Sunday, January 29, 2006

What If....

Recently, I've been traveling down memory lane. While I'm not an expert on comics/super heroes/heroines, I do love the ones I love. For Christmas, I received the first season of one of the few good shows in the 80s--The Greatest American Hero. I love this show because to me, it has always been a metaphor for life: ordinary man gets super suit and is charged with being a superhero, only to lose the instructions on how to use the suit. Don't we all come into this life as potential superheroes, only to find that our "suits" have no instructions, so we're forced to figure out how to fly, become invisible, run really fast--you name it. I've always thought that this story would be great on the silver screen, so after brainstorming with my cousin (who loved the show as much as I did/do) and my boyfriend, we have come up with this cast together. My boyfriend contributed the actress for the role of Pam, my cousin recommended the actor for the lead role, and I contributed the actor for the role of Bill Maxwell, hapless yet gung ho federal agent.

I know you are thinking, 'Jeez, Stephanie, don't you have better things to do with your time?' Maybe. But when I heard that for the last three or four years other people have been thinking about making a film version of this but to no success, I had to come up with some cast members. Rumors were flying a couple of years ago, that they were going to cast Owen Wilson in the lead role, and while I like him, I feel he is a bit too smart alecky for that role. An as you know--a good cast can get money for a film to be completed. So, without further ado, I give you The Greatest American Hero 2006....

Zooey Deschanel as Pam, Zach Braff as Ralph Hinkley,
and Steve Carell as Agent Bill Maxwell

Can you picture it?

© Stephanie Lewis, 2006

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Palpable Quiet Desperation

That's how I would characterize the entire overall mood of Brokeback Mountain. Against the gorgeous landscape of Wyoming is where this love story begins. Despite the beauty of the landscape, the background to this film is muted and stark. What carries the story is the phenomenal acting of the cast and their use of facial expressions and body language.

The basic synopsis of the film is this: Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet up on a summer job in Wyoming herding sheep. The isolation, the proximity to one another, the rhythm of nature, and their own individual senses of alienation cause them to discover each other and fall in love. When summer is over, they go their separate ways. Ennis had already been planning to marry Alma (Michelle Williams) and does so. Jack goes back to being a rodeo cowboy in Texas where he meets his Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway), the consumate daddy's girl of a man who owns a profitable tractor company. Jack and Lureen wed. Both men produce children with their wives; however, they continue to meet every few years to have a clandestine relationship in Wyoming, but tell their families they are on "fishing trips" with each other. This arrangement becomes more unacceptable as time goes on for Jack who is optimistic that he and Ennis could have a life together. As an ego dystonic homosexual, Ennis can't even imagine the possibility. The film follows the prime of their lives and their relationship to its untimely end.

Heath Ledger plays the pent up Ennis with amazing exactitude. His lips are tight, his shoulders square and tense like the body language men who've been physically abused often grow up with and carry with them. About half way through the film, we are given a glimpse into one of the reasons he may be that way. His father gave him a cruel and sadistic lesson when he was eight about (it's implied) what happens when a man is gay in Texas. Jack is more gregarious, goofy and outgoing, as would be expected by a Rodeo cowboy. It is Jake Gyllenhaal's expressions in his eyes that carry his character. His eyes show hope and disappointment, defiance, and lust. He is a passionate man. Ennis can barely talk or look up, except when he's around Jack. As the years go by, Jack tries to have other homosexual relationships but they are all ultimately disappointing since he loves Ennis. Ennis continues to try living the life he's "supposed to live" for awhile, even after his divorce , but eventually settles into confirmed bachelorhood.

Other characters are notable for their body language and facial expressions. Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, and Kate Mara (who plays Alma Jr., Ennis's daughter). Alma is the happy, unsuspecting young wife of Ennis, until she catches him in an indiscretion during a visit from Jack. Michelle Williams's face wears the outrage and disappointment of a betrayed woman who's been made a fool of and with very few words. She struggles to hold back tears in his presence and tries to get him to come clean in subtle ways, but subtly is lost on Ennis. Eventually, they divorce, but part of her continues to love him.

Jack and Lureen have a business-like relationship. In fact, at one point he declares to Ennis that they could "have their relationship over the phone" for all it mattered. In fact, Lureen has the warmth of an actuarial table and is an entirely oblivious wife because she is so wrapped up in numbers and business; that is, until the end when tragedy strikes Jack and she realizes ironically, in a closeup by the camera on the phone, that Ennis was Jack's lover. She is all business, until it registers in her mind, and then subsequently on her face. She bites her lip and holds back tears, and then surprisingly and mercifully begins giving Ennis specifics about Jack's life and family--and begins telling him things she thought he might like to know, without really saying anything.

Kate Mara, as Ennis's daughter Alma, clearly wears love on her face for her father and she seeks to understand him as she grows up. By the end of the movie, she leaves you with the sense that she has known that Ennis was gay for a long time, but never says it. You can tell that she'd just like to tell her father that it's okay and that she still loves him. Even though these words go unspoken, it is understood by both in the end.

Some other significant performances, though minor in terms of characters are the man and woman who play Jack Twist's parents (Roberta Maxwell and Peter McRobbie). During a one and final visit by Ennis, John Twist sits at the kitchen table and repeats over and over again how his son will be in the family plot (even though he has already been cremated) like a broken man still in denial. Meanwhile, Jack's mother senses that Ennis and Jack were together and lets him go and look through Jack's things and take a shirt and jacket that belonged to him (Ennis) that Jack had stowed away and kept for himself long ago on that first summer together. Jack's mother invites him back to visit, but the viewer knows this will not happen by Heath's subtle and poignant facial expression at the invitation.

In the final analysis, Brokeback Mountain is about unrequited love, but it's also about our inability to control who we fall in love with and the hostile attitudes that sometimes surround us because of whatever social taboo we may have broken. Ang Lee made a beautiful film that is carried by great acting and a great story (thanks to Anne Proulx and Larry McMurtry). He made a film about a subject that could have been melodramic or stereotypical. Instead, he made a beautiful film about alienation and silence and the power of love to exist and survive under the harshest conditions and most impossible circumstances.

© Stephanie Lewis, 2006

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Real Life Chimeras

Am I the only one who finds THIS disturbing?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Stuff on My Cat

That's the name of the site I'm adding to my links.

Click here to view the site.

Cats can be quite tolerant.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Suffering For One's Art

Before I attended grad school at the University of Arkansas in the Fall of 1995, I worked that summer at two jobs: a frame shop and Target retail store. That year was the first of many years working more than one job at a time. In 1995-1996, I was a TA and a student at the same time, AND worked in the slide library, AND later that year, added waiting tables to my list of jobs. I worked all of those jobs concurrently for two years straight. Then, for a year and a half, I pared it down to just being a student and waiting tables. Then, I waited tables and taught at the Art Experience in Fayetteville. THEN, I was a graphic designer at Ozark Natural Foods, a waitress, taught part time at NWACC, AND volunteered and did paid work at the Arts Center of the Ozarks. Most recently, I was Director of Visual Arts at the Arts Center of the Ozarks and taught part time at NWACC concurrently for about 4 and a half years. Keep in mind, my other "job" during all this time (almost 11 years) was being an artist. Finally, I have the two jobs I've always wanted: making art and teaching art, and BOY am I grateful.

How have you paid your dues?

Back From The Holidays

As my holiday hiatus draws to a close, I am settling into my new office as full time art history instructor at NWACC. Have you seen the movie Brazil?