the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Location: Washington D.C.

Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

It's a Hollywood staple: the bored teenager, burdened with dreams of wanderlust to leave his tiny, stifling town and make it big in New York City. In A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints the protagonist is already in New York City (Astoria, Queens to be specific) and he, conversely, dreams only of getting as far away as possible.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is based on the real-life experiences of its director, Dito Montiel, played in this film adaptation of his book by the same name by two actors, Shia LaBeouf (circa 1986) and Robert Downey Jr. (circa 2005). In the opening moments of the film, LaBeouf looks at the camera, through the screen and directly at the audience and says, with a mixture of sober inevitability and profound sadness, "My name is Dito and I'm going to leave everyone in this film."

Saints begins in the present with Dito, a successful California author getting a phone call telling him that his father is dying and to return home immediately. Though we first see Downey as Dito, this is not his movie. It's LaBeouf's. The past and the present are weaved together in such a way that their emotional beats play off one another. However, the present-day material is stretched too thin and verges on becoming little more than a framing story, not invested with nearly enough meat to really validate its existence other than the fact that, without it, there could be no forgiveness, no redemption. For while most films of this type--protagonist escaping the clutches of a rough childhood to make something of himself elsewhere--treat the escape as a heroic act, the family and friends Dito left behind for nearly 20 years look at it only as cowardice and betrayal.

In many ways we've seen this film before. Were it not for the deeply personal nature of Saints, the film, however praiseworthy it might be, would do little more than retread territory forged by films like Mean Streets or The Lords of Flatbush. But it is its very autobiographical roots that make Saints an emotional wallop, a raw, authentic work that is, at its defiant core, violently and unrestrainedly alive.

Dito lives in a rough part of Queens. He runs with friends his mother (Dianne Wiest) dubs "a pack of wolves." They are rowdy, anti-social, brimming with false bravado and bursting at the seams with ungratified sexual tension. They're led by hot-head Antonio (relative newcomer Channing Tatum) who is regularly beaten to a bloody pulp by his father and takes out his aggressions on whomever is unlucky enough to get in his way. Yes, Queens is hell and Dito runs with demons, but he stays because hell is all he knows and these demons are the only friends he has. But all that is about the change. Dito is different. He has dreams and ambitions beyond home.

Together, they strut through the streets, sweltering in the summer heat, looking for girls and trouble. The girls they find. The trouble invariably finds them. Neighborhood turf wars escalate and Dito is caught in the middle. Try as he might to explain the state of the streets to his father, Monty (Chazz Palminteri) he can never seem to break through. (What's worse, Monty seems to favor Antonio over his own flesh and blood, perhaps seeing more of himself there. Antonio, his family situation being what it is, is only too happy to return his love in a way that Dito can't.) "You're not going anywhere," Monty tells Dito, but what he means is, "please don't ever leave me." His fierce overprotectiveness and inability to see the situation for what it is drives his son further and further away.

Dito can only lose himself in the eyes and skirts of his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) for so long before the streets threaten to consume him. Ultimately, after a night of violence with terrible consequences, Dito decides it's now or never. Without saying goodbye, or looking back, he abandons everyone and everything he knows.

At Sundance, Saints won the dramatic-directing prize as well as a special award for its ensemble acting. If it doesn't seem that anyone's acting stands out, that's because everyone here is outstanding. Downey, who knows something about falls from grace, is marvelous to watch, small though his scenes are. Rosario Dawson who plays Dito's girlfriend all grown up is in only two scenes but owns them both. Chazz Palminteri thunders and pleads, Shia LaBeouf slowly unravels, but it is Channing Tatum who will be remembered. With his raw physicality and shirtless torso, the comparisons to a young Brando are inevitable. Equal parts charisma and monstrosity, his performance is electrifying.

For a first-time director, Montiel does an admirable job of giving his film the same feeling of kinetic mayhem as his life--jump cuts, beats of blackness, repeated lines, interior monologues and even snatches of dialogue printed on screen as if they were transcribed directly from the shooting script--make for a maddening cacophony. It doesn't always work and sometimes it's downright distracting, but despite this and the fact that Montiel seems to break every rule of narrative structure and storytelling convention taught in film school, Saints works despite anyway. It is the passion poured into the work that allows Saints to rise above its missteps and resonate like a pressure in our chests.

Saints is not a nostalgia-drenched walk down memory lane. This is not a story about waywardness turned to good by the straight and narrow. 1986 Bronx is doubtless a place both character Dito and director Dito were better to have escaped. And yet at what price? Unclouded by illusions of sentiment, Saints possesses a wisdom that is only granted by navigating the crucible.

When it concludes, it is not to melodrama. Deep cutting wounds spanning decades do not heal in five minutes as some Hollywood films would like us to believe, and as such, though the film allows us to glimpse the ignition of a catharsis, we are not allowed to see it play out. The film ends, perhaps before we're ready for it to, denying us what's not for us to see. It is enough that forgiveness, against all odds, has wormed its way into this hell and may yet, redeem both the demons that left and those that were never able to escape.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Wire

One of the bad things about not having premium cable is that I have no access to all the fantastic shows on HBO. All I ever hear about is how good these cable shows are, but I have no opportunity to see them.

Until they come out on DVD.

I just finished the first season of HBO's The Wire, a gritty and unvarnished look at the drug-infested world of Baltimore as seen through they eyes of both the cops and the criminals.

What makes the show so unique and ultimately so damn good is the omnipotent access. We don't simply see the bad guys do bad things, we spend time with them throughout their lives. We see these genuinely bad men sit down to supper with their families, change diapers, take care of aging parents, fall in love and through it all they transcend the villainous cliches into which they've been written by hundreds of inferior but influential cops and robbers shows and become something rarely seen anymore--authentic human beings. The cops are no less human--heroic, devoted, cowardly, uncaring, hardened, misguided, corrupt, sometimes even criminal themselves.

This is a superbly written show, though not in the way that one would praise Aaron's Sorkin's work on The West Wing as superb. This isn't about dialogue (though it does breathtakingly capture the language of the street and Baltimore's--read: America's--class system, to say nothing of cop-speak), it's about characterization. The characters are extraordinarily distinct and fleshed out personalities, full of quirks and nuance that really set them apart from each other and lead to some truly hilarious and tragic moments. That the show arcs chronologically across an entire season (now many more than that) in one sustained and never protracted story is extraordinary. Because of this fact, there is time to watch and recognize the exact moments when the plot and people's lives turn--sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst.

Beginning with a single murder and ending with a gargantuan criminal investigation involving all the resources at modern crime-fighting's disposal, The Wire perfectly captures a world where your preconceptions are challenged at every turn, and where sometimes you need more than a badge to tell a good guy from a bad guy.

The Wire. Tap in.

The Red Shoes

Ballet impresarios lucky enough to find themselves under the tutelage of Boris Lermontov know that they will come to realize the full promise and flowering of their great talents. But at what price? Charismatic Lermontov's rule is iron-fisted and absolute, his demands nothing less than complete devotion to the art and slavish loyalty to himself.

Poised for stardom, young ballerina Victoria Page must decide between her love of ballet and her love of its composer, Julian Craster. There is no easy answer. Either decision she makes will bring both pain and wrath.

Technicolor was invented for films such as "The Red Shoes." Dazzling!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


If you've known or read me for any length of time, you know I collect film scores and one composer whom I particularly enjoy is James Horner.

You also know that, for the past several years, I've banned myself from listening to Horner until he shapes up and produces something that isn't a derivative, self-ripoff of his earlier work. He has been, it seems to me, in a severe creative slump lately.

That may be over.

I can't stop listening to his latest work for All the King's Men, a score that is unmistakably Horner though original enough to be worthy of my money. Thunderous and emotional, it powerfully mixes brass, percussion, pianos and indigenous Southern instruments to create a score that is as bombastic and tender as the character Sean Penn plays.

While there is nothing groundbreaking here, it is certainly a very solid and listen-able score.


Just got out of a MIAP (Moving Image and Archive Preservation) meeting. I've volunteered to be a student representative to the faculty for the MA students in the Cinema Studies department.

All that preamble just to say that, in the discussions about upcoming events and fundraising activities, certain names are bantered about with the sort of familiarity that I'm beginning to enjoy.

"I'll talk to Marty and see if he'd be interested in helping out."

Marty, of course, being Martin Scorsese.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Of No Earthly Good

It may be too early for a post like this, but I have to admit to a certain amount of dissatisfaction with my classes. Oh, not all of them to be sure. My Screenwriting course is as fantastic, illuminating and challenging as I hoped it would be. But the other two courses--the required cores of Film Form & Film Sense and Film History & Historicity are, well, boring.

One of my professors, a learned, published and respected man in the field, reads his lectures off notes, rarely looking up, as if he were reciting columns from the phone book. My other professor is much more engaging and buoyant, however, her class also suffers from a certain amount of, shall we say, negative energy. I'm getting more from my reading than from the lectures.

I wonder if I am the only one who feels this way. Others seem to engage in our discussions enthusiastically, while I struggle to keep my mind engaged. I'm somewhere between the teacher's pet and the guy a few seats down surfing the internet or playing solitaire. It's not that I can't keep up or follow along. I know it is important information and I know this, like any pursuit, has its fair share of data one simply needs to plod through, get the check in the old mental block and move on to warmer climes. And yet, I pray that's all it is.

While it was never a driving force to begin with, I think I can safely say that life as a full-time academic is not for me. While there are those who's heads are meant to be in the clouds, there are others who prefer to find their feet on solid ground. I fall somewhere in between I guess. Neither too theoretical to be of any good to anyone, or too practical as to be little more than a muscular gorilla.

As with any academic venture, Cinema Studies has its stuffy, pompous, self-important side. It's just that I'm seeing a lot more of that lately than I am the more grounded, practical side. I firmly believe that there is a point at which we can become too smart, too smug, too sophisticated for our own good. There is a line of snobery and when we cross it, the only people who will give a damn about what we're saying is each other. And that is a sad indictment.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

All the King's Men

I came to the screening of All the King's Men prepared to open my review thusly: "There is no such thing as a sure thing. No matter how good something looks on paper--an Academy Award-winning writer/director, an impeccable Oscar-lauded cast, a remake of a 1949 Best Picture-winning film that was itself based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel--does not mean that, when put on screen, it will be nothing short of brilliant." I was toying around with the opening line idea because I was sure the movie was going to be a failure. The reviews were merciless. Rotten Tomatoes gave it only a 12% approval rating. How could I be faulted for going into it with low expectations?

So you can imagine my surprise as, while I kept waiting for a cinematic derailment that never came, I found myself liking the film more and more.

When it ended and the credits began to role, two women behind me rose, one commenting to the other,

"Wait a second. I thought that was supposed to suck. That movie was marvelous."

"Yeah," said her friend, "Fucking critics."

I, as a critic, can hardly ask you, the reader, to ignore the critics, but this, in my opinion, is one of those moments when you must. When the democracy of critique fails and the minority sees something the masses do not. That the minority here is "the people" and not ivory tower-bound critics championing some cinematic obscurity is not lost on me. Not after seeing this film.

All the Kings Men is a film about good men gone bad. It is a film, if you believe the Holy Bible, about man's origin from dirt and the original sin from which he is incapable of escaping. It is a film about loss, deception, betrayal, unfulfilled expectations and regret. It is a film about morality and potential thrown aside in pursuit of power. It is a film about human frailty.

And it is based on fact.

The rise and fall of Louisiana politician and populist dynamo Huey Long inspired the nearly 700-page novel on which both films are based. Dubbed the "most entertaining tyrant in American history," Long was loathed by President Franklin Roosevelt who thought him "one of the most dangerous men in the country." First governor and then Senator, Long had ambitions for the White House. He ran his state like a dictator, earning him the scorn of the elite but the love of the populous to whom he brought roads, schools, bridges, hospitals and universities. He just may have made good on his ambitions had he not been gunned down at the age of 42. Many still believe his fellow senators had him assassinated. His dying words were, "God, don't let me die. I have so much to do."

From this rich and colorful storehouse, writer/director Steve Zaillian, an Oscar-winner for his screenplay for Shindler's List, evokes a lush melodrama about the corruptibility of us all.

The story of All the King's Men revolves around small-time parish treasurer Willie Stark, who is persuaded to run for governor of the bedraggled state of Louisiana. (Sean Penn plays Willie Stark as only Sean Penn can. Passion bordering on hysteria. Charisma straying toward the volcanic. To see Penn deliver the film's many righteous, fiery harangues is to perhaps see a future Best Actor award in the making.) When Willie discovers the political operatives behind him are interested only in using him for their own gain, he turns the tables on them and with his natural charisma, populist idealism and genuine compassion, sweeps into the governor's mansion in a land-slide.

Reporter Jack Burden (Jude Law) believes nothing's ever going to change in Louisiana politics. Willie Stark believes exactly the opposite. He believes he IS that change, "Jesus come down from the cross" in Jack's editor's words. It is this very idealism that attracts blue-blooded Jack to working-man Willie, a curiosity about the politician's best of intentions that keeps him tied to the governor long after he knows Willie has been overcome by sleaze and graft despite his best intentions.

It isn't long before the moneyed Old Guard--everything Willie Stark fights against--seize on his peccadilloes and predilections and use them to call for an impeachment. Leading the charge is retired Judge Irwin (Anthony Hopkins), who is Jack's godfather and the uncle of Jack's childhood best friend (Mark Ruffolo) and sweetheart (Kate Winslet) who compromise a somewhat muddled and overlong (though imperative) subplot. Soon, Jack is caught between loyalty to his family and friends and a vision of Louisiana's glorious future, just a compromise or two away from being a reality.

It hit me at some point how alike All the King's Men is to Citizen Kane. Both feature good, idealistic men who rise to monumental power on a tidal wave of idealism only to have that idealism, and that power snatched out from under them because of their own greed, ambition and corruption.

All the King's Men is not a perfect film. Incoherent at times, overlong throughout, and lacking the sort of character development that reveals the small compromises that lead to tragic falls from greateness, the film nonetheless is guiltless of its savaging in the press.

Zaillian's direction is nothing short of inspired. Composer James Horner's score is thunderous. Costume Designer Merit Allen's wardrobe choices--bland variations of grays and browns--perfectly evoke the inner melancholy of their wearers. Cinematographer Pawel Edelman's camera is miraculous. Shot entirely on location in Louisiana, shortly before Hurricane Katrina struck, the location itself becomes a character--dilapidated mansions, moss-festooned trees, rain-sodden swamps, and fascist architecture that looks like something straight out of Mussolini's Italy but is, in fact, the Baton Rouge courthouse, built by Huey Long. (Interesting that a film about Louisiana's dispossessed, poor and disenfranchised should come out at exactly the time when the lessons taught by Katrina are already beginning to fade.)

The true tragedy of Willie Stark is not political in nature. It is personal. The true tragedy lies in the collapse of great intentions and compromised integrity. It didn't all happen at once, of course. It never does. It happens over time, in small, almost unrecognizable steps. When the mangled end comes, it is far from the luminescent beginning but one hardly noticed the journey from there to here. And great falls never occur in isolation--they always capsize the lives of those closet to them. Willie Stark may have been a good governor of the people, but his undoing was the result of the one thing he couldn't govern--his heart--"deceitful and wicked above all things," even his idealism.

The Science of Sleep

"The sheer size too, the excessive abundance, scale, and exaggeration of dreams could be an infantile characteristic. The most ardent wish of children is to grow up and get as big a share of everything as the grown-ups; they are hard to satisfy; do not know the meaning of 'enough.'”
-- Sigmund Freud, “The Interpretation of Dreams”

The Science of Sleep does not work.

There, I've said it.

Oh, it's not that The Science of Sleep is a terrible film. It's not. It's just that it doesn't operate properly and there's nothing worse than seeing a film in which obvious design and potential is ultimately unfulfilled.

As if trying to prove that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was snatched from his own fertile imagination just as much as screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's, director Michel Gondry has made another film about the intersection of fantasy and reality. But this film feels like Sunshine's table scraps. The pieces that were left over or abandoned on the cutting room floor. What Sunshine did with magic and whimsy, Sleep does with confusion and blunt force trauma. By turns absurd and awkward, the film is as nonsensical as a dream. Which is the point. That it strays too often into the realm of nightmare is perhaps an unfortunate byproduct.

The Science of Sleep is Stéphane's (Gael García Bernal) movie. He has moved to Paris to be closer to his mother after his beloved father's death. His mother lures him with a job as a graphic artist at a calendar company. Turns out, all he does is screen-printing. He is instantly miserable, though we get the impression this is hardly a new state of being for him.

Stéphane finds solace and refuge in his dreams where he flies and swims over paper pop-up cities, hosts his own show from a set constructed entirely of cardboard, bathes in cellophane, and fends off attacks from stop-motion electric razors, primordial cousins of Alien's face-huggers. In this world, the shy, insecure Stéphane is replaced by a narcissistic Napoleon, righting the wrongs of his waking life and always getting the girl.

The girl is Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg who is beautiful, though not in any conventional sense) who just moved in next door. Initially, Stéphane's conscious mind is attracted to Zoe, Stephanie's slutty friend. But it is in his unconscious mind, amid the dreams where Stephanie romps and scampers, that Stéphane truly finds the woman of his dreams. Pun intended.

The problem is, Stéphane cannot differentiate between his dream life and his waking life (and as the film drags on, neither can we), which leads to painful consequences for both his own mental state and the emotional states of those he cares for. Especially Stephanie. Try as Stéphane might to win Stephanie with his quirky and lovely inventions (time machines that allow one to go forward or backward just one second) or shared arts-and-crafts projects, she is off-put by his manic, immature antics the very moment she is about to give in to him.

In the end, there is a moment where Stéphane may have found the peace he's longed for all along. In his dreams. But what happens when he awakens? For now, perhaps, it is enough that his mind is at peace.

The Science of Sleep has some beautiful moments. Stéphane's dreams are, for the most part, charming, loopy and intentionally laden with cheesy effects, though they go on for too long and repeat themselves unnecessarily. The parts are greater than the sum. A little magical realism goes a long way and however creative they are, Gondry overstays his welcome. He should have looked to films like Brazil or Amelie for the "less is more" lessons this film so badly needed.

If Gondry was trying to say something about the need to strike a balance between the monotony and drudgery of real life and the adolescent playfulness and escapism of our dreams, he sadly failed. Always one to resist traditional logic and linear clarity in his storytelling, he creates a film that is ruled by laws of physics entirely its own. The problem is, we are never let in on what those laws are. As a result, we are frustrated by the filmmaker's need to flee into the wondrous at every sign of encroaching reality--a reality we want very much to work out for Stéphane and Stephanie despite their puppet-master's string pulling. Frantic and often funny, The Science of Sleep nevertheless feels more like a rebuke to the real world than a fantastical blending with it--an irrational diversion, the cinematic equivalent of the ostrich's head buried in the proverbial sand.

If Gondry--a man who obvious wrestles with issues of fantasy vs. reality as much as his main characters--wanted to make a truly great and yeasty film, he should have shown his audience a way to find our dreamworlds in the midst of our realities instead of showing us merely how to hide from it.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

They're Out To Get Me!

Recently, I watched The Conversation. Then it was The Manchurian Candidate. Now The Parallax View. (Geez, the 70s were some paranoid years!)

NYU is turning me into a conspiracy nut!


Not every movie we film students watch is pretentious, foreign or old.

Take this unknown, independent gem from 1991: Dogfight.

Dogfight stars the late River Phoenix as Eddie Birdlace, a cocksure Marine on a night's liberty before shipping off to a little place no one's ever heard of--Vietnam. He and his buddies have a game they play in each town in which they find themselves. The guys have to pick up the least attractive women possible and bring them to a party where the guy with the ugliest date wins a pot of cash.

River picks Rose (the always-enchanting Lili Taylor), a shy, pacifist waitress. The only thing Eddie didn't plan on was falling in love with the one woman capable of taking a punk-ass kid and turning him into a man.

Utterly charming.

So It Begins

I finally broke down and joined Netflix.

It's not that I had any particular aversion to the program. It sounded like a wonderful arrangement. What I had a problem with was me...and my issues with delayed gratification.

"I'm not doing Netflix! When I get it in my head to watch a movie, I want to watch it right then, not 2 or 3 days later!" (As if being a member of Netflix somehow invalidated my Blockbuster membership).

But with moving to New York and not finding a video store on every corner, coupled with a Master's Comprehensive Examination Bibliography chock full of hundreds of films I am expected to watch outside of class, I thought it was time to cross over.

You'll have to excuse me now. I had three DVDs in my mailbox and two years worth of anti-social behavior ahead of me.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Hot and Pressing Issue

Those of you who know me well ought to find no small bit of irony here.

Perhaps I should preface this story by telling everyone that when I was in bootcamp, I was made the official ironer for division. On regular duty, I could make quite a pretty penny the night before inspections.

My wife and I have a very handy arrangement. She hates ironing and has no particular aversion to doing the laundry, while I hate the time and work that goes into it. So we delineate the duties--she does all the laundry and I do all the ironing.

I am, you see, anal retentive about ironing. I do it a lot. Daily. In fact, I rarely leave the house without freshly creased clothing.

It's a disease. I'm taking injections.

So I snap some images of the new apartment with my cellphone. To send home and give my wife some idea of what the place looks like. Since she'll be spending a fair bit of time there. You get the idea.

And what do I get for my thoughtfulness, but mockery and laughter. You see, I have no furniture. It won't be delivered for a few weeks yet. I'm sleeping on an air-matress my wife sent me from Colorado. That constitutes the entirety of my new apartment's decor.

Oh yeah, and the ironing board I borrowed from my cousin...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Home Sweet Home (Finally!)

What seemed like the impossible has finally occurred. After four weeks of spending all of my free-time searching, enduring numerous deflated "sure-things" and infuriating "bait and switches," we finally have an apartment.

The apartment lies, geographically, right off the intersection of 100th St. and the famous Broadway, in a part of the Upper West Side that is as charming as it is beautiful. For an idea of where that is, consult the above map (you'll need to click on it and make it larger to find specific locations). You'll find familiar landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, the former World Trade Centers, the Empire State Building, and Central Park. Our apartment is located west of Central Park, between Broadway and Riverside Park on 100th. NYU, if you're interested, lies in Lower/Midtown in Greenwich Village and can be pinpointed by finding Washington Square Park with its famous arch.

The apartment is a prewar alcove studio on the 4th and top floor (which we wanted) with sunny south exposure through two large, bay windows with wood blinds. The fanned ceilings are high, the walls adorned with crown molding, and the hardwood floor intricately decorated. A wall has been erected to create a small bedroom off the entryway with its own windowed skylight, which allows sunlight to suffuse the room all day long. The kitchen is hidden in a recess in the rear of the studio. The bathroom, just gut-renovated, also has a skylight. Unfortunately, there is no fire escape for pretending we have a balcony of sorts.

As for all points of the compass, one block east is the public library. One block west is Riverside Park which abuts the shimmering Hudson River. One or two blocks north are all kinds of restaurants (Indian, Italian, Turkish, French bistros, etc), delis, bars, coffee houses, what was described to me as "the best diner in the city," and a bakery I've been told, is to kill for. Only four blocks to the south is my cousin's apartment, where I've been staying the past several weeks. The subway is a mere three blocks from my front door and a short 20-30 minute ride to NYU. Next door is a massive synagogue and across the street, nearly hidden from our view by a giant oak tree, are more attractive brownstones. A one-way street, 100th is quiet and unmolested.

I truly feel we stumbled on one of the best neighborhoods in the city. Perhaps the best things do come to those who wait, or, in my case, simply can't seem to catch a break. There is just one last catch--hoping my wife, who is still in Colorado with our belongings, likes it when she moves out in a couple weeks.

Once we get moved in, I'll doubtless share some more pictures. Until then, I'm just glad to have a place to lay my head other than a Central Park bench, which was looking more and more likely as the weeks drug by...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Fair and Balanced Christianity

Today, Fox announced it is creating a new division, FoxFaith. A branch of the same company that produces Fox News (the only news broadcasters who will be raptured to be with the Lord, I once heard a pastor say from the pulpit) and of course, "Beverly Hills 90210," "Melrose Place," "Married With Children," "The Simple Life," and "Temptation Island" (which those same gushing believers conveniently like to overlook) will now release as many as a dozen films a year specifically for Christian audiences who generally shun cineplexes but may be wooed in after the success of such films as The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia. Here's hoping it's fair and balanced. Maybe O'Riley, Geraldo and Coulter will get cameos. Amazing what a single, biased, demographic-pandering news network will do for a company's image with sheep with blinders on.

My Brain Hurts Mr. Godard

Watched 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her in class last night.

Godard. French New Wave.

French New Wave requires a tremendous amount of mental energy. You can't watch passively. It requires all or nothing of its viewer.

With a few exceptions, every time I sit down to a French New Wave film, I always want to run from the room, clutching my cranium. I'm convinced it is residual pain from being forced to watch Godard's Weekend as an undergrad.

And then something weird happens. My antenna catches the signal. My breathing regulates and stabilizes. My cinematic reset button gets pushed and suddenly I find myself hypnotized.

The New York Times Takes on Captain Kirk

FOUR decades ago, when the starship Enterprise first settled into orbit around Planet M-113 on Sept. 8, 1966, I was 2 years old. I could not have known it at the time, but “Star Trek” would literally change my life.

To say that any television show has changed one’s life is to invite both mockery and pity for a poor, shuttered geek who must surely have been denied direct sunlight and the attention of women for the better part of his days. But in lieu of offering documentary proof that I do not, in fact, still reside in my parents’ basement, let me simply tell you how “Star Trek” informed the way I look at the world.

For the rest of this New York Times editorial, click here.

Feeling Screwy

They just don't make films like this anymore.

I watched The Lady Eve last night. (This DVD came from the same friend's collection which produced National Treasure, so I suppose he's forgiven). I'd forgotten how much I love the Screwball Comedy. Zippy dialogue, pratfalls, zingers and one-liners, innuendoes and out the other. In a word: fun.

I know many people would count Eve among the best of the Screwballs. I suppose they're right, though I like others, such as Bringing up Baby and especially His Girl Friday better. (Though that may have more to do with the fact that were I able to become any actor in Hollywood history, it would, without a doubt, be Cary Grant).

Comedy gets a bad rap, even from me. Marooned on a desert island with a choice of only dramas or comedy films to keep me company, I'd pick drama and never look back. Maybe if more comedy films were like the Screwballs of yesteryear, I'd feel differently.

Most people feel the same way. They don't know it and would probably tell you exactly the opposite, but the sorts of films we honor show that we value drama over comedy. (Interesting that the emotions of agony and ecstasy are prized above those of levity and happiness).

I also might value comedy more if it weren't for the fact that what we call comedy today is little more than cinematic gutter vaudeville.

It's enough to make me ask, what would a modern Screwball comedy look like?

I'm imagining something directed with the flair and fun of Steven Soderbergh but written in the sort of whip-lash, too-smart-for-its-own-good, blink-and-you'll-miss-it pen of Aaron Sorkin.

Now that would be a comedy worth seeing.

Monday, September 18, 2006

"National Treasure, I watched Indiana Jones, I knew Indiana Jones, Indiana Jones was a friend of mine. National Treasure, you are no Indiana Jones."

As a rule, I try to stay as far away from Jerry Bruckheimer movies as possible. I've learned that he and I don't exactly see eye to eye on things. A few notable exceptions are Black Hawk Down and the first Pirates of the Caribbean.

So when National Treasure came out, I couldn't have been less interested. As my DVD library is currently boxed up and waiting for the movers to deliver it to my NYC doorstep, I've been bumming films off my fellow NYU students.

The other day I found myself with a copy of National Treasure in my hands.

"Wait a sec..."

"Take it. It's fun. I promise. You'll like it."


I liked it alright, I guess. For about 90 minutes. And that's what Bruckheimer's films do--entertain for approximetly two hours and then fade utterly from the memory. Cinematic Chinese food. They have no gravity. No staying power. Nothing at all that would make me want to come back to them time after time, convinced there is more to mine there.

So I have to laugh when I read Paul Fischer of "Dark Horizons" quoted on the back of the DVD saying, "National Treasure is the Indiana Jones of the New Millennium."

Excuse me?!

The Indiana Jones films thrill me whenever I sit down to view them. They are possessed of the sort of iconic imagery and power, larger-than-life characters, and spectacular situations which keep me coming back; keeps them in my mind's eye long after I turn off the TV; keeps them classics decades after they debuted. National Treasure is at best a footnote, a cinematic speed-bump.

Why am I getting so worked up over this?

If you'll excuse me, I have to go speak to a fellow NYU film student about his taste in movies.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Fallen In...

I've fallen in with the good crowd.

Since our first orientation meeting, in which several of us made some introductions and then later, at a wine and cheese reception, fled the stuffy, over-crowded room for the quiet, oxygen-rich environment of the lobby, we pretty much move as one these days. We sit together in class and go out for beers afterwards.

So far, it doesn't sound like anything more than happenstance, I know.

But we seem to be the good kids. We're the ones always speaking up and commenting in class. We're the ones accepting the student government positions. We're the ones gathering in our off hours to start a new film website with our commonality as Tisch Cinema Studies grad students as the driving force behind it.

Somehow or another, we've all fallen in with the good crowd.

This is how great things happen.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Half Nelson

It’s been a summer of terrific indy hits. First Brick, then Little Miss Sunshine, and now, Half Nelson.

If you’ve stayed away from this one because you think it is another recycled Stand and Deliver, a Dead Poet’s Society set in Brooklyn, think again. While Half Nelson may wear the outer garments of a traditional teacher-inspires-rough-around-the-edges-students, its heart beats to a very different drummer.

Take, for instance, the fact that the inspirational teacher is hopelessly addicted to crack cocaine.

Ryan Gosling, who is fast becoming known as the peerless actor of his generation, here gives a magnetizing performance as a dedicated and charismatic teacher of history at an inner-city Brooklyn middle school populated predominantly by African-American children. Don’t let the fact that he’s a coke-head fool you. Dan Dunne is a phenomenal teacher, sweet-natured and intellectually committed. He truly gives a damn about his students. And they know it.

But his life is unraveling one night at a time. All the good he does during the day is threatened by nights spent feeding his habit, carousing at bars and never quite sleeping it off at his seedy, dilapidated apartment. Soon, he can no longer hide it. People are beginning to notice. He wanders the halls and teaches as if he’s a character in a George Romero zombie flick.

Gosling does not play Dan as a hypocrite who takes pleasure from the fact that he continually fools his co-workers and lives only for the revels of the night. Instead, he plays him as a human being, desperately broken (we begin to get a glimmer of why that may be near the end of the film when we meet his parents), trapped in a self-destructive cycle he knows is killing him and will destroy all he believes in, but is powerless to stop. Dan is a man being split apart at the seams by two conflicting extremes--idealism and cynicism. The nature of his problem is such that in some scenes we find ourselves rooting for him and in others, wonder how he could possibly sink any further (were they reenacting Caligula in that hotel room!?).

But Gosling alone does not deserve all the praise. The screen is held with equal aplomb by newcomer Shareeka Epps, who plays Drey, one of Dan’s street-smart students. While only 13, her eyes and demeanor have an unfortunate maturity light-years beyond where they should be. Her father is long gone. Her working mother is rarely home. Her dealer/brother is in prison. And she knows Dan’s secret.

But she doesn’t tell anyone. If anything, she begins to gravitate to Dan all the more, sensing in him something of the shattered world in which she’s lived all her life and also the means of escape. For Dan’s part, he becomes very protective of Drey, wanting to mentor her while, at the same time, realizing it would be a case of the blind leading the blind.

Though different in just about every way possible, Dan and Drey both find themselves hand in hand at a critical crossroads that will set their futures in motion. Both desperately need something to hold onto to keep them afloat. They chose each other. In the end, the signs of coming redemption occur so quickly, you’d better not blink or you'll miss it. It is a wiff of hope. Which isn’t to say that Half Nelson offers some sort of tidy resolution or forced uplift. It doesn’t. It’s far more trustworthy than that.

The half nelson is a wrestling move in which the athlete’s own strength is used against him. In director Ryan Fleck’s riveting feature film debut, it becomes a poignant metaphor for all our lives.

Half Nelson trades melodrama for authenticity, cliche heroics for genuine heart, cheap cinematic parlor tricks for blessed restraint. The result is just one more in a string of terrific indy summer hits. First Brick, then Little Miss Sunshine, and now, Half Nelson.

Come to think of it, they all have something in common. Cocaine.


You Can't Make This Stuff Up!

This technically isn't a post about film, but it does fall under "The New York Experience" and was simply too good not to share.

Yesterday, as I sat on my cousin's couch, scrolling through Craigslist in my daily and exhausting search for apartments, there came a knocking. My cousin Haim greeted a city official at the door.

"I'm here about the complaint."

"I didn't lodge a complaint."

"It's about the paint in the bathroom."

"We don't have paint in the bathroom. It's all tile."

"Mind if I check it out anyway?"

"Sure, go ahead. When was the complaint issued, anyway?"

"Uh, let's see here...looks like 1988. We're a little backed up. Well everything looks ok here. If you guys ever have any problems with anything, be sure to let us know. See ya."

Monday, September 11, 2006


For those of you who live in a big city like New York or L.A., the topic of this brief post will hardly come as a surprise to you. For those of you in the other 99% of the country, I wanted to announce that I am no longer a New York City movie theater virgin. I took in a showing of Half Nelson last night (review forthcoming) for the price of $10.75.

There are no discounts in this city. There are no special matinee prices. $10.75. Each and every showing. Take it or leave it.

Best part is, for that price you get to watch a movie during which, at intervals of every 15 minutes or so, the entire building and screen shake and a deep rumble competes with the soundtrack as a subway just below the seats thunders past.

Take it or leave it.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Suffer the Little Children

This trailer for the upcoming film, Little Children is one of the best I've seen in years. It says so much without saying much of anything at all.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Double Oh Hell

The full-length trailer for the new James Bond film, Casino Royale is online here.

All I can say is WOW!

Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that I have been less than impressed with the choice of Daniel Craig to replace Pierce Brosnan. It wasn't the hair. I just didn't know if he had the proper gravitas for the roll.

Then came news that this film was a look back to Bond's first mission--raw, unpolished, rough about the edges. And I began to get excited.

I grew up reading Ian Fleming and as much as I hate to admit it, the Bond of the books is not the super-panache agent depicted in the films. The Bond of the books was much harder, darker. But audiences don't like to see their favorite superspy wrestle with his inner demons or operate as anything less than a consummate professional.

The producers tried it once in The Living Daylights, with Timothy Dalton. Audiences rebelled. Let's hope our Post-911, post-Bourne world is ready for a far edgier, far darker, far nastier Bond, because that's what coming, according to this trailer.

A Very Special Happy Birthday

Some of my best friends turn 40 today. You've never looked better, guys!

Quoth the Bard, "Words...Words...Words"

“If you wait for the perfect time to never will.” M. Atwood

Or perhaps, more accurately, write...write...write is a better title. Nothing like picking a screenwriting class for your first graduate course to get the blood pumping and scare the hell out of you.

Truth is, I am a writer who hasn't written a creative word in a decade. (Can I still call myself a writer?) I was working on a novel in 1996, during which I confronted a creative roadblock that I didn't know how to overcome. At around 150 pages, I set it aside to allow the quandary to gestate and work itself out in my subcouncious. A decade later, I still haven't worked it out. And the things I wrote when I was writing, I look back on now and shudder to read. But I miss the creative me. I wonder where it went and why.

The most frightening thing in the whole world is a blank page. Which is one of the reasons I am taking this class--precisely because it scares me. Because it has deadlines and professor's expectations, my hands will be forced into motion, breaking the empass, pushing through whether I like it or not.

I have this weird idea that my first draft of anything needs to be brilliant from the first keystroke. Be it because of my own expectations or those of others, I am used to getting superior work from myself straight out of the gate. When I no longer met that mark, I stopped participating all together.

One of the things that was drilled into our head today was that we all need to give ourselves permission to suck.

"The first million words you write," our professor, the effervescent Mick Hurbis-Cherrier told us, "will be garbage and you're just going to throw them out. They're no good. But you can't find your voice until you get them out of the way. The first skill of writing is to just to write. It’s physical, not mental. It’s work. Perspiration, not inspiration. It’s hard. Just do it."

You always avoid the things you need the most.

Of course there was a lot more to the class than this. Lots of What Is Drama?, What Is Character?, What Is Conflict?, etc. But the above is the stuff that went past my brain and found its way to my heart. This is the cud I've been chewing for the past 24 hours.

My other class, "Film History and Historiography" was fascinating in terms of ascertaining which came first--the chicken or the egg? Does pop culture influence film or does film influence pop culture? The short answer is yes!

"History isn’t self-evident or static," Professor Moya Luckett told us in that high British accent that makes anything she might say just a few points off genius. "It is fluid. It alters as our understanding of the past alters. All history is revisionist history because it is in constant dialogue with itself. And the assumptions we bring to the material shape the way history gets written. Film is one of the most engaging ways we encounter history and although it appears as a total representation of history, it is anything but. Everything is selected, chosen, discriminatory and controlled."

As interesting as "Film History..." was, however, it couldn't compete with the waters that the screenwriting class had stirred up. (The other thing I lamented over at some point in the day was that I was reminded of the fact that no matter how many films I've seen--and I've seen a lot--there are still so many more out there yet to see. Perhaps I should look at it as job security.)

The words of Irish poet William Butler Yeats echoed in my head all day, particularly the 1st stanza from his appropriately titled "Adam's Curse."

We sat together at one summer's end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, "A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.'

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

OK, I'll admit it, I'm a nerd.

I love school. I can't wait to get back into class, sit through lectures, devour hundreds of pages of reading. If properly equipped with the necessary time and money, I could easily see myself as a life-long academic.

Because of the holiday weekend, I did not have my "Film Form and Film Sense" class. But today, I have both "Screenwriting" and "Film History and Historiography."

"Screenwriting" begins at the comfortable hour of 10am and goes until 1pm. "Film History...," however, runs from 6pm to 10pm. All of my required classes are late like that. Long days ahead.

I'll fill you in on my initial first impressions as soon as I can.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Alligator Man

Steve Irwin, the wildly popular Australian television personality and conservationist known as the "Crocodile Hunter," was killed Monday by a stingray while filming off the Great Barrier Reef. He was 44. While tragic, it is not entirely unexpected. I am reminded of Werner Herzog's superb documentary, Grizzly Man. At least he went out doing what he loved.

Thank You For Smoking

I write film and TV reviews at Here are synopsis' and links to those reviews.

We shouldn’t like Nick Naylor, but we do, in spite of our better judgment. Like Milton’s “Paradise Lost” in which Satan is made the protagonist of the story, Nick Naylor is a man we should all despise, but don’t. Why? Because while his actions and employ may be reprehensible, Nick, we imagine, is one hell of a cool guy. And boy can he talk. Respect and awe go a long way in covering a multitude of sins. And as the mouthpiece for Big Tobacco, Nick is drowning in his sins.

Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart, the star of In the Company of Men, who here plays a character with the same cut-throat sensibilities but not the same monstrosity) has what he describes as a certain “moral flexibility” that allows him to not only abide but also excel as a lobbyist and spokesperson for one of the most maligned conglomerations on the planet. In fact, he revels in it and the fact that he is among “the few people on this planet who know what it is to be truly despised.” It’s not that he particularly loves the tobacco industry, he just loves the malay that is defending the indefensible.

And he is very good at what he does. An expert at playing ethically-challenged men, the square-jawed, eye-glinting Eckhart expertly manipulated a land-mine infested role by infusing the amoral Nick with an engaging and likable personality. While his actions horrify, his enthusiasm disarms utterly. He peddles death and dares us not to love him for it.

Nick’s face and spin is everywhere. He appears on talk shows where he embraces children with cancer and proclaims that “It's in our best interests to keep Robin alive and smoking.” At his son’s career day, he politely savages a young girl who says her mother told her smoking is bad by asking her, “Is your mommy a doctor? No? Well then she’s not really a credible expert is she?” Every week Nick has dinner with the M.O.D. (Merchants of Death) Squad--the representatives of alcohol (Monica Bello) and firearms (David Koeachner)--where they argue over which of their products kills the most people.

An industry under ever-increasing attack, Nick is tasked with repairing cigarettes blighted image. Ever-savvy, Nick turns to Hollywood. In contemporary movies, he says, only villains and Europeans smoke. His mission: make smoking cool again. With the help of super-agent Rob Lowe and his perpetually cheerful assistant (The O.C.’s Adam Brody, who steals every scene he’s in), Nick conspires to make a sci-fi epic filled with sex and smoke. His California mission also includes delivering a briefcase full of bribe money to the former Marlboro Man (Sam Elliot), now dying of cancer. (Fascinatingly, in a movie about smoking, not a single person is shown doing it).

Nick’s life becomes complicated when health extremists kidnap and try to kill him, he is subpoenaed by Vermont senator, Ortolan Finistirre (the incomparable William H. Macy) to speak on Capitol Hill about the dangers posed by cigarettes, and a sexy reporter (Katie Holmes) seduces him and then burns him in the press. As if all this is not trying enough, Nick is both delighted and horrified that his adoring son (Cameron Bright) is beginning to behave just like him.

Thank You For Smoking is based on the novel by Christopher (son of William F.) Buckley and is directed by Jason (son of Ivan, Ghostbusters) Reitman in his feature debut. The film is an elegant satire, sneaky and subtle, the sort which are not often made anymore. Though I personally wish it had had brave enough to push harder and risk more, it is, nonetheless, a stylish and darkly-comic look at human nature, addiction and our ability to buy what is fed us, even when we know it to be rotten to the core.

To read the full review, click here.

United 93

I write film and TV reviews at Here are synopsis' and links to those reviews.

(Eagle eye'd readers will already recognize this DVD review as a revistation of my review of the film earlier this summer.)

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I, like everyone else in this nation, stood horrified, watching the Twin Towers smolder on the television before me. A TV had been dragged to the main lobby of the building where I was on duty at Bolling Air Force Base base, and dozens of us were crowded around it. I was at Bolling because I was out-processing from the Navy—just a few more days of paperwork and I was officially a civilian again. Watching the carnage unfolding in New York, I began to wonder if they were going to let me go anywhere.

A loud crash made us jump and drew all our eyes to the ceiling. “Jeez,” I thought, “did someone on the next floor just knock over one of those heavy-duty filing cabinets?” And then I went back to watching the TV.

A moment later a fellow sailor burst through the front doors, out of breath, his arms gesticulating wildly behind him.

“It’s been hit…the Pentagon…it’s on fire…it’s on fire!”

We all piled out the front doors and there before us was the massive Pentagon structure, a mere stone’s throw from our building. A large quadrant of it was wreathed in flame. Acrid black smoke belched into the sky.

The base was immediately locked down. Those of us living off base were not allowed to leave. For several days, we slept on floors, in hallways, anywhere they could put us. That night I sat alone at a table in the cafeteria, absentmindedly picking at my dinner. On one of the mounted television screens, CNN showed the Congress gathering on the steps of the Capitol, and in a rare moment of solidarity, singing “God Bless America” in one voice. While they sang, I took my eyes off the TV to the large bay windows just below it. The windows afforded me an unobstructed view of the Pentagon, it’s hemorrhaging flames illuminating the night sky.

Ever since it was revealed that Hollywood was producing films based on the events of 9/11, I’ve heard two predominant reactions: “God, do you think we’re ready” and “Hollywood has a lot of nerve exploiting 9/11 just so that they can make a buck.” (Where United 93 is an authentic and harrowing account of that horrible day in September, World Trade Center is a film-by-numbers movie, steeped in convention and lacking any sort of power to surprise or overwhelm. United 93, about events peripheral to the destruction of the Twin Towers is, by far, the superior film. The great film about New York City’s agony has yet to be made.)

The latter concern first…

If I didn’t understand film’s titanic power over our lives and its enormous ability to move us like no other medium, I’d find the exploitative remarks odd. No one complains about books—even fictional books—written about 9/11. Or songs. Or paintings. Or photographs. Or any other artistic medium. That’s because, as powerful as these tools may be, their spheres of influence pale in comparison to the reach, appeal and incisiveness of movies. Film alone has the power to cut straight through our skin and peel back the layers of our hearts. And it can do so faster than we can ever see it coming.

Which leads me to the former concern…

We’re ready. It is not too soon for United 93 because United 93 does not play like a film that is aware of the five plus years of history trailing behind those tragic events. This is a film told entirely in the present tense. Like an episode of TV’s 24, events unfold in nearly real time, rapid yet realistic.

This is a film that borrows more from the world of documentaries than from feature blockbusters. The camera work is uneven and sporadic, even disconcerting at times as if it too is trying its hardest to keep up with the action but is always just one step behind. Once United flight 93 gets airborne, there are no more establishing shots, no computer-generated planes spinning out of control. We are allowed to see only what the characters see—through windows, computer monitors and TV screens.

You probably won’t recognize a single actor in United 93. Director Paul Greengrass has deliberately chosen faces that you cannot identify. Dozens of the flight controllers and military personnel play themselves. The pilots and flight attendants in the film are the real thing. There is no effort to tell the human-interest or back-stories of either the passengers or the terrorists. We don’t see them sharing breakfast with their kids or kissing their spouses before they leave for the airport. We learn very few of their names. All we know about the passengers, crew and terrorists is what we’d know had we been sitting in the terminal with them waiting to board or beside them in the plane. Which is to say, we know their faces. The film alternates between the cabin of 93 and the handful of command posts struggling to decipher what is going on. First one plane is hijacked, then another, then another, then another. Soon these planes begin smashing into buildings, one after another, after another, after another. No one knows what is going on. Pandemonium engulfs everyone.

In the film’s final act, the flight controllers disappear, replaced entirely now with the goings on inside the aircraft. The hijackers have seized the plane, killed several people, appear to have a bomb, and are headed for a collision course with the U.S. Capitol. We know what’s going on and what the passengers will do next because of the cockpit voice recorder and the many telephone calls they made before the rushed their attackers, stormed the cockpit and sacrificed their own lives for those of hundreds of others. There are no mustache-twirling villains here, no standout heroes. Just a planeload of terrified passengers who make the bravest and most sacrificial decision of their lives.

We know what’s coming. It’s our history. And still our stomachs are in knots.

United 93 is a film of extraordinary accuracy. There are no true moments of poetic license. While much of the action inside the aircraft has to be imagined and extrapolated through the scant details that survived, everything, down to the exact lines are recreated with pinpoint realism. (One exception is a shockingly beautiful imagined scene when the hijackers realize they are about to lose control of the plane and the passengers are preparing themselves for the inevitable. Both sides find themselves in prayer. The hijackers chant passages from the Koran juxtaposed with the passenger’s recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.)

The film contains no politics. No patriotic speeches. No finger pointing. No conspiracy theories. No Iraq. No bigger historical picture. There are no mentions of the “War on Terror” or Osama bin Laden or Al-Qaeda. This is a time before anyone found those names on the tips of their tongues. United 93 is a film devoid of any sort of commentary or conclusions because it does not allow itself to have the benefit of hindsight. Anything brought to this film will be the inevitable result of the viewer superimposing his or her own beliefs atop it.

United 93 garnered nearly immaculate reviews. Those who are less then enthusiastic admit to its first-rate production values and even its honorable intentions, but are at a place where they are not yet ready to deal with its subject matter. Such may be some of you. But if you think you are ready to wrestle with these demons, again, I cannot recommend this film highly enough. Like other painful and deeply disturbing films such as Shindler’s List, this is not a film you go to for enjoyment, but because you feel you have a duty to endure it.

To read the full review, click here.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Welcome to the #1 Dream School

Last night was the official Dean's welcome to the Tisch School of the Arts.
Set for two hours, I couldn't imagine what would take so long and thought, though didn't vocalize, what the noisy undergrads in the theatre behind me were complaining about.
I needn't have been concerned.
The evening opened with a rousing musical number. When it ended, we were informed that it was written by a couple of students as part of a larger play while they attended NYU and that it had already been optioned for an off-Broadway run. Indeed, the rest of the evening's introduction to faculty was interspersed with performances from all the various art schools represented in Tisch, from drama to music. The final installment was a student's short film that went on to win the Animated Short Film Academy Award in 2004.
I found myself in awe and once again had those twinges of, "You're a fraud. They see right through you. Do you really think you belong in a group like this!?" (Interestingly enough, I confessed these musing to numerous other Cinema Studies grad students following the presentation and it seems it was a universal feeling.) I found myself looking around the beautiful Skirball Center Theatre trying to take in all the hundreds of faces around me. You are all so talented and amazing. I want to be friends with each and everyone one of you. We are going to do great things.
The faculty is hardly any less impressive. The old adage, "Those who can't, teach" does not apply here. It should more accurately be said, "Those who can and do, teach." I can't tell you how often I heard, "Professor so-and-so is a multiple Emmy/Tony/Grammy/Academy Award winner." This faculty is so inspiring. Unfortunately, Spike Lee was not there last night. He was out promoting his new, lauded HBO documentary "When the Levees Broke" which he shot along with a crew of NYU students shortly after Hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans.
The Dean gave an inspired speech about NYU Tisch being a place where art and the study of art collide; a place where artistic scholars reside. She congratulated us all on being the absolute top of our chosen academic subjects, or else we wouldn't have been sitting there. NYU, she informed us, was this year named the #1 Dream School in the nation by the Princeton Review, beating out other such prestigious schools as Harvard, Stanford and Yale. It was a night in which I pinched myself several times to ensure it was not, in fact, just a dream. Oliver Stone, a Tisch graduate, was asked why he attended film school at NYU, the Dean told us, rather than simply begin working in the industry--a question I was asked often and wrestled with more than once. “Because,” he answered, “film school is a place where one has the opportunity to find one's creative voice in a safe environment that fosters creativity, supplies the resources to give that voice release and opens avenues for that voice to be heard.”
After the Dean's welcome, the grad students were treated to hors' dourves and wine and a chance, finally, to begin meeting, up close and personal, those within our various programs. I am struck, first of all, how international the student body is. Within my discipline alone, there are Canadians, French, Brits, Chinese, Koreans and numerous other nationalities. In terms of age, I am the second oldest in the program, it appears. My advisor even commented on my age and actually said he was so happy to have me in the program. "We used to get many more students in your situation," he said, "returning to school after a few years of working. They brought a great deal of experience and maturity. These days the students always come straight from their undergrad. We've lost something because of it." The graduate Cinema Studies group seems fantastic, and the mingling gave us all a real chance to connect. No longer are they just faces from an orientation meeting. Now it's Neal, Anoosh, Jeremy, Carolina, etc.
This is going to be fun.