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

Thursday, October 26, 2006

You Might Be Getting a Cinema Studies Graduate Degree If...

're sitting in the class lounge and you overhear a professor and a fellow student happily discussing the ways in which spectatorship, consumerism and reception issues come into play amidst the cinematic ontology of historical representation, cultural translation and philosophical identification in the latest Mac vs. PC ads.

Not that I disagree with them.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Evolving Screenplay

For those who asked what exactly the screenplay I was working on was about, I give you:

The Beagle!

Before you snicker, let me assure you I am completely serious. Yes, it is a working title and yes, it is a bit preposterous a name, but then I'm sure those who stepped on board Her Majesty's Ship, the Beagle, nearly two centuries ago thought the same thing. But that did not stop the voyage the Beagle would take them on from being one of the most important and monumental in history.

This is a film about a man who makes the greatest scientific breakthrough in human history. His groundbreaking theory explains the world around us--how we got here, where we are going--in such breathtaking simplicity that, still today, it is an object of awe and admiration.

This is the story of Charles Darwin.

What attracted me to this story is something that, growing up, I was never told about Darwin. Did you know that when he stepped aboard the vessel that would take him around the world and aboard which his earthshaking theories would be crystalized, he had just finished seminary? Charles Darwin had every intention of becoming a minister and surely would have settled down into a small parish somewhere in England had not fate intervened and one of his Cambridge professors (also a minister) written to him with the invitation to become the Beagle's naturalist.

His entire life was a wrestling between these two worlds--faith and science. To his dying day, he never abandoned his faith, though there were certainly moments where it was severally tested. In fact, his definitive work, "On the Origin of Species," is suffused with references to the Creator he, at one time, thought he'd be serving from the pulpit. He saw evolution through natural selection, not as a refutation of God, but as an illumination of His handiwork.

Atheists have deified him. Christians have demonized him. The truth, always more interesting, is, of course, in between.

Together with my friend, Paul, I've been researching and planning this screenplay for the better half of a year now, gobbling up everything I can get my hands on--books, films, trips to museums (the American Museum of Natural History here in New York just concluded a massive Darwin exhibit complete with his original specimens, diaries, etc.), and some fantastic websites, one of which just this month put every word Darwin ever wrote up on the web.

While we originally considered an epic film that encompassed Darwin's entire life, we have settled on that five year period of his youth which he spent on the Beagle, traveling to such locations as Tierra del Fuego, the Andes, and the Galapagos Islands. For it is on this voyage where we see the totality of Darwin's life in miniature--his staunch fundamentalism, the wonder and awe of his discoveries, his crisis of faith, the social outrage at his new ideas, and the confident and established scientist he would become.

It is a fascinating, controversial, exciting, and illuminating story. And, given our current social debates, very timely and important, wouldn't you say?

Alright, like Darwin's ideas, let the praise and scorn begin...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Midterms Already!?

While it seems impossible to believe, this week is already midterms week!

And it strikes me that I haven't really been chatting all that much about my classes, or at least the two core classes that I admitted several weeks ago were starting with less than stellar reviews. I'm afraid not much has changed in that category.

Technically I don't have a midterm in my Screenplay class, though we are hard at work, having passed the conceptual stages and are now beginning the writing process. More on that tomorrow.

My Film Form & Film Sense and Film History & Historiography classes require papers. At only 6 or so pages apiece, it is a far less stringent assignment than I was expecting. Far be it from me to complain.

For FF&FS, I'll be writing a formal scene analysis of the concluding battle sequence in Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, and for FH&H, I'll be writing a essay on the myth of nationalistic cinema and how that spills over into propagandistic cinema both in fascist states and democracies.

So, if I am a bit quiet around here the next week or so, now you know why...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Jane Wyatt, 1910-2006

Jane Wyatt, who played Spock's human mother both on Star Trek: The Original Series and the feature film Star Trek: The Voyage Home, has died. She was best known for her role on Father Knows Best. She was 96.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


According to Genesis, in the early days after creation, humankind decided to build a massive tower capable of reaching into the heavens. Angry at His creation's pride and arrogance, God confused their languages so that they could no longer understand one another. Unable to communicate, the work was halted and the builders scattered across the face of the earth, grouping according to their unique tongues. It is from this event that planet Earth's many races, cultures and languages sprang.

The characters in Babel are the spiritual children of that ill-fated construction project, doomed by their ancestors to a world in which language acts more as a means to distance and isolate us than aid in our understanding of one another.

No one in this film can communicate.

Not people and certainly not governments. Citizens of different countries are hindered by their own linguistic barriers. Even those who speak the same language cannot connect. Not husbands and wives. Not parents and children. Not siblings. There are even those who are literally, physically unable to communicate. No gender, no class, no country is immune.

Babel is threaded with several interlocking narratives that at first remind one of last year's Oscar-winning Crash but prove to have much more in common with the politically savvy Syriana.

Brad Pitt (his roles beginning to reflect his ideologies) and Cate Blanchett play a husband and wife who, while traveling through Morocco on what appears to be a last ditch effort to salvage their imploding marriage, fall prey to an errant bullet.

The bullet is fired from a gun in the hands of a young shepherd boy out to prove to his brother that their weapon could not possibly reach out and hit a tour bus on the ridge far below them. His error has tragic repercussions not just for his family but the entire community.

The Moroccan boys are not the only children in Babel. Pitt and Blanchett's children, in the care of their Mexican nanny (Adriana Barraza in the film's stand-out role), take an unscheduled trip across the border for Barraza's son's wedding. Getting into Mexico proves simple. Returning in the care of their undocumented nanny and her hot-headed nephew proves far more problematic, and ultimately, life-altering.

Finally, half a world away in Tokyo, a teenager (Rinko Kikuchi) struggles with the suicide of her mother, the emotional distance of her father (who plays an unexpected hand in the accidental shooting of Blanchett) and her own feelings of being unloved, all of which drive her to use sex as a means of communication and proof to herself and others that she's not some sort of monster. Choked with a massive population, Tokyo is not usually assumed to be a place of loneliness and isolation, but as a deaf/mute, Kikuchi is unable to physically connect with anyone.

While Babel is not a film interested in scaring the hell out of you or urging you to burn your passport, it does represent a world in which hope, compassion and level-headedness are commodities in short supply. It intentionally ends without resolving most, if not all of its story-lines. Because life is like that. Our problems do not vanish in the space of two hours or even two weeks. The repercussions of our actions and our responsibilities for those actions continue to ripple down through our lives, oftentimes for years.

Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams) is interested in creating a unified picture that shows how the barriers of language and culture serve to divide us, but also reveal our most fundamental commonalities and connectedness. The smallest action in the smallest of countries can have a staggering ripple effect that can move like a hurricane-force gale through the halls of power of the largest and most powerful governments on the planet.

Iñárritu has made what is sure to be one of the most talked about and lauded films of the year.

Our world is one in which technology pervades all we do and are. Are we are capable of managing our creation? As 2001: A Space Odyssey asks, have we evolved to the point where our humanity will not be outstripped by the soullessness of our constructs? Are we doing little more than arrogantly building more towers to place ourselves on the same plane as God and if so, when will His wrath fall upon us?

The final shot of Babel is also the most memorable--a pull-back that starts on a balcony and glides backward across the glittering abyss of a city at night. A shot that, within the confines of the frame, easily encompasses hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. Millions of people connected by a world getting smaller all the time. Millions of people ever more fragmented by the schisms of ideology, political oppositions and religious binaries. Millions of people never more in need of love, empathy and understanding.

In The Name Of All That's Holy!

While not as nauseating as Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez attempting to remake Casablanca a few years back, the news today that Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon) will be re-making Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 horror classic The Birds is nonetheless the most vomit-inducing thing I've read in a long time. These people must be stopped.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


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

"The word 'commercial' is a horrid word and should be abolished from the language of filmmakers' decisioning." --Barry Diller, CEO of Paramount Pictures at the time Reds went into production

By 1981, the epic film was all but gone. And then actor/writer/producer/director Warren Beatty pulled off something almost unimaginable--a massive, sprawling epic that reminded audiences of the glories of such films as Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago and Gone With the Wind. His film, Reds, was nominated for 12 Academy Awards. It was the last time in Oscar history that one film pulled in nominations for each acting category. It won for Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography and Best Director.

This is the first time that this film classic has seen the light of day as a DVD. And it was worth the wait.

By all accounts, Reds should never have been made.

"It's a three and a half hour movie about a communist who dies," admits Warren Beatty, sheepishly.

Beatty was interested in making a film about the birth of "the left" in America and found an ample and authoritative voice in the story of John Reed, a journalist and leading American communist and his turbulent love affair with writer Louise Bryant.

The story follows several years of their lives, from their inauspicious meeting at a dinner where he delivered a speech in Portland, Oregon, to their impassioned years fighting for the labor movement in New York City, to the battlefields of World War I Europe, and finally the sweeping vistas of revolutionary Russia where Reed desperately tried to help shepherd the fledgling socialist country to greatness only to watch it fall apart and devolve into an authoritarian police state.

Make no mistake about it, Reds is a controversial film depending on your politics. Though, to be fair and accurate, Reds is about characters championing a return to power in the hands of the people, not the monstrosity that communism became under the Soviet Union. You can call the characters naive or easily duped, but you cannot call them champions of totalitarianism.

For some Reds will inspire. Others it will enrage. After all, it's a Warren Beatty film and Reds says as much about the convergence and uneasy relationship of art and politics in general as it does about art and politics in the life of its creator. Beatty has always been one of Hollywood's more outspoken liberals and this sentiment is what drove him to craft this film as a response to America's 70s paranoia and involvement in Vietnam.

But whatever its reception, Reds it is also a luminescent film, with actors, both large and small, at the top of their game. Beatty is both fiercely rabid and utterly charming as Reed. Diane Keaton, as Bryant, is a powerhouse of emotion as a woman not as in love with her husband's passions as she is passionate about her husband. Jack Nicholson, as the writer Eugene O'Neil, is all gloom and melancholy as a man caught in a love triangle between Bryant and the bottle.

One year, over two million feet of film, and nearly two dozen shooting locations all across the world went into making Reds. It was a labor of love that became one of the most acclaimed and adored films in recent memory.

To read the full review, click here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Prairie Home Companion

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

I was introduced to "Lake Wobegon" (inexplicably, not in this film!) many years ago on a long road trip through Colorado. I was instantly enchanted by the small, imaginary Minnesota town and it's curmudgeonly residents...and to the soft, mellifluous, quicksilver voice of Garrison Keillor. I've been of fan of NPR's "A Prairie Home Companion" ever since.

The film version, like the real-life radio show, is a celebration of old-fashioned idiosyncrasy in a world dominated by automated, soulless corporate culture. The film takes place in an alternate reality, just a hair's breath different from our own. After 30 years on the air, the show and the theater from which it broadcasts are to be leveled by a Texas conglomerate to make way for a new parking lot. This will be their final performance.

There are lots of final performances in this film. A Prairie Home Companion is more a wake than a film, a cinematic musing on death and the inevitable end of all things. If this sounds dark or morbid, it's not. It is a euphoric display of gratitude for what we've been given. It's a celebration of life and the joy chanced upon along the way. It's about treasuring fond memories and tall-tales.

Teeming with music, intentionally bad jokes, and an ensemble of gifted performers (many of whom are the radio show's real-life stars) who cannot hide the fact that they are thoroughly enjoying each another’s company, A Prairie Home Companion is a melancholy elegy to life well-lived, a memorial to bygone days, a tribute to the power of dreams, a commendation to art that endures and a sermon to love what you have, not what you long for.

One can't help wondering if the 82-year-old Altman, who received an extremely well-deserved Honorary Oscar at last year's Academy Awards and admitted to a shocking heart transplant some years ago, sees the film's undercurrent of impending death in his own life. Then again, so long as the angel of death looks like Virginia Madsen, it must not keep him up too much of the night.

Altman, one of the greatest living American directors, and screenwriter Keillor have produced a lovely and bittersweet fable about morality, the fleetingness of fame, drawing strength from the past and finding the inevitable beauty in the darkest of situations. The result is a film that is magical, gentle, whimsical and joyous.

Sure, it may be minor Altman, but minor Altman is better than major most-anybody.

To read the full review, click here.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Departed

The Departed heralds Martin Scorsese’s return to the top of his game and simultaneously secures for the film a place in the pantheon of the very best of American crime cinema.

Welcome back to Scorsese’s mean streets.

Martin Scorsese has taken the Hong Kong action classic, Infernal Affairs, borrowed its very deserving skeleton, and re-packed it with the distinctly American sensibilities of gangsters, corruption and betrayal in Irish Boston. Forget what you’ve ever felt about the inadequacies of re-makes–The Departed is a towering, ambitious achievement.

The cops have wanted to take down crime boss, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) for years. But they can never get close enough to him to gather the sort of evidence that would make a conviction stick. When Billy Costigan, a young man from the wrong side of the tracks joins the force, the opportunity is seen to infiltrate Costello’s organization. Unknown to the police, however, Costello has his own spy in their ranks in the form of poster-boy cop Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon). Initially ignorant of each others’ roles, the two “rats” burrow their way into their perspective worlds until it becomes all too clear that for either of them to come out alive, they must find and destroy the other. The men risk schizophrenic breaks, dividing their loyalties and their own personalities. The deeper they go and the longer they’re in, the more difficult the ability to extract their true identities from their fake personas.

Scorsese runs their stories parallel to each other from the opening scene (complete with surrogate father figures and a dicey love triangle), and develops their characters so completely that viewers will legitimately find themselves won over by the charm and warmth of Sullivan and turned off by the anti-social behavior of Costigan. Anti-heroes and flawed protagonists are hardly new to cinema, but they have rarely been so convincingly drawn as to make viewers rout for the bad guy and loath the good guy.

Within this thicket of paranoia, two of the most superb actors of our generation meet in a tension-laden game of cat and mouse. Damon is cocky and charming, monstrosity coiled beneath a veneer of utter respectability. DiCaprio is exactly the opposite. He is a man adrift on a sea of grief, addiction and uncontrollable wrath. But his soul is good, and we watch upon his face what Scorsese has called the “battleground of moral conflicts.” DiCaprio, who has always–yes, always–been an actor of staggering ability, shows his acting has finally caught up with his emotional gravity. His third film with the director, DiCaprio no longer needs to prove to anyone why he is Scorsese’s new Robert DeNiro.

The supporting actors are no less steller. Nicholson chews up and spits out every frame. Alec Baldwin, as Damon’s boss, is inspired comic relief. Martin Sheen, as DiCaprio’s boss, brings vulnerability and tenderness. Newcomer Vera Farmiga, as the woman caught between the two men, is angelic. And Mark Wahlberg steals absolutely every scene he’s in as the foul-mouthed, lava for blood, police sergeant who ultimately gets the last laugh.

The Departed is not for the faint of heart. This is Scorsese working with his complete bags of tricks–subtlety and nuance as well as some of the most brazen and audacious violence you’ve ever seen. That he knows what to use when, and even knows when the two can be injected into the same time and space, shows why he is a master craftsman of the medium. The Departed is also something else, rather unexpected. It is very funny. That this comedy comes hand in hand with some of the most graphic bloodletting on the screen this or any year makes its triumph all the more extraordinary. That a movie this incessantly violent, this brutal should be this much fun is almost beyond explanation.

William Monahan’s script is something electric. The film is two and half hours lean, crackling with an edginess, wit, and primal tension that act as engines to propel scenes roaring through the film like locomotives that have jumped the track and now careen dangerously out of control. The entire movie, and even Scorsese’s kinetic camerawork that rarely sits still, is a aria of explosive motion. Before the final credits role, the words operatic and Shakespearian will inevitably come to mind.

Scorsese has always been one of the undisputed masters of the crime drama (Michael Mann’s presence in the genre negates the freedom to regard him as the undisputed master), though The Departed is the kind of film he has not visited since Goodfellas. What makes The Departed a masterpiece–and it is a masterpiece–is the fact that it is also the finest film he has made since Goodfellas. After a series of gorgeous but mediocre projects, and a few good old fashioned duds, Scorsese has made a brilliant powerhouse of cinema and a downright ferociously entertaining film.

The Departed is euphorically confident and assured, made by a director who understands cinema in both its technical and its artistic veins. Scorsese includes the sort of cinematic winks this review will not give away, but rest assured, work like gangbusters. From any other director they would be lampooned, but from Scorsese, we applaud his bravado and virtuosity. The result is a film that works on every conceivable level. It is for films like this–exciting, invigorating, wicked, bloody, convoluted, hilarious, and unapologetic–that we go to the movie house in the first place.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Virgin Suicides

"We knew the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love, and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them."

It's not often that you finish a film both depressed and whimsical, saddened and knowing you just watched something beautiful, emotional and also deeply introspective.

It's not often that you watch a film like The Virgin Suicides.

Sophia Coppola's 2000 directorial debut is ostensibly a story about five sisters. But is is also--perhaps more so--about the boys who adore them, voyeuristically, from afar.

The Lisbons are the most exotic family on the block. The parents (James Woods and Kathleen Turner) handle her five daughters' burgeoning sexuality the only way they know how--they keep them imprisoned in the house.

The neighborhood boys are transfixed with the girls, especially Lux (Kirsten Dunst). They are not in love with them--love requires proximity and time--they are in love with their own ideas of them. So unknowable, so out of reach, the boys are beguiled by the mystery that surrounds the magical, beautiful creatures in that strange house and create elaborate, imaginative stories out of the few puzzle pieces of the girls' lives they are able to scrape together.

The Virgin Suicides is a film that understands adolescence, particularly that time in life when one is buffeted by hormones one doesn't understand, when the bodies of children suddenly swell into the shapes of adults, when eyes are awakened for the first time to the opposite sex, and lust first rears its powerful and intoxicating head.

The film, as the title suggests, ends in horrible tragedy, but incredibly, Coppolla doesn't allow The Virgin Suicides to become suffocating and funereal. Instead, even at the end, she maintains a wistfulness and a dreamy quality that casts a spell on the viewer long after the film has ended.

The Virgin Suicides is ultimately about those surreal, magical moments of our youth that can never last but will always leave imprints--even scars--that will remain for the rest of our lives.

Trailer Park

Some more great trailers have hit the web in the past few weeks.

300, the wickedly hyper-stylized story of a band of Spartan soldiers and their last stand, from graphic novelist, Frank Miller, who also brought us Sin City. Looks incredible.

Pan's Labyrinth looks like an intoxicating and enthrawling imaginative wonderfest.

Bobby, about the assassination of Senator Bobby Kennedy, brother of slain president John F. Kennedy. Look at that cast.

The History Boys, based on the acclaimed, Tony-award winning Broadway hit I intend to see very soon, is now a film.

Adolescence sucks, especially when your parents own The Motel.

Flags of our Fathers, the first of two Clint Eastwood films dealing with the battle for Iwo Jima, this one from the persepetive of the Americans. His next film will deal with the same battle through the eyes of the entrenched Japanese.

Director Phillip Noyce (The Quiet American and Rabbit-Proof Fence) presents a new political thriller that takes place during the turbulent, 1980's South Africa, in Catch a Fire.

Matt Damon stars in Robert DeNiro's story about the birth of the CIA, The Good Shepherd.

The Queen, an account of how the British monarchy and Tony Blair's "New Britannia" dealt with the death of Princess Diana.

Jesus Camp--is it church or brainwashing? You can decide.

A slacker's life is changed by an encounter with a young woman who takes care of his ailing grandfather in Aurora Borealis.

Blood Diamond is Edward Zwick's (Glory) latest film about corruption and survival in Africa's illegal diamond industry.

And last, but not least, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodríguez are at it again. You have to see the trailer for Grindhouse to believe it.

Now Why Don't He Write?

Sorry that I've been so quiet around here lately. The past few days I've been drowning under work for my screenplay class.

The assignment was a film treatment-- the movie written down like a story--for the screenplay I will be writing, but I found the assignment a difficult one without knowing exactly where the film was going, beat by beat, in my head.

So I reversed the natural order of things and drafted a step outline first--a roadmap detailing the progression of every scene. From there I condensed it into the treatment.

I worked for three days straight, from early in the morning to after midnight each night. I knew I was in "the Zone" much of that time. It's a good feeling. It's been a while.

While this was a lot more work than was required of me at this point of the class, I have a sneaking suspicion that a Step Outline may be in my future anyway. If not, I've just made my writing life a lot easier, regardless.

Thank goodness this is a screenplay I've been preparing to write since the Spring, and had notes, research, a rough outline and the advice of a collaborator to guide me. Otherwise three days would have probably been more like three weeks.

Great Jumpin Jahosofat!

If you are even remotely a film buff and appreciate foreign and old "art house" films, than you are very familiar with Janus.

A friend of mine said it best: "Excuse me while I wipe the drool from my chin." A collection plate will be passed around. You are encouraged to give to the work of Brandon.

Visit Janus' webpage here to check out this astonishing collection.

Roger Ebert's Road to Recovery

"For 40 years, I didn't miss a single deadline, but since July, I have missed every one. I also, to my intense disappointment, missed the Telluride and Toronto film festivals. Having just written my first review since June ("The Queen"), I think an update is in order.

Faithful readers and viewers will recall that I expected a speedy recovery from surgery for salivary cancer last June. My expert (and now beloved) doctors had an encouraging game plan, and I expected to be back at work right away. Then I had several episodes of sudden and serious bleeding..."

To read the rest of Ebert's troubling (and very encouraging) update on his condition, as well as when he plans on returning to work full-time, click here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Several of my fellow NYU classmates and I have started a film website entitled cinemattraction. We're still working out a few bugs and still have a few more refinements to make, but we're all quite proud of how things are shaping up. Check it out.

Monday, October 09, 2006

To Boldly Bid

For those of you who begged me to come back with lots of notes and pictures, this blog is for you! Feel free to click on most of the pictures for larger images. I may even have a video or two shortly!

I've never been so close to the stuff of my dreams.

When Neil woke me up Friday morning with a text message asking me if I wanted to accompany him to Christie's Auction House for the single largest Star Trek merchandise auction in history, I typed back: "Does Spock have pointy ears!?"

Not bad when your first-ever auction takes place at the famed Christies at Rockefeller Center. And when it involves your life's single largest obsession.

Over the course of three full days (I attended the final two), more than 1,000 lots comprising more than 4,000 items were sold. From the smallest to the largest props, furniture and set pieces, weaponry, jewelry and prosthetic items, uniforms and costumes, starship models (including the original shooting models for all the series', minus the original TV show--that one hangs in the Smithsonian), and a full-size bridge replica. And, of course, tribbles.

The media was everywhere, still-cameras clicking away, digital video cameras rolling. The History Channel streamed all three days live online.

Tickets to the auction floor were a precious commodity, chosen by a lottery system. (Thank you Neil and Kyrie!) I was there as a gawker, not a buyer. Almost nothing, not even the smallest item, went for less than a grand. While some items were theoretically within my reach--not that they wouldn't have taken years to pay off when coupled with my massive grad school bills--an actual uniform worn by William Shatner or Patrick Stewart would be worth four or five grand, no? Neil commented that it was a shame that this sort of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came at such a cash-strapped stage in my life. Indeed. It was enough, I had to keep telling myself, just to be there, to actually see some of these items up close, to be a part of such a momentous event, to live vicariously through those with far larger resources than I.

Up at the front of the room, throughout the weekend, sat the Enterprise A and D. With no signs to tell me not to touch, I lovely stroked the hulls of both vessels, gliding my finger's gently along their resin skins, imagining myself as particles of stellar dust. These were not simply models of my favorite celestial chariots--they were those very chariots.

* * *

PICARD (puts his hand on the Phoenix): " It's a boyhood fantasy... I must have seen this ship hundreds of times in the Smithsonian but I was never able to touch it."

DATA: "Sir, does tactile contact alter your perception of The Phoenix?"

PICARD: "Oh, yes! For humans, touch can connect you to an object in a very personal way, make it seem more real."

DATA (also puts his hand on the ship): "I am detecting imperfections in the titanium casing... temperature variations in the fuel manifold... it is no more 'real' to me now than it was a moment ago."

TROI (observing from a catwalk): Would you three like to be alone?"

--Star Trek: First Contact

* * *

No one in that room looked at me oddly or thought me weird. I was with people who loved what I loved in the same way I loved it. We may have been a room full of misfits, but we were all misfits and we reveled in it. (For those of you who assume the auction floor must have resembled a Star Trek convention, only one bidder showed up in a full costume, but as he was British, middle-aged, bald and even resembled Patrick Stewart, he pulled it off.)

I suppose I expected the mainly British auctioneers to be stogy and staid, the paradigms of upper-class reserve. What I didn't expect was how funny they actually were, cracking dry jokes and making playful comments. This was especially true when the auctioneer was obviously not familiar with the items he or she was selling. The following are actual auctioneer comments I heard:

"Riker's...excuse me...boy toy outfit?!"

"Next lot is...Wolf's spinal column...riiiiight."

"Having just sold the Borg head, our next lot is...a Borg arm. Keep this up and we'll have a whole Borg body by the end of the night."

"Sold for $45,000. Would like to come back next week for the Monet's sir?"

"Arggg! The pirate costume!"

"Klingon wallpaper...I mean wall panel. Oh you know what I mean...I hope some of you are redecorating. This would look great in the bedroom."

"Lot 657, the Romulan Prison Camp model. Oh, booooooo, hissssssss."

"Don't look at your wife. Look at me. You don't need her permission. It's only money."

"$4000 for two tribbles. That's only 2000 a fuzz-ball! What a deal."

"Next is Dr. McCoy's medical smock. Anyone want to play doctor?"

"35,000...38,000...42,000...what in the world are we selling here!?"

"Stop that, you don't have to roll your eyes every time you bid."

"What do you mean 'No?' You've just spent $22,000...what's another $2,000!?"

"Kirstie Alley's uniform. I assume this is post Jennie Craig then...I know, I know...I'm sorry..."

"Six thousand dollars for that!? I wouldn't feel too badly that you didn't get it madam. I can make you one with my desk scraps after we're done here."

"$750 to the internet...someone out there badly needs pants. It's a good thing they're at home and not here with us. History Channel isn't that sort of cable channel."

"Lot 961...which is, if I'm not mistaken, the year we started this auction. I'm sorry, but you all look exhausted. Do I look as bad as you guys?"

More often than not, the auctioneers had no idea how to pronounce the various alien or character names, and usually just skipped them altogether. "Vulcan High Priest Kohlinahr Master's Robe" became simply, "Vulcan...robe."

"Next lot is have no idea in hell what that is. Some alien thingymagiggy..."

Sometimes they made valiant efforts:

",, C-something-or-other self-sealing stem bolt."

"Next we have Lt. Zulu's uniform... What? Oh my, so sorry. Sulu's uniform."

Unencumbered by a bidding paddle, I enjoyed consulting my catalogue books (the real keepsakes of the weekend), trying to predict what would go for huge amounts.

It was hilarious to see the auctioneers blanch at prices they deemed absurd for what was being purchased. Pikard's Ressikan flute (from the beloved episode "The Inner Light"), estimated at $800-1,200 went for an astonishing $40,000! Even a handful of stickers that were used to simulate buttons on The Next Generation's consoles went for over a thousand dollars.

Aside from hundreds of buyers on the floor (several of whom bid on items they had no hope of procuring but wanted to be able to say they'd tried), a wall of pretty girls lined one of the walls, phones glued to their ears. Another several hovered over computer screens calling out internet bidders.

When someone in the room beat the anonymous--and apparently bottomless bankrolled--phone bidders, especially if it was for an obscenely large amount of money, the room erupted in applause. The winning bidder was oftentimes smothered by his or her (yes, there were many "hers") seatmates. Some of the larger items incited standing ovations no matter who won them.

I sat in the very back of the room and had my Mac open most of the second day (Neil had to leave after only a few hours the first day to go run his planetarium). While I was recording impressions, downloading pictures and even dabbling with a bit of homework, it occurred to me finally why so many people who passed by eyed me with curiosity and suspicion. They thought I was one of the online bidders anonymously gobbling up merchandise from those present on the floor. Emboldened, I did nothing to disabuse them of these impressions.

As big items drew closer, you could feel the air begin to crackle. People shifted forward in their seats, licking their lips in anticipation. Christies admitted the interest and energy for the show caught them completely off guard. Their catalogue estimates and the actual amount of money that came in for the items were light years apart. For instance, an item listed for $300-500 regularly went for 4 or 5 times that amount, if not more. This was the sort of event in which tens of thousands of dollars was spent in seconds.

The Enterprise-E (First Contact and Nemesis) went for $120,000 (which doesn't even take into account the 20% commission and other fees on top of that that all items are saddled with), when it was estimated to go for only $8,000-12,000. The Borg Cube, thought to draw no more than $1,500 took $80,000! The DS9 space station, with a high estimate of $12,000 went home with a $110,000 bidder!

They saved the best stuff for the last day. Saturday's items included original cast movies costumes, captain chairs, bridge set pieces, and, of course, the Enterprise-D (The Next Generation) and the ultimate item, the Enterprise-A (Original Trek movies).

The bridge set went for $30,000. When someone in the crowd called out, "That's so cheap," I had to nod my head in ready agreement.

The Enterprise-D was sold for a perfect half a million, one of the highest prices ever paid for any piece of Hollywood memorabilia.

When the final bid of the auction, #1000, the Enterprise A came up, the Star Trek theme song began playing loudly over the speakers. We all rose unanimously to our feet and I'd be lying if I said I didn't have tears in my eyes. However, what began as a deeply emotional moment quickly turned into a shocking and even enraging one. Normally I would never call a quarter of a million dollars "cheap," "a steal" or "an injustice" but these are all things I said aloud when the USS Enterprise A model sold for only $240,000. We all stood dumbfounded, disbelieving what we'd just seen. The only explanation we could think of? Everyone had already spent what they had on the other 999 lots and had little left to spend on the most valuable item of the entire auction. For fraks sake, the Bird of Prey sold for more ($260,000)! Whoever will be bringing the great lady home got her for chump change and while I'm happy for them, it chaffed me the rest of the evening. It chaffs me still.

At the end of evening, after the final slide read "End of Sale," and the auctioneer invoked William Shatner's infamous Saturday Night Live line by saying, "It's over. Now go get a life," the auction drew in a stellar 7.1 million dollars--almost four times the amount Christies estimated they'd receive.

At one point I recognized Michael and Denise Okuda in the audience. Michael is Star Trek's graphic art supervisor and the technical advisor responsible for the overall look of the franchises' control panels, signage, alien written languages and computer readout animation. His wife, Denise, is a Star Trek researcher, artist and author. They'd spent the last 8 months planning this weekend. I asked them if it felt as if they were selling their children.

"Oh no," Denise pipped up, "Are you kidding!? These things were wasting away in crates somewhere in L.A. Now they are going to go home with fans who will lavish them with the sort of love and care they deserve. They're going to a far better place."

Though I can't take any of these things home with me, they will, of course, remain with me in my heart, where they've been all along. What an out-of-this-world weekend.

If you're interested in what some of the other items sold for, here are just a few examples:

Dixon Hill outfit: 2,800
Captain Picard's 1st season uniform: 20,000
Enterprise C: 40,000
Ferengi Shuttle: 7,300
Romulan warbird: 30,000
Cardasian Cruiser: 20,000
Ferengi Marauder: 15,000
Vulcan starship: 12,000
A replica of Kirk's original captain's chair: 9,000
Kirk's Wrath of Khan uniform: 8,500
Ilia's off-duty tunic and Deltan headband: 9,000
Spock's IV headband: 3,800
Spock's re-birth gown: 8,000
Klingon warrior custom: 8,000
Original Series Space Suit: 120,000
Battle Damaged USS Reliant: 24,000
USS Reliant: 50,000
Galileo shuttlecraft: 12,000
Regula One Space Station: 42,000
Space Dock: 65,000
Self-Destructed Enterprise: 40,000
Klingon Battlecruiser: 85,000
USS Excelsior: 110,000

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Cornell, Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell, lead singer of such groups as Soundgarden and Audioslave is doing the theme song to the new James Bond film, Casino Royale. You can check it out here.

It is certainly not a Bond theme the way that when you first heard Garbage's "The World is Not Enough" you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that it belonged to James Bond. Still, it may grow on me and certainly, with it's harsh, reverb laden, harder edge, fits this particular Bond and this particular film.

Moving Day!

From here...

 the streetside here (thank you Justin!)...

 roughly one hundred trips up four flights of stairs here (thank you Anoosh!)...

 the apartment here (thank you Haim!)...

Monday, October 02, 2006

"Definitely, Maybe"

Went to lunch at the diner down the street and saw this sign on the tree in front of my building. It seems my street is to be overrun with a film crew for the next few days for Definitely, Maybe.

More New York City Impressions

It was recently pointed out to me that I haven't blogged about any New York impressions lately, so let me remedy that with a few observations and experiences...

I've been doing a lot of walking lately, getting lost on purpose, trying to find my way around and discover the sorts of great, tucked-away treasures you can only find when you're not looking for them. I've found some wonderful areas. And, I've certainly found some not so wonderful ones too. But overall, I'm amazed at how quickly I'm picking up the lay of the land.

I've wandered into magnificent cathedrals, book stores boasting 18 miles of books, along the pier lined with modern and classical sailing vessels dwarfed by the city skyline, through beautiful parks, small grocers and street corners that look like a Sesame Street set, and sideswalk flower stalls you simply have to stop and take in, if for no other reason than to cleanse your nostrils from the smells of the street.

It's funny who's wandering the street with you. Women in $1,000 dollar dresses walking the tiniest dogs you've ever seen. Lots of those. The women. And the tiny dogs. And you can take these dogs into just about anywhere from the grocery store to the bank. It's like hundreds of Paris Hiltons running around. But with more brains. And better sense. Not that many of the people walking the dogs were actually the dogs' owners.

You'd think with a city this size, that the entire thing would be monolithic and overwhelming. But that simply isn't true. Manhattan is saturated with some of the most beautiful, intimate spaces I've ever found. Another thing I find amusing is how, when you first get here, you learn the city as a series of patchworks, zones centered around the subway stop you came up from, ignorant of how they all go together. The other day I was wandering just a block or two from NYU, when I stumbled upon Soho (a wonderful, artistically drenched part of the city) and the Anglelica theater where I'd eaten and seen a film just a few nights before. I had no idea that they were next to each other.

When I'm not on the street, I'm in the subway. Aside from some very minor hick-ups, I haven't had any major problems navigating. On the mornings I have to be in class, I always leave home early to avoid the rush hour crush. If you want to know what a sardine feels like, ride the NYC subway at 9am. At stops, people push and shove their way past each other with little care at all for thoughtfulness or politeness. The other day, as the train pulled to the Times Square station, a 50-something woman began muscling her way out of the car like a linebacker, shoving people left and right, and certainly would have knocked several down had it not been for the fact that the crush of bodies made falling impossible. When they turned on her angrily, she simply turned around, glared in my direction and exclaimed loudly that she'd been pushed.

One of my favorite moments on the subway is when the express train and a local train find themselves parallel to each other, both going about the same speed. You can look out your window and into the car of the opposite train and read the newspapers of the occupants there if you wished. It is as if you are standing still and simply looking out the window onto another stopped train. Then, as the local slows for one of its many stops, you peel away and rush again into the darkness. There have been several instances when I've been on the express train and literally wondered if I'd make it out alive. Racing down the tunnels at horrifying speeds and feeling and sounding as if they will shake apart at any moment, it is little consolation when I glance around the car to see only non-plused reactions on the faces of my fellow occupants.

I ate lunch at McSorelys the other day. Touted as the oldest, continually running pub in New York City, McSorelys dark wood walls are decorated with all sorts of pictures from its patrons down through the ages. You won't find many women in the pictures. Truth is, the pub only began admitting women when the government forced them to. That was in the late 70s! They serve Coke-a-Cola for the ladies and either a light or dark beer, brewed on the premiss, for the men. The appetizer consists of crackers, cheese, and onions. The menu is small pub fare. The floors are liberally sprinkled with sawdust.

Speaking of food, I've loved discovering the push carts that dot the street corners, where, for a dollar, you can get a coffee and a bagel. And coffee here follows a more European sensibility. If you want it black, you have to ask for it. If you just ask for a "coffee," it comes with cream and sugar already added.

The coffee is not the only thing that reminds me of Europe. The entire city has the feel of a major, metropolitan, European city with quaint streets, old buildings, outdoor cafes and a dozen different languages overheard by the people you pass on the street. It is an intoxicating, electric, liberating feeling.

All in all, I was struck the other day by the fact that I am loving being here. And I have yet to encounter any sort of culture shock. I feel as if I belong here and have been here for ages.