Archive | July 2017

Sam Shepard Remembered

Many others will better say what Sam Shepard meant to the American Theater of his youth, and to films he later appeared in as a centered and unhurried actor. I can only speak to what he was to the theater of my youth, by quoting a friend who accompanied the news of Shepard’s death with the words, “In drama school we all wanted to be Sam.”

The only Shepard piece I directed was Action, in 1992, the one-act play that can find it focal point easily enough in its title. Perhaps his most Beckett-like work, it is always worth seeking out to see how various casts or individual actors explore its compact yet expansive possibilities.

On the Fourth of July in 1996, I was walking down a sun-scorched Avenue of the Americas, around 45th Street, when I was stopped by a traffic light, when I had my only in-person encounter with Shepard.

Having forgotten my sunglasses, I was looking down to keep the rays out of my eyes, as I rummaged my pockets for a light for my cigarette, when a glowing butt dropped right next to my foot, which was then squashed by an old but well-cared-for cowboy boot.

“Gotta light?” I said, before looking up into the creased, scrutinous squint of those solid, penetrating eyes.

He paused for a moment, and when I did not make anything of him other than wanting his help, he produced a Zippo lighter, and flipped it open while igniting the wick in one fluid motion.

He lit my cigarette as the walk light lit, and I said, “You’re taller than I thought you’d be.”

His creases deepened a bit and I thanked him for the light as we went our separate ways. And now he has gone the way of us all in the end.

I still think fondly of the monologue he wrote for Cowboys #2 extolling the many virtues of breakfast, almost every time I slice into some glistening sunny side up eggs. And I guess I always shall.

The New York Times Notice of Shepard’s Passing

Positively 4th Street Revisited by Dylan

Bob Dylan Told Us What We Needed To Hear

Acrid truths that cut through the bubble gum and rose colored glasses

In September of 1965 the top charts of hit singles were full of young persons’ love songs, like Yesterday, I Got You Babe, Track of My Tears, California Girls, when Bob Dylan released Positively 4th Street…

“You got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend, when I was down you just stood there grinning…”

50 years later it is still an incredibly powerful song.

You got a lotta nerve
To say you are my friend
When I was down
You just stood there grinning

You got a lotta nerve
To say you got a helping hand to lend
You just want to be on
The side that’s winning

You say I let you down
You know it’s not like that
If you’re so hurt
Why then don’t you show it

You say you lost your faith
But that’s not where it’s at
You had no faith to lose
And you know it

I know the reason
That you talk behind my back
I used to be among the crowd
You’re in with

Do you take me for such a fool
To think I’d make contact
With the one who tries to hide
What he don’t know to begin with

You see me on the street
You always act surprised
You say, “How are you?” “Good luck”
But you don’t mean it

When you know as well as me
You’d rather see me paralyzed
Why don’t you just come out once
And scream it

No, I do not feel that good
When I see the heartbreaks you embrace
If I was a master thief
Perhaps I’d rob them

And now I know you’re dissatisfied
With your position and your place
Don’t you understand
It’s not my problem

I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment
I could be you

Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
You’d know what a drag it is
To see you

Copyright © 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1993 by Special Rider Music

Dunkirk, the movie – Review

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is about people navigating their way through a cataclysmic event as best they can, or as best as their conscience will allow them to.

Seen from a large 70 mm screen it turned out to be a surprisingly small film.

But then, the enormity of what took place during that particular week in the spring of 1940, along the English Channel near the border of France and Belgium, could have made for a sweeping epic, costing many millions, and still it would have fallen far short of the reality.

Instead of taking that on, the director smartly made an artistic film that used the idea of Dunkirk to focus on a couple of fundamental themes defining the human condition, with stakes sent sky-high by a faceless menace providing sudden death from that sky at any moment, as well as from land or sea.

I won’t spoil things by discussing those themes. But I will say, I enjoyed how the director chose to enhance them through non-linear storytelling, where we see certain events replayed at different times, from new perspectives.

The basic plot is that the good guys, or blokes in this case, are surrounded and nearing possible annihilation, which a history book will show was avoided by most of them. However, those living and dying through it could not know what lay in store from one moment to the next. Hence the drama.

Not that the film doesn’t pay appropriate homage to those who made Dunkirk synonymous with personal sacrifice and stoic British heroism. It does that quite well, mainly through the guise of the various big stars, like Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Hardy, as well as the voice that seemed to be impersonating Michael Cain’s R.A.F. squadron leader from 1969’s The Battle of Britain – which turned out to be an uncredited Sir Michael Cain.

But their altruism, focused on getting as many of their besieged countrymen home as possible, is offset by the main characters, all members of the common soldiery dedicated to getting themselves home by any means necessary.

For all the dire circumstances, there is some nicely underplayed comic relief. I had to chuckle at the affectionate display of inherent Britishness sprinkled across the film.

An old saying declares, “An Englishman standing alone is an orderly queue of one.” And our first glimpse of Nolan’s Dunkirk beach is seen through the eyes of just such an Englishman, as he looks out at queue upon queue of British warriors, all lined up and neatly waiting their turn for whatever fate lies ahead. And then he politely helps a stranger finish burying a dead body before he takes his place at the back the nearest queue.

I highly recommend seeing Dunkirk on the largest screen possible – not for the epic action movie carnage, which does not make an appearance, but for the full impact of the environmental effects that isolate most every shot in the film. Isolation being the key concept here.

Oh there I’ve gone and said one of those themes. But it still isn’t the central one.

A FEW MORE MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD

Nolan’s movie does explain what happened at Dunkirk well enough, in an almost stage-worthy condensed form.

The film opens with a decimated British infantry unit arriving at the beach of legend – setting up how this movie was going to use as few actors, extras, boats, and period aircraft as possible to tell its story.

For example, early on, a half dozen plucky French soldiers are seen standing their ground behind a fortified position, guarding the entrance to the seaside a few yards away. That is all that represents the 40,000 French soldiers miles inland at Lille, suffering genuine annihilation as they bravely held off the full might of seven Nazi divisions, so the British and other French forces could escape to England.

From that moment on, every person we encounter below the rank of admiral is a fictional character on a greatly reduced stage, standing for the great many that did what they did at Dunkirk, ultimately saving Western Civilization for at least another 75 years.

That’s a time period that expired two years ago, by the way.

Despite using the actual beach depicted in the film, along with some dozen historic vessels in the water that were there in 1940, the movie really isn’t about Dunkirk. All in all, it isn’t a war film. It’s a disaster movie.

Like The Poseidon Adventure and This is the End, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is about how various people behave in a catastrophe. And that may say something about the prevailing subconscious concerns of what stands for Western Civilization these days.

And that is one man’s word on…

Dunkirk, the movie

Related Reading

Pinter’s No Man’s Land with McKellen and Stewart – Review

The Moon Walk 50 Years On

As only the Onion would have covered the Moon Landing

Onion Moon Landing

To the moon with you!

Some 20 years ago, I was in a rehearsal hall in midtown Manhattan, surrounded by some 8 cast members and the stage manager of the play I was directing, as we discussed age differences in relationships.

I had mentioned there was a time when I told myself I would not date anyone who was born before the Moon Walk – a stipulation that was abandoned in later years.

On actress perked up to say, “I remember that! My mother got me out of bed to watch it on TV.”

She was referring to Michael Jackson’s performing his backwards shuffle on the MTV Awards.

EVERY person in the room assumed I was referring to the same incident.

The one that stands, oh, alongside the invention of the wheel and writing, as one of the greatest achievements in the history of human civilization seems to have been overlooked. And it continues to be taken for granted every since.

It seems the wrong Moon Walk has taken over the consciousness of Americans, if you can call it consciousness.