Tuesday, May 24, 2011

East of Eden and The King's Speech.

Amidst the whirlwind writing sessions as I keep two big projects juggling in the air at the same time, on my down time I caught a couple of films over the past few days. The first was one I hadn't seen in about twenty five years or so, East of Eden with James Dean and Raymond Massey. And the other was the winner of this year's acadademy award, The King's Speech.

The 1950's, I think it safe to say, was a revolutionary decade in the history of the cinema in terms of actors and acting. With the possible exceptions of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, our finest American actors were introduced in that ten year span; Brando, Dean, Clift, a few others. Although, in retrospect, I'm not so sure about Dean.

Brando was once asked what he thought of Dean once the younger man had risen to fame and he replied, "He's using my last year's talent." And after watching East of Eden, I'm not so sure he wasn't on to something. Dean is great in the smaller moments, natural and quirky, but his big scenes, his emotionally expansive scenes, are, to me anyway, almost unwatchable. Unlike Brando and Clift, his idols, he doesn't seem to have any sense of the camera when he's in all-out 'acting' mode. It comes across as too much. He seems to be trying to ring the 'acting bell.' Now, to be fair, Elia Kazan, the director of the piece, might be responsible for this because otherwise Dean is fascinating. He has an uncanny knack for finding the slightly off kilter approach to a scene. But there are moments in the film where, if one closes one's eyes and simply listens, he sounds exactly like Brando, inflections and all. And knowing Dean's fascination with the older actor (Brando was six years his senior) it makes sense. Regardless, in the final analysis, his work becomes terribly dated once he gets to the big scenes in the film. I have to confess, I was disappointed because I remembered the movie being so powerful.

In the other film, which we watched last night, The King's Speech, I found myself admiring the pretty pictures on the screen rather than following the thin plot. Colin Firth won the Best Actor nod for it, but the movie clearly belongs to Geoffrey Rush. The whole endeavor sort of loses steam when Rush is not onscreen. I read a review last year on it and remember the catty critic, I forget which one, writing, "The cast of Harry Potter performs The King's Speech." He was more on the mark than I anticipated. Every good British character actor around is thrown into the mix with this one, including my very favorite, Derek Jacobi.

Nonetheless, the film is exceptionally well directed and I most certainly stayed with it all the way through. And the period stuff - England circa 1932 to 1939 - is utterly fascinating. Rush is, as I said, particularly good as the renegade speech teacher.

In other news, back to the drawing board with the writing projects today. I've entered the period with both pieces that I usually find tedious, the actual rewriting part. Strangely, in the case of these projects, that's not true, however. I'm just as energized now as I was when I started. Most of the time, when I'm working on a larger canvas, I get the whole thing on paper and then let it sit for a few weeks, sometimes a few months, and then come back at it with an unsullied eye. Well, I simply don't have the time for that with these. So I'm charging forward and throwing ink on the paper whether I want to or not. Figuratively speaking, of course.

In much the same way when I was younger I was enthralled with the way various actors approached their work, these days I'm equally interested in the way various writers approached theirs. For example, O'Neill despised rewriting. Once he had it on the page, he was satisfied, for the most part, hence his unfortunate habit of repeating himself thoughout a long play. Sam Shepard was the same way. Didn't much care for rewriting. Later, of course, once Shepard had matured, he rewrote constantly, but not at first. Tennessee Williams, on the other hand, agonized over the rewriting process and I think his work bears that out. I've always thought he was the far superior writer to O'Neill. Arthur Miller, too, rewrote ad nauseum until he was satisfied. I just happen to think his subject matters, with the exception of Salesman, were often rather boring in the long run. Miller was more interested in changing the world and advancing his politics than he was in telling a good story. In any event, I'm actually having fun with these rewrites, shaping and molding on a deadline.

Angie and I finally broke down and bought a tester for my blood sugar yesterday. My nutritionist had advised against it saying, "You will become a slave to it." Be that as it may, it has been fluctuating wildly over the past few months and at my last visit to the doctor, she expressed deep concern. So we bought one. Problem is, it takes two or three 'pokes' to draw blood from my finger. Maybe I have freakishly thick finger skin, I don't know. Whatever the reason, it's annoying to have to keep pricking the finger over and over to get a drop of blood for the meter. And naturally I yelp and wail during the entire process, mostly for Angie's benefit.

My diet, for obvious reasons, has become incredibly restricted these days and Angie has been pouring over diabetes books to find new and interesting ways to cook. She's finding them, too. Make no mistake, I'm unbelievably lucky to have someone cooking for me with such great imagination in the kitchen. She is, quite simply, the best chef I've ever seen or met. She's fearless in the kitchen. And with my 'silent killer' hanging over me, this is no small thing. Fortunately for me, I think she, for the most part, enjoys it and sees it as a challenge. Her culinary gifts are, quite possibly, saving my life. and to that I say, huzzah.

Another early morning at the keyboard. Another day of battle between the white, clean page and myself. I relish it. Indeed, I do.

See you tomorrow.

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