Friday, December 23, 2005

Speaking of unions...

Early last month, at a co-op shareholders' meeting discussing building finances, we learned our superintendent's salary. After all this transit strike stuff, I worry that my tax-happy liberal ways, as well as my own union loyalty (as irrelevant as that may be to actual blue-collar jobs) are slipping. Because my first reaction was, "Can't we switch to non-union labor?"

Our very nice but not very bright, skilled, motivated or fluent-in-English super, in addition to his apartment in our building, makes in a year almost twice as much as I do. Not counting the various bits of cash he extorts out of residents for doing work on their apartments off the clock.

So I'm faced with a dilemma this holiday season: Armed with this knowledge, do we tip him? Because it really seems like he should be getting me a gift.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

War on Christmas? War on TASTE!

Yay! The strike's over! No subways until tomorrow morning, probably, and since my early-morning commitment is over now, I'd planned to go home tonight no matter what anyway, so that might be a bit of an adventure, but at least the end is in sight, and it hasn't been all that bad for me personally.

My walk to my mom's last night took my past Lincoln Center and their beautiful tree. I took a picture with my phone and it's all blurry but I like it anyway:
lincoln center

I like the blue, and the way they have matching decorations on the trees around the reflecting pool in the distance.

In the lobby of the building where I'm working (a multi-use building of which the theater is only one part) there's a lovely Christmas tree. It's only about 5 feet tall, and decorated simply with white lights and some red and blue balls and apples (small ornaments, not real apples). It's very pretty and understated and suits the small lobby perfectly.

Next to it, set on a black wood box, is a fantastically ugly, tacky, white plastic menorah. You know the kind, with the orange "candle" light bulbs. It's hideous, and it mars the whole space and detracts from the tree. And since it's not Chanukah yet, it's not even lit, which might make it look a teensy bit better.

Let's go over this again, people. Chanukah is NOT "the Jewish Christmas." Just because you put a Christmas tree in your lobby, it does not mean you're obligated to put a menorah there as well. And really, if you're going to throw the Jews a bone, why must you make it the tackiest, ugliest bone possible? I'm all about the inclusiveness, the "Happy Holidays" and all that, but if I see another one of these or these, I'm gonna hurl.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Link and Quotes

Here's a good article airing both sides of the strike. I especially like this quote from the mayor...

“These are not people who are making $50-$60,000 a year. These are people making $10, $20, $30,000 a year, and they're the ones who are really suffering,” said Bloomberg. “What fraud this really is, if you think about it - claiming to be the champion of working families, when the illegal actions they are taking are costing New Yorkers their livelihood. I don't think there is any other way to describe it."


...and this one from the TWU president...

“The thugs are not on this side of the podium. We are not thugs, we are not selfish, we are not greedy,” said Toussaint. “We are hard-working New Yorkers, dignified men and women who have put in decades of service to keep this city moving 24/7. We wake up at 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning to move trains and buses in this town, and we will continue to do that. That’s not the behavior of thugs and selfish people.”


And then there's this one, from Overheard in New York:

Man #1: ...Shit! Why did they have to strike during the winter? Right before the holidays, no less.
Man #2: Well, the transit guys need to get paid more and they need other things that I'm not too clear about.
Man #3: Fuck 'em! I don't give a shit what their problems are! Everybody has problems, not just them! They want more money? Well, then they should have thought about that before dropping out of high school! Bunch of lazy fucking losers!
Man #4: Hey, I work for the MTA.
Man #3: Well, then: fuck you, too!

--Brooklyn Bridge


And so it continues...

A Less Perfect Union

In regards to yesterday's post, I should mention that my views on unions are mostly informed (and skewed) by my own membership in a notoriously weak union...of freelance actors and stage managers. About all we have in common with the TWU is that we're both in the AFL-CIO. I don't have any statistics on this, but I'm quite confident that the demographic breakdown of our members is very different. We've chosen to work in theater instead of more stable careers, and our jobs are freelance by nature. A show can close on one week's notice for any number of reasons. The MTA isn't suddenly going to close Brooklyn due to poor ticket sales. Those jobs are secure, as is the company, which can hardly just shut down. However there's nothing forcing people to produce theater, and in some cases nothing forcing them to do so under a union contract if they do.

If the MTA gets screwed financially, they'll have to find the money somewhere. If producers get screwed financially, they'll stop producing, or they'll raise ticket prices so much that audiences stop coming and then they'll stop producing. So if Equity "wins" too much financially, we negotiate ourselves right out of jobs. They simply won't exist.

Equity has fought hard recently to protect those union jobs (especially in touring productions, which aren't regulated the same way Broadway and the major non-profits are), and they do a great deal to make sure we have safe and clean work environments, and don't get overworked or exploited. But the pay raises? Not so much. Which is not to say that many of us don't make a good living (not talking about stars here). Broadway actors and stage managers get paid quite well, as do those in larger off-Broadway or regional theaters. Some contracts, though, pay less than unemployment or minimum wage. It's a very wide range. And of course that whole pesky freelance thing.

As grateful as I am to have the union behind me most of the time, it can be difficult to impose labor rules on the creation of art (or even of entertainment). Some of the more arcane rules meant to protect me actually get in my way. While some situations are "us vs. them," in many cases (and fortunately for me, most of the work I've done lately) my employers are also my friends and collaborators. We're all in it together, and all want what's best for the success of the show. The inherent (and generally necessary) inflexibility of most of our contracts can even result in shows closing instead of allowing producers to find creative solutions to keeping everyone employed through a slump. It's especially tricky for stage managers, because we're in the same union as the people we're managing, so we have to play both sides. (There's been much debate about this in recent years, but there's little to be done at this point. There aren't really enough of us to form our own union, and we don't quite fit into any of the existing ones.)

Because of the freelance nature of the business, Equity is the one constant in our employment (and even that's not entirely true for actors who also work in TV, film, etc., and are therefore in those unions as well). The union takes on many roles traditionally filled by employers, such as the pension and health plans (your actual employer puts money into the funds on your behalf each week that you work for them, and your eligibility to receive benefits is determined by how many total weeks you work in a year), 401(k), and even a credit union.

And of course, many of us spend a great deal of time NOT working under Equity contracts. This doesn't necessarily mean we're unemployed – we could be working "survival jobs," going back to school, working in a different medium with a different union, or simply taking time off from the business, but keeping our membership active just in case.

Anyway, this has gone on longer than I intended, but the point is that my union – and my professional life in general – and the transit workers' are like apples and orangutans. My opinions on the strike and on many of the TWU's demands remain the same (summary: Aaaarrrrgghh!), but I thought it fair to fully disclose some of these things that inform my point of view.

Damn, I hope something funny happens to me tomorrow. This blog has been much too heavy lately.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Well, this SUCKS!

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I really thought the transit strike wouldn't happen. Oops. When I went to bed it hadn't happened yet, but we live near an elevated line, and when I woke up early I was immediately aware that the distant rumble that I hardly ever notice normally wasn't there. When we left the house we saw a train on the tracks down our block, squarely between stops. Since I'm sure they didn't leave passengers there like that, I figure the transit workers must have moved the trains there purely for dramatic effect, which I sort of love.

Fortunately, we live fairly near the last Long Island Rail Road stop before Manhattan (one of the handful in Queens), and they're not on strike, so Boy and I walked about a mile in the beautiful winter morning, portable breakfast in hand (sausage egg and cheese and coffee for him, bagel and Diet Coke for me), unconcerned that we'd be late for work since everyone else would be too. We are pragmatic New Yorkers and everything was fine.

Then we saw the line. It wrapped around two square blocks. This line, we were told, was to buy tickets. People who had tickets or passes were allowed right in, but since we were in the city proper and actually at a subway stop as well, folks prepared for the commuter rail were few and far between.

We spent three hours on line.

In typical NYC-in-crisis fashion, it was friendly, orderly, and civil. It was also COLD. Walking was fine, but standing still, often in the shade, my toes literally went numb. Still, there was a "what can you do?" attitude among everyone, and fortunately I had Boy to keep me company.

Three hours later (did I mention it was three hours?) we were led upstairs to the station, where there were two short lines at the ticket booth and two more at the vending machines. (They had set up two out-house type booths on the street too.) The station was nearly empty, and while I appreciated the cautious crowd control I couldn't help thinking they had been a little too cautious. Of course, since nearly everyone ahead of us on the vending machine line seemed utterly baffled by how to use the very simple interface, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.

We got our tickets just as a train was pulling in. It was blessedly warm, and not very crowded. We got seats and zipped towards Manhattan in speed and comfort.

Now, this is me, and this is Judgment Call, so you know there has to be a twist to this story. They didn't take our tickets on the train. You know, it's a commuter train where the conductor walks through and takes your ticket along the way. I've never really understood how that system can be effective, since they're bound to miss some people, but it's been that way for decades. Normally I'd be all "Hey, free ticket!" but WE WAITED THREE HOURS IN SUB-FREEZING TEMPERATURES FOR TICKETS WE DIDN'T EVEN NEED!!!

Aaaaanyway. I walked 16 blocks – a perfectly casual walk for me – from Penn Station to rehearsal, where I spent a fairly normal afternoon in a theater closed off from the outside world. Then I walked down to another theater for my evening show, which apparently must go on (but hey, that means I get paid). I'll stay in Manhattan tonight, which means more walking but at least that's predictable and often even enjoyable. I haven't thought beyond tomorrow, hoping this all just ends.

I've been finding it really hard to support the workers in all this. Aside from the fact that this strike is illegal for damn good reason (when my union goes on strike it doesn't affect the entire city's economy and well-being!), the more I learn the more I find myself siding with the MTA – which is unusual because they're a notoriously poorly-run agency with highly shifty practices and a huge surplus. But I'm appalled that transit workers are paid more than cops, fire fighters and teachers. It's a thankless and important job, yes, but no one's shooting at them. And while many positions are highly skilled, just as many are not. Then there's the retirement age, which the union wanted lowered to 50. They've given that one up but I can't believe they even asked. And since my contract was just up and I got a measly 1.4% raise, I'm finding the demand for 8% for people who make more than I do awfully hard to swallow.

Of course it is the labor union's job to protect its members. But I believe that that protection includes the responsibility to negotiate fairly and realistically, so that you can actually get a contract done. Protection does not include putting your members on a strike in which they will be docked two days' pay for each day off work – and without the support of their parent union.

On the other hand, the sticking point right now is over pension. The MTA wants some sort of tiered scheme (I don't really understand this) that would somehow grandfather in older workers, but hurt newer ones. The TWU says it won't sell out its new members, and this seems to me like exactly the right response. It's certainly what I'd want my union (which, incidentally, supports the TWU) to say if they had a spine. The TWU claims the MTA has known since day one that this pension plan was a dealbreaker, so why did they let it get this far? The TWU president is accusing the MTA and the mayor of basically provoking a strike.

Sigh. It's complicated, it's late, and I walked a lot today. Time to sign off, I think. I leave you with some pictures I took of the line at the LIRR today. They're not great 'cause I took them with the RAZR's crappy little camera (the one above was with my real camera, but then that went in my backpack and it wasn't worth the hassle to dig it out again), but I'm glad I took them. Piece of NYC history and all that. Good night and good luck!

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Monday, December 19, 2005

No Peace

So I was in Pax, and I ordered an oatmeal raisin cookie. The man behind the counter reached into the pastry case and brought out a Rice Krispy treat.

I corrected him, being sure to enunciate carefully, as if "oatmeal raisin" and "Rice Krispy" were anywhere near homophones, and when he bent down to the case again I made a face.

Those of you who know me in person know this face well – it's a nose scrunch, forehead wrinkle and eye roll all in one.

The girl behind me on line said, cheerfully but clearly reprimanding, "People make mistakes, man."

"Yeah," I said, trying to sound as breezy as possible, "but those two things sound nothing alike." She just looked at me, smiling a smug, perky smile. "I'm not angry, just confused."

"Uh huh," she said, as the man behind the counter reappeared with my cookie and I was forced to move on.

I got out of there as fast as I could. Did this chipper little blonde girl actually judge me? For making a face? Behind someone's back?? And the thing of it is, I wasn't angry! I was just confused!

I wanted to buy the Rice Krispy treat and shove it down her superior, chirpy little throat. That wouldn't have been a mistake.

Friday, December 16, 2005

sleepycranky

If there had simply been a transit strike, I'd have the day off. And thanks to my union, I'd even get paid a little (they have to pay us for the first cancelled performance in such circumstances, and then they're off the hook if it keeps going).

But no, they're still negotiating but also still threatening, and that just fucks everything up. I realize the point of all this is to be inconvenient, but it's not really the MTA or the city government who suffers. People aren't buying tickets to shows, for example, because they don't know if they'll be able to get to them or not. The show I'm working on is struggling, and just spent a small fortune on ads, which was basically money thrown out the window because the weekend is now shot.

This, of course, is why it's illegal in New York state for public workers (transit, cops, teachers, etc.) to strike. Which doesn't matter apparently since they're saying they'll do it anyway.

All of this is really an elaborate and not very articulate way of saying I wish I were still in bed. On the bright side, there was only one guy working on that elevator this morning, and he seemed very hard at work. I don't understand how anything works anymore.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Good Old-Fashioned Rant

Tax-happy liberal that I am, I'm very pro-union (I oughta be, I'm in one), but on the eve of a possible NYC transit strike, I couldn't help noticing the men doing some sort of repair work on an elevator in my station this morning. There were three men in the bottom of the shaft. Two of them were hard at work with tools and things, and the third was watching them. He had a clipboard in his hand, and no toolbelt, so this seemed to be his primary task. A couple of feet above them on the subway platform stood three more men, all simply standing there. Two of them appeared to be holding the elevator doors open (a function that surely could have been achieved by a well-placed sawhorse), and the third just stood between them talking. These men all had hardhats and toolbelts, so maybe their technical skills would be needed later, but this is what I saw.

On the radio last night they said that one of the sticking points in the negotiations was that the MTA wants pay raises to be "tied to discipline," and the TWU called that "completely unacceptable." There was no specific explanation of this, so I can't speak about it in too educated a way, but if it means what I think it does, is it so much to ask that sizeable pay increases only be given to people who actually, y'know, show up and do a good job? Or be taken away from those who don't? I mean, I'm all for people who do thankless jobs for agencies that have surpluses getting raises, and I'm all for unions protecting their members, but seriously? Disciplining people is unacceptable? It's not like such things can be done arbitrarily or unfairly on a union contract. The employer has to have just cause, and if there's a dispute the union gets involved and there's a mediator and blah blah blah. So why the hell not?? I'm kind of appalled.


Switching topics, but as long as I'm talking like a Republican, It's called a fucking Christmas tree. I touched on this last year, and for a far more intelligent take on the subject I encourage you to read Salon.com article about how the whole "War on Christmas" thing has more to do with right wing propaganda and paranoia than the ACLU. But anyway, I say "happy holidays," generally, because it's easy and inclusive and I'm not Christian. In truth, I don't say it much at all, unless I'm writing a professional letter around this time of year, in which case I generally conclude with "Best wishes for the holiday season and the new year," which doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. To whatever good wishes anyone gives me, I say "Thanks, you too," and that's that.

But seriously, a holiday tree?? It's not a holiday tree. It's a Christmas tradition. Rooted in pagan traditions, yes, but in this day and age and country, it's all about the Christmas. There is no such thing as a Chanukah bush or New Year's topiary. It's a goddamn Christmas tree. And it's not a religious symbol, so put it anywhere you damn well please. If someone put a 10-story crucifix in Rockefeller Center I'd be a little upset (plus, woah, creepy) but a tree with a star on top? Get over yourself.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Hello, Moto

While I'm pretty prone to impulse shopping, when it comes to expensive electronics, I tend to research and deliberate. And did I not just say I don't need a new cell phone? In fact, with my old one working just fine, it could almost be considered irresponsible to take a chance with a new brand, since I use my cell constantly for business. At the very least, I should be trying out the phones in the store, making sure the volume is loud and the signal is clear, and looking for the best rebates.

OR, I could be so smitten with the new Verizon version of the sexy, tiny, product-placed-on-Alias Motorola Razr that I buy one on the first day it's available in stores, with no regard for practicality or price.

Um, not that I just did that or anything....

Thursday, December 08, 2005

With friends like these...

I've managed to rather suddenly become horribly overcommitted. Well, not horribly, as all the commitments actually manage to fit in around one another, and because it's all good work and some extra cash for the holidays, but it leaves me with little time at home awake and even less for things like spending that holiday cash. I've got my play eight times a week (soon to be on a thoroughly wacky schedule for Christmas and New Year's weeks), a reading of a new musical during the day this week, and a workshop of yet another show the next two weeks. Oh, and last Monday I worked on a benefit.

Today was the first really bad day of it for me. I was determined to accomplish things when I got home from work last night, so I went to bed far too late for having to be back at work relatively early in the morning. Though, since this schedule eliminates any possibility of the gym, one of the things I made sure to accomplish last night was to buy groceries and pack meals, so I'll stop spending so much money and start sticking to my diet (Boy and I are both sort of trying The Abs Diet, but more on that later).

Unfortunately for me, Faustus, the composer of this week's musical, bakes when he's stressed, and the skinny bitch brought an enormous tray of brownies to rehearsal. Sleepy and desperate for sugar, I ate at least three. It all has the makings of an elaborate plot. Why must even my friends be out to get me?

O Christmas Treo

I'm due for a new phone. I don't strictly need a new phone, I'm quite happy with my old phone, but Verizon gives you $100 off a new one every 2 years, and I can never resist a new toy.

Gadget freak that I am, it stands to reason that I would want a Treo. In fact, I don't. I like the idea of carrying one less gadget by combining two, and the little keyboard makes me happy. But I use my Palm quite a bit and five minutes of trying to read on the Treo screen gives me a headache because it's too small. Yet the thing is so big by phone standards that it feels silly talking, essentially, into a Palm Pilot. My current Palm is less than a year old, and wasn't exactly cheap, so it's hard to justify the sizeable chunk of change, even with rebates, a Treo (not to mention software and cool cases) would cost versus the $50 or less for a new phone that's compatible with my existing accessories, extra batteries, etc. And I just know that a week after I buy one a new model will come out.

But I want one anyway. Boy just got one. At least three coworkers have them and another is planning to get one and asked if I could help him set it up with his Mac. There's a huge ad campaign in the subways. I have major Treo envy. It's actually not a practical choice for me, since it has far less memory than my T3, which I've filled up quite nicely. And because I use both my Palm and my cell so much, if anything happened to it I'd be doubly fucked. But I want one. Everyone else has them. I want to be the kid with the coolest, hippest toys!

Dammit, being a geek is hard sometimes.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

iCheer

Until a couple of days ago, I'd been in a very Scroogalicious mood. I know it seems early to be sick of the holidays, but everything about this holiday season seems early, so why not that too? I'm not sure if the decorations actually went up extra prematurely this year, or if my hectic work schedule conspired with the unseasonably warm weather to help the whole thing sneak up on me, but I'm definitely not ready for Chrismukah. My mom was bugging me about my wish list in November, and I hadn't even begun to think about it – and that's usually my favorite part! I barely even registered when Thanksgiving happened (just a snarky blog post to mark the holiday).

Last weekend I had to run some errands between shows, which forced me not only to face the hordes of idiots on 34th Street, but also to endure some of the worst Christmas music imaginable. No "Christmas Shoes" yet, but there was a reggae "Jingle Bells" that will haunt me to the grave. In fact, it seems like everywhere I go (including the basement of my own building, where the super has the radio tuned to, apparently, an all-holiday station) all of the season's most horrific music is playing, as if to say "Give up now! Resistance is futile!"

Then the other day, just as it was starting to get cold, and just after I had endured the sacrilege of bad holiday music in the Most Holy Church of the Container Store, my shuffling iPod decided to play John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," one of my most favorite holiday songs. Sure it's cheesy - with its overly simple worldview ("war is over if you want it"), vague sense of recrimination ("And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?"), racism ("the yellow and red man"), and of course the backing chorus of undoubtedly snotty and precocious English children and Yoko – but I love it anyway. It put me right in the mood, with a little spring in my step and an urge to spend money and update my Amazon Wish List.

In fact, my iPod has been playing quite a bit of John Lennon lately, as if it knows tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of his death. Do you think that's possible? Steve Jobs swears that Shuffle is completely random (hence the new feature in iTunes to make it seem more random by actually making it less random ensuring that songs from the same artist or album aren't grouped together), but I wouldn't put it past him to have programmed in things so that, say, from December 1 to December 8 it looks for John Lennon or the Beatles, or "Christmas." Around Valentine's Day it might pull out titles containing the word "love." For all I know it's playing subliminal messages convincing me my iPod is too big and I'm a loser if I don't watch Lost on the subway on a 2" screen. I certainly know that if I were in Steve Jobs' shoes, I'd do stuff like that just to creep people out.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

As if we needed further proof that dogs – and my neighbors – are stupid, when I opened the door to take out the trash yesterday, the dog from across the hall ran into my apartment and went after Radish.

Now, before anyone panics, this dog is considerably smaller than my cat. He's cuter than a Chihuahua, but still basically a glorified rat. And Radish is a Fearsome Jungle Cat. The dog did not know who he was messing with.

Or maybe he did. Because as pointy as Radish is, he has never encountered another animal before in his life, except for his sister, who I doubt he remembers, and the other pets in cages and carriers when he went to get tutored. While I'm sure he could have kicked the dog's ass in a fight, he wisely chose to run. He got cornered once, hissed and wailed his way out of it, then fled towards the back of the apartment and, after another brief tussle, jumped onto the windowsill in the office and continued to hiss at the dog, who couldn't get up there on his stubby little legs. I've never before heard Radish make the noises he was making. The hissing was one thing, but the screaming was new to me, and sounded more like a sound that would be dubbed into a movie to indicate "cat" than one that would actually come out of my kitten.

I, meanwhile, ineffectually yelled "Hey!" over and over again, as if that would scare the dog more than Radish's claws. My instinct was to grab the cat to keep him safe, but that surely would have left me bloody. In retrospect I suppose going for the dog would have been wiser. I was barefoot, so kicking the tiny beast was out. I just followed them around yelling "Hey."

I have no idea where the owner of the rat was at this point, as I'd followed the pair into the other room. Finally, as the dog was deciding to leave Radish alone and explore the rest of the apartment, I heard a questioning response from the other room. "Get your dog out of my apartment!" I yelled back. I closed the office door on Radish and headed out to find the dog exploring the kitchen, and an older man I'd never seen before standing in the entryway making useless little kissing sounds at it. "Pick it up and take it out," I growled. He did, though with little apparent sense of why I was so upset.

I'd love to say that Radish was unfazed by the whole thing, but for our take-it-in-stride boy he was pretty riled up. I returned to the office to find him on top of the hutch on my desk, hissing and making a low growling noise. He also let me pet him, which was an odd contradiction. I put wet food (a sporadic treat) out for him and he didn't come running immediately. Still, I think it's safe to say that I was far more shaken by the whole thing than the cat.

When I'd calmed down, I went to the dog's apartment. A woman I quite like answered the door, and I reminded her that the building has a strict policy on dogs being leashed in public areas. She seemed to have no idea what I was talking about. "Your dog just ran into my apartment and attacked my cat." "Oh!" She explained that her father was visiting and must have let the dog out when he took out the trash. She was so nice that I began to feel a little silly, and changed my approach: "The cat's actually bigger than the dog, and I don't want your dog to get hurt." She laughed and said thank you and I went on my way.

Putting the pieces together later, I realize that the visiting father must have gone down the hall to the trash chute, leaving the dog in the hall (perhaps not even knowing it had gotten out) sniffing at my door. This explains his delay in arriving on the scene, and his calm befuddlement – he had actually missed the entire fight. He then clearly hadn't told his daughter, not realizing it had been such a dramatic incident (though cat or no cat, I don't necessarily want other people's rat dogs in my apartment!), so she had no idea what I was talking about.

Ah, city living. By the time I got home from work, Radish seemed to have forgotten the whole thing...though he does seem a little warier of the door than he used to be, and that's not a bad thing. He was also very affectionate last night, so maybe we should traumatize him more often.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The filmmaker cannot see...

At one point while watching the movie of Rent, I was torn apart by two conflicting ideals. On one side, my love and respect for good continuity, and on the other, my hatred and disdain for errors in period accuracy.

There's a rare on-location shot on a New York subway platform (which took me out of the movie completely thinking how sad it was that the East Village has changed so much in ten years as to make actually shooting in town pointless (though that doesn't excuse the back-lot dead-end, one-lane Avenue A) yet the Delancy Street station still looks like total ass), and a 2005-ish F train pulls into the station and our heroes get on. We then switch to a set of the train interior. Now, someone with a keen eye put the exact same ads that are briefly glimpsed through the window of the real train onto the fake train, perhaps hoping to make up for the sudden appearance of 1989-ish graffiti. The only problem with that, of course, is that none of those ads, nor the things they're advertising actually existed when the movie takes place.

It was the only scene in the movie about starving, dying young artists that made me want to cry.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Working for the Weekend

So I've had all kinds of posts in my head over the last couple of weeks, about politics, and science, and Geena Davis' presidency, but work has been crazy and I haven't had time for much of anything. As usual, it's general irritation with the world that gets my blogging shoes on now for two posts in a row.

This isn't a new peeve, in fact I think I've probably blogged about it in some form or another, but I'm freshly irritated about it. My current assistant (who's younger than me but not exactly new to the business we call show) was complaining to me about how her family still doesn't quite grasp the fact that she has to work weekends and holidays. Why don't people get this? A LOT of people don't work Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5. And since the people who do don't lock themselves in their apartments when they're not in the office (at least most of them don't), I don't understand why it confuses them. I assume that all of you, at some point, have gone to a movie or a show, eaten in a restaurant, ridden the subway, taken a cab, called customer service, gone shopping, been to the emergency room, or whatever, on a weekend, or holiday, or at night. And surely you realize that your ticket-taker, waiter, conductor, cabbie, call center employee in India, cashier, nurse, or whatever, was at work. In fact, they were at work pretty much for your pleasure and/or convenience. Along with your doorman, your mail carrier, the people who clean your office building, security guards, cops, EMTs, the Chinese food delivery guy and thousands of others.

Not that I'm bitter, mind you. Sure, sometimes I get annoyed at not having quality time to spend over, say, Thanksgiving or Christmas, and when people (or the MTA) assume I have the weekend off, but I like my job really like being off on Monday so I can get weekday stuff done on my "weekend." I'm just baffled by other people's bafflement when the subject comes up.

So, um, yeah, that's how my "holiday weekend" was.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Gobble This

Long-time JC readers know that I have some weird pet peeves, many of them about highly common but incorrect uses of the English language. Certain misuses of words or phrases actually make me physically tense. While my reaction to this may not always be sensible, the things I'm reacting to are generally genuine Wrong Things.

Lately though, hearing people calling Thanksgiving "Turkey Day" makes me absolutely nuts. And I feel like I've heard the phrase more this year than ever before. I don't know why it irks me. I am not a militant vegetarian. I am quite traditional about my Thanksgiving meal and eat turkey without fail every year. I have no family customs involving a pre-meal prayer or giving thanks or honoring the pilgrims or whatever; we just dig in and eat.

But when I hear "Turkey Day," I tense up as if you'd said "I could care less about ATM machines at the Macy's Day Parade."

I think it's safe to say that for most Americans, even those who do give heartfelt prayers of thanks or perform skits about genocide, this is a holiday primarily about food, just like Chrismukkah is now primarily about presents. So you'd think I'd appreciate the open acknowledgement of the true meaning of Thanksgiving: gluttony.

But "Turkey Day" just grates me! Is it like Veteran's day, honoring the great accomplishments of American turkeys? Why not Stuffing Day, or Cranberry Day, or friggin' Pie Day? Pie Day! Now there's a holiday I can get behind! Mmmmm...pie....

Oh well. On the bright side, I saw an ATM in a deli the other day with the brand name, "Access to Money." If we all adopt this new meaning for the acronym then "ATM machine" will no longer be incorrect and maybe my head won't explode before next Pie Day.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Hee

Sorry I haven't posted in a while, work has been nuts.

This still isn't a real post, but this made me giggle:

Monday, October 31, 2005

Kids Today

It's our first Halloween in the new apartment, and the first time in a few years I've had to deal with trick-or-treaters (there are 100+ units here, and my last place was a small walk-up that I suspect wasn't worth the effort). Since Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, it trumps my overall distaste for children. But these kids aren't even trying. About half of them haven't been in costume at all. Maybe another quarter has thrown on a cape or some fake teeth. Many just stand there and hold their bags out, like they're just entitled to get candy from strangers with no effort, creativity, or even a "please" on their part. They don't even seem that into it themselves.

It's times like this I wish I kept cyanide or straight pins around the house.

I realize it's Halloween...

...but doesn't putting a bowl of mini Nestle Crunches out in the cardio room at the gym seem a little counter-intuitive?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Spin Zone

I've been fascinated by the political ads on the TV and radio. Unlike last year, when it was all just depressing and terrifying, I have no great interest in the commercials and can watch from a distance. The big races in the area are the New York City mayor and the New Jersey governor.

The mayoral ads are totally clean and positive. I haven't seen a single attack ad. Of course, there's kinda no need, since the incumbent is a billionaire and the his challenger hasn't raised in total what he spends in a week (that's not hyperbole), so it's all pretty one-sided. But still, good game, guys.

Meanwhile, I haven't seen a single positive NJ ad. It's all mud, all the time. I have no idea what either candidate really stands for, just that they're both apparently extremely corrupt bastards. Today on the radio one used the phrase, "What else would you expect from a tax-happy liberal like John Corzine?" I decided right then and there that I want to use the phrase "tax-happy liberal" as much as possible. Let's spin that another way: "He loves kittens and makes fudge for neighborhood children. What else would you expect from a tax-happy liberal like John Corzine?"

Of course, I'd make fudge and eat it all in front of neighborhood children to taunt them, but then, I have no political ambitions.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

I'm smart and cultured

Tonight I attended a seminar at a museum.

Okay, so it was The Museum of Television and Radio and it was called "Cheap Shots and Guilty Pleasures: Television in the Age of Irony", but admit it, you were impressed for a second there!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Chores are evil

The machines in my laundry room take "smart cards" instead of coins. This saves the hassle of scrounging for quarters, but adds the new hassles of having to keep track of your card, only being able to add to the card with bills (so it's like scrounging for quarters in reverse), and only being able to run the dryer for 30 minutes – no more, no less – because that's what happens when you put the card in instead of each quarter giving you 10 minutes or whatever.

So today I started my laundry and after paying for the washer I saw that I had 25 cents left on my card, and a dollar in my wallet. I went back up the apartment and asked Boy if he had any cash. He too had a dollar. So I figured I'd use our two dollars to start the dryers on their first round ('cause that 30 minutes is never enough), run out to the bank, get some groceries, all would be well. Of course, still decaffeinated, I did the math wrong, and when I went down to the laundry room I was 25 cents short for the second dryer. Ironically, I have close to $10 in quarters in my little change bank, but those do me no good.

So, since Sunday is a busy day in the laundry room and it seemed unwise to leave a dryer full of wet clothes not running for too long, lest someone either empty it or get pissed off or both, I changed plans and went off to find the closest ATM, instead of the fee-free one 5 blocks away. I spotted a sign on a deli across the avenue and quickly crossed the street while the Don't Walk light was flashing. Meanwhile, some idiot made a left turn in her car apparently without checking the crosswalk at all. Either way she was in the wrong, since flashing red meant the light was still mine, and full red would have made her turn illegal. I saw her coming and knew she wasn't going to hit me, but it was going to be a question of which of us would go through first. Without slowing, she passed so closely in front of me that the antenna on the back of her car grazed my nose. Almost reflexively, I smacked the back of the car with the back of my hand. This had the desired effect of startling the driver and her passenger, who slowed down as if to make sure they hadn't actually run me over, but it was also surprisingly unsatisfying and surprisingly painful. I'd have been better off letting her hit me and then suing the bitch and retiring.

Safely inside the deli, I swiped my ATM card in the machine and asked for $80. It gave me $60. The receipt says "Withdrawl: $80.00; Dispensed Amount: $60.00," along with the cryptic message, "Transaction was partial reversed," but until it shows up on my online banking I'm going to worry about it.

A block away from the deli I put my hand in my pocket and realized my laundry card was missing. I mean, sure, it only had a dollar on it, but new cards cost money and I had just spend more than that in ATM fees. I went back to the deli, figuring it had fallen out of my pocket when I took out my wallet. Nope. I calmly walked back to the building, thinking maybe I'd left it in the dryer. Nope. It had just vanished. Or run away, as if it was out to get me, which at this point seemed much more plausible.

Resigned and over it, I put money in the machine to get a new card. And this was when I learned that the new cards are pre-loaded ($7 for your laundry, minus the $3 charge for the card itself) and therefore can only be paid for with a $10 bill. I went out AGAIN, and bought a bagel and soda on the corner to break a 20, officially making this both the most expensive and high-calorie load of laundry I've ever done.

I suppose going back to bed now wouldn't be unwise. Too bad it's covered with unfolded laundry.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

He had it c***ing

The movie version of Chicago: The Musical is on network TV right now. Apparently it's okay to show women dancing around in their underwear singing about murder at 8:00 on a Saturday night, just as long as they don't say "ass" or "screw."

Friday, October 21, 2005

Who needs Elvis?

If you were wondering what the President had to say to Bono, click here.

Sunrise, Sunset

Then:
100_0528

Now:
100_2614.JPG

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Hello? Anyone out there?

Is this thing on?

It's really not fair. I quit blogging and the universe gives me Surface, Supernatural, Flight Plan and the iPod Nano.

I pretty much stopped reading blogs as well as writing them over the summer. Over the last couple of days I've been catching up, updating my RSS feeds and adding various forms of web-browsing back into my daily routine (for that matter, adding a daily routine back into my day), and it made me kind of miss The JC.

So I figure a few people have me Blogrolled or Bloglined or in an RSS reader and you might actually know I've done this.

So welcome to Judgment Call 2.0. We'll see how often I post. Part of the reason I paused was because it was feeling like homework, so I'm only going to post when I really have something to say. Not that "something to say" in any way equals quality blogging, but my three loyal readers know that already!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Links

I know I said I was going, but I forgot to post these two brilliantly weird links:

Stuff On My Cat


Mario A Cappella


Both are work safe, but the 2nd has sound.

Bye!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Buh-Bye (for now)

It makes me a little sad to say it, but I think Judgment Call may have run its course. I knew I wouldn't write much this summer because I was crazy busy, but I actually have started several posts (about not understanding what all the fuss is about Harry Potter, yet still continuing to read the books and watch the boring boring movies (yes, even the last one was boring) because I feel like I have to; about how Tiger is the shit; about how The Island does exist and its that thing on Ewan McGregor's head; about finally watching Pretty in Pink 20 years later and learning that, contrary to popular nerd belief, Duckie is a creepy obnoxious stalker and Blaine redeems his big mistake and is all sweet, so Claire totally made the right choice; about how turning 30 in place where about a third of the population hadn't been born when Thriller came out is acutely depressing; about Joel Grey singing "Wilkommen" with Kermit on The Muppet Show Season 1 DVD being both one of the coolest and one of the strangest things I've ever seen, and how covering the box in Kermit fur may not have been Disney's smartest marketing move ever) but haven't finished any of them. I've had games and movies and shows I've been meaning to review since the winter that I never got around to. I just haven't been all that interested lately.

Since readership here has never been terribly high, I've mostly been doing this to amuse myself (and you few lovely loyal readers), and right now it feels like more of an obligation than a fun hobby. It's been almost two years (and what a busy two years they were!) and that's an awfully long time for a whim. I'm not taking the site offline, and I may pop in again. I'm sure it won't be too long before I'm bored out of my skull at a temp job, or have an exceptionally cute picture of the kitten that must be shared with the world. But for now, well... buh-bye!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I miss my baby...

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Culture Shock

Undisclosed Location Theater is on a college campus in the middle of nowhere. This makes for one of the strangest environments I've ever been in. It's like a combination of Broadway, college, and summer camp — complete with the diva fits, frat parties, and bug bites. There's nature everywhere and it fucking follows you. I can't shake it, I've tried. That said, I'm writing this from the 2nd floor porch that's accessed from my bedroom (at home we'd call it a balcony — or a fire escape — but this is definitely a porch), plugged into a cleverly placed outdoor outlet, using wireless internet, and I could definitely get used to it.

Technophile that I am, I'm largely struck by how much things have changed in the campus setting, and by how technologically advanced we all are here at theater camp. I got my first e-mail address when I was a freshman in college, and it was 24k dial-up to a Unix mail program. My junior year they put high-speed in all the dorms. That was also when our rooms got put on the same phone system as the offices on campus, and we got the great technological wonder of voicemail.

Here, every single room in every single building has data jacks in at least two locations. I'm pretty sure you can go online from the bathroom. My laptop and Airport Express both had to be registered with the college before I could go online, and I had to change all my outgoing mail servers to the company's before I could send anything. We're told (and as far as I know no one's tested this yet) that if we download anything illegally, they will know about it and will kick us off the network immediately. I don't think the Pentagon is this secure.

In our bathroom there's a sticker with info for the rape crisis hotline. They have Instant Messenger. It makes perfect sense, of course, but something about it strikes me as weird every time I look at it.

Everyone here is on IM. This sounds annoying but it's actually genius. If I have a question in the middle of rehearsal, I don't have to get up and disrupt the work to get an answer. If someone needs to come by on a break, they can find out when we're due and not have to sit and wait outside the room. Because we're all on the college network, I can print from my house to my office a half-mile away. The other day I printed something from the rehearsal studio, and IMed one of my assistants, who was waiting in the office, telling her what I wanted done with the document. All while watching a rehearsal and glancing out the window at the mountains.

Of course, I've had one good night's sleep in the 10 days I've been here, I've forgotten the meaning of the word "gym," and I haven't yet figured out how to run a department (with, at present, a staff of 11, and more arriving as shows gear up) while spending 10 hours a day in rehearsal, but hey, it's just theater/college/camp — it ain't brain surgery.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Home Depot, here I come!

I downloaded a new song by the Indigo Girls and Ani DiFranco this morning.

I think I just became a lesbian.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Draft Dodging

There was an article in Salon yesterday about the evils of dodge ball (okay, it was one of those personal essays that starts out being about dodge ball and ends up being about parenting and childhood and blah blah, but whatever) and it got me wondering, once again, what the big deal is about the "sport."

I was an unathletic kid who dreaded gym, and I loved dodge ball, as well as its more chaotic, every-man-for-himself cousin, "elimination" (same rules, no teams). Only in adulthood did I learn of dodge ball's stigma, and I remain completely baffled by it. You don't need any athletic ability to play it, really. I guess some catching is involved, but it's not like catching a fast-moving softball or even a Frisbee; even four-square (or box ball, as we called it in elementary school) requires more coordination. And if you want to get someone out with a throw, just aim low.

Better still, it is the easiest game in the world to get yourself out of, which should actually make it ideal for the unsporty of the world. Don't feel like playing? Lob an easy ball to someone sure to catch it, or let yourself get hit someplace where it won't hurt. Hell, in the chaos you could pretty much let a randomly rolling ball hit your foot and go sit down. Basketball, softball, football, soccer — games that require genuine coordination and skill, in which teammates depend on you — those are scary. Dodge ball was cake.

I suppose I might feel different about the whole thing if we had played it in high school, which seems to be the standard pop-culture cliché. We only had dodge ball in elementary school, and while kids can certainly be cruel it's more casual, not like the nastiness of high school — not to mention the fact that bigger kids can throw harder! But y'know that's one of the other mysteries of dodge ball for me: It seems like an awfully silly game for 16-year-olds to play! I've always perceived it as a kids' game, and therefore relatively harmless. I think even the mean kids with good throwing arms would have scoffed at it at my high school. Like I said, it's not much of a sport! And therefore I — who managed the cross-country team for a season so I could get out of gym (a wonderfully exploitable loophole in the rule that if you were on a team you didn't have to take PE — something else I learned years later wasn't normal (though it does seem awfully logical to me)), and chose swimming whenever we had an elective so I wouldn't have to compete, be on a team, or sweat — would have surely loved it.

Oh well, we've established many times here that my high school experience was not a typical one. I guess dodge ball is just one of those things, like color wars, field day, and cheerleaders, that I will just never understand.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Update: Beds, Naps, and How I'm Spending My Summer "Vacation"

I realized that after my angry rant about the bedroom furniture I never told you how it all ended. That's largely because we spent the entire weekend sleeping on the glorious new mattress. As Boy put it, "I don't care if we had a good deal, a great deal, or got suckered by the mattress salesman. Our Posturetemp queen-size mattress is amazing!" And it really really is. It's soft and you sink into it, but only a little bit and then there's all this great support (which I need since throwing out my back a few years ago). Boy and I napped and...did other things all weekend long on the fabulous new bed.

Yes, I'm still irked that they screwed it all up (I'm not posting photos until it's complete and correct) but I don't loathe the headboard in person the way I did in the pictures, and it all looks great in the room and with the newly-painted walls. So it'll be even better when it's right, and that's exciting. And did I mention that my dresser has ten drawers? So sleeping, sex, and organizing — my three favorite activities!

I'm generally opposed to Monday holidays. Having never had a salaried job outside of the theater, they're generally just inconvenient. If I'm temping or otherwise employed with an hourly wage, a Monday holiday means a loss of income. If I'm working on a show, I either have to work anyway, or I've worked all weekend and my day off is ruined by things being closed or especially crowded. And I get bitter while people gloat about their long weekends. But last week was perfect, exactly what I needed. I had a long list of things to do, but no schedule at all. I was productive and lazy and it was very exciting.

And then Friday was my last day at Big Financial Company. I have a couple of days off before leaving for...well I can't tell you where I'm going, since it's for a gig and I like to pretend this blog is anonymous in professional circles (though really, how many stage managers are there with a same-named partner and a cat named after a vegetable? For god's sake, I've posted pictures of my apartment!)

Suffice it to say, I'll be spending the next two-and-a-half months in the absolute middle of nowhere. With some glamorous people doing my glamorous job, and no doubt ridding my lungs of lots of nasty toxins, but without my Boy and without my Kitten and without public transportation. I was reading a script on the train on my way into work the other morning and was almost unconsciously thinking about paperwork and props and traffic patterns and I stopped and thought how nice it was to use my brain for work and not just be doing data entry. Then I went and did data entry, and somewhat more consciously counted down the minutes 'til Friday.

Anyway, I don't know what the summer will mean for this blog. I'm hoping to keep checking in — if nothing else I still have plenty to say on pop culture from the last couple of months, and I doubt that being in the country will mean easing up on the stupid people — but I just don't know if I have the time. I hope all seven of you reading this now will keep checking in!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Okay...

And Hit Me Baby One More Time totally doesn't count either. It's a "music event." And it's got Vanilla Ice, Tiffany, and Flock of Seagulls!

Curse you, television!

For five months now I haven't watched any reality TV. Okay, maybe I snuck a peek at America's Next Top Model when Boy was watching it, but if I didn't turn it on myself it doesn't count. And the Michael Jackson trial reenactments on E! are news, dammit.

But I just saw a commercial for Average Joe: The Joes Strike Back and I am powerless to resist.

Those kids in Kathy Lee's sweatshops had it easy!

Yesterday I worked a free outdoor concert we'll call "Singers on the Square." Only all of the sound company's roadboxes were labeled "Singer's on the Square." He is? I thought. Well what about the rest of them?.

They were consistent, at least. One of the boxes said "Singer's on the Square Mic's."

I considered grabbing a Sharpie and crossing out all of the offending apostrophes, but sadly I had actual work to do. And I didn't want to get beat up by a bunch of crew guys. But seriously, how is anyone expected to work under such conditions?

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

TV Burning Questions

I was going to blog about my weekend (which was lovely), but so much of it was spent catching up on TV and the various season finales that my head is just full of questions....

Why do bad guys spend so much time in bars and clubs? I mean, seriously, if you were an evil mastermind, or even the henchperson of an evil mastermind, and you were working a machine that could destroy the world and had another evil mastermind/superspy in custody, would you really take time out to go get a drink and have a threesome with strangers? I mean, really, people, make it a little challenging to seduce you and give you swirlies until you talk!

And when will people on television learn that there are certain conversations you just should not have while driving? I mean, maybe it's just me and the fact that I am a generally terrible and rather nervous driver (I don't do it very often), but even if I'm talking to a passenger, I don't really look at them, because I prefer to, you know, watch the road. So any conversation that's likely to involve long, soulful looks, dropped cell phones or dropped ice cream really should also involve pulling over. Kirsten Cohen and Michael Vaughn (or whatever) take note! And Vaughn's a superspy for god's sake! Shouldn't he be better at looking around for possible hazards??

Dude, don't punctuate your tirade about the danger of leaky dynamite by gesturing with a stick of leaky dynamite! And would a stick of dynamite held in an outstretched hand really make you explode? Oh, it would kill you for sure, but chunks? I think that only happens if you swallow the dynamite.

If you're a long-shot presidential candidate, is it really a good idea to put an alcoholic, pill-addict, and recent massive heart attack victim on the ticket as VP?

Does Brenda Strong have some sort of exclusive contract for playing dead mothers who appear in voiceover?

Do you go to couples therapy when your girlfriend kills your brother who tried to rape her and is about to bash your head in with a telephone?

Is the junior prom a big deal anywhere but on TV? And do they not have SATs and college applications in Orange County?

If your heart attack makes you fall in the pool and drown, what is considered to have killed you?

Why would NBC schedule a spin-off of a franchise that's on 20 times a day on cable on Friday night and then wonder why nobody watched it? And if they wanted people to watch it, why wouldn't they advertise?

And why isn't American Dad funnier?

Friday, May 27, 2005

Gag me

I went down to the cafeteria to get some chocolate cake - because chocolate cake makes everything better - and the little take-out container had a sticker on it that read "Best if eaten by: you. Inspiration date: today."

So now, on top of being cranky, I feel a little nauseous.

Well of COURSE that went badly!

So Boy called a little while ago to tell me the furniture had arrived...minus the nightstands and with the wrong goddamn headboard. The headboard is actually a somewhat reasonable mistake - it's a slatted thing, and for some reason in birch the slats are closed (like they're laid over another piece of wood) and in pine they're open. We wanted the open version, but ordered everything else in birch, so they got confused. The nightstands, however, were "out of stock" and no one bothered to tell us.

Since I'm the resident yeller in the house, I called the store, where the heavily-accented salesman told me he'd just found out about the nightstands this morning.
"But we placed our order two weeks ago."
"They oversold them. In the newspaper."

I took this to mean there'd been a big sale circular, or a rush of phone orders or something. But isn't part of the gimmick of Gothic Cabinet Craft that they make the furniture for you? And if you go to the "factory outlet," as we did, doesn't that imply a certain easy accessibility to fresh-off-the-table-saw furniture?

Apparently not. Apparently, our nightstands are actually on a boat from Romania. Seriously, this is what he said.

He was quite apologetic about the headboard, and said he would swap it for the right one when the nightstands arrive, and he'd call me back when he had a clearer ETA. Good enough, but I felt the need to make the point that this screw up meant someone would have to take additional time off from work, and was therefore costing us money. "No," he said, "I call you when they're in to set up time. No wait unless they coming."

"Right," I said, losing my cool, "but we've already taken time off to wait for one delivery, now we have to take more time off to wait for a second one. Instead of getting it all at once like we were supposed to."

"No, I call you. You no have to wait twice."

"No no no. We've already waited once. So now when the nightstands come, even when you call us, that will be twice. And it costs us money. We lose income."

"I call you! I call you!"

He wasn't getting it.

"No... look... this was your mistake, and it is a problem for us. The time. So can you maybe give us some money back or something?"

"Next time you need something, you come in, I give you good deal."

I was done. I mean, it's not inconceivable that we will buy furniture from them again, but this did not strike me as an acceptable solution to the problem. But the old Greek had exhausted me. Now, of course, I want to find something - anything - to buy, just on principle. Of course then we'd have to get it delivered.

So it looks like our bedroom won't be complete for at least two weeks. At which point I'll be out of town for the summer and won't even get to enjoy it. I mean, they're bedside tables, not oxygen tanks. We can live without them, but that's not the point. Incompetence makes me crazy, especially when I've spent far more money on something than I'm in the habit of spending. Which I realize is nowhere near as much money as some people are in the habit of spending. But y'know, take some responsibility when you fuck up. Don't make excuses, don't blame other customers, and fix the damn problem in a timely and cost-effective manner to me, the customer. Because that is your job! And this isn't even a monopoly like the phone company, there are plenty of places to buy moderately priced wood furniture. You'd think they'd make a fucking effort to please the customer.


Anyway, here's the furniture we're selling again. I'm going to put it in every post from now until it's gone. Remember it's all OBE, so let's make a deal!
Ikea "Logga" bed and SertaPedic firm mattress (full)
Ikea "Robin" 3-drawer chest (green)
Armoire

Fun with Grown-Up Purchases!

The weekend before last, Boy and I went bedroom shopping. We'd dropped a bunch of money on shelving and various housewares at Ikea when we first moved into the new place, but this was the first time either of us had ever bought a whole room's worth of matching furniture. Six pieces in all (bed, headboard, 2 dressers and 2 nightstands), plus a mattress. It all felt shockingly adult. And as Boy pointed out, it's very strange to spend that much money and come home completely empty-handed.

It was all surprisingly easy and actually pleasant. We hit a sale and a salesman who gave us an additional 10% off on the furniture. At the mattress place, our salesman must have decided that we were never going to be a $2,000 sale for him so he wanted to make sure we some kind of sale, and spent a lot of time with us discussing the differences between traditional and "memory foam" mattresses, and wound up selling us a floor sample for much less than half what a brand new one would have cost. (So we went with the memory foam, which is fabulous - though admittedly it's awfully hard to judge a mattress in 5 minutes, and they frown upon customers having sex or spending the night in the store.)

So it was all perfectly lovely... until we tried to finalize our plans for delivery. Gothic Cabinet Craft couldn't give us a window until 1:00 yesterday afternoon, which was mildly irritating but not entirely unreasonable. However Sleepy's ("the mattress professionals, doing it right") couldn't tell us when to expect our delivery until 7:00 this morning! Um, what??? I've been given 8-hour delivery windows before, and I've been told to call back the day before, but the morning of?? When I finally got a live customer service rep on the phone and explained that I needed to know a little earlier than that if I was taking off from work, she was utterly baffled. I mean, seriously, what good is telling me the delivery window at 7 am? It basically shoots the whole day. Boy's schedule is more flexible than mine, and he's already staying home from 9 to 2 to wait for the furniture, and we're only working a half day at Huge Financial Company today, but I just can't believe no one's complained about this before. I get that there was nothing they could actually do to help me, since no information would be in their computers until the stuff was on the trucks and the trucks had their routes, but what amazed me was that the woman on the phone was so completely mystified by why I might find this policy unacceptable, or inconvenient, or why it might cause a loss of income!! Which of course just riled me up more, and I completely let her have it, hoping she'd at least relay the story of the angry man to a supervisor who might put into motion some sort of consideration of changing the dumbness.

As it turns out, the mattress coming between 6 and 10 tonight, so Boy's off the hook as soon as the furniture arrives, and I don't have to leave work any earlier than I'd planned to, but still. And of course that raises new issues, like the way we're not supposed to get any deliveries in the building after 7, I think, and the way the basement (through which all large deliveries are supposed to come, since there are stairs in the lobby not to mention nice floors) closes at 9:00 (which is itself another rant for another day), but fingers crossed it'll come on the early side and we can fully enjoy breaking it in.


On a related note, all of this means that we have some furniture for sale. So if you live in the New York City area, want some decent furniture for cheap, and have a way to transport the stuff, check the Craigslist links below (and you'll see why it was time to get new stuff that matches!!):
Ikea "Logga" bed and SertaPedic firm mattress (full)
Ikea "Robin" 3-drawer chest (green)
Armoire

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Figures

Last week I finally settled into a routine being back in New York and back at Huge Financial Company. I was doing well with the mornings, working slightly long days at the office to get some extra hours, and I even went to the gym a couple of times. But I was slightly over-scheduled with theater tickets, parties, and a certain movie about which I shall not blog for a while. This week, however, I had no concrete plans outside of work, and I was so excited for a relatively relaxing week in which I could just make some money, spend some time doing things around the house, get back on track with my diet and go to the gym three or four times.

So of course, on Sunday, I got sick. I'm not really sure how it happened. It feels like the kind of sick I usually get when I don't sleep enough and I'm run down. But I've been sleeping plenty, and I felt it coming on and immediately took some Zicam and went to bed for ten hours, which should have done the trick. No luck.

I took Monday off, which felt wonderfully luxurious, since as a temp I don't get paid sick days and as a stage manager I don't call out unless I'm really dying or really infectious. I slept a lot and even managed to tidy up the office and the kitchen, but it was hardly a miracle cure. I've been feeling a bit better every day, but have had a very hard time waking up in the mornings, and have been crashing early at night. Hardly the way I wanted to spend an easy week.

It doesn't help that the sun hasn't shown itself in four days, and that it's been fucking COLD in New York City. I suppose normally 50 doesn't qualify as cold, but in late May it does. And since they haven't turned on the heat at home and always keep the office frigid, I feel like I haven't been warm in days. Because I'm sure the weather has to improve and I'll leave the hermetically sealed office one day to find it's sunny and 70, I haven't truly given in and dressed appropriately. I've been layering but refuse to break out a heavy jacket. Yesterday morning my hands were freezing but it never crossed my mind to wear gloves. I noticed on the train that everyone seemed to be reacting the same way - and everyone looked grumpy.

If there was a point to this post when I started, I've forgotten what it is now. Just that the world is out to get me, I suppose, and I haven't felt much like blogging lately. Hopefully tomorrow will bring more entertaining news, as I have updates on the apartment, the computer, and I'm slowly but surely catching up on my TV.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Sith or That

Okay, just one more thought on Revenge of the Sith -- I got the soundtrack over the weekend, and it's excellent, but it does seem like George Lucas is the only person who believes these movies should be watched in order from Episode 1 to Episode 6. John Williams clearly believes this is the final chapter. I mentioned the other day that the best moments in the new movie are ones which harken back to the old movies. The score just sort of drives that home. The film ends with a shot and a piece of music lifted directly from Episode IV, and it's a moment of great portent, but only because of what it references. And I suppose if I'd never seen Star Wars it wouldn't even feel portentous, but probably in that case I'd be thinking "God, that was pretentious, what was that about?" In a world where this is the last of six movies (ie, the world we all live in, of which George Lucas is apparently not a part), it makes perfect sense to echo the first chapter in the last, completing the circle.

Also on the CD, I noticed that the closing credits contain "The Throne Room" music from the end of - yup - Star Wars. Now if that doesn't scream final chapter (or perhaps more accurately, "I've been writing this music for 30 years can I please just stop and go home and sit on my pile of money now?") I don't know what does.

Anyway. Enough of that from me. But for more Sith from better writers, check out Sars' marvelously spot-on review on Tomato Nation (contains spoilers), and for some funny see The Billboard Country Music Top Ten If Kenny Chesney Were Anakin Skywalker and Renée Zellweger Were Padmé Amidala on FameTracker (sort of contains spoilers but only if you're really a freak about such things).

Disappointed

How sad am I that the best thing about The Muppets' Wizard of Oz was the apostrophe use in the title?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Episode IX: Aren't You A Little Short For A Sith Lord?

Okay, I may blog for pages and pages about Star Wars, but I do not show up at the theater with a lightsaber either. There are toys in my apartment - Optimus Prime sits atop a bookshelf in the living room, and Chewbacca, Yoda and Beaker watch over my desk - but dude, you're 30, leave the sword at home. What are you going to do with it in the middle of a movie anyway? At one point before the movie started, two children started dueling in front of the screen. Cute. Then someone whose age I couldn't determine from our seats in the back row (where we wanted to be, for the record) but definitely post-pubescent joined them. Not cute. And he was bad. I mean he was just waving his saber around like he'd never used it before and had no idea what to do. If you're going to humiliate yourself in public like that take a class or something. There was a smattering of applause which I chose to believe was deeply ironic, and the child-destroying saber-waver bowed foolishly, in a way I believe was deeply not ironic.

The theater, normally a fairly classy old-school "movie palace" was a sty, as if they'd barely bothered to clean up between showings. I tripped over a trash bag someone had left in the middle of an aisle. Chaos for seats, chaos for popcorn, chaos at the bathrooms, where the men's line was at least twice as long as the women's.

Once the film started unspooling (dammit, another good word lost to the digital age) though, the audience was shockingly respectful. A theater manager got on a mic to basically apologize that they were "contractually obligated" to show trailers and commercials before the movie, as if he feared a riot. They knew their audience well though: The third time the green "This preview has been approved for all audiences" screen came up, people started to boo - until they realized trailer was for Batman. It was like waving something shiny in front of our cat.

"A long time ago in a galaxy far far away..." came up, and a few people cheered, but someone in the back yelled "Wait for it!" and they did, erupting at the first blast of trumpets and the yellow "Star Wars" title...and then falling silent just as quickly to read the crawl. People would cheer and applaud (or sometimes guffaw) at a moment, but hush up again as soon as someone on screen started talking, even for highly guffaw-worthy lines like "I'm beautiful because you love me." It was kind of neat. Short on social skills the nerds may be, but respect movie etiquette they do.

Back to I and II for a moment... I read this in Entertainment Weekly this morning: "Now [Lucas] volunteers that his prequel storyline - derived from material he'd brainstormed over 30 years ago to inform his writing of Star Wars - was 'thin.... It was not written as a movie. It's basically a character study and exhibition piece about politics - two things that are not dramatic. [Not like] the dramatic story that was constructed for Star Wars. But I wanted to be faithful to it, so I didn't construct other stories. It is what it is.... I said, "This is the story. I know I'm going to need to use Hamburger Helper to get it to two hours, but that's what I want to do."'"

A welcome admission of fallibility, but if you knew your material was thin, why on earth did you make movies that were over two hours long??? 90 minutes would have been plenty!

Okay, so I'm avoiding actually writing about Episode III, mostly because I know a lot of you haven't seen it yet and I don't quite know what to say without being spoilerific. I'll just say that I liked it. A lot. It's great fun, and the dialogue, acting and hair have all improved. But still...it's not really its own movie so much as a prologue to the original trilogy. As Owen Gleiberman points out in his review, we never really see Anakin give in to the dark side, at least not in a way that requires him to make a choice beyond "Now it's time for me to become Darth Vader because you're all waiting for it." This may be partly because the timeline is utterly confusing... The whole film appears to take place in just a few days, yet planets described as being very far away seem to take mere minutes to fly to, and Padme is more pregnant in every scene. And the best moments are still the ones that appeal to my inner geek (okay, and the outer one too): echoes of the original films in sets, music, sunsets, and Grand Moffs.

If you can take the pretension away, as I think most of us at the Ziegfeld did last night, it's a really good time, with some enjoyably over-the-top acting, massive action sequences, great swordplay, and Hayden Christensen in a bathrobe and leather pants. And in the end, isn't that what we go to Star Wars movies for anyway?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

On target this comic is

Episode VIII: Too Long This Post Is, Hmmmm

So, as we established the other day, I'm a big dork, but not a purist. I like the original Star Wars films so much - without crossing the line into thinking they're sacred - that I'm not even as hard on the new ones as most people. Much of the magic is gone, sure, and the writing pretty much blows, but they're still new Star Wars movies. They look and sound pretty, there are some interesting pieces of history falling into a story we already know, and of course I'll watch Ewan McGregor in pretty much anything, even if he doesn't get naked.

From yesterday's Salon: "For years fans of the 'Star Wars' series have been trying to convince us nonbelievers -- and, to an extent, themselves -- that George Lucas is a genius whose work plumbs deep universal themes.... Somehow, a series that began as an enjoyable tongue-in-cheek amusement has turned into a runaway train wreck of convoluted yet facile mythology, one that inexplicably invites, but can't support, constant defense as a serious work. It's not enough that the 'Star Wars' movies are the work of an occasionally clever but mostly simple-minded auteur-wannabe; they've also been hijacked by zealots who insist on assigning weight and meaning to every idiotic frame, spoiling the fun even for average moviegoers who simply have a nostalgic fondness for the original trilogy."

That's pretty on-target for me - even though I'm a more rabid fan than a nostalgic average moviegoer, I'd never call any of these films high art. They're fun. Big-themed, big-budgeted, occasionally pretentious, but basically pulpy action movies with mostly sub-Shatner acting ("...My sister has it. Yesit'syouLeia." "I know. SomehowI've...alwaysknown."). I'm not looking for depth, I'm looking for multiplex escapism, with a little emotion thrown in for good measure, just to remind me I'm watching something more epic than, say Face Off.

Much has been made about the new stuff being more childish, but remember that we were children when we saw the original films. For all the adult themes that are certainly there, my fandom began as a five-year-old's enthusiasm, and playing with action figures. There were surely adults who saw Star Wars and loved it, but I think it's safe to say that the majority of us who grew into scary fans were kids at the start. Still, the original films didn't go out of their way to include the now-obligatory "funny" scene, or the toy-ready creature. I could even make a case for the Ewoks, who were cuddly but also quite cleverly violent, and their deaths are certainly not played for laughs. On the other hand, George Lucas invented the kind of mass-marketing, media tie-in, toy residuals business that Hollywood has become. In 1977 there was little precedent. Now I wouldn't be surprised if McDonald's had a Depression Meal to go with the new Woody Allen movie, with a little Freud doll inside (and I would totally buy that). The point is, it's a different time, and movies are different. The originals hold up, but that's not the same as saying they could be made in the same way today. I don't think they could.

Of course that doesn't excuse plain old bad filmmaking, which transcends time. When I saw Episode I I was too excited to see a lot of its flaws, but even that couldn't save Jar Jar, Watto and the Trade Federation. Jar Jar doesn't make me mad on principle - there's totally room for a kid-friendly, CGI character, and for a storyline about separate factions (the Gungans and the...Nabooians?) coming together against a common enemy. And his position combined with his naïveté set important things in motion in Episode II. But good lord, did he have to be that?? Did he have to be so damn annoying and vaguely racist, and did there have to be so damn much of him?? Even worse was the battle sequence where the Gungans win essentially by accident, falling over themselves in "funny" ways that happen to blow things up. Including, occasionally, themselves. The violence in the original trilogy was sometimes whimsical (see the Ewoks and C3PO) but never comic to the point of having no stakes whatsoever (see Jar Jar and C3PO). Throw the curiously "Arab" Watto and the curiously "Chinese" Trade Federation guys into the mix, and it seems Lucas has some issues, and not just as an artist. Plus, you make your chief bad guys the Trade Federation?? I mean, sure, nefarious corporations are old hat, but these guys have an army!! So, for that matter, does the Banking Clan. What the hell??

Aaaaanyway, that said, I still didn't hate the damn thing. There was plenty to get excited about. And then I made the mistake of seeing it again. Excitement gone, it was not an enjoyable film the second time around. And the biggest reason for that was that Lucas desperately needs an editor. Episode IV was an even 2 hours (plus 5 minutes in the special edition). Episode I is 133 minutes, and Episode II is 143! It seems to me that Lucas just thinks everything he does is brilliant, and in fact much of it, well, isn't. And it's just bad storytelling. Cool as the podrace sequence is, it didn't need to be so long. Neither did the endless underwater journey or the climactic battle. Not no Jar Jar necessarily, but for the love of god, less of him!

Episode II suffers from the same need for cuts, but it's definitely better, if only because it's grown up a little. There's the one sequence that seems to be lifted straight from Super Mario Brothers and destined to be played on the X Box, but not much else in the way of pandering for merchandise. I genuinely liked the complicated politics, sure to go over children's heads. Palpatine starting a war just so he can take power, whichever side wins? That's good stuff! Eeeeeevil. It's hard to tell at time who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, and the Jedi don't know they're essentially working for the wrong side. More good stuff.

But then there's all that pesky dialogue. Really, one of the smartest things Lucas ever did was hand off screenplay duties (not to mention directing) to other people for Empire and Jedi, and I don't know why he didn't do it here. He'd still come up with the story, and obviously keep very tight control on how it turned out, as he does with everything from comic books to video games, but we might have been spared some of the torture of the Anakin/Padme love scenes. I mean, here are two talented, likeable young actors (actually, I hate Natalie Portman but the rest of the world seems to disagree with me), in a beautiful setting (a real one, mind you, CGI-free, just two kids in a field) and they couldn't be more wooden if they were, um, made of wood.

Anyway, after the Episode I experience, I was afraid to watch Attack of the Clones again, preferring to hold on to the relative enjoyment of the first time. But as today drew closer, I realized that I remembered very little of the plot. Which, really, isn't a good thing. Did anyone really need the title crawl to tell them what had happened between chapters of the first trilogy? But anyway I decided to take a chance and rent the DVD. To my great surprise, I enjoyed it more. The plot is really complicated in many respects, and a second viewing actually fleshed some of the details I'd missed the first time. Even the Anakin/Padme stuff didn't bother me as much, as I was less occupied with thinking, "Dear lord, make them stop talking" and instead focused on some interesting seeds being sown in Anakin's character.

On the other hand, watching it again also brought out the plot holes big enough to pilot a star destroyer through. Obi-Wan discovers that some Jedi thought long dead had commissioned a clone army without anyone's order or permission...and nobody questions this? In fact, Palpatine immediately puts the army to good use...and nobody questions that?? Even worse, they find Jango Fett working for the cloners (presumably under orders of the Senate, presumably the good guys), then follow him to another planet where he's working for the unfortunately named Count Dooku (presumably the bad guy), and no one ever questions how and why it is that he's playing both sides? Not even Yoda? And who in her right mind would think that Jar Jar is an appropriate proxy for a senator??

One comment I've heard a lot lately is that everything will fall into place when we see Episode III. True, writing the beginning of a story everyone knows - essentially writing towards the middle of something - is tricky, and I'm sure a lot of the holes will be filled in. But no matter how good it is, it won't make up for bad filmmaking. I really doubt that Jar Jar and the Banking Coalition will play a major role in the fall of the Jedi, so why did we have to spend so much time with them?! And if it were any other series, we wouldn't stand for it. If the first one is bad, the third one doesn't get made! That said, I'm excited for tonight. I can't help it. The music will play and I'll get tingles. We're seeing it at the Ziegfeld, the only old-school single-screen house left in New York, and from Empire to Moulin Rouge where I've had some of my most formative moviegoing experiences. And hopefully the really big nerds all saw it at midnight, so there won't be too much audience participation.

Now that the series is complete, I'm curious to see what happens when they're watched in order from I to VI. When Episode I came out George Lucas said that he'd always intended to tell Anakin's story, not Luke's. It's a complete and total revision of history, since in the 80s he'd said he planned to make a third trilogy, set after Jedi, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, since Anakin's rise, fall and redemption is not a bad story to tell.

But for me, half the fun of the new movies (okay, most of the fun) comes from the little winks and nods to the originals, and the knowledge of things to come. Much of it is heavy-handed, but I can't help getting a kick out of Palpatine calling baby Anakin "Young Skywalker," Obi-Wan telling Anakin, "I have a feeling you'll be the death of me," or the first time we hear the music that will become Luke's theme, or the Imperial March. There's great portent (perhaps too much) given to underwritten lines because we already know who will live, who will die, and who will turn to the Dark Side (and who's already there). Will someone watching the series for the first time (who happens to have spent the last 20 years in a cave), who doesn't know Anakin's destiny, understand or care about any of this?

On the other hand, unlike the way we watched the films the first time around, if we watch the newer ones first the writing will steadily improve as we go!

I recently caught a bit of Empire on TV, and was astonished to find myself getting chills during Luke and Vader's confrontation after Luke loses his hand. I wondered if the scene would have the same impact if, even if you're watching it for the first time, you've known for four movies already that Vader is Luke's father. Of course, I've seen it dozens of times and it still excites me, so I guess it probably will. I'm able to defend them to some degree, but there's not a single moment like that in Episodes I and II.

I know I should know better, but I'm still hopeful there will be one in III. For $10.50 I ought to hope for more than that, but if there's one thing Lucas has done completely successfully, it's engender a frightening level of loyalty and anticipation. Like I said, I'm hooked, and no matter how many times I'm disappointed I'll keep coming back for more. Hopefully this time will be different. And even if it's not, at least it will be the last!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Oops

So, poking around the Entertainment Weekly website today, I was reminded of a classic goof in Star Wars, in which Mark Hamill, caught up in the excitement of the scene in the hangar after the Death Star battle, yells out "Carrie!" (as in Fisher) instead of "Leia!" (as in Organa...yeah, I'm also one of those nerds who knew her last name long before Jimmy Smitts became her "dad"). You can't see his face, and Hamill seems willing to still be involved with the franchise (or at least make fun of it -- he voices his own action figure frequently on Robot Chicken), so it would have been awfully easy to fix. So of course I had to check the DVD when I got home. Still there. And the subtitles say nothing. Lucas didn't like a speck of dust on a matte painting but he doesn't fix that??

Size Matters

Who decided that miniature = cute? And when did our collective consciousness decide to agree? I picked up a new "fridge pack" of Diet Coke in 12 oz. bottles (so, the same size as a can but reclosable) at the grocery store tonight, and when I opened the box and took a bottle out, I thought, "That's the cutest thing ever." Except no, no it's not. It's not a kitten or a bunny or Adam Brody, it's just a little bottle.

Episode VII: Return of the Nerd

It's time to blog about a controversial topic. I've been putting it off ever since the DVDs came out, but as the end draws near I can avoid my destiny no longer. It's time to talk about Star Wars.

Like most kids of my generation, Star Wars was a huge part of my childhood. One of my earliest memories is of my 5th birthday party, 2 months after the release of The Empire Strikes Back, at which my presents included no fewer than four Luke Skywalker X-Wing Pilot action figures. Though I was too young for it in the theater, I must have seen A New Hope 100 times on HBO by age ten. In elementary school my friends -- not even all giant nerds! -- and I would reenact scenes in the park. But then after Jedi, when hope for prequels or sequels faded away, so did Star Wars. I didn't read comic books, and there wasn't the promise of a new video game release every six months like there is now. We didn't own a VCR until I was 12, and by then I had "outgrown" the action figures, most of which went (this still pains me) to the synagogue rummage sale.

Then, in tenth grade, I had a crazy English teacher who showed Star Wars in class in connection with our reading of The Odyssey. She was a rotten teacher, reviled by all, and except for the overall ideas Lucas borrowed from classical myths I've never seen any connection between the two (Ms. Mace was fond of saying "search for the father, search for the father" like some sort of well-read parrot, but neither Odysseus nor Luke actually set out to do that...or search for anything for that matter, both were fighting wars and one was just trying to get home) but watching the film again as a teenager was my downfall. By this time I had accepted teenage nerddom, but I guess I was a little surprised to discover how much I still enjoyed Star Wars -- possibly more than I had originally!. I rented the others, and the darker Empire, which had never quite grabbed me as a child, quickly became my favorite. It was all over. I was hooked and there was no turning back.

Now, I'm a pretty big fan and a pretty big nerd, but certainly not as big as those guys already lining up outside the Ziegfeld in their homemade Jedi robes. Big enough though to be able to listen to the score of A New Hope and recite dialogue in the right places ("If they traced the robots here they may have learned who they sold them too and that would lead them back...home!" cue the landspeeder string section). Big enough to have always called it A New Hope, even before the new films came out and made such things, um, fashionable.

But I'm actually not a hardcore purist. Yes of course I wish the films I'd grown up with were on DVD as I grew up with them, but I don't think the rereleases are a travesty at all. In 1997 I was thrilled simply by the prospect of seeing them in the theater again. The changes I object to I object to because they're bad filmmaking, not because they're changes. The added Jabba scene in Episode IV, for example, was cut from the original film because it's a bad scene! Adding a CGI slug (and a poorly-animated one at that) doesn't change the fact that the scene goes nowhere and repeats -- practically word for word -- dialogue and exposition we've just heard elsewhere. I have no problem with the expanded ending of Jedi, and since the people who do are also generally anti-Ewok (I am not, though remember I was 8 when I first saw the movie), I'd think they'd be thrilled that the little furballs no longer sing! (Yub nub, ichub yub nub...) The changes I love though are the ones you hardly notice. Empire, where no scene was added or significantly changed, fares best, with cosmetic fixes like windows and balconies in Cloud City where there were once blank white walls, and new sound effects on Hoth and the Asteroid Field. And the thing is, in the age of DVDs, we're so used to director's cuts and alternate endings, I'm not entirely sure why everyone reacts so badly to "tampering" with Star Wars. Why is an altered re-release of Donnie Darko treated like the second coming, but Lucas is the anti-Christ? Okay, you wouldn't go and add a scene to Casablanca, but a) Star Wars ain't Casablanaca, and b) you would clean it up for a new release, and in the age of big budget special effects pictures, this is what cleaning it up means.

Lucas kind of won me over in an Entertainment Weekly interview about the DVD, so here's a rather large quote: "Film is so expensive, and it's run by corporations. They just take it away from you, and it's frozen in time at the point where it got yanked out of your hands. I've been lucky enough to be able to go back and say 'No, I'm going to finish this the way it was meant to be finished.' When Star Wars came out, I said it didn't turn out the way I wanted -- it's 25 percent of what I wanted it to be. It was very painful for me. So the choice came down to, do I please myself and [finally] make the movie that I wanted, or do I allow the audience to see the half-finished version that they fell in love with? ... Nobody seems to mind the [idea of a] ''director's cut.'' But to go the next step and say, had they given me another week's shooting, or another $50,000 to finish these matte paintings, this is what the film would look like -- well, it's not a matter of changing your mind. Star Wars was not meant, in the end, to be seen more than once in a movie theater. It was designed to be a large theatrical experience that, if you saw it once on a giant screen, would blow you away. But this was before there was such a thing as DVD. If you went down and sort of analyzed it and looked at it frame by frame, you can see the tricks that are going on. There's a lot of stuff that's very thin, as in any old movie.... I fall 100 percent on the side of the right of the artist to alter it."

He's undoubtedly arrogant, but I can't say I argue with his logic, or with his right as an artist to alter his work if he chooses to do so. Georges Seraut painted over parts of "La Grande Jatte" after it had already been displayed, and nobody reviles him for it! True, a painting is hardly a thing of mass media consumption, but conceptually artists have being doing what Lucas has done for centuries.

Anyway, taken entirely on their own merits, the DVDs pretty much rock. The movies look and sound spectacular, and the bonus features are certainly in-depth (it's a wonder anyone ever went to the movies at all, trailers in the 70s and 80s were so bad). Only a few changes have been made between '97 and now, almost all of them related to the new movies. Lucas has always stated a desire to make prequels. Had he made them in the 80s, I'm not convinced he would have made these prequels, but then if he'd made his first draft of Star Wars, Luke would have been 60 and named Starkiller. Anyway, with 20 years between trilogies, and the technology to do so, why not go back and make it all fit together better, as it would have done if he had made 1-3 as originally planned? No amount of CGI revision can take away the spirit and life of those films (in other words, he can't turn them into Episode I no matter how hard he tries).

I'm a stickler for continuity anyway, so I can't really complain about a change like inserting Ian McDairmid into the brief scene in Empire in which the Emperor appears holographically. Sure, it sucks for the original actor (or his heirs) but it's McDairmid's performance in Jedi that defined who that character is, and if you're watching the movies for the first time in order from 1 through 6 (as Lucas would like you to), it's actually quite important that you recognize the Emperor as Palpatine. And I'm not sure, as a kid anyway, I ever knew who that guy who appears with Yoda and Obi-Wan at the end of Jedi was, since we'd never seen an undisfigured Anakin. So now it's Hayden Christensen, which I have to admit makes more sense.

I'm actually surprised he didn't change more. I'm curious that he's striving for continuity but didn't re-score anything. The music in the new films is John Williams' best work since...well, Return of the Jedi, and makes up for the sins of Harry Potter. But (major nerd alert), for example, Yoda's theme and the Imperial March weren't introduced until Episode V, the Emperor's theme until Episode VI, yet all are featured heavily in the new movies. Since Star Wars' music has always been an integral part of its storytelling, I think it will be weird when these themes drop out. Or, for that matter, when Anakin's doesn't return at the end. There's so much material at this point that they probably could have even done it without having to hire an orchestra to record new stuff. That does, I suppose, back up the argument that for Lucas it's all about him, and Williams' work (like those two bit players who wound up on the digital cutting room floor) is irrelevant to his "vision."

Oh well...I still have my old pan-and-scan videotapes of the original original trilogy, and my letterboxed edition from 1997. I haven't had time to sit down and watch the whole thing yet, but I'm thrilled to have it on DVD at last, altered or not. I got kind of tangenty here, and I'm not entirely sure what I set out to say. Tomorrow, thoughts on the new movies (spoiler-free, of course!).