Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Blog

Not eye

April 5th, 2016

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing a good documentary about great artists who did a bad film.

Or, more precisely, “Film.”

Yes, “Film,” by Samuel Beckett. I first saw it in college, 30 years ago. What I liked then I still like: many of the visuals (once one gets past Buster Keaton’s eyeball). Here’s the opening:

The other thing I like, of course, is that it brings together Samuel Beckett, Buster Keaton, at the stage director Alan Schneider, who did many Beckett and Pinter and Albee premieres, under the producing aegis of Grove Press publisher Barney Rosset, to whom we’re indebted for publishing D.H. Lawrence, Hubert Selby Jr., and Henry Miller, censors be damned. For some of us, “Film,” released in 1965, would have been like an All-Star Game.

Unfortunately, it’s not very good. Even at 22 minutes, it makes its point too soon. Worst of all, it completely misuses the talents of the primary creators:  Schneider was a stage director with no idea how to shoot a film (he blew most of the budget on the first day, shooting one scene that was later cut); Beckett’s ideas for the film are almost entirely intellectualized and impossible to translate effectively; and Keaton — a master of comedy and a justly legendary film director  — is kept away from any input and in particular ignored when trying to introduce funny bits. Each is stripped of his actual gifts, his real talents. The end result is like what you’d have if you’d asked Michelangelo to sculpt with his nose.

What really brought this into focus for me was seeing the documentary “Notfilm” last night at a screening in North Hollywood, accompanied by a talk with the director. You can learn more about “Notfilm” here. “Notfilm” is concerned with the making of “Film” — the preproduction, the artistic antecedents, the production itself, its reception and its legacy. It’s a smart and fascinating film, and also a personal one, as director Ross Lipman gives us his thoughts about the film, its underlying meaning, and the confusions that arose among its creators. In one example of a smart decision, Lipman narrates it, which places the film squarely within the realm of his personal perception (which is the theme of “Film”).

“Notfilm” gives us two further satisfactions: For the first time ever, anywhere that I know of, we get to hear the notoriously reclusive and reticent Samuel Beckett’s recorded voice. And we get to see just how one can make a two-hour documentary about a 22-minute short. There’s something ironically anti-Beckettian about that.

What took so long?

April 1st, 2016

According to the LA Times, Donald Trump is  now the least popular American politician in three decades.

That’s less popular than the guy who lied under oath, the other guy who called the President “liar” during a state of the union speech, the people who led us into war against people who didn’t attack us, and the guy who went “hiking” while secretly visiting a mistress south of the border. That’s less popular than the KKK member who ran for governor of Louisiana and his opponent who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for racketeering. Trump is even less popular than Ralph Nader was among Democrats post-2000.

 

It’s just another success in a long line of similar achievements.

Cosplay banned

April 1st, 2016

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How dumb are some legislators? This dumb:  State legislators in five states just banned Cosplay  because they thought it meant dosing the drinks of beautiful women and then raping them.

 

Not getting squashed

March 30th, 2016

I just finished reading this incomparable piece of writing, by Tad Friend, in The New Yorker, about playing squash competitively while past your prime. I can’t attest to his game, but in his writing, Friend nails every point.

Bawk!

March 29th, 2016

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One of my favorite eateries, the artery-hardening Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, has filed for bankruptcy!

This is bad news for those of us who need a lot of fat, sugar and salt after going to the theatre.

Comical weekend

March 27th, 2016

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This is a little bit of graffiti in my neighborhood.

Okay, it’s the Warner Brothers water tower (still in my neighborhood). On Thursday night, the folks at Warners were kind enough to invite a couple hundred of us to a screening of “Batman v. Superman” on the lot. I won’t say that you’re looking at the best part of the movie (that would be Wonder Woman), but I will say that even with a masters in writing and almost 25 years of teaching dramatic writing, and with five decades of reading comic books starring Batman and Superman, I couldn’t make any sense of whole chunks of the film.

The next day, I went to Wonder Con, the baby brother to Comic-Con, with a couple of friends. Wonder Con, which began years ago in San Francisco and has more lately been in Anaheim, was in downtown Los Angeles this year due to scheduling difficulties with the Anaheim Convention Center. I’m now going to show you the absolutely most wondrous thing I’ve ever seen in Los Angeles. Look closely.

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YES, that is my car parked at a white-striped FREE parking spot right on Figueroa Street, immediately across from the Los Angeles Convention Center. You’re going to want to save this photo. Some day, you will tell your grandchildren that you’d once seen a FREE parking spot in downtown LA and they will sneer at you. They will say, “But Gramps, all parking near the Convention Center is $20, or $30, or frequently even 45 bucks! FREE parking? You’re nuts!” But there it is — absolute proof, and unlike Bigfoot photos, obviously not staged or Photoshopped. It exists! At least, it turns out, until 3 p.m., whereupon it becomes a tow-away zone unmarked by signs.  Good thing my good friend the redoubtable Dr. Trek checked for me. Whereupon I moved my car… into $20 parking. But until then, I had this, I had the FREE PARKING! Another grail quest completed!

Wonder Con, as stated, is much like Comic-Con, if Comic-Con were Galactus and Wonder Con were Ant-Man. (You’ll note that unlike Comic-Con, Wonder Con doesn’t even merit a hyphen. That says a lot.) Still, it’s possible to catch up with old friends and have a grand time. Here I am digging in comics boxes looking for a surprisingly hard-to-find copy of From Beyond the Unknown #8, with a couple of old pals.

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Even Spidey-Sense couldn’t help me find that issue. The search continues.

Unlike the San Diego Convention Center (and, indeed, the City of San Diego itself), where the structure is laid out sensibly, the Los Angeles Convention Center is the product of a twisted mind whose architectural style pairs M.C. Escher with the Marquis de Sade. The Center has no center — there are actually two large buildings separated by a street and an enclosed overhead byway that gives no hint that one is crossing between buildings — and is shaped overall like clumps of organic matter with roots growing through them. You know how sometimes you’ll find a section of an airport closed for renovation and you’re shunted down narrow passageways serving as temporary workarounds? At the Los Angeles Convention Center, these claustrophobic corridors are permanent. Someone actually designed them this way. (And I’m not the only one to remark upon the terrible Los Angeles Convention Center. Mark Evanier has been going on about it as well.) Take this example:

 

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See the people up top? Perhaps you’d like to join them. Now, barring the power of flight, how could you do it. Well, if you back up 20 feet, you find this:

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Yes, that’s a lady in some sort of blue costume. It’s also a stairwell. How do I know it’s a stairwell? I went all the way inside to see what it was. There’s no sign, there’s no window, it’s completely shielded, so there’s no indication that it’s a stairwell — in this case, with a  female Deadpool lying on the steps taking a photo of this lady’s rear end for some reason — but trust me, it’s a stairwell. But then, one shouldn’t be surprised that it’s unmarked:  Most of the interior of the convention center is unmarked. Including access points to the parking garage. It took my friend Larry and me 45 minutes to find my car inside the convention center parking structure on Saturday night, and that was after consulting with a convention center supervisor and a helpful guard who walked us out and still couldn’t find access. (After walking about an hour on our own, Larry and I found it. By luck.)

Even with  the frustrations of parking and navigation, as well as scheduling that left me traversing one end of the convention center back to the other repeatedly over two days during which I burned 550 calories each day just by walking (thanks, iPhone tracker), Wonder Con was great fun. Two added great finds from the Con.

1. I finally got my dream job, and a sense of the benefits.

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2. I finally, actually, really got to see someone dragging toilet paper on his shoe. I guess it isn’t just a classic movie joke.

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Shandling and Shatner

March 24th, 2016

William Shatner’s 85th birthday was on Tuesday — and just now we learned that Garry Shandling won’t be having any more birthdays.

In honor of both, here’s a scene that’s every bit as fun now as it was when it aired.

Now I’ve seen everything

March 11th, 2016

We’ve got a socialist who has emerged as a leading choice for president.

We’ve got a reality TV star as one of the front runners. The other “front runner” is a woman most people can’t stand.

We’ve got presidential candidates calling each other “liar” and measuring dick sizes during nationally televised debates.

And we’ve got a major party holding secret meetings to try to figure out how to defeat their own probable nominee.

But, in a year in which I thought I’d seen everything, I have to admit, this is surprising. Now we’ve got a presidential candidate urging — URGING — people to vote for one of the other guys.

The three reasons

March 10th, 2016

There are only three good reasons to write plays. They are:

  1. Because you have to.
  2. Because of the audience.
  3. Because of the actors.

For much of my life, reason #1 was it. I had to. And I still have that feeling. But it’s sometimes mitigated by other sorts of writing — essays, or reviews, or fiction, or (help me God) poetry. After four decades of writing, playwriting is still the default, but those others call to me too.

As I started to get produced, the lure of #2 was inescapable. Especially in the 1990s, I was getting produced frequently while getting published a lot, especially in literary journals, magazines and newspapers. (Y’know, those paper things of a bygone time.) What I found:  when you’re published, there’s no audience response. You’re not there when someone laughs or gasps. But with the theatre, when you’re the writer, frequently you are there. There when someone audibly *gasps* at the final revelation (as someone once did — and I still remember it); there when someone stands up and howls in protest, “Where do you find people like this? I don’t know where you find people like this!!” (as someone once did in 1989 — and I still remember it, his distraught infuriated Irish brogue and all); there when the lady literally falls out of her seat laughing at your comedy (as someone did, rest her soul). There when Fred Willard, whom you grew up watching on TV, comes to see your play.

But the thing you never expect — at least I didn’t — was that you’d love to write plays because of the actors. There is no feeling that compares with having a great actor fully embrace your role and bring it to life, adding that special stuff that permeates his or her core, that something that he has that no other has, that perfectly matches with your writing and the role you wrote, that adds surprising insight and depth, that explores every laugh you hoped for and pulls up others you had suspected but hadn’t dared count on, and finds wholly new ones that belong like an essential organ. That sort of actor it is a thrill to write for. That person becomes an odd extension of you — an extra set of talent that you’re connected to through an invisible web.

I just now found out that one of those actors, one of those actors for me, is going to be in town in May. I haven’t seen him in a few years, and he hasn’t been in a play of mine for too long (!), but just knowing he’s going to be here and that we can plot future productions together and maybe read my new pages — that seems like enough for right now.

Until I write a new role with him in mind.

And figure out how to fit all the pieces of our schedules and our lives into place so we can actually do the damn thing together next year or after.

Because life is short, but art is long.

Music masters

March 9th, 2016

George Martin certainly had good taste. In honor of the late George Martin, here he is exchanging insights with Brian Wilson (and, Wilson says, improving the mix for “God Only Knows”).