Thursday, May 29, 2008

Quietly, with Madeline

Many things will be said about the comic genius and fantastic, zippy presence of Madeline Kahn during Stinkylulu's Kahn-fest today. There will undoubtedly be a lot of wonderful commentary on her roles throughout her career; I hope, for one, that someone does a comparison of her Blazing Saddles singing with Marlene Dietrich's warbling in the westerns that she did.

For me, however, thinking about Madeline Kahn oddly comes back to Judy Berlin, a quiet wisp of a movie that happened to be her last. Her supporting role as a Lawn Guy Land mother, just realizing her marriage ain't what she thinks it is, is pitch-perfect.

I remember less about the film itself, however, and more about the experience watching it. I wanted to see it not only because it happened to win Sundance that year, but also because I heard both Madeline Kahn was fantastic in it. It was playing at a theater I had not really been to in downtown Monterey, California, right on the main drag. The only time that I had to see the movie was a matinee sometime during the week; in those days, I was mostly trying to finish my dissertation during the daytime and waiting tables at night, so movies had to get squeezed in by hook and crook sometimes. I remember racing to the theater, buying my ticket and walking in.

Upon entering, I realize that the space I've entered is somewhat cavernous: a relatively large theater for what is really a small town. There are only a few lights on, although maybe there was only one, as I only remember one, right above. The rest of the theater was curiously dark. My eyes adjusted to the darkness and I saw that I was in what had been a lovely old theater, with some wonderful details on the sides -- but that had been years ago. Fallen somewhat into disrepair, there were cracks on the ceiling in a number of places, some plaster on the floor somewhere. I saw it was a beautiful theater, if a bit sad in its manner of cracking.

And so began the movie: Judy Berlin. And quickly, before I get into the movie itself, I realize that I am alone in this grand old theater. It is, I think, the only time I have had such a privilege -- awkward, because this should have more viewers, because movie-watching is a social experience where we are collectively alone. And yet, also amusing and intimate. And so, when Madeline comes on the screen, I don't feel as if she is speaking only to me; she really is only speaking to me -- large, in black-and-white, wonderful, cracking.

This entry is part of Stinkylulu's Madeline Kahn Appeciation Day -- please visit the other sites on the list, since at least one of them is sure to bring up that fact that she was in possibly the best flick of 1979 The Muppet Movie.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wednesday Whyning #1

Today we begin a new series akin to Jack Handey's Deep Thoughts where you, gentle reader, may contemplate some of the issues brought forth in our world today as funneled through the ever-inquisitive mind of my three-year-old who NEVER. SEEMS. TO STOP. ASKING. WHY. I have at times, in fact, placed a limit on the number of why-questions he can ask while in the car on the way to school, mainly because I have already answered 619 of them and I still haven't had any coffee. (I have also discovered perhaps the best response to these questions. Trust me, I will find a way to use this at some point.) Feel free in the comments to provide some good answers to these questions.

This week's selection, said to Mama:
"Why do you have legs, Mama?"

(Husband's response: "For me to ogle, kid.")

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Smackdowning John Malkovich

It's been ages since I have had the chance to participate in one of Stinkylulu's Supporting Actress Smackdowns -- so when a call went up for 1999 and I realized I had already seen most of the performances involved (I had only not seen one of the films), I jumped at the chance. For the record, the nominees are:
  • Toni Collette in The Sixth Sense
  • Catherine Keener in Being John Malkovich
  • Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted
  • Samantha Morton in Sweet and Lowdown
  • Chloe Sevigny in Boys Don't Cry
A pretty interesting year, one that yielded some fun nominations indeed. As a curio, however, it turns out that I actually kept track of the movies I watched back in 1999 and chose my own list of a top five back then. In apparent order of preference from nine years ago, my choices then for Best Supporting Actress were:
  • Julianne Moore for Magnolia (but also Cookie’s Fortune and An Ideal Husband)
  • Sissy Spacek for The Straight Story
  • Toni Collette for The Sixth Sense
  • Cameron Diaz for Being John Malkovich
  • Nora Dunn for Three Kings
Poor Cameron Diaz will never get another shot like this again, I fear. I do wonder why Spacek wasn't nominated: it's such a great little performance, and Richard Farnsworth got an acting nomination out of it. (Plus, hey, she was playing someone mentally challenged! It's a sure thing! Heck, look what it did for Jolie!) Then again, what was I thinking about Nora Dunn?

Anyway, my views have changed slightly in the ensuing years. Check out the Smackdown to see the winner (who, by the way, I'm totally happy with).

Thursday, May 22, 2008


(UPDATED to include picture of item in question...)

Our family tends to shop at the Salvation Army.

I should qualify that statement: we usually shop for Xan at the Salvation Army, where we can pick up a whole bag of shirts for under $10, of usually really nice stuff. One has to take the time to rifle through everything to find the right sizes, but that's half the fun. Angela often finds great things as well and the prices simply can't be beat. The SA store near Takoma Park also happens to be know for pretty good quality clothing items as well.

I never find anything.

I usually chalk this up to most men's fashion habits. Or at least mine. Basically, I don't get rid of anything unless the item has too many holes or stains to merit not wearing -- and even then I usually just put it in the pile of painting/gardening clothing that I also have. I can't even bear to get rid of the overwhelming number of t-shirts I have. Surely, I cannot get rid of my beloved NIN black t-shirt, even though the logo is mostly worn away. No way, man.

If most men are like this, this is why I can't find anything worth buying at the Salvation Army. I usually end up shopping as frugally as possible at outlet stores.

Yesterday, I went on half-price day. This was a new experience and the store was completely overrun with all sorts of folks in there grabbing everything left and right. For the next month of so, Xan and I are spending Wednesdays together, so he was there as well. I went on a whim to satisfy a particular fashion issue in conjunction with my class this summer (which I'll detail more on later, if the class figures it out). Once I had resolved that issue, I went looking in the boys' section for shirts for Xan. I found several that seemed promising. Alas, sometimes people also put things in places where they don't belong. For example, this shirt that was clearly not a child-size shirt. What is it doing in...

Hmm. That's a familiar crest.

And this fabric seems like the football jersey mater-

Oh my God.

I start looking at the shirt all over and it dawns on me that I had found an authentic football fan jersey from the Spanish national team. Older, naturally, but in otherwise perfect condition.

I have wanted an España shirt for the last three years, when I made my prediction that Spain would take the World Cup in 2006. I was horribly wrong -- and yet still I have remained a fan of Spanish soccer and, given that Peru once again seems like it will flounder like nobody's business and not make it into the big game, I'm still on board behind Spain. I have ben actively considering for almost two years to just hunker down and spend the roughly $70 it costs for a jersey, just because I'm a fan.

The price tag on this shirt: $3.99.

Oh, wait: it's half-price day. That means $2.

I showed this to Angela last night. She said, "Oh, man, someone's girlfriend is in biiiig trouble for getting rid of that shirt."

"Girlfriend?" I said incredulously. "It better be a wife that threw this shirt out. Because if it isn't, I guarantee they're not boyfriend and girlfriend anymore."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Cuarón! No, Cuar-off. No: on. Off. On again! Off? Sheesh...

Last year, I managed to successfully teach a summer course on auteurs. I had long loathed the idea of teaching a whole course about a single director, yaaaawn, but I thought that six weeks would be kinda brisk and fun. The course is actually more about general auteur study than anything else and each student has to pick their own director of choice to follow; as a class, however, I choose one director to follow as a case study. Last year was an easy choice: Pedro Almodóvar, chosen because now I could order all the wacky early stuff I had always wanted to see and so that I finally wouldn't have to choose whether I should screen Hable con ella or Todo sobre mi madre.

This year, I decided to put myself on a bit of a limb and chose Alfonso Cuarón. If Almodóvar was a risky choice of sorts, Cuarón is even more so, particularly since he only has a few features to his name thus far. This choice was inspired, however, by an offhand comment at an SCMS panel on Children of Men that I attended, where a panelist said, "When I went to see the movie, I wanted to know whether I would be getting the director of Y tu mamá también or the director of Harry Potter." And all I could think of was, But it's so clear it's the same guy. Hence: a good choice in my mind for an auteur study.

There is another reason: in doing the very preliminary research on Cuarón, I discovered there was very little written about him. Given my decade-long exploration of Peruvian cinema and my new fascination with shorts, hearing the phrase "barely anything written" was music to my ears and I made an initial pitch with a press at SCMS to write a book on Cuarón and they seemed receptive to the idea for a series on contempo directors. When the recent horrific snafu happened with the Peru book (still unresolved, though an answer may come forth next week, keep those fingers crossed), Angela suggested that since I actually tend to write conference papers with 48 hours to spare (it's true), why not try writing at least a draft of the whole book as I'm teaching the course. Not a bad idea, I thought. So my ulterior motive for teaching this course (much like the shorts course from two summers ago, now turning into a regular course for this fall) is to prep a larger academic work.

All great ideas, except for one thing: where are the students?

When summer registration was just beginning, I was pleasantly surprised that I had six students right off the bat; within a few days, I had 8. This was great: the last two summers, my classes had 7 students, then 6. (This, while a couple other literature courses had 20.) Now at least I wouldn't have to worry about my course. I turned my attention to the end of the semester.

Right before graduation, I got ready to send an email informing the class about the textbook we'd be using, in case they wanted to purchase it online or something. I looked at the roster and, to my horror, the list had not expanded, but shrunk in half. 4.

There was no way they would let the course run at 4.

And, of course, this was one of the only times I actually had all of my materials done ahead of time. Crapola. Why had this happened? Since most of the students who had dropped were from the MFA program, my first instinct was that the Mean Girls (TM) who had sabotaged my evaluations in the fall were now telling everyone to avoid my course. (Curses!) Then, I realized that was paranoid and the likelihood is that it's the economy, stupid, or something like that. Indeed, virtually all the summer courses in the department were drastically underenrolled.

Over the last week, the course fluctuated. We got as high as 6, which I felt comfortable would be allowed to go, but then dropped down to 5 again. I still had no idea on Friday whether or not the course would run and the administrator in charge of this (a pal) also had no clue, that decisions would be made on Monday. I broke the news to the class that we were on the bubble, asked them to ask friends if need be.

I looked yesterday morning: one more had dropped. Back to 4.

The administrator said that he could argue 5, but not 4 -- but that he would hold my course from cancellation on the off-chance, mainly because I knew at least one student might need it to graduate.

This morning, still at 4. The administrator sent me an e-mail saying it was off.

By this point, I had resigned myself. In the shower, I thought up of how I can teach the course in the spring anyway and how to teach it as a full-length course by adding Alejandro González Iñárritu to the mix and cribbing some ideas from a similar course taught by a friend on the Coen Brothers. I thought, hey, who says I can't still watch the movies and write the book? I'll invite friends for a summer film series and they can help me find things. There will be wine and food and great conversation every Wednesday. I'd miss the summer salary -- but this would be fun and productive! And I haven't had a summer like this in a few years? I toweled off, feeling happy with what I was doing with the summer, ready to start fresh. I logged online to get my class' emails so that I could let them know it had been canceled.

There were now 5 students.

Sometime in the hour it took me to shower and have lunch, another student had come into the course. I called the administrator. He said, "Congrats! Your course is a go!"

And as I watched the paycheck come back into view as the summer film series in my house faded away, I wasn't sure exactly how I should feel.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

An invitation to manipulate

Now that the semester's over, I have two academic things on my plate this week: (1) finish up my syllabus for my course on Alfonso Cuarón which is due to start in a week, and (2) finish up a long-overdue article on Peruvian director Luis Llosa.

This is a necessary introduction for the surprise discovery that I had been tagged in a meme. And from none other than Film Experience guru Nathaniel. (Ohmygosh, hi Nathaniel! *pant pant* big blogger looking at little ol' me, try not to sweat or vomit *pant pant*)

Here are the rules:
  1. Pick up the nearest book.
  2. Open to page 123.
  3. Locate the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the next three sentences on your blog and in so doing...
  5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged me.
There happen to have been two books in my bookbag, which I was just packing up in order to go to bed. The first, Ricardo Bedoya's 100 años del cine en el Perú: Una historia crítica, amusingly has photographs on page 123, so I had to go to page 127 to find text. As such, this is what I get

Así, el factotum de Amauta Films -- que por entonces substitía como empresa dedicada al negocio de la distribución de cintas extranjeras, principalmente mexicanas -- Felipe Varela La Rosa intentó regresar a la producción, para lo que formó la empresa Nacional Films del Perú, asociandose con Ismael Bielich, Kurt Hermann y Federico Uranga. En el distrito limeño de Barranco, emprendió la instalación de estudios y laboratorios con los que se propuso prestar servicios a empresas que intentaban probar la eficacía del apun incipiente negocio de la publicidad fílmica y mantenerse en la producción de noticiarios y documentales. En la nueva experiencia apareció acompañado por Kurt D. Hermann, director de producción de la nueva compañía, Guillermo Garland y por los técnicos Pedro Valdivieso y Julio Barrionuevo, responsables de fotografía y sonido que habían iniciado su carrera en Amauta.

Hm. What do we learn from the above?
  1. Film history in Peru in the early 1940s involves something called Amauta Films.
  2. Spanish sentences are really friggin' long. (And yet, is anyone else glad that neither Saramago nor García Márquez was near me right now?)
  3. And often really boring.
  4. I am a big geek.
I expected the other selection to be even more tedious -- and yet, out of context as it is, it is more fun and profound. The book is the textbook I have assigned for my class, Auteurs and Authorship, a collection of essays edited by Barry Keith Grant. The essay that encompasses page 123 is Claire Johnson's "Women's Cinema as Counter-Cinema"; the three sentences selected happen to comprise one of her own writing and two quoted from Hans Enzenberger:

There is no such thing as unmanipulated writing, filming or broadcasting. The question is therefore not whether the media are manipulated but who manipulates them. A revolutionary plan should not require the manipulators to disappear; on the contrary, it must make everyone a manipulator.

Gotta say, I like that one much better. Plus, this bestows upon all of you the power to manipulate the media however you choose.

Oooh, now it's time for my favorite game of tag! Let's see what Zunguzungu, StinkyLulu, the Magiares, Manasse and that Desperate Hausfrau have to say. Not quite the usual suspects, but all smart folks, which should make this even more fun.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hook, line

Without going into too much detail yet (because, dear God, I don't want to jinx this), I got notification today that something I have been waiting for with bated breath might actually go through. The nibble on the line is more sure and solid. I've been here before, though, which is why I'm not saying anything for sure yet. I will find out in the next two weeks about this possibility.

Saying no more than this, if you've got some good thoughts, prayers, karma, crossed fingers or bonus points to send in my direction, I'll take 'em about now. (Thanks in advance. And yes, I will inform here if and when this goes through.)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Ibuprofen? You shouldn't have...

The scene opens with Xan in the back seat of the car following his gymnastics class. In typical Middents form (and given that this backbreaker of a semester only ended the night before as I finished up the grading), I still had to get something for Mother's Day.

I turned in the seat before heading out. "So, Xan, do you want to get something for Mama for Mother's Day?"

Xan nodded his head vigorously. "Yes."

"What shall we get her?" I was prepared for anything.

His answer was definite: "Watermelon."

OK, maybe not anything. "Why should we get Mama some watermelon?" I asked, noting that I've had to answer roughly six "why" questions per minute over the last couple weeks.

"Because she will like it."

I actually considered this for a moment. Then, sense returned. "Um, Xan, I think watermelon is out of season right now."

"Oh." This fazed him for just a moment. "Then I want to get Mama some medicine."

Now I turned around again. "Excuse me? Why should we get medicine for Mother's Day?"

His answer was again unequivocal. "We need to get Mama some medicine in case she gets sick. Then she can get better."

In my mind, I think for a moment that I was just hanging out with a doctor who could have written up a great prescription of something advertised on television that I know I should have paid attention to. Paxil? Oxycontin? Xymox?

"Perhaps we should go to the bookstore instead, Xan."

Big grin emerged. "OK!" Whew.

Happy Mother's Day, everyone!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Payback doesn't have to be a bitch

So this weekend, we wallowed about in our yearly scramble for a babysitter. Angela once again had a spring concert (once again featuring Copland, wheee!) and our usual supply of potential babysitters via students was completely wiped out due to final exams. With the coming of spring, many of our other sources (neighbors, former students, illegal immigrants looking for construction work in Prince William county, etc.) were also wiped out. At gymnastics class, I was going to ask JP, Xan's best friend's dad, if he could give me the name of their babysitter. But before I did, he mentioned that an aunt had come and was helping them out.

"Darn," I said. "I'm desperate for a babysitter and I was going to ask if you had a good one to recommend."

"Well," he said helpfully, "why doesn't Xan just come over to play with Jolie? She would love it, they could play at the park and you won't have to worry about anything?"

I blinked. "Really?"

After much assurance from both JP and later KC on the phone, we agreed this was a good thing. I brought Xan over and both he and Jolie were ecstatic, literally jumping up and down at the sight of each other. I had brought over pajamas, since KC had suggested that he could even try getting in a sleeping bag in her room when I expressed concern that we might be late. I thought, Wow, his first slumber party, of sorts! What fun! Indeed, he barely lifted his head up to wave goodbye as I drove away (madly, trying to get to Capitol Hill from Wheaton in under a half hour). The concert, which included a fantastic flamenco piece by Miguel de Falla that I was previously unaware of, was amazing and, as it was the last concert of the season, we stuck around a little while to mingle with some of the other performers. I realized I didn't have KC's or JP's phone number at intermission, but guessed that they had Angela's and would call if something was wrong. We checked as we left the theater: no messages. It was a wonderful evening -- and we took a leisurely drive back to their place.

At the door, KC met us with a big smile. Xan ran to us with a huge hug. And upstairs, we could hear poor Jolie howling.

The gist of it was that there was a definite conflict of ideas between the two kids at bedtime: he wanted to be in with her, she wanted no one else in the room. And there was much howling that ensued, apparently from both sides. Once this was finally resolved, Jolie was up way past her bedtime and was now overtired. Upon closer inspection, it appeared that KC, JP and KC's aunt all could have used a pitcher of mojitos. Each. That is how we left them.

They never said a word but, oh my goodness, we felt horribly guilty for not coming back sooner. KC: so, so, so very sorry.

So: we think payback is in order. As in, what can we do for them that would be both fun and deserving? Seriously, we need suggestions. I'm soliciting. (Should KC respond in the comments herself that no payback is necessary, pay no attention to the crazy woman who has a newborn, a fantastic job as a full-time doctor, three different blogging responsibilities and a penchant for going a little overboard with birthday parties. Remember: she needs a picther of mojitos. Plus, she's clearly been uber-busy with the new, fab-lookin' website, so make that a picther-and-a-half. Hmm, maybe I should just make mojitos?)