Monday, March 25, 2013
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Feather to Fire
Feather to fire, fire to blood, blood to bone, bone to marrow, marrow to ashes . . . ashes to snow.It's funny what you miss when you live abroad. There's no accounting for what pops into your head at any given moment, though I guess that's also true if you stay in one place.
Arriving in New Zealand with seven pieces of luggage and a car seat, much of what we own—what we hadn't sold—remains in storage. Your life moves on, you live with less, and your precious things become less precious. It becomes very easy to divide your history, your mental landscape, into Before and After.
For example: Before, I had a TV, a bunch of DVDs, and a player on which to play them. After, we download programs from the Internet. There are a good many films, favorites, that I haven't seen in years. Gregory Colbert's Ashes and Snow is one of them, and a little while ago it popped into my head. It's something I originally saw as part of Gregory Colbert's haunting Nomadic Museum installation in Santa Monica, during my first trip to Los Angeles. Narrated by Katsumoto, Morpheus, and a Spaniard (a Mexican stand-off I'd like to see), the film is divided into several parts, including Feather to Fire. Enjoy.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
It was good to hear from him. Like a number of my erstwhile colleagues, however, he'd been laid off. (In any number of ways, I got out just in the nick of time.) That wasn't exactly fun stuff, but he had plans to return to school, and that was encouraging. Shortly before my departure he suffered a stroke and was in hospital, and so we didn't have a proper farewell; and to be honest I didn't know how he had fared afterwards. To hear him tell it, though, over two years down the track, things seemed to be looking up.
Yesterday I heard from a mutual friend that Matt was murdered in his sleep by his wife. Horrible, shocking, senseless. The details at this early date are few but unhappy.
I can't claim to have known Matt well. At 6'11" he was the tallest person I knew. He loved sailing. He'd gone to Penn, led its basketball team to the Final Four in 1979, and after being drafted by the Portland Trailblazers played professional basketball in Europe for a number of years.
I worked closely with Matt. He was a member of the software documentation team whose work I edited. He was a very good technical writer, smart, frightfully thorough, and an expert in e-learning. I remember interviewing Matt for the position and reviewing his respectable work history (including upper management), education (Wharton MBA), the seemingly idyllic life he left behind in Spain, and--let's be honest--the romance of his former career and wondering why this fellow wanted to take what must have been a hefty pay cut to write instruction manuals for credit union software. (To be fair, this is exactly what I was wondering of myself.)
He was a good hire. He picked up the software quickly. He did his work well and he did it fast. He kept his head down. When we talked, it was of Europe and his days abroad and my several trips there. It was exciting, this glimmer of another life, of travel. It wasn't rooted in the distant past, or nostalgia, or even of hope tied to a distant star. It was something he had done, something real that could be done. I can't say he influenced me directly in my decision to live abroad, but he more than most knew the appeal of other places and how they can take us out of ourselves in the most wondrous ways.
He also drank more coffee than any person I've ever met, with the possible exception of my dad's friend Larry Ironsides.
No, I didn't know him well, you know. I can't speak to his domestic or his interior life. I didn't have his confidence. But I mourn his passing. And maybe that's just how it is with those who for a time play a significant part of our daily life. We don't know what angels and devils reside on their shoulders, nor the trajectory of their lives. We just hope for the best, don't we?
Thanks, Matt. Be at peace.
Friday, November 30, 2012
Jouko Ahola: Intergalactic Bounty Hunter
Speaking of crowd-sourced films, check out this slick promo for Jeremiah Harm. That's my friend Jouko swaggering around like a Schwarzeneggerian badass. He was recruited to play the worlds-weary alien hunter in this concept piece for Timo Vuorensola's follow-up to Iron Sky. (Who knew Finland could produce visual effects like this?)
There's no word yet on whether Jouko will have a role in the film itself, but he's been keeping busy. Next year he'll appear in several episodes of the History Channel's Vikings television series, playing the Finnish warrior Kauko. Considering that Jouko's performance in Kingdom of Heaven was one of the inspirations for my own Viking script, you can bet I'll be watching.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Olórin He Was in the West
Or rather the South, I suppose. No matter. The Hobbit is nigh, and Hawk is ready. He's not alone.
The city is amped for the film's world premiere. Banners of its characters -- Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin, Gollum, Elrond, Galadriel -- wave from the lampposts. Shadowy silhouettes of the Grey Wizard, the 13 dwarves, and their unlikely companion show up in shop windows; their color likenesses appear on Air New Zealand planes. An oversized stamp featuring Bilbo blankets the side of the New Zealand Post building.
Tomorrow perhaps 100,000 or more fans, denizens or wayfarers, will jam the streets outside the Embassy Theatre for the red carpet event and a glimpse of some of the film's stars. We'll be among them.
Over the weekend we visited the Hobbit Artisan Market set up in Waitangi Park. We also visited the Weta Cave, where we picked up a hat for our little Wizard. He's too young yet for the film itself, but it's been a real privilege to witness the proceedings through his eyes. We read the book earlier in the year ("Why does Gollum have only six teeth?"), after visiting the set of Hobbiton in Matamata. He's met a number of the cast and crew, including co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, for whom he recited Bilbo's "My dear Frodo" and the dwarves' song from the teaser trailer. And he's followed Peter's online production diaries. He understands that films are made, and that people make them. I'm okay with that.
Our journey to Wellington, to New Zealand, wasn't entirely unexpected. Certainly, no one knocked on our door and whisked us away in search of ancient gold. But the energy surrounding these films, the national pride, the community, and a young boy's excitement -- all of these are a most welcome surprise. It's a great time to be here.
Friday, November 23, 2012
Robert Bly: News of the Universe
Before I ever read a word of Robert Bly's, I heard his voice. Firm, sharp, and maybe even a bit rushed, out of excitement, or perhaps urgency. I was in Connecticut for a hiking trip with my friend Eric, riding along the back roads (there seemingly isn't any other kind in that state), and Robert was reading to us, telling the tale of the boy and Iron John.
The audio book crackled on the tape deck. Robert took us through the stages a man might go through in life, if he's lucky, and every now and again he would punctuate a point with a mad little swipe at his guitar.
Here, we thought, was a fellow who knew something.
Later that year, I read the book, and then read it again. The next year I attended a poetry retreat in Massachusetts led by Robert and Coleman Barks. The year after that I made it out to the Minnesota Men's Conference and joined the wasters, rhymers, minstrels and other vagabonds cavorting in the woods by a lake. I am a different and better man because of Robert's work.
Robert Bly: News of the Universe is a new film-in-progress by Haydn Reiss. I encourage you to have a look and consider supporting this crowd-sourced work. There's also a fine article about Robert and the project here.
Friday, July 27, 2012
Ryan Murphy Factor
Sometime in the recent past I saw a beautiful thing on television. The show was The Glee Project and since I'm in New Zealand and we import our TV from all the way across the Pacific I couldn't tell you the original air date. I'm pretty sure it wasn't before 1979. Also, by "television" I mean "my computer screen," since TVs are hard to come by and New Zealand has only two channels and it's just a whole lot less hassle to download stuff.
This beautiful thing consisted of two parts. The first was a series of Last Chance Performances by three contestants fighting to keep their spot on the show in order, ultimately, to win a spot on Glee itself. These three young singer/actors had given the weakest performances in that week's challenge and so had to sing before the show's judges to save their hides. One of the three would be going home. Them's the rules.
The best of the three performances was Charlie Lubeck's wonderful off-melody arrangement of Coldplay's "Fix You,"but there was no clear loser, no one who didn't seem to deserve a chance to continue.
The second part of the beautiful TV thing was an amazing performance by the show's creator and executive producer, Ryan Murphy. And by "performance" I mean "decision," as he opted to call back not two but all three contestants. No one was sent home that week. And it's that discretion, that wonderfully unexpected breaking-the-rules deus ex machina that I have come to call the Ryan Murphy Factor.
Yes, Ryan Murphy has the right to run his show the way he wants, has the authority to "violate" the rules established. Yes, a twist at the show's climax makes for good ratings. And, yes, The Glee Project is not Thunderdome. But there's something else at work here.
Ryan Murphy saw undeniable talent and creativity and most of all heart; and, following the larger intentions of the show (presumably, to find and nurture talent), made an allowance. (The first instance of the Ryan Murphy Factor occurred in the finale of Season 1, when he decided there would be not one winner but two, as well as two runners-up.)
No one working to break in, break through, create something of artistic value, start a business, save a relationship--in short, no one taking a risk in this world--knows how they're going to pull it off. They have plans fueled by intention and hard work . . . and then something happens. Or not.
It happened again, "last night," on MasterChef Australia. (Others will say that The Wire or Mad Men or possibly even Downton Abbey is the best television in the history of ever. And they might be right. Except they aren't, at least not entirely. Because there's one hell of a reality cooking show going on right now, just across the ditch.) Anyway, these two Aussie blokes are duking it out in the elimination round, each cooking their hearts out, digging deep, and it comes to decision time, and . . . the judges call it a tie. They go nuts, their fellow competitors go nuts, we at home go nuts. For the next week, at least, they are safe.
And, again, it was a beautiful thing.
I'm not quite sure why the Ryan Murphy Factor gets me so much. Sure, there's probably a twinge of hope that the skies will open up and some Olympian--nay, Odinic--Producer will fall in love with my material and give me lots of cash money. But I think there's more to it than that. It's the idea that we can plan, intend, work hard, and acquire technical virtuosity in a perfect linear fashion--and still the culmination of all this activity happens just as it does in a good movie: in a way that's familiar but perfectly unexpected.
It's the idea that randomness, chaos, and perhaps even destiny have something to do with the work we're called to. That while we absolutely have to take the reins and put in the hours, there's some indefinable thing out there that's watching out for us, willing to meet us halfway, perhaps even more than halfway. We can earn our second chances.
So, thank you, Ryan Murphy. Thank you, Gary and George and Matt. Time to get cooking.
Labels: Charlie Lubeck, Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris, Glee, inspiration, MasterChef Australia, Matt Preston, Ryan Murphy, Ryan Murphy Factor, screenwriting, television, The Glee Project, Thunderdome