Tuesday, April 25, 2006

performance art? happening? or just a weird way to spend a saturday?

The Living Dead take the streets of Boston on April 29 at ZombieMarch 2006. Here, the undead at Halfway to Human explain why they do what they do:

The March was conceived in the festive spirit of humor and absurdity. The point is for everyone to come and have a good time while dressed as zombies. That's all.

Man, I love the world we live in...

Friday, April 21, 2006

a review: loudQUIETloud

During the question and answer session following a screening of their movie at the Independent Film Festival of Boston, documentary filmmakers Steven Cantor and Matthew Galkin related the following story about their subjects in the movie loudQUIETloud: a film about THE PIXIES: while sitting with the band in a café negotiating permission to film them on their 2004 reunion tour, Cantor and Galkin noticed a group of teenagers at the next table over. All were wearing shirts celebrating the Pixies. None of them recognized the band sitting mere feet away.

I imagine this sort of thing happens to them a lot.

To call the Pixies a little mysterious or slightly under the radar is like saying Britney Spears is sort of white trash. Formed in Massachusetts in 1986 the band churned out four ground-breaking alt-rock albums that gained barely more than a cult following (but countless imitators) before disbanding in 1993. No one has the full story on why the band split, but the accepted explaination is tensions between front man Charles "Black Francis" Thompson and bassist Kim Deal. They don’t talk about the split, or much else, to the press, and since their music was never about their image, it’s not surprising a cluster of hardcore Pixie fans have no clue what their idols look like.

I count myself among them—hardcore Pixie fans, that is—and I had never seen an image of them until last night’s screening. When the band reunited for a “warm-up” tour in 2004, filmmakers (and hardcore fans) Cantor and Galkin saw an opportunity to shed some light on the mystery that is The Pixies. Following them through Europe and the U.S., the film captures a band reacquainting itself with the road and each other. Their crowds are bigger than ever and their music still sharp; yet old patterns surface and new neurosis emerge. In the end, loudQUIETloud depicts the triumphant return and simultaneous disintegration of a band.

The film opens with the briefest of recaps on what each of the band’s members have been doing the past 11 years. Side projects abound: Thompson records a dozen mildly successful albums under the pseudonym Frank Black, lead guitar Joey Santiago takes on family life and movie scores, Deal hits rehab, and drummer David Lovering pursues metal detecting and magic. All of them could use some money—and renewed creative expression.

Their first awkward rehearsal reveals hope for the reunion and fear that the musical chemistry they had all those years ago might be gone. Once they bound a few humorous hurtles (Thompson knocking over a mic stand, Deal consulting her ipod to remember their tunes), it’s clear that they still have it.

Looking their forty-something years—more substitute teacher than rockstar—the band hits the stage of their first sold-out show wearing t-shirts and mute expressions. Santiago shuffles unobtrusively while turning out mind-blowing guitar riffs, Deal chain smokes behind a mic stand and smiles like she can’t believe she’s really there, Lovering bounces happily in the background, and Thompson—bald and fighting a losing battle of the bulge—whales and screams like the apocalypse has arrived. It becomes all too apparent that in this show—unlike so many current bands worshipped for their ability to take a pretty picture—music is the star.

Early in the tour we get a glimpse of what might have initially torn the Pixies apart. We see the four waiting backstage before a show, keyed up and silent. Nervous smiles are exchanged and rituals ensue (Lovering beats out a rhythm with his drum sticks while Deal clutches cigarettes in one hand and an O’Doul’s in the other). At first I thought this was a unique occurrence, the picture of a band silenced by their delight to be back on top and their fear of jinxing it. But silence, it appears, is the currency of the Pixies. Riding in separate buses, separated by hotel room walls, the four don’t know what the others are thinking—and none of them has the impetus to ask. As Thompson put it during one (solo) phone interview, “We don’t really talk to each other that much.”

Could it be that unlike most bands, whose egos and larger-than-life personalities drive them to fiery blowouts, the Pixies were slowly picked apart by introversion and silence?

Perhaps. But as we get deeper into the film, it becomes clear that silence is not their only enemy. As the tour progresses, each band member’s quirks and neurosis is intensified. Deal clings to her twin sister and fellow Breeders band mate, Kelly, for support. Without the crutches of drugs and alcohol, she finds comfort in the addictions of family, cigarettes, and non-alcoholic beer. The death of Lovering’s father sends him into a spiral of depression and denial as he turns to popping pills and drinking to dull the pain. Bad shows and band resentment ensues. Santiago—the most reserved of the bunch—sees Lovering’s imminent self-destruction, but refuses to speak up about it, expecting Thompson to step up to the plate. A wife and toddler at home, and his second child born while on the road, Santiago’s family longings also take a toll. Finally, Thompson is torn between the benefits of being a front man and the pressure of its responsibilities. Slightly resentful his solo career didn’t have greater success, he wants the Pixies to start recording new material, but can only drop passive aggressive hints to that effect.

Of course, loudQUIETloud wouldn’t be palatable if it only focused on the quiet self-destruction of its subjects. Interspersed between illuminating scenes of doubt and tension is footage of some amazing shows. Just when the dysfunction of the group seems like too much to bear Cantor and Galkin take you to bliss at the foot of the stage. The pounding rhythms, passionate wailing, and soft melodies of songs like Hey, Debaser, and U-Mass hit you like a beautiful jolt. The crowd sings along and the music flows, unrepentant and unafraid. It’s in those moments that the memory of backstage tension melts away, and we have hope that the Pixies will be lead by what they all have in common: the sweet, sweet music.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

battle of the films

A little update on End of the Line, the Tufts film I worked on a couple weeks ago...

Directors Jordan, Jon, and Zach entered the Campus Movie Fest, a national competition that challenges student filmmakers to conceive, write, and shoot a short film in five days. End of the Line was rated a top Tufts entry and has a chance to compete city-wide at the judging/screening tomorrow night. The best 16 films selected from six Boston schools will be shown at the John Hancock Center at 7:30pm. I'll be there, crossing my fingers for a win (or, at the very least, a viewing), and I hope you'll send out some good thoughts for the film.

Oh, and if you check out the CMF homepage, I'm included in a photo collage at the bottom of the screen--super close-up with sunshine halo. Hear that? That's the sound of absurd glee. Oh good lord, somebody put a vice on my head.

Monday, April 17, 2006

welcoming spring

Windy, crisp, and bright outside, Thom and I took a walk along the river yesterday to celebrate the arrival of spring (and to get off our lazy asses). It was a gorgeous four-mile trek that ended at the Boston Commons. Here are some highlights:

Cherry Blossoms! They started blooming before almost anything else, and they just make me feel like dancing.

Mom and Dad Goose, tending the nest.

This tree was blown down and cracked this winter, but it's still starting to show buds.

Boston University sailing team doing drills.

Poor Arthur Fielder, he doesn't deserve this treatment. People should put their children on leashes.

Oops! Well, at least it looks like Thom and I are a match made in heaven.

Friday, April 14, 2006

lofty thoughts on lowbrow humor

Very interesting article in USAToday about The Waiter Rule: how you treat a waiter can predict character.

On a different (though perhaps related) subject, lately I've noticed the trend in "edgy" television shows of using the cover of irony to say racist or offensive things. The Mind of Mencia and Wonder Showzen are two examples I've come across recently.

Mencia's attitude is that the stereotypes he talks about are inherently true, though liberal America is afraid to admit it. He pokes fun at his own culture as much as he does African American, Asian, White, and Middle Eastern.

I don't think spouting the politically correct idea that everyone is the same and ignoring all cultural differences is a useful way to promote equality. Yet I find Mencia's comedy very cynical--rather than elevating people, or exploring the exceptions, he reaffirms the same negative stereotypes we've seen a thousand times.

And I'll admit, he can be f*cking hilarious. But I always walk away from his show feeling a little dirty and certainly no more enlightened.

Where Mencia uses the "hey, I'm just being honest" tactic, Wonder Showzen hides behind the the Irony Defense: we can say anything hurtful, disgusting, or ignorant as long as it's couched as irony. It's the idea that being ironic proves your superior stance on a subject. Maybe it's funny, but more than that it's smug, and ultimately offers nothing but self-righteous defeatism.

I like irony, and I think it can be used very effectively. Look at South Park, a show many people would lump in with the ones I've been discussing. While there is no doubt Trey Parker and Matt Stone push the limits of good taste--hell, they knock the limits down, run them over, and piss on them--I believe behind all of their disgusting, offensive plotlines is optimism.

Hey, stop laughing.

No, I mean it, bear with me.

They know people can be better--and that doesn't mean "more progressive" as you can see from the clip above. What they do with almost every episode is take the piss from people who think they have all the answers. They believe there is no Truth (with a capital T) and that True Believers are inherently misinformed and blinded by their cause.

Their message over and over again is that people should be more tolerant, that we all have different points of view--and some make more sense than others--but that no one has all the answers. They reject the arrogance of Rush Limbaugh and Alec Baldwin alike; they question authority and expose the ignorance of the masses in the same breath; they are frustrated by the stupidity of the world yet optimistic about its ability to change.

And yes, they like piss and fart jokes.

I don't think comedy should be sanitized or safe. But I do believe everything we do--from treating waiters with respect to making people laugh--should be an attempt to leave the world a better place than we found it.

Monday, April 10, 2006

an actor updates

This year has had a sluggish beginning, but apparently my slump is officially over.

I wrapped a Tufts student film this weekend which featured Walter, The Amazing Saint Bernard Puppy! If Walter's head and paws are any indication of his future mass, his body (now the size of a full-grown Lab) will be no smaller than a horse in a few months time. The movie, a dark story about a delinquet dogsitter, will be submitted to a short film contest tonight. Good luck Jordan, John, and Zack!

Later in the month I'll be working on two independent features. In Absent Father--a film about a woman who experiences immaculate conception--I play the nurse who delivers the next child of God. And in Hunting Dignity, I am the barfly friend of a writer at the end of his rope.

The project I'm most excited about has a few details to work out, but the idea is that I will be playing Ophelia in Shawn Cody's adaptation of Hamlet, going up this summer in a soon-to-be-determined location. I worked with Shawn's Shakespeare East company last summer on Hal Harry Henry, and though my role in it was relatively small, it was one of the best experiences I've had on stage.

It feels fantastic to be working again and to have more projects on the horizon. I've had lots of time to ponder this, but I'm much happier being over-worked than under-worked. Maybe one day I'll find a balance, but for now I'm just lucky to be doing what I love.

Friday, April 07, 2006

a hit, a very palpable hit

Well, my friends, I am one step closer to being a truly kick-ass fighter.

I achieved my small sword certification from the Society of American Fight Directors last night and I am just pumped!

My partner, Dan, and I had a strong fight and we performed with enthusiasm and (I hope) humor. A few folks were testing in multiple weapons including my instructor, Ted Hewlett, who tested and passed something like five weapons. He's a machine!

As I mentioned before, I had two partners for the test--we were both doing the same scene from The Rover. Matt couldn't be there for last night's exam, so we tested this morning with a class of Harvard grad students doing their hand-to-hand. The pressure was off for me since I had already passed (they would have had to pry that certificate from my cold, dead hands), but not Matt. I felt relaxed and confident and I think we did very well.

I left before he got his results, but I'm pretty sure he's in the clear.

As for me, I can't wait to take another test and to keep kicking some pretend ass.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

down with censorship!

I woke up this morning to find it simultaneously raining and snowing. Is that really possible?

It's a bit depressing when we had such beautiful weather last week, but I knew it couldn't last. And I'm not a cynic--I just happen to be realistic about the tease-you-and-freeze-you nature of Boston.

Along with a return to the cold, this morning brought with it unbelievably painful cramps. I spent hours in bed shifting from side to side, accidentally kicking Thom's shins, and cursing my female bits. I've had a dull throbbing pain the rest of the day, leaving me pretty much wiped out. I'm tired and I need chocolate.

I hope that the pain, embarrassment, and hassle of this particular aspect of womanhood isn't all for naught. I hope that when I eventually have kids, I can come to appreciate this as a trial, as a test of my resilience, proof that I have earned my right to motherhood. Because otherwise it's just another piece of shit women get to deal with right alongside unequal pay and leg waxing.

I'm obviously not moody at all, am I?

I'm usually hesitant to share intimate details like this--particularly the kind of details that tend to alienate the boys or turn my face beet red--but I'm finding it's just not that fun to censor myself anymore.

I have a strict "No Shit Talking" policy regarding my work. I'll talk about the specifics of my acting projects only when I have nice things to say, because I never know when something negative could come back to bite me in the ass.

It seems like an important policy if I hope to continue acting in Boston. But all that self-censorship goes against what I'm trying to do with this blog. I want to be honest about my life, I want to find patterns in my experiences and maybe learn something from them.

So if I have to censor aspects of my career, I am going to make a concerted effort not to censor things I don't have to--even if I think it'll make someone uncomfortable (including myself).

So here it is world: I have my period.

I've said it and I'm not completely mortified. I guess that's a start.