Today, had he lived, Jerry Garcia would have turned 70. I wonder what kind of a celebration we would have had. Assuming he had managed to regain his health, had finally quit the persian for good, and was still making music. It would have been a time to smile. Wide. But here we find ourselves caught in the melancholy between mourning and celebration. So much music to rediscover, to explore, the vast online Archive of Garcia’s contribution, the stories, the words, the songs, that smile…
Dead.net has put up some tributes to Jerry from back in 1995, the year of his death. I’m gonna borrow a handful over the next few days to post here. Along with some music that another incredible soul, Mr. Bill Graham, would have liked as it appears on the site dedicated to his vault of treasures known as Wolfgang’s Vault.
In the time since Jer shuffled off his sorry old meat and flew away, I have found myself incapable of writing about it, or even talking about it very much.
I’ve been silent as a flat coon on this, one of the most important deaths of my death-shadowed life. I’ve received hundreds of e-messages from my fellow bereaved, nearly all of them more eloquent in their grief than I could be in mine, despite their never having personally known the guy.
These folks never had the delight of engaging him in mind-play, where he was as light and agile as a child Baryshnikov on springs, perfectly capable of juggling concepts taken evenly from Kirkegaard, Coltrane, and comic books into the same sentence or three. They never experienced the great skeptical arch of his eyebrow, never benefited from his uncanny talent for popping the self-inflated, even while extending to those thus reduced his most enthusiastic support for their real talents and virtues. They never heard him exclaim in delight, “That’s a fat trip!” when he himself was the fattest trip there was. They never heard his acerbic cackle. Never watched close up the cycles of his wild internal weather, rolling in and out, blackness and radiance, winter and spring, until finally spring promised, then failed to return, as we all know would happen someday.
They hadn’t lost these personal things like the rest of us here inside the Village of the Dead, and yet they mourned their loss far more movingly than I have been able to do.
Of course, in some dimensions, we have all lost the same things. We have all lost the glistening, piercing soar of those notes he played, dancing like electricity over the dense sonic jungle arising from his fellow Dead. We’ve all lost the redeeming sorrow in his straining wail, the brief but bottomless silence between his notes.
We’ve all lost the Grateful Dead
Something may or may not assemble itself out of these perfectly great spare parts he leaves. The living Dead might play again. If they do, they may even have the ability to invoke the Holy Who-Knows which sometimes was there in the space between the Deadheads and ”The Boyz.” Hell, it might be as good, whatever that means. It might even be better. But it won’t be the Grateful Dead.
Losing the Dead is terribly hard. The Grateful Dead have been my tribe for 30 years. Their religion, where the only dogma was music, was my religion. They’ve been the only thing that was always there. Through many other beginnings and ends, and many other deaths, the trip just got longer and stranger. Now we don’t know what is coming. It’ll be a trip, undoubtedly strange, possibly long, but it won’t be that trip.
Even having lost all this, I can’t seem to feel it properly or weep over it like I want to, or find the right thing to say. And it’s not like I don’t have practice. Seems like I’ve been practicing for this event a long time, eulogizing Pigpen, Keith, Brent – whose absence still tears at me hard – and a lot of others, inside and out of this dangerous place with death in its very name. It’s not at all like me to say nothing at the funeral of someone I loved. Or remain silent later.
Somebody asked me, in an interview right before he died, what it was like to know Jerry Garcia. The question hit me strange. I thought about all the ways in which he and his various manifestations had woven themselves into my life over the last 30 years, and I said, “God, I can’t imagine what it would be like not to know Jerry Garcia.” Now I’m there. I should be able to imagine it easily now that it’s real, but I still can’t. It’s too big. I can’t wrap my mind around it. Or my heart.
In a way, it feels as if my inability to mourn him as I have others is appropriate. Jerry would not want to be mourned. He hated the fuss he generated in life. He would have been appalled by the fuss made over his death. He kept his emotions for his music.
But still, I miss him. I miss him in the ways it will take me years to figure out.
-John Perry Barlow
This passage is an excerpt from GARCIA – A Grateful Celebration, originally published in 1995 byDupree’s Diamond News. To learn more about Dupree’s Diamond News or how to obtain a copy of GARCIA – A Grateful Celebration, click here.
And now we can begin to celebrate the music in this Jerry Garcia Sampler. Enjoy and see you tomorrow!
“For an adult, the world is constantly trying to clamp down on itself. Routine, responsibility, decay of institutions, corruption: this is all the world closing in. Music, when it’s really great, pries that shit back open and lets people back in, it lets light in, and air in, and energy in, and sends people home with that and sends me back to the hotel with it. People carry that with them sometimes for a very long period of time.”
“Kenny, you made a masterpiece. Unfortunately it’s in the wrong decade and the wrong country.”
These were actor Mark Ruffalo’s words to writer/director Kenneth Lonergan upon seeing the 3-hour cut of Lonergan’s film MARGARET.
For those who don’t know, playwright Lonergan’s second film (his first was the incredibly well-received YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, also starring Ruffalo), underwent a tremendous journey from script to screen. The epic urban tale was filmed in 2005 by Lonergan and lingered in an interminably long editing limbo. Lonergan had a difficult time finding the cut that worked for him; an artist struggling to find his vision while financiers and a studio breathed down his neck. Not that Lonergan was a victim here. His needs (to be left alone to do the work) are a lot to ask when so much time and money is on the line. Something Lonergan is well-aware of. And he seems to carry little resentment over how things went down. He seems to understand all-too-well the role he played in the film’s history.
“Nobody really did anything wrong, exactly, it’s just everyone was very frightened and nervous. Some people can have fights and then go back to work; I have a big fight and I shake for the rest of the day. Or even if it’s not a fight, it’s just a conversation, and a problem comes up I think about that [constantly], so I very much need to be left alone completely and that’s the one thing that’s very difficult for people. Understandably. I mean, write a cheque for $12 million dollars and you wanna make sure it’s going to come out all right, it’s reasonable. But I need to find a way to separate the two things… Not that it was all bad, the film came out very well, I’m happy with the result and I’m happy that people seem to like it. So I don’t know what more I can ask for. Except to be younger.”
Producer Scott Rudin pushed Lonergan to complete his cut until he finally realized what was happening:
“Kenny’s not a guy who takes distractions well or easily. He’s somebody who is highly concentrated on the work and not at all interested in the politics. So when the politics started to become noisier than the work, that was hard for him.”
Lonergan was contracted to deliver a two and a half hour film. Financier/producer Gary Gilbert stepped in when this seemed like an impossibility and commissioned a 2-hr cut from a different editor. This satisfied no one but the financier himself. Finally, in the fall of 2008, Lonergan delievered a 2-1/2 hr cut that everyone but Gilbert signed off on. Many say Gilbert didn’t sign off out of bitterness and a vindictive nature due to the negative response to his handling of Lonergan and his insistence of his own 2-hour cut as the preferred version of the film. Gilbert refused to pay his half of the $12.5 million budget. Lawsuits ensued.
According to Rudin:
“The guy who pays for the movie is not supposed to be [in the editing room]. . . . He’s a guy who wrote a check. Mr. Gilbert badly hurt the movie. Mr. Gilbert going in and working in the editorial department was a very destructive act… If you’re making a movie with Kenny Lonergan and you sign off on the script, he’s the director, that’s the contract you made. Because you decide that you’re anxious about your investment, that doesn’t give you the right to completely recalibrate your relationship.”
Martin Scorsese and his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker (both friends and supporters of Lonergan’s) were brought in to the editing room to heal wounds and delivered a 160 minute cut that everyone signed off on, including Lonergan, but again Gilbert refused. Mark Ruffalo:
“There comes a point where people cut off their nose to spite their face, and I certainly witnessed that. Whatever bad blood went down between them, I never felt like Gary ever got over it and actually tried to ensure that the movie and Kenny would be harmed.”
So with three cuts now in limbo and still no version really satisfying Lonergan’s vision, the film ended up in cinema purgatory for a total 6 years, unseen by a curious public confused by the many behind-the-scenes tales.
Eventually, in the fall of 2011, Lonergan’s own 2-1/2 hour cut of the film was released with almost no marketing. It disappeared almost immediately. A twitter campaign fueled by fans and critics resurrected the film for another theatrical release in October of that same year. But it was too-little too-late and the film was barely recognized by the public at large.
Now, the 2-1/2 hour cut has been released on DVD and Blu-ray. But Lonergan’s 3 hr cut has also been released, though you will not find it streaming or for rental. It is available ONLY on DVD and ONLY on the DVD/Blu-ray Combo pack sold on Amazon. And while this is not being marketed as a Director’s Cut but as an Extended Cut, it is widely considered the cut to see as it seems to be the version that comes closest to capturing Lonergan’s vision.
In the writer/director’s own words:
“It’s not a director’s cut. We’re calling it an extended cut. It’s a different version. A director’s cut is where they take the movie away from you and chop it to pieces and send it out without your permission…This is just another version with a little bit more of everything in it.”
Matt Damon, who is one of the film’s many notable stars, explains:
“One of the reasons this took so long is because [Lonergan] didn’t want to give up and he’s put his whole soul into this thing to the exclusion of any other work he could have been doing. And it wasn’t a triumph at the end because they weren’t able to release his version.”
Well, now that version is available. But sadly, that availability is limited and will still only be seen by a select few “in the know.” So, while it’s great that we finally get to see the film, there is still a battle to find a way to put this cut of the film out there for others to access, to discover, to be potentially moved by (not to mention to see it in Hi-def on Blu-ray). In a country where surface mediocrity is lauded as deep and introspective (THE DESCENDANTS, UP IN THE AIR), it’s a shame that one of the greatest contemporary American films has gotten so lost, so mismanaged, so belittled. Academy voters were either unaware or indifferent. Not that an award is the be-all and end-all of any work of art, but it does offer an opportunity to raise awareness of a film’s existence. But then the question comes into play as to whether the average American movie-goer would even get that they were in the presence of one of the greatest American films to come along in years. Very few contemporary films suggest that Americans as filmmakers and filmwatchers are capable of any level of depth or insight. More than not, most American films showcase our unwillingness to dig beneath the surface, to understand anything but the most literal, the most blatant. This was not always the case, but it appears we have somehow managed to devolve into such a state. It’s not that there aren’t daring writers and filmmakers out there, it’s just that the battle to get those films made, no less released, is near-impossible. The corporatization of the industry combined with a slow infantalization and anti-intellectualization of the populace has culminated in a rather hostile creative landscape. To quote Ruffalo again, “it’s in the wrong decade and the wrong country.”
Of the three best contemporary films I’ve seen recently, only MARGARET is American-made. The other two, CERTIFIED COPY and NORWEGIAN WOOD, are both foreign-made, foreign-language films. Only the 3-hour cut of MARGARET represents the artistic potential and expressive sensibility present in our country and, as stated already, most Americans are completely unaware of its existence and will have a hard time seeing it even if they are. And, by any contemporary standard, the film’s an anomaly; films like MARGARET rarely, if ever, get made here. And when they do, birthing them is usually an extraordinarily painful process and these babies are reviled as bastard children or stillbirths by the masses (certainly by the corporate powers-that-be). But thankfully, there are those who recognize their beauty and their innate humanity and fight vigorously and tirelessly to see these children find their proper place in the world. And that’s where our hope for the future lies. But it’s a staggering uphill battle.
Then there are those who recognized something extraordinary in Lonergan’s theatrical cut who have not been able to make the leap to the three hour cut. I’ve read online a number of self-proclaimed reviewers mourning the longer cut as “ruining” a masterpiece. They complain about “unnecessary” imagery of people walking the streets of N.Y., of the soundscape of the film having been changed to no longer focus exclusively on the main characters, but on the people in the world around them. I have heard complaints of too many shots of planes and buildings and of the 3-hour cut’s use of opera music. We have become so unaccustomed to anything but the most patent and transparent that we have lost sight of subtext, of metaphor, of cinematic language. I cannot imagine MARGARET without the scenes of our main character Lisa walking among the throngs of New Yorkers, her voice, her story, no more important than the voices and stories taking place all around her. This is a film about a teenager slowly coming to the realization that she is not the center of the universe. That her life is no more or less important than the lives of those around her. She is literally becoming aware of the world she lives in.
As for the opera music and scenes, the entire film centers around how teenagers often see their experiences as taking place in a melodramatic world; they hear the histrionic scores of their lives as they stumble their way through a rather self-centered world on the brink of shattering with no real understanding or perception of the consequences of their actions. This isn’t a judgement, but an observation. Without this, the film loses one of its most powerful threads thus weakening the final moments of this beautiful, touching and emotionally poignant film. After all, the movie is titled MARGARET, who is not a character in the film, but taken from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem titled “Spring and Fall: To a young child:”
Margaret, are you grieving Over Goldengrove unleaving? Leaves, like the things of man, you With your fresh thoughts care for, can you? Ah! as the heart grows older It will come to such sights colder By and by, nor spare a sigh Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie; And yet you will weep and know why. Now no matter, child, the name: Sorrow’s springs are the same. Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed: It is the blight man was born for, It is Margaret you mourn for.
THIS is what the film’s about at its heart, in its soul, and all the pieces Lonergan has placed back into his Extended Cut and all the changes he’s made from the shorter version work toward enhancing this theme, both emotionally, practically and aesthetically. The shorter version is, while still extraordinary, more “conventional” than the longer cut. Certainly less poetic. And, as a result, it lacks the nuances of its sibling.
For example: Planes and buildings… The film takes place in a world still reeling from the aftermath of 9/11: the violence and suffering, the trauma, the fear, pain, longing and need for retribution that so many felt in the years following that tragic event. And how we eventually lost some of what we gained through our shared experience. Lonergan:
“Don’t you remember how everybody was slightly more awake or more attuned? You’d hear a car backfire and you’d jump? I remember it took several years before I stopped noticing airplanes. It was sort of like the city was still shaking from it, but also didn’t quite know how to be about it. I feel like it just suddenly supercharged everybody with an awareness that they didn’t have before, but without much more information… In 2003, every time an airplane went by you went ‘Oof,’ felt nervous. That’s not the case any more. That lasted for about 5 years… so [back then] everyone was a bit nervous and on edge. It was a bit different for a few years and unfortunately I don’t think the difference has sunk in in quite the way that I wish it had. For a moment it felt like, I felt like, the U.S. had joined the rest of the world, and then two weeks later all the TV commercials were back and it was all the same again. And I don’t think it’s very different now from how it was in 2000.”
For anyone who has read any of my other posts either on writing or on film, it should come as no surprise that Lonergan’s MARGARET is my kind of film. My personal journey as a writer has taken me down a path where I have started not only to trust my subconscious throughout the storytelling process, but to consider it my most valued and faithful partner:
“I tried to turn off my conscious mind and that’s why the first draft of the script, it was never meant to be shot, but it was 306 pages, because I let scenes go on. I knew where it was going and I knew where the beats were and I just kind of closed my eyes, and it’s amazing what happens when you do that. I had a wonderful time writing it and it was very easy to cut a hundred pages out of it in two weeks — you know when she goes to see the bus driver in Brooklyn, that scene is probably six pages long and it was sixteen pages long when I wrote it.”
The growth Kenneth Lonergan has shown from his first feature to his second is monumental. Where YOU CAN COUNT ON ME had a terrific script with terrific performances, it was most certainly directed by someone whose hand had not yet steadied to the cinematic craft, though Lonergan himself is a lover of cinema, particularly classic. With MARGARET, Lonergen has made one of the most profound, insightful and emotionally gripping pieces of cinema to come out of the heart and mind of an American filmmaker in years. It is the greatest reflection of who and what we are, of how we see and experience the world. This is a film that showcases what American filmmakers are capable of beyond our technological prowess. I urge you to find a way to see it.
In its full 180 minute Extended Cut version, of course.
I’ve been doing the 70mm festival over at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. The festival is being billed as “The Last 70mm Film Festival.” A rather ill-concieved and overly pessimistic title, particularly given the fact that this festival is sold out and Seattle recently held a mega-successful, mega-70mm fest at their Cinerama Theatre.
Last week the Academy offered a chance to see a gorgeous 70mm print of IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (audio of that Q&A to be posted here soon!). And this past Monday gave us the incredibly rare screening of Disney’s SLEEPING BEAUTY, which I was thrilled to finally see in that format. The print was gorgeous.
In addition to the 70mm features, the Academy has put together pre-shows of restored 70mm shorts, as well as terrific Q&A’s to introduce these incredible films and the technology behind them. This past week offered a Q&A with animators Andreas Deja and Michael Giaimo, hosted by Randy Haberkamp, Managing Director, Programming, Education and Preservation at AMPAS. I’m including the audio with some stills (courtesy of Richard Harbaugh) from that Q&A for your enjoyment. Wish I could show you the stunning 70mm print as well! The beginning of Mr. Haberkamp’s intro is clipped, but the remainder is here in its entirety.
I’ve read most (though not yet all) of Haruki Murakami’s books. NORWEGIAN WOOD is easily his most straight-forward and accessible. This from a writer known for his stream-of-consiousness and oftentimes abstract and dreamlike storytelling qualities. The book came as a surprise to those who may have wondered if Murakami was capable of writing outside his surreal comfort-zone (a zone I love, by the way). Apparently, Murakami wrote NORWEGIAN WOOD to answer this question for himself as well. It’s a beautiful work, heart-wrenching and melancholy, but also filled with vivid joys and hidden pleasures.
I was concerned when I heard the book was being adapted to film. It was somewhat of a relief to learn that the film was being done in Murakami’s country of origin, Japan, and not here in Hollywood. Then when I found out the director would be Vietnamese-born Tran Anh Hung, who gave us the stunning and evocative THE SCENT OF GREEN PAPAYA, my hopes raised even higher, despite the fact I had hoped for a Japanese director (Hung lives in France and doesn’t speak Japanese). But Hung’s sensibilities as a filmmaker offered the possibility that the emotional backbone of the story would be honored.
The film was released internationally in 2010 to some good reviews, but it wasn’t until January 2012 that the film found a VERY limited release here in the States (with the exception of one film fest screening at the always open-minded Seattle International Film Festival back in 2011). Following its almost non-existent U.S. theatrical run, the film finally found its way to DVD here in the States –but oddly not Blu-ray in this somewhat artistically limited country of ours. And that’s a shame as WOOD is a visually stunning film and deserves the hi-def treatment (a region-A Hong Kong Blu-ray version is available).
Tran Anh Hung’s interpretation of Murakami’s NORWEGIAN WOOD is an incredibly visceral and moving experience. Like PAPAYA, the story unfolds through a series of impressionistic moments, emotional beats and haunting imagery. The casting is terrific with faces that burn into our mind’s eye and linger as if excised directly from our own past, from our dreams, fantasies and nightmares. The film is a beautiful piece of work and I believe will stick with me for some time to come. It is also a film I will return to. I already feel the pull to experience it again and it hasn’t even been 24 hours.
Sadly but not surprisingly, American critics were luke warm at best in their response to WOOD. However, I think Salon.com’s Andrew O’Hehir summed it up best:
“This is a wonderful, passionate, well-nigh unforgettable adaptation of a great novel about the horrors of love, and the wonderful fact that at least some of us live through it and come back for more.”
The film brought me back to the roller coaster of complex emotions that still linger in my sense-memory of the madness and joys of youthful love and the inevitable loss which followed –in much the same way Murakami’s novel so hauntingly did. The New York Times Stephen Holden summed the film up in what I expect was meant to be a negative illustration, but one I think apt and, for me, praise-worthy:
“Norwegian Wood” registers less as a coherent narrative than as a tortuous reverie steeped in mournful yearning.”
For me, the most natural form of storytelling –the one that registers in our deepest recesses– are the ones told, not as so-called “coherent narratives,” but as reveries, steeped in metaphor. All of us, as human beings, lie our heads down each night to face our subconscious which naturally, organically, works through our struggles, joys and fears with surreal, metaphorical storytelling. We wake, oftentimes having to interpret the stories we’ve created for ourselves while our defenses were down. And these stories often linger within us, even if the events themselves have been forgotten. For me, NORWEGIAN WOOD successfully taps into that same place where dreams are born.
This is so very interesting. Many liberal Democrats I know complained throughout Obama’s first term that he was not tough enough on Republicans, that he and Democrats in general, never learned how to play hard-ball; never learned how to take on Republicans at their own game. Well, he’s doing it now. And for anyone with a moral backbone and a sense of pride, there’s something slightly icky about it. But only slightly. There’s another side to the coin that feels like “Finally!” I guess you can’t win against a dishonest and morally corrupt opponent without meeting them, to a certain degree, on their own playing field. And it’s even more interesting (and totally expected and in keeping with today’s right wing hypocritical antics) that Republicans are calling foul. If Reagan gave us anything, it was a growing sense of greed as the national pastime. Even baseball reeks of it. Reagan probably never imagined the seeds he sowed would grow into such a mammoth disintegration of the country he loved. Yet, he is the father of so much of what we see today when we look at our nation in the mirror.
At the very least, there are some Republican’s that are calling foul on Romney as well, knowing that a nominee who is clearly hiding something and being called out publicly on it, can only run so far. Particularly when there is a campaign (however under-funded by comparison) to keep that news on the front page. Today’s Republican party has shown, via its actions (and non-actions) in Congress and in the public comments made by so many of its members over the last three and a half years, that truth has no place and that honesty is a luxury ill-afforded to the winners in any race. If you can get away with it, do. If you don’t get caught, then lying, cheating and stealing is justifiable. If you can convince people to shoot themselves in the foot and make them fight for their right to do so, then make it happen and never apologize.
But just as there are greedy, dishonest Democrats, there are also selfless and honest Republicans most unhappy with the direction their own party has taken. I hope they regain the stronger voice in the years to come.
In the meantime, the “American values” publicly espoused by today’s Republican Party have become one of the gravest smears on our nation. On human beings in general. And the anti-intellectualism and rampant fear it has fostered has placed us in low-standing with many of our friends and neighbors around the globe. It has also cultivated an underlying sense of self-hatred in our citizens while advancing an already existent distrust of our nation and its people by many who have long questioned our motives and values.
Obama’s vision of working together as a nation has failed. Despite the promise and hope his election elicited in not only the American people, but in the world over. But it was not for lack of trying, oh no. It was due simply to a lack of participation.
I hope one day Americans as a group come to learn that our strength lies not in who we bully, but in who we care for.