,” karaoke with a cinematic twist, where you sing along to your favorite movie scenes. At first I was planning on doing “I’ve Never Been to Me,” from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but after someone in vanpool expressed interest in a duet, something from West Side Story is looking more likely. We can’t decide between “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love” with me as Anita and J. as Maria, or “America” with J. as the girls and me as the boys. “America” would be more spectacular, but harder to stage with just the two of us. Thots?

3. I’m almost through with Tribulation Force, but I STILL don’t know what’s going on with New Babylon/Baghdad, so it’s possible I’ll have to read the next one, Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist, to find out. And I’m really not sure I can manage that.

UPDATE OCT. 14: We decided to do "America" for cine-oke, despite its staging problems. Now I have to look for a purple shirt so I can look like Nardo.
One for the Boys
The Onion constantly kicks butt, but "Newly Out Gay Man Overdoing It" is a classic of the genre.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Egalité, Fraternité, Insécurité
In today's column, the shocking admission that it took the Tory press to call out the Parisian mayor's attacker as a "gay hater."

Sunday, October 06, 2002

Apocalyptic Novels and Mainstream Movies
A bit of a weird weekend, mostly because of my mood, which wavered somewhere between blank and blurred. I just couldn’t focus or even figure out what I wanted to focus on. The only things I had to do this weekend were go to an appointment on Saturday afternoon and do the laundry on Sunday. Although I gripe and groan when my weekends are too full, I’m usually miserable when I have a lot free time because I’m always afraid that I’ve missed some golden opportunity or have misspent the glorious hours.

On Saturday I read a bit of Tribulation Force—yes, as in the “Left Behind” series—which may be responsible for my strange disposition. I’m not in the “Left Behind” demographic by a pretty long stretch, though I imagine that a lot of folks read them for similar reasons to mine—a desire to know what the fundies are up to. I read the first book in the series almost on a bet: I was in a used-book store with some friends and a pal offered me her change to buy whatever I was looking at. It was Left Behind, and it turned out to be a not-totally-horrible page-turner, without a whole lot of God talk (prophecies, yes; God-talk, mercifully little).

The thing that made me want to follow the series is the focus on Babylon. Fundamentalist Christians have been supporting Israel for decades because several of the end-times Christian prophecies involve events in the state of Israel: No Israel, no end times. In Left Behind the Antichrist took over the United Nations and was about to move the headquarters of world government to Babylon. The week that I read LB, Bush was at the United Nations talking about Iraq, and, of course, Babylon is located about 50 miles from modern-day Baghdad. So, I had to read on to find out what the fundies are thinking about when they ponder bombing Saddam.

My Saturday appointment was in a neighborhood where I lived about six years ago. It always had high-rise condos, but now the place is crawling with them. As I walked downtown, I must’ve passed at least 20 new buildings with the paint barely dry. Naturally, they’re in full resident-seeking mode. I’m an ideal candidate for their “city living” sales pitch, and I confess I fantasized about living in one of the deluxe but sterile buildings.

After a spot of guilt-inducing shopping at Old Navy (their prices are so ridiculously low it’s impossible to even imagine they’re paying decent wages to the folks who put the clothes together; I've tried to buy clothes in stores more appropriate for my age and station in life, but I never wear them and have concluded I'm supposed to dress like a teenage boy), I went to see Barbershop, another bit of culture that wasn’t made with me in mind. It’s a movie that achieves what it sets out to do (sell tickets, get some laughs, uplift the audience) in a pretty effective way. The acting was uniformly good (I only realized afterward that Troy Garrity, the white wannabe, is Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden’s son!), and the story had a nice resolution.

I tell you, though, now that I’ve seen the movie, I’m really worried about Jesse Jackson. I’ve always like Jesse—I went to a bunch of rallies in D.C. when he was running for president, and I hate the dismissive way that a lot of politicians, journalists, and voters write him off as a hopeless case. But his campaign to have disparaging references to Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks cut from the DVD and video versions of the movie is whack. The comments come from a character who’s clearly full of shit, and everyone else in the shop gets on his case for disrespecting civil rights heroes. For a genius communicator, Jesse isn't displaying much faith in folks' ability to deconstruct messages.

It’s a little surprising that there haven’t been more mainstream black movies about barbershops. I remember the debut of Empire Road, one of the BBC’s first Afro-Caribbean shows, which was set in a black barbershop in Brixton. I was never knocked out by Norman Beaton’s acting, though. Empire Road was no Coronation Street.
What Might Have Been
Some bloody good stuff over at Swish Cottage, written 30 years after the author's family left England for South Africa (he returned to England when he was 30).

My uncle emigrated to South Africa when I was about 3. At the time it seemed as if he was going away for ever--my grandparents didn't have a phone, so other than one or two very brief trips back to England very early in his life abroad they didn't speak to him or see him for about 20 years. He married a South African and had a bunch of children. Now they've all "come back" to England.

I haven't seen him since he returned to Britain; don't want to really. He fully embraced the apartheid mentality--was always full of piercing insights into how people of various races smelled. My only memories of him--other than his visit when I was in my early teens--was waving him off when I was a tiny nipper, how stuck up my South African cousins were when they visited when I was 7 or so, the stuffed elephant he brought me on that visit (I was disappointed because I'd asked for a live monkey), the blue "aerograms" my grandma sent and received, and how I once got an extra Christmas gift when the present my grandma had bought for the South African grandkids was too expensive to mail to them. It was Mousetrap, a game that was fun as a concept but not terribly playable--especially by an only child. Still, it was a total score.

Saturday, October 05, 2002

Mazel tov, Anita and Jack
Mazel tov to Anita of Anita’s LOL and Anita’s Book of Days on her wedding today.

She's been in my Favorites for years—I can still remember reading about her first (I think) date with Jack, and now they’re tying the knot. Our paths cross occasionally (mostly at SIFF), and many’s the time I’ve asked her for more info after reading about something on her site. She’s always the soul of kindness—answering boneheaded questions with grace and offering helpful advice (I remember talking to her before I bought my first digital camera some years back). She was kind enough to invite me to the wedding. Unfortunately I had another appointment this afternoon, but it was so sweet of her to ask.

Best wishes, Anita and Jack: May you have a long and happy life together.
Since I’d seen everything else currently showing in the neighborhood (not so hard since the Broadway Market cinema closed its doors, sob), on Friday night we went to see Skins, a movie I’d eschewed at this year’s SIFF.

It’s a Native movie, directed by Chris Eyre, who helmed (as they say in Variety) Smoke Signals. I enjoyed it overall—the themes are so powerful that even weak acting and a lack of gray tones couldn’t drain its emotional impact. Like rez life, the movie was a bit of a mess—raising issues then just leaving them floating in the air.

The actors I’d seen before have all done stronger work elsewhere—Eric Schweig was great in Big Eden (the opening night movie of the 2000 SGLFF); Graham Greene is awesome in about half the stuff he appears in and mails in his other performances; and Tina Keeper (Michelle from North of 60) looked drawn and much older than her years (again, probably typical of folks living on the Pine Ridge Reservation). Weirdly enough, the two movies I saw this week (Punch-Drunk Love and Skins) both featured a lot of amateur actors. In Skins, it was easy to see why Chris Eyre wanted to use first nations people in the film, but I wasn't quite so clear why Paul Thomas Anderson chose to do so in P-DL.

Despite my gripes, I was grateful to see even a fictional depiction of Native life in the shadow of Mount Rushmore. A lot of Skins deals with alcoholism. A couple of weeks ago we spent the weekend on the Makah Nation. Like most tribal lands, they have very strict rules barring alcohol, but when we went to the beach there were guests at a wedding swigging beer and the parking lot of the Makah Maiden diner was littered with cans.

While looking at the Skins Web site, I noticed that Chris Eyre did a “Rolling Rez Tour,” taking a mobile cinema to Indian land all over America. Right on!
Russian for Beginners
I had my first Russian class Wednesday night. The gender breakdown is one I recognize from my English-teaching days in Spain—way more women than men, and the women apparently more at ease with language-learning.

If any of the women came to class hoping for an Italian for Beginners-type scenario, I think they’ll be disappointed—the class of seven broke down six women, one man. The guy was a sweet, shorts-wearing, bad-bleach-job kind of urban surfer dude, but he seemed to have the least foreign-language experience in the class. I hope he comes back next week or we’ll have a tough time practicing the male pronouns.

I think that everyone is starting from scratch, Russian-wise. Certainly, everyone seemed equally clueless about the alphabet. That’s a relief because although one “false beginner” in a class can be helpful as far as moving things along—always being the first person called on because the teacher knows they’re likely to get it right—they also get bored easily, and a nervous teacher can give up on the others to keep the false beginner engaged. All you really need is a not-too-bad student who’s willing to make a fool of herself. I usually volunteer for that role. My language strategy has always been to combine my natural willingness to look ridiculous with my ear for accents, while skimping on the grammar.

Nobody seems clueless, which is a relief. A kind person working as a teacher feels a natural reluctance to leave the tone-deafies behind—but if you give them too much slack, you can really piss off the OK students. The last language class I took was a Japanese course at the U—a frustrating experience because it was loaded with hopeless cases. By Week 10 we were still spending half the class telling the teacher whether or not it was snowing. I used to torture the teacher—a nice middle-aged guy who told us he’d come to the States because he loved Westerns so much—by inserting Japanese slang I pried from my Nihongo-speaking pals into the endless chants of “Ie, yuki ja arimasen.”

The Russian teacher seems smart but insecure. She obviously knows her stuff, and her English is amazingly good, but she uses it too much. Even the very sketchy English academy I worked for in Madrid had a strict target-language-only policy, which makes elementary classes bloody hell, but it’s a better way to learn. But with an alphabet to learn and a pretty ambitious syllabus, not to mention me wanting to have a basic level by mid-December when I go to Moscow, I’m certainly not going to complain.
L-U-L-A Lula
And for today's column ... Brazil seems likely to choose a Commie to become its next president. The financial markets are spooked, but the voters have had it with the traditional political class.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

International Papers
Just to prove that I don't always write about the sex lives of Tory has-beens, today's column is about the Israeli press's spanking of Ariel Sharon for the ill-conceived siege of Yasser Arafat's Ramallah compound and the inevitable pullout that followed.
Big Brother Finis
Today is the one-week anniversary of the climax of my first reality television experience—the final of Big Brother 3. I started watching the show accidentally, when I taped the wrong channel, but naturally I got hooked. One of the Cha, a serious reality-show viewer, shared my mania, so last Wednesday we had a mini viewing party (since she arrived an hour early, we warmed up by watching an ancient Love Boat on TV Land).

In the U.S. version of the show, the 10 evicted houseguests decide the winner, with the TV audience call-in breaking a tie if necessary. It was an extraordinary experience—when they were about to announce the results, I thought I might have a heart attack I was so anxious. (The only time I remember feeling so lightheaded about a vote was the 1997 British general election.) Danielle, whom I had come to detest, clearly simply forgot that pissing off the evictees would guarantee a loss even if she got to the final two and had insulted pretty much everyone in her diary sessions. (I concluded that this need to vent to the “private” camera was pathological; there’s no way she could not have realized that when the people she’d tearfully told “I love you” saw her making fun of them in the diary room, they’d hate her.) Her opponent, Lisa, who came across as a pleasant person with a hot bod, won 9-1. I was very happy, even though I’d predicted a much narrower win for Lisa (and thus didn’t win the peanut butter and jelly prize)

Now the loop is closed with the posting of the final recap on the brilliant Television Without Pity. Spot-on, funny writing that manages to take just the right tone—and I agree with Miss Alli’s take on all the characters, I mean players.

A couple of particularly brilliant excerpts:

Of Jason (the decorative Christian virgin that Danielle used to do her dirty work, a victim of brainwashing if ever I saw one; he was the last to leave the house):
He totally misses the question—or dodges it, depending on whether you think he's dim or not. I tend to think he's a little dim, honestly. At any rate, instead of answering the question, he says some more how much he loves everyone, which is ... fine, but not really relevant, of course. It's just the only thing he knows how to say. He's kind of like a blender where all the buttons are broken but one. You're getting "Chop," whether you like it or not.

Of Danielle’s flawed strategy (some evictees were saying they might vote for her because she “played the game well”:
The only things there are in this game are (1) staying in the house; and (2) getting people to vote for you at the end. Those are the only two things you have to do. They are both legitimately part of the game. There is no reason in hell why anyone should vote for you in the second part because of how well you played the first part. Simply put, why should you hand half a million bucks to an ass? … The only way Danielle "played the best" was in convincing people to do what she wanted and fooling them into not thwarting her. But she did a horrible job of securing votes at the end, which is equally part of the game.
100 Things
1. I don’t know how to drive and have never had a driving lesson. Hell, I’ve never even sat in the driver’s seat, though I pumped gas for someone once in about 1987.
2. My accent—a mixture of broad Lancashire, education, and 18 years in the United States—confuses people. The most frequent guess is “Scottish?”
3. I was the first member of my extended family to stay on at school after the age of 15.
4. I’m still the only member of my family to have attended university (unless you count a step-cousin from South Africa who I've never met).
5. I learned to type from a computer program in the late ‘80s.
6. I swear like a docker, though I’ve finally managed to stop beginning sentences, “Fuckin’ …”
7. The track that I never erase from my MP3 player is Talvin Singh’s “Traveler.” (I like the version I downloaded it from an MP3 site much better than the version on OK.)
8. I have two passports: a purple Great Britain/European Union one and a blue U.S. version.
9. I can’t swim; hate water.
10. R and I have been together since May 1997.
11. I have a degree in American Studies from Nottingham University.
12. I do not now nor have I ever owned a mobile phone.
13. In 2001 (the last full year for which statistics are available) I saw 93 movies in the cinema.
14. Although I own both a VCR and a DVD, I don’t much care for watching movies on the small screen.
15. I have implants—dental not breastal.
16. I see four dentists on a regular basis: a general dentist, an orthodontist, an endodontist, and a periodontist/implantologist.
17. Over the course of the last six years, I have had braces, a gum graft, two dental implants, and two other periodontic surgeries, as well as multiple root canals and at least six new crowns. (And there’s still a long way to go before my picture is removed from The Big Book of British Smiles.)
18. I’m a recovering TV addict. Before I met R, I regularly watched six hours per night. Now I’m down to about 10 hours per week, pretty much always the same shows: Coronation Street, EastEnders, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Oz, Sex and the City, Iron Chef, and CSI, plus whatever Law and Order, Simpsons, and Friends reruns I come across. (Yes, it adds up to more than 10 hours, but not by much; the HBO shows alternate, and the reruns are few and far between.)
19. I’ve been watching Coronation Street for as long as I can remember, (though there were gaps when I lived in cities where it couldn't be seen). It would be very hard to leave Seattle, unless it was to move to another city that picks up Canadian television.
20. When I taught English in Spain, during role-playing exercises I would always give students the names of Coronation Street characters. (“Chhhello, theees ees Betty Tooorpin, cooold I speak to Meeester Mike Baaldween, plees?")
21. Recently, I had my first run-in with reality TV, getting completely addicted to Big Brother 3. (Live feeds, the works. It won’t happen again.)
22. I am an only child. (R has 10 siblings.)
23. I went to a direct grant school.
24. I grew up in a house without indoor plumbing (my folks still live in the same house, but as of 1982 it boasts a dysfunctional but definitely indoor bathroom).
25. I subscribe to way more magazines than I can possibly read: The New Yorker, The Economist, The Atlantic Monthly, Foreign Affairs, Rubberstampmadness, Film Comment, Tennis, and Tennis Week (and probably more that I’m not remembering).
26. In 1980 I attended three-quarters of tennis’s grand slam (I missed the Australian Open), as well as about 10 other tournaments.
27. I never had any interest in actually playing tennis.
28. I was a radio DJ for six years—one year at the college station in Newark, Del., five years on WPFW in Washington, D.C.
29. Starbucks is dead to me (a barista was rude, but the real sin was that the manager of the coffee shop I’d been visiting almost daily for at least three years stood by and watched). Now I drink at Victrola, which is better anyway, even if they are a bit slow in the mornings.
30. I’m a happy homosexual.
31. I’ve been a season-ticket holder at the Seattle Opera for about six years. I go with my friend Susan
32. I was born in the year of the ox.
33. I was born in 1961.
34. I recently installed a wireless network in our apartment.
35. When I speak Spanish, I’m often mistaken for a Spaniard—until the third sentence. I have a great accent, but my grammar sucks.
36. I speak French poorly, but I read it pretty well.
37. I’ve taken an evening class in Japanese (though all I can really say is “Good morning,” “Good evening,” "It's snowing," and “The language of film is universal”).
38. I am taking Russian lessons.
39. I went to graduate school at the University of Delaware, but I don’t have a graduate degree.
40. I love libraries.
41. I once worked as a researcher for an encyclopedia.
42. I have lived in three capital cities.
43. I’ve never visited Africa, Australia, Asia, or South America (that afternoon in Tijuana doesn’t count).
44. I go to art camp every year.
45. I’m a sucker for sports; just flipping through Sports Illustrated makes me cry.
46. Though I regularly cry at the movies or while watching sports on television, I very rarely cry in real life.
47. I love my job.
48. I hate talking on the telephone.
49. My mom calls me almost every day, but we rarely speak for more than one minute.
50. I’m not a good housekeeper, and the house is too messy to hire a cleaner.
51. I like to listen to sports radio.
52. I have no sense of direction, and maps are absolutely meaningless to me.
53. The weirdest holiday I ever went on was a meandering coach trip from Madrid to Oslo with 40 people from the Spanish village of Colmenar Viejo.
54. Because I ended up spending my holiday as an amateur interpreter, the Colmenareños surprised me with a fabulous Nordic sweater when I left them in Bergen, Norway.
55. I love bullfighting.
56. I’ve never seen anyone seriously injured in the ring.
57. The best bullfight I ever saw involved Cristina Sanchez. I threw my hat into the ring when she was awarded two ears; she threw it back. (That’s normal!)
58. I have at least 10 items of clothing that bear my employer’s logo.
59. I'm a Cancer (though there's some cusp action going on).
60. I’ve been a full-series pass holder for the Seattle International Film Festival for the last six years.
61. My favorite day of the year is when the SIFF schedule is released.
62. I’ve worn glasses since I was 6.
63. Before I got glasses I was always walking into furniture and falling over things.
64. The first concert I went to was Black Sabbath at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall.
65. The first single I ever bought was “Banner Man,” by Blue Mink.
66. I love to dance, though I haven’t been on a club dance floor in at least 18 months.
67. I can’t stop myself from buying notebooks and pens.
68. A week rarely passes without my buying at least one book.
69. In the first nine months of 2002 I read 33 books.
70. I love my girlfriend very much.
71. I’m very susceptible to headaches.
72. Other than dental surgery, the only operation I’ve had was laser eye surgery (not corrective—my eyes are too bad for LASIK surgery).
73. I’m a member of a cult—the ChaCha vanpool.
74. I try not to set my alarm clock for a time that, when summed, is divisible by three.
75. I love my first name.
76. I dislike my second name and thought of changing it to “Milhous” when I became a U.S. citizen. (My middle name is the same as this blogger’s, and I felt the same discomfort.)
77. I love Spanish movies.
78. Julio Medem is my favorite director.
79. I hate my local public TV station and never watch it, much less give them money.
80. All four of my grandparents lived within a half-mile radius of my childhood home.
81. One set of parents lived across from the village school, which was a polling place on Election Day. My ambition in life was to be a “runner fert Labour.”
82. I’ve never voted in an English election.
83. I’ve never voted for a winning U.S. presidential candidate.
84. I’ve been on two feminist collectives.
85. I’ve worked at three monthly magazines and one daily Webzine.
86. I worked in publishing for eight years.
87. My favorite Thai restaurants in Seattle are the Royal Palm and Sea Thai.
88. I consulted a pet psychic about my cat, who can be a little aggressive.
89. I don’t drink brown spirits.
90. I’ve never been on a diet (though I’m considering it in the near future).
91. I’ve never been to a Passover seder.
92. I only take my socks off to shower.
93. I don’t like sitting near English people in restaurants (except when I'm in England).
94. I love visiting Victoria, B.C.—and not for ironic reasons.
95. I never drink tea in a U.S. restaurant or coffee shop (except in specialist tea shops where they know the water needs to reach a bubbling boil).
96. I have eaten bear sausage.
97. I don’t care for shellfish.
98. I went to a mixed secondary school (common and posh as well as girls and boys), yet, when I was in the sixth form, I played a male character in the school play.
99. I’ve been online since about 1993.
100. I was a teenage malinger. During the last five years of high school not a single week passed without me taking at least one day off "sick." (Hey, if you started to watch a case of Crown Court, you couldn’t miss the verdict.)

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Punch-Drunk Love
Just returned from a screening of Punch-Drunk Love, P.T. Anderson's new film, starring Adam Sandler and Emily Watson. Yes, you read right: Adam Sandler of Waterboy, Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, Little Nicky, and "The Hannukah Song" fame. Emily Watson of Breaking the Waves, Hilary and Jackie, and Gosford Park renown. Apparently, this was the first public screening of the movie, and ... PTA and Adam Sandler were on hand to creep us out and do a Q and A.

The film itself is good, on the whole. A damaged, hurt guy is trying desperately to be normal, trying to make it in the world, deal with his family (he has seven sisters), and find the elusive place where he isn’t alone and weird. The world seems to terrify him, and the movie’s soundtrack—not just the music, which is great, but also the amplified, terrifying noise of everyday life—also makes viewers cower in fear of the next burst of noise. If you ignore all the “business” of the movie—the little tics and idiosyncrasies that young filmmakers like P.T. Anderson and Wes Anderson seem to love to lard up their movies with—Punch-Drunk Love is basically a tortured, sometimes hard-to-look-at tale of love taking away the staggering amount of pain and discomfort that sometimes saturates everyday life.

Adam Sandler really isn’t bad at all. My movie-going companion and I agreed that he handled the movie surprisingly well. If he hadn’t, the film would’ve been an utter disaster: He’s onscreen for about 85 of the movie’s 90 minutes; running, hurting, and finally loving. He manages to combine the best qualities of both a great silent movie star, Basil Fawlty, and the lead in a musical—he struggles, he shouts, he dances. Yes, Adam Sandler is good.

Emily Watson is brilliant. She’s a calm, quiet, lovely presence in the middle of utter chaos. She could quiet anyone’s demons, and when she reaches Barry (Sandler) as he’s leaving her building and tells him she’d wanted to kiss him, and he runs, trying crazily to find wherever he was before she threw that lifeline, when the door opens and they find one another, it’s a beautiful romantic moment that happens so rarely in the cinema.

Ah, but PTA is an asshole. Out in front at the Cinerama, he twitched, he scratched, he was hip. I wanted to hit him with those sedation darts you shoot wild animals with. The crowd of PTAholics was obnoxious—the inappropriate laughter that plagues young directors’ movies was in full force. One young devotee in the audience blurted that the movie was “fucking Golden Age.” Whatever. At one point, PTA put his disheveled head on the annoying MC’s breasts. Dude, next time you’re out in public, treat the audience with a bit of respect. Your movie deserves better.