Saturday, March 27, 2010


A friend pointed this out to me, that it was inspirational to her. It's wonderful. I guess Graham wrote it to DeMille after a piece of hers failed. Brilliant.

A Letter to Agnes DeMille : Martha Graham

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening
that is translated through you into action,
and because there is only one of you in all time,
this expression is unique.

If you block it,
it will never exist through any other medium
and be lost.
The world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is;
nor how valuable it is;
nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly,
to keep the channel open.

You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.
You have to keep open and aware directly
of the urges that motivate you.

Keep the channel open.
No artist is pleased.
There is no satisfaction whatever at any time.
There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction;
a blessed unrest that keeps us marching
and makes us more alive than the others.

And she mentioned this, too, from Theodore Roosevelt--

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

I recently saw Tim Burton’s Disney’s Alice in Wonderland trademark adventure, and I only really have one thought, which is


I had a reaction similar to my viewing of Nine, though not as vehement: they took something extraordinary and boundary-smashing and made something mundane. This is not saying it’s a successful product, as it clearly is. But I don’t think it’s a successful film.

The book is full of whimsy and nonsense, so you would think it would be a good fit for Burton. The screenwriter, Linda Woolverton (from both “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast”), has created something of a sequel, where Alice is avoiding a marriage proposal and looking for herself in the rabbit hole. We see, in a flashback where the six-year old Alice (who wears lip gloss to bed) complains of a bad dream to her father, that Alice has been dreaming of this world since she was a child. In this version, it’s actually called Underland, and ruled by an evil red queen who is a tyrant, whose sister the White Queen used to rule but has been usurped. All the characters (most from the book – the Rabbit, the Doormouse, Tweedlum and –dee, even the sad addition of a “frumious bandersnatch” – ugh) want the White Queen to be reinstalled, but Alice must save them by slaying the Jabberwocky, and, oh nevermind, I’m too bored to go on. I don’t really care.

And that’s the bottom line. Why not write a new script with characters we’ve never seen before instead of bastardizing two surprising, unexpected great works into one predictable, boring three act girl empowerment story we’ve seen before? It’s could be taken out of “Screenwriting for Dummies”. I see the impulse to make it into a kind of fairy tale with a message, like “Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast”, but the whole point of Alice, it’s enduring fascination, is that it resists those simple messages. It’s confounding and odd – and as interesting to political theorists, historians, and mathematicians as it is to children. This whole shoehorning into a coherent narrative just makes the whole enterprise feel stifled and mundane. Bonham-Carter is enjoyable to watch (probably the best thing in the film), but Hathaway is wasted (though I'm not sure what anyone could have done with that role). Depp is given a script in which the Hatter is aware of his encroaching or encompassing madness, attempting some sense of tragic realization of his situation, but that ends up as embarrassing and unneeded. Besides laying more on the back of the character than he’s designed to handle, they force him to have a truly cringe-inducing dance moment. Curioser and curiouser. Why?

Oh wait, money….that’s right. I keep forgetting. Well at least someone’s laughing all the way to the bank. Sadly, it’s not the audience. Look, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but why not just leave old stuff alone if you can’t respect it for what it is? Or give it a spin that's at least as imaginative and outlandish as the original. This has taken something large, ridiculous, and unruly and tried to make it small, easy, pat and pablum. Not an awful way to spend some time, but not a frabjous day at all.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I was listening to a "Stuff you missed in history class" podcast about the Book of Kells on the way into work this morning, something I was interested in because of the recent animated movie, and so I decided to look at some images. It certainly is beautiful.

And imagine what it might have been with the extra half inch of decoration around the rim that an overzealous bookbinder in the early 19th c trimmed off. Anyhoo, I was reading the wikipedia page, and was struck by this quote:

There are a number of differences between the text and the accepted Gospels. In the genealogy of Jesus, which starts at Luke 3:23, Kells erroneously names an extra ancestor. Elsewhere, Matthew 10:34b should read "I came not to send peace, but a sword," but the manuscript reads gaudium ("joy") where it should read gladium ("sword") and so translates as "I came not [only] to send peace, but joy."

Imagine if that actually was correct, and the quote was really "to send peace, but joy" instead of "a sword". One letter. Probably not true, as I think the gospels were in Greek, not Latin, so this was a Latin mistake, but it's amazing to think how much bloodshed might have been avoided through the ages. I won't get into religion, specifically Christianity, and how passages have been used to enslave or kill others for millenia, but it is wild to think that something like a mistranslation, or a missing letter, could change intent, dogma, rationalization, and history. It boggles the mind.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Something Else

I wanted to put up something else besides "bad books", so just letting everyone know I'm 50 chapters into War and Peace and blogging about it. I'm loving it, and reading it slowly, which is really satisfying.

Also, the show I've been assistant directing just got a "Go" in LA Weekly, and looks like it may be extending another 4 weeks. Fingers crossed. It was a good time, and I'm excited for them. Yay, team.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bad Books

I commented on this since I thought it was so ridiculous. I have no issue with people attacking what they see as "the cannon" but this is where academia and arrogance meet to me. LA Times blog has published blurbs from American Book Review's list of bad books which includes, among others, The Great Gatsby and All the Pretty Horses. The criticism is arrogant, and it seems to be to be more about attention grabbing for having a list like this anyway. But here I am posting about it and perpetuating it.

I fell right into that one, didn't I?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


Radiolab, from WNYC, has the subtitle "Curiosity on a Bender". I discovered it from listening to This American Life, and it's really, really wonderful. It takes a general idea and then investigates it. Or, as they put it:

"Radiolab believes your ears are a portal to another world. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience. Big questions are investigated, tinkered with, and encouraged to grow. Bring your curiosity, and we'll feed it with possibility."

So far, I've listened to the "Numbers" podcast, which explores how we learn numbers and the human construction of math. Fascinating.

And now, I'm listening to "Placebo", which explores just that, placebos, and then moves into how we feel and experience pain. And, as one of the hosts said "that's when my mind blew out of my face".
I'm only twenty minutes in, and they've already talked about the effectiveness of placebos in things as difficult to treat as Parkinson's, and then on to how the narrative that we construct around a moment of pain or injury can actually effect how we experience that pain. They talk about a doctor during WWI, who found that soldiers injured had less pain and asked for less morphine than people suffering the same injury at home - precisely because the soldier sees being hit in a positive way - awards, honor, glory, survival, and possibly being sent home - while the person shot in his store, for instance, sees it as loss of income, difficulty, pain...and therefore asks for more morphine. Mind-blowing!

There's so much more in that one, and both of them, to go into, but they're just two of the many. So excellent.

! Really, just !!