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Friends,

In the comments of my last post, an old and dear friend suggested I list the top ten most influential films that shaped my life. My dad always said that Galen and my twin language growing up was quoting movies. And in the interest of reflective knowledge obtained through listing top 5 or top 10s (and also, in the interest of keeping what tiny heartbeat there is of this blog a’goin) I give you numbers 10-6 of the top ten influential movies of my life.

10. Reservoir Dogs: Well. I am a child of the 80’s and 90’s. I also love film. So, it’s no surprise that I fall under the group of people heavily (and overly) influenced by Reservoir Dogs specifically, and Quentin Tarantino generally. Or maybe, Reservoir Dogs is on this list, by default, because  let’s face it: the man collects residuals for creative input for just about EVERY film made since 1992. Another way to say the same thing: you can’t throw a guy in a suit with sunglasses in this town without hitting some filmmaker Tarantino claims as a dependent on his taxes. I wanted this spot to go to Goodfellas, the better film. But I saw Reservoir Dogs first. And it was watching Reservoir DogsPulp Fiction, and True Romance that introduced me to gangster pictures. We watched Reservoir Dogs in the 7th grade at a friend’s house (the same friend we used to sneak over to to watch late night HBO & Cinemax the summer before 6th grade–forehead slap) and came back home the end of the weekend quoting the Madonna “Like a Virgin” speech, and insisting Mom and Dad watch the coolest movie ever!  My mom still warns me “it better not be Reservoir Dogs” if I recommend a movie to her.

9. Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy. Though I think this film had the public reception that It’s Pat did, everyone of my siblings knows this movie backwards and forwards. We quote it every time we’re all together, and we still laugh. (Dumb and Dumberbe damned!) I’ve shown this movie to friends who laughed as much as I do to it. On the other hand, I’ve met people–fans of Kids in the Hall at that!–who don’t like it! The film, composed of the original five Kids in the Hall (“You see that moon up there? No, that one”) who play most of the speaking rolls in the film, follows a group of scientists rise and fall when their miracle drug “Gleemonex” cures depression. I think the film influenced me in a couple of ways. For one, it’s a great point of contact for my siblings. But I saw it in junior high, and at a time when I wanted to fit in and so, tried desperately to laugh and requote lines from FridayBrain Candy introduced me to a better comic style at a pivotal time. I mean, it could’ve happened that I spent the last 15 years trying to make people laugh by squinting my face and saying “Daaaaaaaaaamn!” In stead, now I think its funny if a suicidal death metal performer walks on stage after taking an anti-depression drug and sings, “Happiness and sunshine and cute little puppydogs; these are things that I’ve seen with my heart.”

8. Deconstructing Harry. I saw this before I saw Annie Hall. My first Woody Allen film. Though, not his best, when I watched it, I thought, “this is what you can do creatively; this is what you can do with jokes.” Woody Allen has this absurd and terribly smart way of doing things. Even in his crappy films, there are these touches of genius. And when you see or read his genius moments, even just the briefest ones, the possibilities of what can be done creatively flourish. I don’t think anything has been as influential for my sense of humor as becoming familiar with Woody Allen’s catalogue. It motivates me to be intelligent enough to get a joke, and clever enough to tell my own.  Two moments come up in Deconstructing Harry.The first is the segment involving Robin Williams as an out of focus actor. According to the film, this was a short story the main character once wrote. The segment begins from the point of view of a camera lens on set. Robin Williams and some other actor are about to do a scene, but Robin Williams is out of focus. The camera man looks away from his lens, and Robin Williams is still out of focus. To everyone on set he’s out of focus. When he goes home, he scares his wife and children because he’s blurry. I laugh thinking about it. How perfect! The second moment: Woody Allen’s character muses he always thought his friend, played by Billy Chrystal, is the devil. At one point, the two run into each other at the store after not seeing each other for a few years. After they catch up and reconnect, the scene ends with Woody Allen looking around and saying, “I’m sorry, does anybody else smell burning sulphur?”

7. Good Will Hunting: Okay. There’s flaws in this movie. I’m totally aware of them. Nevertheless, it still ranks in my top ten all time movies. And definitely in my top ten most influential movies for my life. I once broke up with a girlfriend because she fell asleep in this movie, if that helps. You know how girls relate waaaay too much to Sex in the City, and really really want to be, you know, whoever that girl is in it? I’m like that with Good Will Hunting. I’m not going to say I wouldn’t have studied philosophy and literature if I never saw Good Will Hunting, but I will say that Matt Damon’s character has always been in my mind as, at least part of, an ideal of what an man could be. I mean, I want to know books well enough to smack people around with my book smarts; but be street smart enough to smack ’em around. Somehow this movie perfectly combined a badass hero who liked books, beer, friends, and a girl.

6. Batman: The original Tim Burton’s Batman was one of the first movies I was excited to see. And also one of the first movies I saw on opening night. I thought my parents wouldn’t let us see it (it was rated PG-13; I was 7), but then they surprised us with tickets. The thrill didn’t die, and all summer I hoarded as many items of Batman merchandise I could convince my parents to buy. But what really makes Batman so influential for me, is it was the first movie I needed to know how it was done. When Batman came on video, I got a copy of it for Christmas (Galen got Who Framed Roger Rabbit). I insisted we watch it every day, so–and I quote–“I could understand it better.” (Look. I think Galen rolled his eyes then, so it’s okay if you do now.) There’s a point in Batman, when the Joker killed the guy with the electric hand buzzer, I couldn’t understand what was going on. I asked a bunch of people. How did they kill the guy? I asked my friend Tony. What he told me I believed for years afterwords. He said, “look, David, a movie’s a really important thing; sometimes they need to kill someone in it, so people realize how important it is, and they really do die in the movie.” I know what you’re thinking, “David, Jack Nicholson’s character died in the movie, but he appeared in movies you saw after Batman while you still held this belief. What gives?” That was easy. With superstars like Nicholson, they never showed them die. They always cut away.

Pratfalls

On A Year Without Smoke

Friends,

I received a text from a friend of mine the other day. It read, “Good Lord, David. I don’t know if you ever thought about UPDATING YOUR BLOG!!!!”

Evidently, I haven’t written anything here in something like two months. Eh. I also haven’t had my own computer in two months. It’s dead. After five years, it finally coughed up its last usable output in the form of a suicide note, permanently substituting the picture of me swallowed by the ocean, You’re Computer Cannot Operate Any Longer.

So, I’m in the business of looking for a new computer. I’ve decided to dedicate my income tax return to this business. And I’ve been fairly diligent in my looking. I’ve visited every store that sells laptops I can find. I’ve compared the Sony Vaio’s to the Mac books; the Mac books with the Mac book pros. I even had this stint of comparing those little tiny $250 laptops. I’m currently leaning towards the Mac book. We’ll know for sure in the next few days.

Anyway, you didn’t come here to hear about me deliberating about computers. You came here for a show!

Today, I have two things for you. First, in honor of my old computer, the background I had its whole life:

That was taken in November 2005 when my little sister visited Los Angeles for the first time. We weren’t expecting the waves.

And second, the viral video I’ve posted on (mark it) six people’s facebook walls.

That just tickles me to no end.

One last thing. As of today, I haven’t smoked a cigarette in exactly one year. I thought about writing a whole blog about it…about when it was hard and what kept me clean. I may still do that someday, but right now it feels a little self-congratulatory. (What do you guys think?) I think it’ll suffice to say that I haven’t smoked a cigarette in a year. I also haven’t had any tobacco or smoking product of any kind in that time. Unless you count second-hand smoke. In that case, you’re an externalist about smoking, and so, an externalist about intentional action. That makes you an externalist about responsibility, and that leads to an infinite regress! How can it be that part of what makes me responsible for my own intentional action, is your intentional action, which would be determined (to some degree) by someone else’s intentional action, and on and on and on? Well…we can talk about that later if you like.

Pratfalls

On Rain in LA

Friends,

1.

As any girl worth her weight in body-image issues knows, caution comes in comments like “a minute on your lips equals a lifetime on your hips.” So, maybe my cheerleader-mom mother never warned me against chocolate, but I know the aftermath of indulgence. And because I never listen to the warnings, I learn the hard way. I’m not great with caution. I’m keen to spite. If someone warns me my chocolate bar equals a lifetime on my hips, I’m likely to buy another and point out how great my metabolism is, that I have to work hard to sustain weight, and even if I didn’t, I still like the chocolate! I do like the chocolate. When I quit smoking I took up milk-chocolate. A pound a day for a stretch.

Some things are too good. Some indulgences, even the briefest taste, can be too much. And the consequences hurt, but they do so surprisingly. They come at you not because you indulged a little, but because you can’t stay there, in that indulgence, any longer. You can’t taste the chocolate more than a minute. You can’t stay at the chocolate shop.

2.

Consider the following scenario. A thirsty traveler walks down a path to a perpendicular road. There’s two wells, one on each side of the path, each one the same distance from the path. He chooses the well to the left. Why? He just as easily could have chosen the well to the right. There is nothing special about the left well, there is no overriding reason which favors it. The choice is arbitrary. Perhaps at some far away synapse, a neural transmitter fired left instead of right. Perhaps the person is left-handed and tends to go left.

I know people who’ve studied and published for decades on the topic of freedom of the will. Yet, they say, it’s still a mystery.

Here’s what I think we want.

We want to understand and respect this phenomena we call, the will. We want to say someone can, at any moment, chose A or chose not-A. We want our explanation to cohere with the findings from neuroscience and social science while retaining our intuitions about everyday choice.

So far, so good for the methodology of the metaphysics of agency. What about the practical, everyday side of freedom? We want to say that the best decision is not an arbitrary decision. We want our decisions to count. To help people. To aid in our flourishing as people. We want to respect decisions. But here’s the rub: what happens when we encounter uninformed decisions? What happens when we see people who decide A in spite of all the evidence against it?

What’s funny is that you can get your most persuasive, most logical, most informed and good-hearted advocate to explain every reason against my decision in the most persuasive, logical, and loving manner possible, and I can stand by my decision. Even if I recognize I’m in the wrong. Even if you manage to convince me to change my belief. Out of stubbornness. Out of pride. Out of gumption. Out of adherence to a party-line or the expectations of others. Out of fear of the unknown. Out of fear of being indecisive. Because I once got a bad feeling from you. Because I can tell that you’re trying to convince me of something, and that makes me think you’ve got an agenda, and that means you can’t be right.

3.

So, it’s been raining in LA. A lot.  I love the rain and miss the thunderstorms of north Texas. It never rains in LA. The Los Angeles Basin has a warm Mediterranean climate which averages 15 inches of precipitation annually. But this week it’s been grand.

You can make the rain signify what you like. Just like you can make just about anything signify just about anything else. Sometimes the connections make more sense. Evidently, the manner by which a counseled person goes for tissues can track the manner by which she accepts help. Some person won’t accept the tissue, unless the therapist sets it in her lap.

I was in Long Beach on Sunday. Downtown, by the Aquarium. It started raining earlier than planned and drizzled all night. Monday morning, I worked outside in the squall. We had to reset the event space I work at, and I led a team of guys heaving furniture back and forth for four hours while the rain diagonaled us like arrows. That’s some manly work, if I do say so myself. (And girls. Yes, after the rain soaked my sweatshirt well-passed functionality, I was wearing a wet white t-shirt, lifting heavy things; wink.) At one point I ran from storage building to event space and took a spill on the concrete. But it hurt the way getting hit in a fight hurts, I welcomed the blow to the job at hand.

Wednesday, I walked up and down old Pasadena under an umbrella for over an hour after counseling. My therapist told me he felt rushed today. I said, “I don’t want to add anything on your day. Maybe we could sit here for a minute.” Then I started retelling my weekend. Heavy stuff, some of it. He interrupted. Asked, “why did you say you didn’t want to add anything to my day?” Throughout the story, I hadn’t cried or anything. When he asked me that, I broke down. I reached for the tissues and told him, “I don’t want to burden you with this stuff.” Then I laughed. I said, “I never thought I’d have to use the tissues here.”

4.

The 20th-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once inherited a huge fortune. He gave it to his billionaire sisters. He said, “Money corrupts, so best give it to the already corrupted.”

5.

I’m tired of missing people. Passing each other by.

I met up with my ex-girlfriend on Sunday in Long Beach. I needed to say some things. It was supposed to be closure. We ended up talking far longer than I planned. It was far better than I expected. But it was too good. It was like a chocolate store. It was like spending a year hearing about steak, then getting only a single bite. And I understand that she’s made certain choices. Overwhemingly, I understand that. But I don’t understand why the choices are what they are. When we met the other day, I couldn’t remember the why. Our meeting was intimate and sincere and authentic. But the choices are there. Somehow we missed each other again.

And what happens when I got in the car? “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac was playing. Son of a bitch!

I’ll close with this. For the laughers out there.

Pratfalls

On Dolly Parton

Friends,

I’ve been listening to a lot of Dolly Parton lately.

Prolegamena

Now, some of you  may lean forward and say something like, “Okay, I’m interested.” That would be my parents. And my sisters, who, somehow managed to escape our childhood without hating country music.

Granted. Most kids these days answer something like “everything but country music” when a first date asks, “what type of music do you like?”. I accept that answer. Though I’ll note, when I hear that answer I suspect I’ve encountered a hasty generalization. (And you know what they say about hasty generalizations.) But another thing happens when I hear someone say they don’t like country music. I feel like they don’t get it. They haven’t seen what I’ve seen. I want to one-up. I want to say, “oh yeah? You hate country music, do you? Did your family own country radio stations growing up? They didn’t? Well then. Raspberries.”

That’s right. My family fed us (mainly peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; instant breakfast in the mornings; pizza Friday nights) because they owned and managed country radio stations. My dad–who taught himself trigonometry and electronics from a basic knowledge of geometry–did all the technical and computer work for the radio stations. So not only did we have to listen to the country music stations because they were our stations, but Dad had to constantly check the frequency modulations (fm) or the amplitude modulations (am) of the signals. That meant, we had to listen to country music. All the time.

The sisters, I suppose, complied. God love ’em, but they’ve kind of always liked country music. Galen and I rebelled. We hated country music. We huffed and puffed, but Mom and Dad would rarely, if ever, turn the dial to Dallas rock stations.

A funny story. 6th grade. Radio stations call broadcasting live from an off-campus location, “remotes”. So the local radio station is doing a Saturday morning remote from a local grocery store. Our family attends the remote, goes inside for some groceries, and comes out toward the broadcasters. My brother–wearing ripped jeans and bandanna and, if I remember correctly, holding a Guns N’ Roses tape-sleeve–runs to the DJ broadcasting live. The DJ says something like, “Well, it’s the Gilberts; and here’s little Galen to say hello.” Galen grabs the live mic away from everyone and live to all of East Texas says, “Country music sucks! You all suck! You suck! Heavy Metal rules! Country Sucks!! AAHHHHHH!”

Well. The rebellious side of ole’ Dave Gilbert waned. I’ve learned to cheerfully expect country in certain settings–a dive bar, a diner, etc. More than that, I’ve incorporated many a country-western artist into my regular circulation of songs I love. (Generation Y thanks you, Johnny Cash.) But most of the time I approach a country artist with a hermeneutics of suspicion. I have to be sold. I have to be wooed and caressed. The country music needs to be gentle, and I need to see it echo the blues or folk, or otherwise clearly understand its derivation from some more respected branch of pop music.

The Juice

I guess I avoided Dolly Parton pretty well. ‘Always thought of her as a little too much. Dollyworld, the hickupy cheerful personality, the hair, and (obviously) the chest. And, she always kind of reminded me of Jan Crouch. I could have a decent appreciation of the women making good country music without ever listening to Dolly Parton. Minus, of course, the song “Jolene” (the remakes of which excede the original).

So, when I got in my little sister’s car to drive her to the airport the other day, and a Dolly Parton’s Greatest Hits cd came on, I totally groaned. Audibly. “Come on. Dolly Parton? Really?” My little sister protested. “No way, David. She’s awesome! You have to listen to her!” So I did. All the way to the Long Beach Airport. And back. And the next day driving my friends from out of town to LAX. And back. And when I got home on Youtube. And today on Youtube.

Holy crap! Dolly Parton effin rules!

Okay. Yeah. Sometimes she’s too much. I’m thinking how the changeover from the verse to the chorus in “9-to-5” goes from upbeat and bouncy (but tolerably so) to huge and overproduced. But a lot of her stuff! Dude, It rules! And she’s pretty awesome in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Dolly Parton writes (or wrote, I have no idea of her present whereabouts or activities) some beautiful sad songs. Haunting, even. You know the way some of Tammy Wynette’s songs filter through old tube-amps to sound ghostly and tinny? But she’s singing about some heartbreaking stuff? And the end result is this shaky-throat old-time loss I wish could be matched nowadays? Dolly Parton does the same thing, but better. (I totally recognize the fact that I’m talking here about Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette like I’m the first to hear them, but, seriously, this is news to me–and I LOVE IT!).

Okay. So, here’s my recommendations. First. If you’ve never listened to “Jolene“, do so. Listen to the whole Jolene album. It’ll break your heart if you’re not too dulled by the cynicism of the day. I also like the song “Touch Your Woman” quite a bit.

Finally, I can’t get enough of the song, “Bargain Store”. We joked on the way to LAX that the song is about prostitution. But, nay! It isn’t! Please tell me if I’m crazy or mistaken or mistakacrazy here, but this song is so sad and touching. And it’s haunting like the Tammy Wynette stuff. It’s dark and moody. And the metaphor works, where it should be obvious and cliche. I’ll leave you with this.

and this,

My life is like unto a bargain store
And I may have just what you’re lookin’ for
If you don’t mind the fact that all the merchandise is used
But with a little mending it could be as good as new
Why you take for instance this old broken heart
If you will just replace the missing parts
You would be surprised to find how good it really is
Take it and you never will be sorry that you did

The bargain store is open come inside
You can easily afford the price
Love is all you need to purchase all the merchandise
And I will guarantee you’ll be completely satisfied

Take these old used memories from the past
And these broken dreams and plans that didn’t last
I’ll trade them for a future, I can’t use them anymore
I’ve wasted love but I still have some more

The bargain store is open come inside
You can easily afford the price
Love is all you need to purchase all the merchandise
And I can guarantee you’ll be completely satisfied

My life is like unto a bargain store
And I may have just what you’re lookin’ for
If you don’t mind the fact that all the merchandise is used
With a little mendin’ it could be as good as new

The bargain store is open, come inside
The bargain store is open, come inside

Wow. Thanks, Dolly. I think I will come inside.

Pratfalls.

Maybe the best scene/montage from a movie the last decade.

Pratfalls

Friends,

I’ve compiled my list of my favorite movies of the decade. It’s a top 10 list, but you may notice that there’s more than 10 movies listed. Don’t worry. The numbers don’t lie. What we have here is simply the overwhelming presence of the literary device I like to call, “the tie.”

So, here it goes. Pratfalls of the Macabre’s top 10 films of the decade. In order from the best.

1. Mystic River (minus the last 10 minutes…which, are horrible).
2. The Departed/All three Lord of the Rings movies (a tie!)
3. No Country For Old Men/O Brother Where Art Thou/The Man Who Wasn’t There (a tie!)
4. Let the Right One In/City of God/A Very Long Engagement (a tie!)
5. Match Point/Closer (a tie!)
6. In America
7. In Bruge/Brick/Perfume (a tie!)
8. 28 Days Later/Sunshine (2007)/The Beach (a tie!)
9. Batman Begins/The Dark Knight (a tie!)
10. Inglorious Basterds/The Hurt Locker (a tie!)

Pratfalls

On 2009 and the decade

Friends,

I think I’m going to miss the decade. I would relive most of the decade. My top five years of the decade (starting with the best): 2007, 2008, 2000, 2006, and 2003.

2009, though. Not 2009. With 2009 I feel like a teacher waiting late after class for that failing student to show up and turn in something great. But with 6 hours left on the edge of the decade, I’m pessimistic. 2009 is going to fail.

I was discussing matters like these with a friend of mine recently. I vocalized my strong negative emotional reaction to the year. I woke up the first day of the year with a hangover, and a few days later I drove back to California from Arkansas at top speed, a sober man. I feel like I’ve been making that trip for a year now. That’s what 2009 feels like to me.

My friend protested. He insisted otherwise in a cruel and agenda-laden fashion–the leading question.

Didn’t you quit smoking? He asked. Yes.

Didn’t you (and your brother) write a script? Yes.

Didn’t you revise it 4 times to get it to a place you’re happy with? Yes.

Didn’t you attend a writing program? Didn’t you continue your studies of philosophy at the same time? Didn’t you make new friends and deepen old friendships? Didn’t you finish a running program, gain weight in muscle, start a blog, continue a blog, outline 2 more scripts, finish 3 more short scripts, skinny dip in the ocean, hike through mountain trails, go to a shooting range, do your taxes, cook a casserole, learn lessons, take up counseling, juggle 5 jobs, and buy some kick ass cowboy boots? Didn’t your sister move out to LA? Didn’t you travel around the state and explore Los Angeles? Didn’t you see the desert and commune with monks? Can’t you mark something completely new you’ve done every single month this year?

Yes, I can. But in the sport of good argument, I can’t say this accounts for everything. I amplified an impulse for new things. But. You can hit rock bottom more times than once, or maybe I haven’t hit it yet. I lost a lot. I lost friendships. Direction. Anchors.

You gained some too.

The thing is, I think we’re both right. And. Ill say this. I’ll miss the decade, but I’m glad when 2010 gets here. I don’t have any resolutions for this year, but it’ll be better.

The best things of the year?

I’d rather not relive 2009 except in the movies I’ve loved, the books I’ve read, the scripts I’ve (we’ve) written, and more than anything the friendships I’ve retained. My family. The whole year I’ve had friends and family come to me in love. And I’ve seen more love through them than almost any other time in my life. So, in that respect, 2009 was great.

Pratfalls