Waking up to the news of the passing of Leonard Nimoy was like being hit in the face with an unexpected left hook. It reverberated throughout my body and is breaking my heart in a thousand different ways. Like losing a dear friend.
After a lifetime of waiting, I was finally able to catch up with a screening of Stanley Kubrick’s infamous first narrative feature film FEAR AND DESIRE. Made at the youthful age of 23, after having shot and directed a few short documentaries and having been a photographer for LOOK magazine for a number of years, Stanley Kubrick embarked on what would turn out to be the beginning of a lifelong passion. Today, FEAR AND DESIRE is best known as the film Stanley Kubrick didn’t want anyone to see.
Rumors persist that Kubrick tracked down prints, as well as the negative, and had them burned. Not true. Or so says Eastman House Motion Picture Curator Caroline Frick Page. Turns out Kubrick never owned the rights to the film, but did request on numerous occasions –and quite adamantly– that Eastman House not show the print of the film residing in their permanent collection. But now that Kubrick has passed on to the world beyond (the infinite?), Eastman House seems to be a bit more open to screening their print. Though don’t expect to see much of it as this is, apparently, the only known surviving 35mm print in the world. Some (though not all) of the negative has been found and, according once again to the very gracious and articulate Caroline Frick Page, a collaboration may soon be undertaken to restore FEAR AND DESIRE for wider public consumption, though nothing official is as yet in the works.
What to say about the film itself… Well, it’s easy to understand why Kubrick felt this production to be amateurish and why he was embarrassed by it. At least when viewed beside his other works. However… while it is true that the acting is at times quite bad (and at other times quite passable or, at least, fascinating), and the script rather portentous and amateur, the visuals are nothing shy of a feast. Shot by Kubrick himself, the black and white photography is stunning and the compositions exceptionally potent. The editing isn’t always as strong as it could be, but there are times when it is oddly effective and certainly the inception of concepts to come. But it’s the imagery that is without question the film’s strongest element and more than enough of an excuse for seeing this first narrative work by one of the world’s master filmmakers.
And while there’s no fixing the script, the themes and concepts explored are ones that Kubrick would return to repeatedly in his later work. This is, as well as the visuals, another strong argument for the film being seen. Add to this actor/director Paul Mazursky’s acting debut (a very strange and disturbing performance) and I truly think the argument to show the film outweighs Kubrick’s desire to have it hidden. At the same time, part of me wants to honor Kubrick’s wishes, while the other part of me is just thrilled beyond measure that Eastman House chose to screen this print. As a filmmaker and film-lover, seeing FEAR AND DESIRE was and is a rather big moment in my ongoing experience of cinema. It is also a fantastic insight into the early creative mind of a filmmaker who helped sculpt how I see cinema and opened artistic doors for me that I didn’t even know existed. And despite its many flaws and imperfections, FEAR AND DESIRE is a film worth seeing. And one that sticks with you (at least it did me). Kubrick once said that film should be more like music than like fiction. Well, FEAR AND DESIRE may not be Kubrick’s master composition, but it certainly shows an artist who had already formed that notion very early on, regardless of whether or not he was aware of it at the time.
The screening at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood was followed by a Q&A with Paul Mazursky and Eastman House’s Caroline Frick Page. Below you will find audio for that Q&A (not professionally recorded, but quite listenable nonetheless). Please note that several Melies shorts were shown before FEAR AND DESIRE and are referenced in the Q&A. The Q&A is presented in three parts:
Below is an audio segment from an interview with Stanley Kubrick done in 1966. In this segment, Kubrick discusses the making of FEAR AND DESIRE and his feelings about the film:
I wish I could take credit for that phrase, but it was a friend of a friend who coined it. And it’s perfect.
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is everything the adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s book should be. In a non-Hollywood world. One can only imagine what this film might have looked like in the hands of a Ron Howard (the live-action HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS starring Jim Carrey) or a Bo Welch (the live-action THE CAT IN THE HAT starring Mike Myers). But in the hands of Spike Jonze, the film is a raw, emotional journey more akin to a poem than a plot-driven narrative. Kudos to Warner Brothers for getting behind Jonze’s vision and seeing that a mature and artistic film was produced and released. And while it’s true WILD THINGS didn’t make as much money as the two above-mentioned atrocities, nor did it receive any Academy Award nominations (THE GRINCH won for Best Makeup and was also nominated for Best Costume Design), even though WILD THINGS is brimming over with creativity and the creatures are simply the most expressive and individual creations I’ve seen on screen in many a year (and that includes AVATAR), I believe WILD THINGS will stand the test of time better than any of those more immediately “profitable” films.
There’s a Stanley Kubrick quote I often repeat and I’ll do so again here:
“A film is – or should be – more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.”
“One of the things I was worried about is that the book is just so beloved to so many people. And as I started to have ideas for it I was worried that I was just making what it means to me, and what the book triggers in me from when I was a kid. And I’d be worried that other people were gonna be disappointed, because it’s like adapting a poem. It can mean so much to so many different people. And Maurice [Sendak] was very insistent that that’s all I had to do… just make what it was to me, just to make something personal and make something that takes kids seriously and doesn’t pander to them. He told me that when his book came out, it was considered dangerous. It was panned by critics and child psychologists and librarians, because it wasn’t how kids were talked to. And it took like only two years after the book was out that kids started finding it in the libraries, and basically kids discovered it and made it what it is. And now it’s 40 years later and it’s a classic. So he said you just have to make something according to your own instinct.”
It should be noted that WILD THINGS isn’t necessarily a film for kids. Now that doesn’t mean, of course, that kids won’t like or appreciate it, but it doesn’t speak down to them and Jonze pulls no punches in his telling and interpretation of the story. It is incredibly scary and unsettling at times. The film does, after all, explore the wild emotions that surge through all of us when we’re young and don’t yet have the tools to control or understand the sweeping inner turmoil we are subjected to. And lead actor Max Records imparts this inner conflict with such abandon that it is impossible not to participate in his wildly emotional journey.
From the first frame of Max, dressed in his now famous wolf costume, chasing his dog around the house as if interacting one wild beast to another, the audience is told immediately that this film is more about emotion than plot; more interior than exterior. As Max catches up with his dog and latches onto it like a wolf pouncing on its prey, his mouth open wide and screaming with the fierceness and joy and exuberance of a creature both out of control and in its element, Jonze freezes the frame as the main title appears. Wild things, indeed. We are clearly not in for a saccharine ride.
And the world of both Max and his Wild Things are presented to us as equally real. Not a fantasy world painted with broad, colorful strokes or a CG wonderland of unreality, but an organic world of dirt and shadow, of sunlight and cold. As children, the worlds of our imagination are all-consuming; they are real to us and Jonze honors that world. He takes it as seriously as we ourselves do.
Hollywood today can be seen as the death of subtext. Stories are written and rewritten by committee until the story has been stripped bare of that individual voice that is–or would have been– our most personal link to the story and characters. Gone are the unspoken themes that emerge regardless of an author’s intent; the layers beneath the layers that are imparted to our unconscious, those things that are felt before they are understood. All too often in the contemporary Hollywood film, emotional responses are calculated, plot beats and motivations explained. It is more often than not whittled down to something that works on the surface, but rarely touches on the primal, where I believe the best stories flourish and thrive. Spike Jonze:
“I slowly just tried to trust that there were certain feelings in the movie that didn’t need dialogue, and that we didn’t have to have dialogue saying what the movie is about so much as the movie just being about it. So we slowly just tried to find places where we could strip the dialogue back and let the feeling of the photography and the mood and the performances do the work.”
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE inhabits this primal, poetic world, and it does so with the exuberance of life and childhood, with honesty, and without apology. It is truly an inner journey–helped along by Karen O and Carter Burwell’s stunning, evocative score–that trusts our hearts over our minds, while intimately celebrating both.
It is truly a love song to boys. And to all children. And the adults they become.
Pee-Wee’s back and his magical world is as welcome as ever. Paul Reubens has returned to Puppet Land with many of his old friends by his side. Originally slated for the Henry Fonda Theatre in Hollywood, overwhelming advance ticket sales forced the gang to find a larger venue. Still small enough to be intimate, the Club Nokia Theater in downtown Los Angeles served as an odd but serviceable setting for what is a night of huge belly-laughs and pure joy.
The bizarre and futuristic environment of the Staples Center/Nokia Theater complex served as a slightly confusing intro to the youthful innocence of Pee-Wee’s world. But within seconds of Mr. Herman taking the stage, the glitz, neon and sweeping spotlights of the world outside quickly faded from memory. Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, with its bright colors and dream-like characters, quickly embraced us all and carried us lovingly and delicately away.
Working from the basics of his original Groudlings stage show (which aired on HBO back in 1981), Reubens has modified the humor to include some contemporary references. And they all work as seamlessly as if they had been part of the original show. Sadly, with Phil Hartman no longer with us, the character of Captain Carl was sadly absent from the proceedings. In a Q&A after the show Reubens shared how he just couldn’t see anyone else stepping into that role. So he chose to keep Captain Carl a cherished memory rather than recast the part.
But back for more fun is John Moody as Mailman Mike, Lynne Marie Stewart as Miss Yvonne, and the always lovable John Paragon as the mysterious and jovial Jambi. The rest of the cast and crew do a breathtaking job of bringing the Playhouse world to life. Particularly the lovely and talented Lori Allen as the voice of Chairry (among others), one of the most beloved characters in Puppetland. And wait till you see the Chairry and Pee-Wee musical dance number (yes, that’s right, I said dance number) that is a downright show-stopper.
After the show, I had the privilege of hanging in the VIP lounge and meeting some of the cast. It was a treat, to say the least, enhanced by the colorful setting of Club Nokia’s bizarre fourth floor. After that, we attended a Q&A with Reubens that was as entertaining as the show itself. Sharp and full of biting wit, Reubens –both comfortable and articulate– engaged the crowd with relish. He was extremely funny as well as sincere, and his genuine appreciation and gratitude for the fans that have stuck around was downright moving, both for Reubens and those of us in the audience. It was great to learn of some of the scenes that had been cut from the show, in part for financial reasons and in part to make the show a tad more “kid-friendly.” Gone is a scene referencing medical marijuana and Pee-Wee’s fear that it will lead him straight to heroin. Probably for the best, I think. While the show still references some adult themes, most, if not all of them, will soar right over the kiddies’ heads. Including an active left hand sporting an “abstinence ring.”
There’s rumor of a Broadway run, which would be wonderful. The Los Angeles run ends this Sunday and, if you can, I urge you to go. There are still some Standing Room Only tix. Don’t worry, the place is small enough that you won’t miss a thing.
As for me, I attended the show on the heels of a nasty flu and, after having pumped myself full of several different medications throughout the week, I can say with all certainty that an evening spent with Pee-Wee Herman and his Playhouse friends was above and beyond the best medicine I could have had for what ailed me. Two days later, I am still floating on air.
I was, and still am, the luckiest boy in the world.
Filmmaker/video artist Caren McCaleb adds two more AMAZING vids to her EagleCrowOwl Youtube channel. Both are extraordinary. The first is another in a long line of gorgeous shorts based around her always surprising and beautiful daughter, Olive. This is one of my faves to date. It expands beyond Olive and takes in a household’s moods, vibes and experiences. It is the world Olive inhabits. And as a regular visitor to that particular habitat, I can attest to its authenticity!
The next is also another in a long line of bizarre, beautiful and haunting shorts dedicated to the inner and outer glow that is Caren McCaleb. Dance, light and shadows mix together once again to create a brilliant tapestry that somehow manages to touch those places hidden and secret, the fears and desires of the subconscious, lovingly created in stunning detail through McCaleb’s ever-growing technological pallette.
I love Sweden. No, I do. I lived there back in the mid-eighties. I speak the language–however poorly so many years later–but I can still stumble my way through a conversation (I was relatively fluent back in the day, however). And yes, Sweden has always had a reputation for being sexually “open” but, truth be told, I never found it to be all that different from other European countries. Nudity, sex… It’s all part of life so why keep it hidden behind locked doors?
Well, it seems the Muslim population in Sweden has grown exponentially since I lived there. Sweden, with a full 10 million inhabitants, has granted full refugee status to 24,799 Iraqis between 2003 and 2007. To put that in perspective, Great Britain has granted that same status to a mere 260.
Something else you should know about Sweden. While the legal age of sexual consent in America is 18, it is 15 in Sweden. I know, I know, it sounds young, but I and many I know were sexually active by 15 or 16. And it by no means suggests that all 15 year olds are having sex. But to the ones that are, more power to them, I say.
But that’s not the point here. The point is that, since the legal age is 15, it is mandatory in Sweden to have sex education classes at 14. Now this has never raised a hackle among the Swedes, but the influx of Muslim immigrants into the country has thrown a wrench in the system.
“The purpose of the sex education is to provide good information about how the body works, to make the students feel secure in their sexuality and to prevent sexual diseases and unwanted pregnancies,” said Ann-Cristine Jonsson of the Swedish National Institute of Public Health.
The students are taught about various types of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, chlamydia, herpes, hepatitis, and others. Condoms in different flavors like strawberry and orange are handed out to students to take home (oh, those kids and their sweets…). Students are also taught that it is normal to have intercourse with members of the same sex and that they should not tease or bully fellow classmates who are gay.
But certain members of the Muslim community have kept their children out of sex education classes. According to statistics, the concerned parents are more often Muslim fathers concerned about their daughters and Muslim parents who are immigrants, as opposed to Muslim parents born in Sweden. Twenty-seven percent of immigrant’s daughters are kept from partaking in certain school subjects.
However, not all of the Muslim children want to be kept out of these classes. According to 14 year old Fatima Omed whose parents moved to Sweden from Turkey before Fatima was born:
“My parents do not think that the school should run any sex education at all. They say it is not the school’s business. But I think it is exciting. I do not show the condoms for Mum or Dad. I do not plan to use the condoms anytime soon,” she added, laughing.
A new law is being considered that would abolish a provision that was originally set up for Jewish and Catholic students who wanted to get out of religious education classes. All students had the right to opt out of these subjects if they chose.
If this provision were abolished, Muslim parents would no longer have the right to stop their children from taking these classes.
“All students have the right to take part in the compulsory school education, regardless of whether their parents approve or disapprove,” said Sweden’s education secretary, Jan Bjorklund.
Sex education in school has been required learning in Sweden since 1955.
One concern that has been voiced is that if the provision were to be abolished, Muslim parents may pull their children out of school entirely, thus widening the gap between native Swedes and immigrants.
What are your thoughts?
I was recently contacted by an old friend from High School. I should mention here that I’m not in touch with anyone from those youthful days and haven’t been for a very long time. You see, I didn’t go to High School in my home town so there’s never been anyone to fill me in on where those folks are now and what they’ve been doing since. Some of them have crept into my thoughts now and then, others I haven’t thought about in 26 years. But now that contact’s been made, I find myself flooded with memories. It’s incredible how experiences and emotions that seemed long-faded, wounds that were thought healed, can resurface in an instant and feel as new and fresh as when they first happened. It’s also a great reminder of who I am and where I come from, in what ways I’ve changed and in what ways I haven’t. I suppose many people have this experience as they get older and find themselves invited to High School reunions and such. But my school has no reunions that I know of (at least none I’ve been invited to!). You see, my school was not like most others. And it no longer exists.
As a teen, I was pretty much what you would call a “troubled kid”. Now that phrase has many different faces and many different meanings, but mine was such that I needed some real-world help that I just wasn’t getting where I was. My parents were–and still are–amazing and, thanks to them, I was able to get that help. It came in the form of a school called DeSisto. Michael DeSisto ran two schools: one in Stockbridge Massachusetts, the other in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida (yep, that’s right, Howey-in-the-Hills). I went to the latter and had the honor and privilege to arrive the day the school opened. I was among the core group that inadvertently helped sculpt what the school would become. This was in 1980 (since the school closed in ’88, maybe we didn’t do such a bang-up job). DeSisto was a “therapeutic community”; a school for kids whose troubles went, perhaps, a bit beyond the norm. Some were court ordered, some sent by their parents against their will, others, like me, chose to go. However, there were no gates or bars at DeSisto. It wasn’t a prison. The rule was always, “If you want to stay, stay. If not, there’s the road.” They knew from the get-go that you couldn’t help anyone who didn’t want to be helped.
For me, DeSisto was a life-changing experience. Some of the most difficult, exciting, dramatic, unusual and positive moments from my life took place there. And though I left the school without completing the program and was supposedly made persona non grata, I nonetheless have terrific memories and no ill will toward the school, my experiences, or the negativity I received upon deciding to move on. I was ready and I knew it. And for me, my life has shown that my choice was the proper one. I still like who I am (no small thing if you knew me when). And I consider the anger Michael DeSisto and some others felt at my leaving to be quite the compliment as I took it to be more a sign of sadness improperly dealt with, and less actual anger.
In my newfound desire to reconnect with some of these long lost friends and lovers, I stumbled on a number of sites devoted to people who had “survived” DeSisto. As I read on, I found a frightening wealth of misinformation about the schools. People raging about brainwashing, child-abuse, sexual humiliation… The list goes on. People who had gone to these schools and “escaped” talk about their experiences as if they’d been sent to POW camps and had bamboo chutes slid under their fingernails. Now maybe the schools changed dramatically since I was there, but that description bears no resemblance to my experience of the school I went to. The DeSisto of my youth was a place of understanding and acceptance, of respect; a place that allowed me to grow, not by trying to change me, but by appreciating me and, better yet, helping me to appreciate myself. Now this may sound like a lot of mumbo jumbo to some folks–and I won’t pretend that the school didn’t have its flaws (show me a school that doesn’t)–but it sure as hell was exactly what this 16 year old needed and I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.
Living at and with DeSisto is an experience that is not easily explained. The rules are different, the world is different. And to try and explain it properly would take both time and–more importantly–the desire on the part of the listener to understand. What I found on almost all of the sites I started reading was the same intolerant anger I’ve found on so many sites before, regardless of topic. These are not people who want to know the truth. This is a forum for people who want to vent their anger and frustration, their feelings of being victimized and not listened to, on the world at large. It’s rare, in my experience, to find an internet forum that does not suffer from this. This is why many forums have moderators, to attempt to elicit respectful, open-minded conversation, not fear-mongering and hateful accusations.
I thought at first that I would add my two-cents to some of these forums, that I would offer an insider’s perspective, my personal experience. But as I read further, the few people that attempted this before me were met with such vile hostility that it seemed clear to me that truth or reality was not what these folks were seeking; they appeared to actually WANT to be angry, they seemed to NEED it.
Nonetheless, I wanted to lend my voice to those whose experience of DeSisto was a great one. Yes, it was an imperfect place in an imperfect time. And maybe the people in charge didn’t learn from their mistakes and went down the wrong path. Or maybe the school was just trying to do something most people simply could not understand and would find easier to condemn. I truly don’t know.
All I know is I spent 2 1/2 years of my life there and who I am today is partly a reflection of the opportunities I was given there. It is as much a part of me as my liver or my heart. Even if I don’t think about it every day.