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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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Sunday, November 10, 2002

The LA Experience
My sole escape from five blocks of downtown Los Angeles provided the quintessential LA experience. Mickey took me to the Venice restaurance Axe (pronounced A-shay, apparently), and who should be sitting at the front table but Anthony LaPaglia of Lantana/Without a Trace fame. Thanks to a little run-in with the health department back in September (see last item), there was lots of room despite the presence of a bona fide movie star.
Leaving Los Angeles
It must be time for me to leave: The sun is out. It's amazing how different things look and feel when they're bathed in light rather than shrouded in mist. I think I would've had a very different experience here if the weather had been like this the whole time. The buildings across the street that seemed mildly threatening now just look like generic low-income housing with lots of people having fun hanging around outside. Instead of wanting to take the quickest route home to get out of the rain, I might've lingered checking out the neighborhood more thoroughly. I think a lot of my nervousness came from not having a sense of where I was. LA geography is hard to figure, especially for someone like me with not a jot or tittle of a sense of direction. Ach, well, after brunch with famous L.A. blogger Mickey Kaus, I'm back on the plane to Seattle.

One last highly unoriginal observation about Los Angeles: LA is a Spanish-speaking city. Obviously, I've experienced a minuscule corner of a huge place, but everywhere I've been, workers whose first language is Spanish have switched between their native tongue and perfect though accented English, according to what was appropriate. How much of a service is that, and how much a bonus do you think they get paid for providing it? The answers are "huge" and "nothing." If they were providing translation/bilingual services in any other language in any other country they'd be pocketing a huge premium for their language skills. Here they get to be waiters and elevator operators.

Linky love special: Proto-Angeleno blogger Tony Pierce riffs on the rain; and some candid photos from the worst-attended Tier 1 tennis tournament in the world.

Saturday, November 09, 2002

More News From a Wet Place
It's still raining in LA, and from what I can gather, it started just about when I arrived and is expected to stop just about when I'm due to leave. I'm starting to realize that this relentless fine mist can be just as pernicious as a Seattle-style drenching. It's sneakier—not the kind of soaking you get stepping into a heavens-opening downpour, but a slow, sneaky dampness that just sort of leaves you feeling perpetually "not-dry."

The last couple of tennis matches I've been to have been awesome—yesterday Venus Williams v. Monica Seles was a tightly contested battle, and today's tussle between Jennifer Capriati and Magdelena Maleeva went to three tough sets. The higher-seeded players won each time, but both matches were exciting and could have gone either way. And still there is hardly anyone here to see them. It's as if the World Series were being played in front of a crowd smaller than you might find for a college softball game, the Super Bowl were played in front of a crowd smaller than you'd find for a Texas high-school football game, or if the FA Cup Final were played in front of just a couple of hundred Huddersfield Town supporters.

The folks who are here don't seem to have much of a clue what's going on. I mean they follow the scoring, but they don't seem quite hip to tennis etiquette—not applauding double faults (some folks were even applauding single faults), moving around while play is in progress, or making noise while rallies are going on. They're not malicious, they just don't know the rules. There doesn't seem to be a natural fan base—in England you always find tons of lesbians, a smattering of guys with long lenses hoping to make eye contact with a young millionaire and have her follow him back to his bed-sit in Kilburn, and your basic middle-class Home Counties couples who like a bit of sport at tennis tournaments. Here it seems to be mostly random, casual observers.

In some ways, tennis just isn't compatible with the U.S. indoor sports culture. Folks who are used to going to the Staples Center to see the Lakers or the Clippers play basketball or the Kings play hockey have a certain expectation of how to behave. You cheer on the home team and try to sabotage the visitor. There are no rules about when you can applaud or when you can go out to get a beer. For the tennis, if you want to go get a snack (and the arena really wants you to do that, since they make major bucks out of concessions), you're going to miss at least two games, probably four, just running out on to get food or to go pee. You have two minutes to get to your seat, and if you don't find the right spot, an usher and maybe even the chair umpire is going to yell at you to please just take the nearest seat. In LA, where folks go to events to see and be seen, just sit in the nearest seat? It's anathema to the local culture, where your position in the pecking order is determined by the choice-ness of your seating assignment. And there's no schmoozing—in a culture where companies lay out thousands of dollars on tickets to sporting events so they can wine, dine, and glad-hand potential clients, you've got to shut up, sit down, and stay where you are.

I've seen hardly any doubles matches, because the press conferences for the singles players clash with the doubles, and it's hard to pass up the opportunity to be one of 30 people asking questions of the best tennis players in the world, many of whom also happen to be among the most famous people in the world. I'm really impressed with just about everyone. Even when they've just lost a tough match, players are patient and answer questions that they've no doubt answered hundreds perhaps thousands of times in their careers. It's tough to be original, though. At this particular event, the press conferences are transcribed and distributed just minutes after they're over, so all the stories use the same quotes. "Personal" topics are off-limits (and there are grim-faced WTA officials on hand to nix any verboten subject matter) and it's very hard to elicit information about a just-completed game that will truly interest folks who weren't at the match. I've been especially impressed with Maggie Maleeva, Venus Williams, and Kim Clijsters. They seem like cool, smart women who it would be fun to hang out with.

Friday, November 08, 2002

News From a Wet Place
Here’s irony: I, a Mancunian-turned-Seattlite, arrive in Los Angeles, and down comes the rain. The (appalling) TV news informed me that this is the first rain since Jan. 26. It’s really more like an intense mist, but it still had the local newsistas spending half the show on “Weather Watch.” (None of the reporters in the field seem to have the sense to wear a hat or hold an umbrella. I suspect they're cultivating the wet dog look to exaggerate the amount of precipitation.)

The afternoon's tennis was uninspiring and very brief. Still very few people in the stands—and even fewer paying customers from the look of some of the folks sitting near me. Not that I blame the organizers for papering the room. Hell, they could give away another 19,000 tickets and still have room for all the folks who actually paid for their seats. It's hard to know why. There's no doubt that the draw is incredible—these really are the top 16 women's tennis players in the world—but maybe because of the lack of spectators and atmosphere, no one can be bothered to drive over to the Staples Center to watch. Tickets are pretty expensive too—for this afternoon's session, for example, the cheapest seat in the house was $25; the most expensive $125. For that, spectators got one singles match (Justine Henin v. Kim Clijsters, which started well but ended up in a blowout 6-2, 6-1) and one doubles match (Prakusya and Lee v. Stubbs and Raymond, which was also a straight sets drubbing). A bit much.

Indoor tennis in the middle of winter (slight exaggeration since we're in Southern California, but it is raining) is a tough sell, except in places where folks are starved for sport or when there's some special reason to watch (a grudge match, a home-town favorite, etc.). Still, at least three of the 16 singles players here this week are native Southern Californians, and no one, apparently, could give a shit. Probably the best solution would be to change the definition of a calendar year and play the championships after the U.S. Open when Americans still have tennis on their minds, but then there's a good chance that none of the big names would play for the next three months. But perhaps that would be better for the game, long-term.
News From Down There
A long break from blogging, but in my defense I’ve been sick, slammed, and slathered in Slavic. (That last bit was technically inaccurate, but I couldn’t think of anything sibilant that conjured up the image of Russian classes keeping me away from You Say Tomato.)

I realized last week that I have a bit of a doctor-phobia. It’s hard to understand, since I spend half my life in dentists’ offices arranging and undergoing complex procedures (I swear a random stranger stopping by the 15th floor of Seattle’s Medical-Dental Building would have a 1-in-5 chance of finding me in one of its many dental nooks and crannies with my mouth wide open), but in my 11 years in Seattle, I’ve probably been in a doctor’s office four times—all 5-minute visits ascertaining if I had Condition X (I never did). But, after at least five people asked me if I was sure I didn’t have walking pneumonia, I figured I’d better go and have this longest cold in history checked out. It was nice to discover that getting a doctor’s appointment and seeing a doctor is really not half as bad as having, say, a dental implant. (Know what’s blog hit candy: periodontic procedures. I swear half my Google hits come from folks searching for phrases like “gum graft,” “dental implant,” or “sibilant dentist.” Really.) Anyhoo, I don’t have pneumonia—walking or stationary. I just have a bad mofo of a cold.

It’s funny, but you can’t tell that I’m posting this from a sketchy hotel in Los Angeles rather than my usual Seattle lair. I flew down here this morning to interview a tennis player who appeared in the October GQ with her skirt tugged up around her crotch. Unfortunately, she suffered an unexpected loss this afternoon and was in a less than joyous mood afterward, so I came out of the journey with squat—so far. Still, her conqueror has one of the greatest comeback stories of the year and is a sort of Zen master of the court, so I sent off a quick pitch to my editor at Tennis to see if can scrape some benefit out of the schlep to California.

The weirdest thing so far is that I thought I had booked a hotel across the street from the Staples Center. Instead, I booked one a 15-minute stroll away. It’s only five or six blocks, but they’re sketchy blocks, the kind you don’t really want to wander around in after dark, which seems to happen around 5 p.m. here. Perhaps it’s that I don’t have a sense of the neighborhood—I stepped off the plane, into a taxi, and into the lobby without so much as breathing a lung-full of the home-town smog. Tomorrow morning I’ll go for a wander around and, I hope, get a better sense of the place. Maybe then I’ll be more sanguine about roaming around. Hmm, maybe sanguine’s not the best word choice in this context.

For the first couple of hours that I was in my room, there was an ice-cream truck outside playing ice-cream truck “tunes,” except that it was really just seven or eight notes repeated over and over and over. It reminded me of that great album by an Irish woman whose name now escapes me—I want to say Maureen Coughlin, though that’s almost certainly wrong—that had a song about the ice-cream man. It was a very long time before I cottoned on that “ice-cream man” meant “heroin dealer.”

Want to see something sad? This is the crowd at the Staples Center for this afternoon’s matches in the tour championships—the elite end-of-year tournament for the sport's top 16 players. This isn’t at 12:30 when the doors first opened and folks were still picking up their tickets; this is around 2 p.m. toward the end of an exciting upset win featuring one of those new sex symbols of women’s tennis we keep reading about. What’s more, the folks in the foreground almost certainly aren’t actual ticket-holders, since the section where I was sitting when I took it was the all-purpose holding area for press, volunteers, friends, and whoevers. So concentrate on the background …

Sunday, November 03, 2002

The Fresh, Fresh Aroma of Dettol
BBC America, the most disappointing channel on the cable box (by no means the worst, but a pale shadow of what it could be) is currently running a series of ads for the "British Grocer" section of its Web site. An uncharacteristically smart move for them; this is exactly the time of year when even the least patriotic expat starts to wonder where this year's Christmas pud, rum sauce, and holiday chocolates are going to come from. (Last year we solved this dilemma by spending the holidays in Victoria, B.C.)

So far, so good, but alongside the Maltesers and the Hobnobs and the PG Tips, the very last product that the ad lingered over was Dettol. Dettol? If we didn't have Ye Olde Britishe Pantry (that's the shop's real name) in driving distance, I'd be tempted to send off for some chocolate digestives ($4.25), some mushy peas ($1.65), and perhaps even a nice spotted dick ($4.70), but I am fucked if I would even think of paying $4.85 (plus shipping) for 250 ml. of Dettol. Importing antiseptic into the US of A? Talk about sending coals to Newcastle.

Saturday, November 02, 2002

Monorail! Monorail!
My lungs seem to be pining for the fjords. That's the only explanation I can offer for their apparent desire to free themselves from confinement inside my body. I've spent the last week in one big coughing fit, but I took a moment between wracking hacks and gasping for breath to pop downstairs to answer the doorbell. Who should I find but a chap in a Monorail T-shirt earnestly soliciting my vote in Tuesday's election.

As a non-driver I'll definitely be saying "Monorail Yes!" on Tuesday. Since I use public transportation more than most able-bodied people I know, I'd probably vote for it whatever the circs, but the circs are that Seattle's traffic is seriously messed up. The initial downtown phase of the monorail project wouldn't do much for me, but if they did manage to get a 58-mile citywide system set up, a lot of Seattlites would be way more serene. As this Slate story points out, the monorail's "fun factor" is part of what makes it such an attractive alternative to the automobile:
The goal of mass transit is to convince people to abandon their cars, which feature such enticing accessories as CD players and elbow room. Light rails are too buslike to impress most commuters, too squished and close to the ground. Monorails, by contrast, strike a chord with travelers. There's something about the sleek designs, the pillowy rides, and the panoramic views that just enchants.

Besides, what other form of transportation gets you singing a Simpsons song every time you think of it?

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!”