Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ain't No Cure for the Wintertime Blues *

2010: Garbage in, garbage out...

March was supposed to be the good month, giving Winter the boot and welcoming the beginning of Spring. Everything bad was supposed to turn around in March, as this wretched garbage scow of a year finally shook off the flies, stopped taking on water, and began to ride a little higher in these oh-so-troubled waters. March would bring the warm sun and a brisk breeze to blow away the fetid stench of 2010, and with it, these winter blues.

A pilot with my name on it was scheduled to start on the first of March, offering three weeks of hard work – just the thing to burn off the toxic fat of the cold season, replenish a bank account coughing on fumes, and put me back in the game. I won’t go so far as to say working on set is what defines me, but after doing it for three decades (and then some), it remains above all else what I know how to do. I’m comfortable on set, where I know the roles and the rules. Without a call time demanding my daily presence, it’s easy to drift and sometimes get a little bit lost.

Eventually I adapt, of course -- like every other Industry work-bot in this boom-and-bust business, I’ve had plenty of experience not-working. Down-time is inevitable, and devising strategies for dealing with it comes with the turf in Hollywood. Exhibit A, in my case, would be this blog, Still, a steady and sustained diet of nothing can eventually bend the steel of even the most seasoned veteran. At a certain point I start wondering just who and what I really am anymore -- and that's when the desire to get back in harness transcends mere employment. By then, I feel an almost primal need to lift and carry and sweat, to grapple with the three-dimensional realities of Newtonian Physics, fully engaged in the on-set teamwork that makes this business hum.

In some ways, doing the actual work itself is more important than the money it will earn.

March was looking good for a while, but like many a best-laid plan, this one blew a tire, skidded off the road, and careened end-over-end down the steep rocky canyon, then -- like all self-respecting cinematic crashes -- exploded in a big ball of orange flame. Which is to say the phone rang last week with news that the pilot had been canceled due to “casting issues.” Just like that, three weeks of work gone in a flash, vanished into the murky February sky.

This is getting old.

Casting issues... I’m not even sure what that phrase really means anymore, but it doesn’t much matter. For whatever reason the job is dead, March a bleak windswept wasteland, Hollywood a killing floor soaked with the blood of countless promises that wound up on the wrong end of a quiet phone call in the dying light of a winter afternoon.

Sometimes I really hate this fucking business...

An extended drought of work is tough at any stage of a career. When you’re young and pushing hard to gain some momentum, a dearth of work can suck the wind right out of your sails (and your checkbook), causing you to cast a decidedly jaundiced eye on the whole concept of Hollywood. You begin to wonder if there might not be a better path to take in life, and ponder the potential alternatives. But eventually you pass the point of no return, suddenly too old for anything else -- and then it’s too late to launch a new career as a stockbroker, lawyer, appliance repairman, or large animal veterinarian. There's not much call for Tupperware or Amway salesmen these days, and the last time I looked, the local Home Depot didn’t have a Set Lighting aisle in need of a washed-up, broken-down, burned-out, ready-for-the-glue-factory juicer.

Given the current dismal state of our economy, WalMart probably has a two-foot high stack of applications on file waiting for that toothless old geezer out front to die and open up the greeter job.

They do shoot horses, don't they?

The thing is, this is what I know, what I do, and yes -- to a certain extent -- who I am. Whether that's good, bad, or ugly (or maybe a mixed-up ball of all three) is not for me to say, but it is what it is.

At this point of the ugly New Year, I’m 3-for-59, as in three days work over the first two months. The March pilot wasn’t going to fix all that, but it would have been the first major step towards salvaging what's shaping up as an ominously dark year in my little corner of Hollywood. But despite the gloomy title of this post, there really is a cure for those wintertime blues – and that would be a job. I’m hearing rumors of another pilot in April. Trouble is, those rumors come from the same source as the grand and glorious March pilot that just sank without a trace. This is not encouraging, but you don’t survive three decades in this town without learning how to hang on (by the fingernails, when necessary) to the one truly indispensable item on the free-lance tool belt: hope. Without hope, you really are lost in that bottomless abyss. So whatever else does or doesn't happen, you keep the faith that something good will eventually arise from the mist to keep this leaky boat afloat.

In that, the Hollywood life is a lot like every other form of existence in our troubled, fractious world -- you hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and take it one day at a time.

* With apologies to Eddie Cochran...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Heavy Sledding

Just because I like it -- a photo by Adam Lau (San Francisco Chronicle) of the recent big wave contest at Mavericks in Half Moon Bay, California.

I’ve had some tough days rigging, wrapping, and loading cable in my long Hollywooden career – every juicer has -- but I’m not sure anything I ever did can stack up (literally) to the brutally hard day these guys put in, and in the snow, no less.

Yep, men were men back in the day. We’re all just a bunch of pussies now -- except for those mad-dog surfers, anyway.

And speaking of heavy sledding, anyone who has spent a day on set working with infant humanoids (insert actor joke here...) will resonate with Rob Long's meditation on working with a Robot Baby.

Take a listen -- it may just be the best four minutes you have all day...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Silliest Job Ever

Nope, not this one...

I know what you're thinking -- the Hollywood Juicer has finally lost it, slipped down the rocky slope and tumbled head-first into the abyss of Internet cliche. There, having hit rock bottom staring at the creative brick wall of bloggers-block, he was forced out of sheer desperation to dredge up a "cute cats" photo in a pathetic attempt to post something -- anything -- that might salvage his street-cred as an active Industry blogger.

That day may come, but not just yet -- and I swear, there will be no more of this third-person crap...

Although I had nothing to do with the photo above, it did jog my memory to recall the silliest job -- and silliest shot -- I've ever been paid to light. Given that I put in twenty years working on television commercials (which are nothing but concentrated silliness), that covers a rather wide spectrum of absurdity. We once did a shot where an actor/stunt man took a 150 foot bungee plunge right next to the Queen Mary while holding a Taco Bell burrito, another with a half dozen tiny human babies nestled inside Michelin tires, sleeping like... well, babies, and a spot where the ad agency's vision called for seducing a full-grown ostrich into committing a highly unnatural act for the camera. But when it comes to full bore, triple distilled, two hundred proof visual absurdity, a cat food commercial I worked on back in the mid-80's takes the proverbial cake.

Have a good look at those eight cats above, stacked like so much furry feline cordwood, then try to imagine just how long it took the photographer get that shot -- keeping eight highly individualistic cats exactly where they need to be, paying full attention and all looking in the right direction long enough to click the shutter.

Assuming the image wasn't created via the digital magic of photoshop, that took a while. The phrase "herding cats" didn't materialize unbidden out of the ether, but emerged as a perfect metaphor to describe something that's all but impossible to do. You can herd cattle, goats, sheep, pigs -- even people -- but cats? No. Trying to get one cat to jump through any pre-determined set of hoops is enough of a challenge, but eight?


Given that, just how difficult might it be to get twenty-one adult cats lined up in a perfect triangle for the camera, one at the head, the rest fanning out on either side, each sitting primly at a small bowl of cat food while wearing a tiny white chef's hat?

Cats wearing chef's hats... You can bet that concept brought high-fives all around at the agency/client presentation, but they weren't the people who would actually have to put the image on film -- and in those pre-CGI, days, that meant orchestrating the real thing: Twenty-one living, breathing cats doing something no self-respecting cat would ever do.

The gaffer and I had the easy end of this job, lighting the small scale burning-of-Atlanta crane shot reveal of the feline triangle. Once the lamps were set, all we had to do was sit back and quietly watch the circus as a crew of six cat wranglers worked their asses off. The twenty-one cats, needless to say, did not cooperate. They absolutely hated those little chef's hats (what a surprise...), and when not trying to tear them off, were busy eating the food from every other cat's bowl but their own. Even in Cat Land, apparently, the grass is always greener on the other side of the proverbial fence. Succumbing to their natural curiosity, the cats would not sit still, fascinated by lights, the flags, the camera, the crane, the crew, and their very strange new surroundings.

The hapless wranglers earned every last penny of their paychecks. Caught between a rock and a hard place, six wranglers were at once too few and too many -- not enough to fully placate and control every single cat, but too numerous to get off the stage without disturbing this highly volatile lineup before the camera rolled. By the time they finally got all the cats properly arranged, then tiptoed off the stage, a dozen of the animals would already be wandering. It was just impossible -- and at a certain point, I figured we'd eventually get into triple time, which back then kicked in after 18 hours.*

But miracles do occasionally happen, and right around the 12 hour point, everything clicked and we got the shot. Since we were shooting film with only a crude black and white video monitor for the clients, nobody could be sure we really had it until seeing the dailies -- which meant we all had to come in the next morning just in case.

One more fat commercial payday was fine by me, especially when the word came down the following morning that the shot was good. All we had to do was wrap the lights and cable, then head home well before noon: a full day's pay for a couple of hour's work.

Those really were the good old days. I don't know about you, but I could use some of that silliness right about now.

* We were working under NABET rules, not IA...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Another One Bites the Dust

I don't know exactly why, but this photo somehow seems appropriate...

Last year I wrote a post about Dan Neil, a writer for the LA Times who (to the best of my knowledge) remains the only automotive scribe ever to win a Pulitzer Prize. He deserved it, too, writing with a passionate flair rarely found in any form of journalism. Although I’m not really a car guy, I’ve long been a total sucker for good writing on just about any subject -- and Dan Neil is an extremely gifted writer.

Some of you were already hip to Neil’s work, and I hope others have discovered the pleasure of reading his columns since then. If not, you can find one of his most recent efforts right here. As usual, it’s a treat to read.

That’s the good news. Unfortunately, last year's post year was all-too-prescient, closing with this warning:

“And given what's going on with newspapers these days, you'd better check him out while you still can...”

According to one of our local NPR stations last week, Neil will soon leave the LA Times to write for the Wall Street Journal. That’s bad news for those of us hooked on reading his columns in the Times. The Wall Street Journal is subscription-only, meaning Neil’s wit, wisdom, and stylishly seductive prose won't be available to those who do not – or will not – support a newspaper with an editorial page committed to mainlining toxic doses of corporate propaganda into the veins of our already overly-fractious country. I'm glad to subscribe to the LA Times, but refuse to feed the sulfurous fire from within represented by the WSJ -- a corrosive blaze designed to eat away the core of our government until nothing remains but a hollow shell run by and for the benefit of our corporate overlords. And really, why would anyone expect a paper named The Wall Street Journal to slice open the white reptilian underbelly of Big Business and spill out the ugly truth therein?

That's just not gonna happen.

Why would such a talented writer leave the launching pad of his greatest professional success – the newspaper of record for Southern California, home of Car Culture -- to write for a button-down, starched-shirt, politically constipated rag like the Wall Street Journal?

He’s got reasons. Neil once headlined of an entire section of the LA Times edicated to cars and the auto industry, but that evaporated in the hot desert sun along with so much of the paper over the past few years. Due to shortsighted, borderline incompetent management (thanks for nothing, Chicago Tribune) and the ongoing decline of the newspaper biz in general, the LA Times has been shrinking like a wet wool sweater in a scalding hot drier, and there’s no reason to think this process is over. Aboard a sinking ship, those who want to survive sooner or later must swim for their professional lives, and I suspect that’s exactly what Dan Neil is doing. That he’s been engaged in a lawsuit with the new owner of the Times, Sam Zell, for several month may have played a role in his decision -- instituting legal action against one’s boss has never been a recipe for job security. As it is, the steadily diminishing LA Times relegated Neil to a small space at the bottom of the Business page, and although his addition considerably improved that dry-as-dust section of the paper, it didn’t do much to showcase his talents.

Beyond the obvious rationales, I’m sure he’s got other reasons for moving to the WSJ. It’s entirely possible they made him an offer he simply couldn’t refuse, and in that case, I really hope he put the screws to those miserable corporate bastards and is making them pay through the nose. But this a rather forlorn hope at best in a situation that will end with his loyal LA Times readers losing out no matter what.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nothing good lasts very long here in LA. Why this is, I don't know -- the brutally hot sun, the dry desert winds, or maybe just the transitory, up-today/down-tomorrow bi-polar insanity of Hollywood. I don't suppose the "why" really matters -- it is what it is, and ain't gonna change. So take a tip from last year's post and check him out while you still can.

Meanwhile, I'll start trying to find a way to steal copies of the goddamned Wall Street Journal...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Wrap

Order from Chaos

It comes down a lot quicker than it goes up...

The last day was the hardest. Not the longest or most tedious, but in terms of sheer physicality, definitely the toughest. During the initial rig, nearly three tons of cable had been laid in up high – a network of wooden catwalks thirty feet above the stage floor -- to power and light the pilot, and now it all had to come down. On the final day of the wrap, there were only three of us still on payroll, which meant two men up high and one down below.

Over the previous three days, we’d pulled at least two hundred and fifty lamps down from the pipe grid and set walls, dumped out the scrims, removed and stacked the barndoors, then wrapped the tail of each light back to the head and tied it off. As they came down, each lamp was stacked in neat ever-growing rows – 650 watt Tweenies, 1000 watt Babies, 1K and 2K Zips (soft lights), 2K Juniors, 5K Seniors, and a couple of big 10,000 watt Teners. Each lamp was “beeped out” with a continuity tester (to make sure the bulb was still good), then read with a bar code scanner and carefully loaded with the others into big steel baskets for return to the lamp dock. We worked at a steady pace, breaking once for coffee and again for lunch, making the most of each eight hour day. By the end of day three, every lamp, barn-door, scrim, feeder, stirrup hanger, pipe clamp, grumpy, offset arm, baby plate, splitter, adapter, gang box and stinger -- well over a thousand individual pieces of equipment altogether -- had been counted, crated, stacked, and trucked back to the lamp dock.

It's a lot of work.

Production's budget for extra help ran dry at that point, leaving just the three of us to handle the cable. Our task was to get all that cable down, wrapped, tied, and stacked in big plastic tubs for return to the lamp dock. The first order of business were the cables already dangling over the side – the easy ones. Those were lowered by tying a rope to the high end of each cable, then slowly lowering it as the floor man coiled it up. Less than a quarter of the cable could be dropped this way, leaving the rest to be wrapped up on the catwalks, then tied into compact black doughnuts the size of a car tire before being lowered with a hand line.

This is simple enough, in theory. Actually doing the work is something else, invariably turning into the sort of back-breaking ordeal that generates internal second-guessing along the lines of “I went to college for this?”

Well, no -- I went to college for the girls, the booze, and the drugs (a regimen I thought of as "Enculturation, Part Three"), and because young people on the home planet were expected to go to college at that point in life. But while skipping my merry way down the hedonistic highway of tertiary education, I was seduced by the magic of film: The Movies called and I answered, which is the short version of how I finally ended up in Hollywood.

What can I say? It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Reaching the top of the wooden stairs at 7:05 in the morning, the task ahead appeared monumental for just two people. There was cable everywhere, a swollen black river of heavy, inch-thick, hundred foot long cables snaking from the “waterfall” (the initial cable run from the dimmer packs down below) all over the catwalks. It was so thick in places I couldn’t even see the wooden planks beneath all that coal-black insulation.

Working a day like this forces a certain recalibration of one’s personal pain/pleasure spectrum. While nothing about a cable day will induce a giddy sense of euphoria, there are certain satisfactions to be had. These are not of the intellectual variety, but primal and physical -- the tired inner glow that comes from getting an onerous task done: a cluttered garage finally cleaned out, an overgrown yard trimmed and mowed, a field weeded, plowed, and made ready for planting.

On the relative scale of the misery/joy continuum, wrapping the cable occupies the low end, while dropping can be kind of fun. Using a three-quarter inch poly line (and wearing gloves, of course), one man “takes a wrap” – looping the rope once all the way around the catwalk rail – before the other man (or woman) ties the load on, then kicks it over the side. Taking a wrap allows for a speedy but easily controllable drop. Sending the fifty-to-seventy pound cables down two at a time, that rope whirs around the wooden rail fast enough to expel a puff of dust from within. The sharp scent of singed wood accompanies every drop, as the energy expended in sending those cables up high two weeks before is suddenly recovered in the form of heat via the magic of friction. As you warm up and get into a smooth working rhythm, it feels good to watch those tubs down below fill up with cable -- and as each tub is filled, another empty takes its place.

At the end of what felt like a very long day, the catwalks were clear and clean, while down below, half a dozen of those big tubs were brimming with tightly wrapped coils of cable. It really does come down a lot quicker than it goes up: what took us two weeks to load in and deploy for one night of filming had been fully wrapped in four busy days -- order once again salvaged from chaos.

That felt good, as though we'd actually accomplished something.

In a way, the pilot process is a bit like building and furnishing a home just to throw a kick-ass house warming party, then tearing the whole thing down, leaving only a bare concrete slab on the suddenly barren lot. The sheer physical labor that goes into every pilot is immense. The process is a sweaty, bruising, frustrating experience every time, but it’s also a team effort with lots of laughs along the way. All that work culminates in the creation of a show – a few hours of glimmering magic and laughter that may or may not prove good enough (or lucky enough) to be picked up. But the next morning, all that bubbling, buoyant energy is gone, dissipated into the ether along with the cameras and craft service table. Only the sets, furniture, and lighting equipment remain, silent and cold. Bit by bit, truckload by truckload, that too disappears, and in the end, the cavernous sound stage again stands empty.

Wrapping a show or pilot is always a bittersweet experience, and this was no exception. In a way, the whole thing seemed a bit unreal -- with all the sets, equipment, and people gone, it was almost as if none of it had actually happened at all. But there was nothing unreal about the aches in my back, neck, arms, and legs as I shouldered my bag and headed for the parking structure. Thoroughly whipped, I felt as though I’d just spent four days undergoing “enhanced interrogation” at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition. The next morning would be stiff and sore, but easing the pain (with the help of Advil) was the knowledge that my work was now done for a while. The holidays loomed, then a brand new year -- and hopefully, another pilot or two.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Troubled Stories for Troubled Times

Remember, Mother Nature bats last...

As anyone who reads a newspaper, surfs the internet, spins through the A.M. radio dial, or tunes in the TV news these days can attest, this is one spooked country. At every level of society disappointment, fear, and anger abound. Whatever sweaty flank of the great Red/Blue sociopolitical-cultural divide you cling to, there’s plenty to be angry about: a political system steeped in corruption, mendacity, hypocrisy, and incompetence, an economy hogtied by endless war and a loss of our once-strong manufacturing base, the dark specter of terrorism here and abroad, and a looming avalanche of environmental catastrophe that -- given the political realities of our times -- we seem powerless to avoid.

It's hard to take a serious look into the future and not conclude that we're riding a slippery chute to Hell in the proverbial hand-basket. And when Beelzebub finally greets us with his big toothy grin, it will be to a very real hell on earth rather than some fire-and-brimstone Narnia conjured up by the Grand Poobahs of organized religion.

Most people have a general awareness of what's going on -- that although things keep getting worse, our current state of politico/cultural polarization is preventing any meaningful action from being taken -- and this pisses them off. When so many people are that angry, anything can happen, and under such volatile circumstances, no politician is safe. I almost feel sorry for our political Brahmins, flicking their long forked-tongues into the ever-shifting breeze, desperate to find a position that will put them ahead of the pitchfork-and-torch carrying mob without getting trampled in the process.


So if you’re feeling some of that anger, join the club.

"But what," you might ask, "does any of this have to do with Hollywood or the Industry?"

I'm getting there -- and although it may be a three-bank pool shot off the seven ball into the corner pocket, there is a connection. Remember, this being a mid-week post, the rules are much looser here than my usual Sunday bleat.

Today's question: where does all our fear and anger go?

(Other than teabag parties and Fox News, that is...)

One place is Hollywood. Movies have a long tradition of offering an endoscopic view of the troubled American psyche. Scholars and other mere mortals have covered this subject pretty thoroughly – some in a lighthearted vein, others taking a more serious approach – but the gist is that many of our deep cultural fears bubble up to the surface through the shared dreamscapes of the silver screen. The Film Noir movies of the late 40's and early 50's are thought to have reflected the insecurity of life in the post-war era, among other things. The unfathomable violence of World War Two shook everyone involved right down to their core, unleashing emotional traumas that still resonate today. Film Noir expressed a dark vision of humanity, along with the fear that although the demons of human nature can be stuffed back in the bottle, we're never really safe -- sooner or later, they'll break out again to wreak havoc. The dawn of the atomic age that ended WW II created even more societal angst, particularly after the Soviet Union got The Bomb in 1949, spawning a series of giant monster and science fiction movies that tapped our suddenly very tangible fears of nuclear weapons and radiation.*

A similar degree of sublimation is evident in the current wave of movies with apocalyptic themes, from “The Day After Tomorrow” right up through “2012,” and I suppose one could make a case (admittedly thin) that the alien invasion movie “Independence Day” -- silly though it was -- presaged Al Qaeda’s assault on the American mainland on 9/11. In that film, the studly-but-beleaguered President of the United States asks a captured squid-creature from space “What do you want from us?.” The beast from beyond replies “We want you to die...”

Osama Bin Laden couldn’t have put it better.

What I hadn’t really considered is how these troubled times are (and have been) reflected by our ever-present cultural mirror, the television. A recent LA Times piece pointed out a number of television shows in the past few years dealing with the anger and fear gripping our society in these increasingly grim times. Someone could probably write a great doctoral thesis on the subject, and although this isn’t quite up to such levels of scholarly analysis, it’s a good place to start.

It's a good read, too, and food for thought as we stumbled into the cold gray mist ahead.

* Some fine examples of the genre:

The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Thing from Another World
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Grammys

Get off my lawn...

Now that's entertainment...

I tried to watch the Grammys. Really, I did. After years of sneering at this most meaningless and lame of all Hollywood award shows, I figured I should check it out to see what the music industry considers worthy of celebration these days -- other than gross receipts and paid Internet downloads, that is.

Having been raised in a society that worships extremes of all kinds (landing on the moon, monster trucks, the World’s Biggest Twine Ball), I share our cultural affinity for the "biggest and best," and a lingering fascination with spectacles of wretched, bloated excess -- the Grammys landing squarely among the latter. Besides, being adrift in the horse latitudes of unemployment leaves a lot of time to kill, and only so much of it can be spent staring into this computer screen. And so like a flower turning towards the nourishing warmth of the sun, I turn my eyes to the pale flickering glow of the Cathode Ray Gun.

The Grammys' opening act was an energetic-if-ludicrous number featuring a bizarre creature called "Lady Gaga." Dressed like an angry green butterfly from a children's picture book, she shouted a duet across twin pianos with 1970's relic Sir Elton John, who appeared to be channeling Liberace's evil twin having a really bad acid trip. The resulting cacophony seemed to go on for hours, for no apparent reason -- much sound and fury signifying nothing.

But this was only the opening barrage of an evening devoted to highly-orchestrated nonsense. Green Day played a decent song, although it was unclear to me exactly why a punchy power trio famous for creating taut, urgently propulsive songs needed to share the stage with what appeared to be several dozen singers, musicians, and dancers. At some point, Beyonce (apparently the New Queen of whatever it is she sings) came marching down the aisle backed by an army of black helmeted storm troopers. I'm not sure what that was all about, or what she was singing, for that matter. With all the caterwauling going on, I couldn't tell whether she was wailing about the pain and sorrows of a broken heart, or bemoaning the burning agony of severe hemorrhoids.

I don't suppose it really matters -- pain is pain, regardless of the cause.

Somewhere amid all this confusion, a pale, bony little waif named Taylor Swift came up on stage to gush into the microphone. She seemed like a nice young lady, although I'm told she can't really sing very well. But everybody in the audience seemed to like her anyway, and since the Grammys have never been concerned with actual musical talent*, then Miss Swift has as much right to go home with a handful of statues as anybody else.

That was enough -- when the next wall of commercials hit, I bailed. Thirty minutes of high-voltage histrionics couldn't hide the fact that for the Grammys, nothing means more than huge sales numbers and mass popularity. If you sell a gabillion records and make boatloads of money, you win a lot of Grammys, period -- same as it ever was. According to the next morning's paper, Beyonce and Taylor Swift together collected a dozen or so trophies. Good for them, I guess. I didn't read far enough to find out if that "Lady Gaga" creature won anything, although from where I sat, she and Sir Elton both deserved awards for Worst... Costume... Ever.

Surely that's worth a Grammy too.

I did find it fitting that this steaming pile of television managed to beat "American Idol" -- the fabled Death Star of television -- in the ratings, if only by a hair. That so many Americans sat glued to the Toob enthralled by these two glitzy, well-produced, and magnificently empty extravaganzas reveals much about our shared culture, although not necessarily in a good way.

Still, after catching the Grammy performance of a young woman named "Pink" on Utube a few days later, I kind of wish I'd stuck around to see the rest of the show on "live" (read: tape-delayed) TV. She was very impressive, and although I'm not sure what all those astonishingly fleshy aerial gymnastics had to so with music or singing, I couldn't take my eyes off her. So hey, toss that young lady a Grammy. She put on a better show than anybody else.

There's a lot I don't grasp about modern culture, but I'm not sure it's worth the effort. There just doesn't seem to be much “there” there. Maybe I'll try again next year, and with any luck, might be able to make it all the way through the entire first hour of the Grammys.

Baby steps.

* For those who feel otherwise, I have just two words: Milli Vanilli.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Picasso on the Gridiron

Pablo's girlfriend watches the Big Game...

As mentioned before, I’m not much of a football fan. Yes, I watched three games this season (the Brett Favre Saga intrigued me), and will probably tune in the Stupor Bowl at some point on Sunday – hey, it’s not like I’m not a communist or anything -- but neither do I obsess over which way the pigskin bounces or what Tim Tebow writes on his face.

Still -- being unemployed and all -- I like to skim through the sports pages every morning in search of interesting tidbits, which is where I came across this altogether unexpected passage:

“I’ve always been fascinated by Picasso and how he would look at a single image through multiple perspectives and from separate moments in time,” Sabol said. “He would look at a woman’s face and he would see almost a three dimensional look even though it was a flat canvas. I thought, well why couldn’t we do the same thing with a football play?”

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the terms “football” and “Picasso” used in the same article before, let alone the same paragraph – but much to my surprise, that’s what Monday’s LA Times came up with in its piece on Steve Sabol, who started and still runs the legendary NFL Films, a small production company specializing in capturing stunning slo-mo game footage. Sabol’s cameramen are justly famous for their skills working with very long telephoto lenses – and whether you love the game of football, hate it, or remain indifferent, there’s no denying these guys come up with some truly astonishing footage. Pablo Picasso may be spinning in his grave as I type these words, but in my experience, it’s always worth taking a look at something that’s done really well. This article explains how the distinctive aesthetic created by Sabol and NFL Films came about, and -- surprisingly enough -- has even managed to influence Hollywood.

It’s an interesting read. Check it out.