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9:06 pm - Thurs 8/26/04
\"I like to watch...\"
(This is copied from one of my other online journals, written earlier today)

"I like to watch..."

I may not always be satisfied with how things are going in my life, but I certainly can't say I've lacked for entertainment lately...

I'm seeing lots of movies, renting lots of dvds, and by and large, I'm enjoying myself quite a bit in that department (One "plus" about being alone? You can totally follow your own interests; I almost always have a good time at the movies, because I don't have to see anything I don't really want to see).

Yesterday, I saw The Door In The Floor, at the Beverly Center (Don't typically go there, because it's a little pricey, and I'm not nuts about all the commercials before the feature. But I was in the neighborhood, and I'd been wanting to see the movie. And while the matinee is not as cheap as the theatres in Los Feliz, it's not bad--Just $6.50).


Jeff Bridges is great. Exactly the kind of actor I want to be; He's never failed to convince me, which I guess is my way of saying "I've never caught him acting". It's not the kind of showy stuff that gets Oscars, but in my opinion, it's more of what acting is really about. It's almost a cliche, but he really does "make it look easy", which again, is the kind of thing I'd like people to be saying about me someday.

And what's up with these little Fanning girls? How the hell are they such fucking great actors? Dakoka is 10, I think, and her little sister is 4 or 5, I guess (I've forgotten her name), and they just might be better actors than I am.

I don't know how old Kim Basinger is, but however old she is, she is still H-O-T (Between Basinger in this movie, and Diane Keaton in Something's Gotta Give, I'm seeing "older women" in a new light these days...).

And once again, seeing The Door In The Floor, I realized I'm very attracted to sad, beautiful women (However that sadness manifests itself).

And Basinger is just heartbreaking (The scene where she turns to stone when asked how her two sons died is shattering; I was afraid for a moment that the question had literally killed her). Again, I thought it was a great performance, because I "didn't see the gears moving"; I just wanted to walk through the screen and do something, anything, to make her not feel so bad.

The movie is basically the first third of the John Irving novel A Widow For One Year.

I read the book years back--I'm a John Irving fan-- but to be honest, don't really remember it. But now I think I'm going to have to buy a copy and re-read it, once I get back to work on Friday. I find myself wanting to remember how things really ended.

Considering the subject matter--the dissolution of a marriage after the death of the couple's two teen-aged sons--I was surprised there was as much humor as there was in the movie (Thinking the movie might be a little grim was part of why I never got around to seeing it at my neighborhood theater).

Anyway, if I can steal this trademarked phrase, the movie gets a big "thumb's up" from me.


Two movies I rented recently--Something's Gotta Give and Last House On The Left--I rented specifically for the DVD features.

I wasn't very interested in seeing Something's Gotta Give when it was in the theaters. I don't know why, exactly. Maybe it looked kind of generic (The title certainly is), maybe I'd read some lukewarm reviews, I can't remember.

But then people I knew saw the movie--either in the theater or on dvd-- and all seemed to enjoy it more than they expected to (And when you think about it, why wouldn't they? I mean, it's Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, two people who have pretty much proven through the years that they know what they're doing).

And I read more than one review of the DVD that said the best thing on the dvd was the commentary track with the director (Nancy Meyers?) and Jack Nicholson.

And while you can now count me amongst the people who enjoyed the movie more than they thought they would (Diane Keaton is wonderful, and she and Nicholson together have the timing of a Swiss watch), the Nicholson commentary really was the most interesting part of the dvd.

I've heard people dismiss Nicholson as always "Playing Nicholson" (Which I personally don't think is the case) , but it was evident that this guy is always thinking--About his character, about the director getting what they need, about the audience--and not just "phoning it in" or "Just being Jack".

As an actor, one interesting thing he said--and that the director said about him--is that he gives the director "lots of choices".

And that makes sense--if you're going to be doing multiple takes of a scene, why not give the director "lots of choices"?--but I know from my own experience that it's easy to get locked into one way of approaching a scene (That's going to figure into my next entry, about my most recent commercial auditions).

And even actors--Maybe especially actors--wrestle with a fear of looking foolish in public, particularly if that foolishness is going to be put on film and recorded for posterity; I think it takes some real effort to put that fear aside and be willing to just "put it out there", trusting the director won't let you look stupid in the final cut.

During the Time Warner shoot, I had to do multiple takes of a scene, and basically felt like I was doing it over and over, the very same way (If there were changes in my delivery, they were purely accidental). It wasn't that I'm not creative or interesting as an actor; I was just afraid if I did something too different, the director would say "Jim, what the fuck was that about...?". When in all likelihood, he would probably have thought better of me, and have been pleased to have more stuff "to work with".

Thanks for the tip, Jack...


I saw Last House On The Left on video years ago, and thought I'd seen the "uncensored" version (The "plot" in a nutshell: two teenaged girls "go into the city" to see a concert, are abducted by a gang of psychos, driven into the woods, tormented, raped, and killed. Then, in an "only in the movies" twist, the killers develop car trouble, and end up spending the night at the home of the parents of one of the girls, who of course, find out who their "guests" are, and exact bloody vengence).

The dvd I rented recently was, as near as possible, the movie the way Wes Craven originally shot it (i.e. with more violence and gratuitous gore that what I'd seen previously).

(An interesting note--when they wanted to assemble the movie the way they'd originally cut it, they found it next to impossible to find a print that hadn't been further cut up by censors.)

I would agree with people who suggest that it's really not a very good movie, at least not two-thirds of it.

The stuff with the "comic relief" police is not "comic", and it's certainly not a "relief".

And the stuff with the avenging parents is awful--Just painfully written and acted).

But the middle section, where the killers torment, rape, and kill the girls, is, for my money, still pretty powerful, upsetting stuff. The low-budget really works to the movies advantage in this section, because you feel like you're watching "America's Sickest Home Videos".

And I think part of the reason it "works" for me--In terms of being effectively upsetting--is that when I first saw the movie, I hadn't seen this kind of movie ever before; unlike the more traditional horror stuff I'd seen up to that point, with Last House, I didn't have the comfort of knowing the girls were going to be saved, or get away somehow. You're just watching something bad play out in front of you, something bad that's only going to get worse.

You might be surprised, but seeing the movie again really made me think.

I found myself thinking about movie violence--why it "works" (It must "work", otherwise there wouldn't be so much of it), when it's "okay" versus when it's "wrong", etc and so forth (I would defend this movie, to a certain extent, over others I've seen since, on the grounds that you're never manipulated to be on the side of the killers. The killers are not "cool", and the girls don't deserve, in any way, shape, or form, the horrible things that happen to them; and if you have some other reaction to the movie, my feeling is that's your issue, and nothing that's inherent to the film).

It made me think about myself as an actor--Would I be able to do this kind of stuff, and maybe more importantly, as a career move, would I want to?

(In terms of "acting", it seems like a huge challenge, to be on either side of that victim/killer equation. But in terms of "the business", I couldn't help but notice that this movie didn't do much for anyone's career, with the exception of Wes Craven.)

It made me think about how impossible it is to see a movie the way the original audiences must have experienced it. It also made me think about the escalation of graphic movie violence in the past 30 years.

After watching the movie, I wanted to see what other movies one of the actresses had been in, and came across people's comments about the movie; while I didn't have a problem with people not liking the movie--As I've already said, I don't think it's a very good movie myself, by and large--It was sobering to read comments like "It's no big deal--After all, it's not like you see the knife go into her body" or "You see some tits, but it's not like it's worth renting the movie for...". These are theoretically "normal" people (I'm assuming younger, more desensitized people)...and I'd be kind of afraid to run into them in a dark alley, if you know what I'm saying.

Probably the most interesting--and disturbing--thing on the director's commentary track was when he described the scene where the killers pull the girls clothes off; They're topless, in their panties, and as the killers make them take them off, one of the girls is sobbing hysterically "No, no...I can't...", and has to be helped by the other girl.

It's deeply upsetting to watch, far and way the most "real" moment in the entire movie.

And as it turns out, there's a reason for that; Apparently, according to Craven, that actress, playing the more "innocent" of the two girls, really was the more innocent and inexperienced of the two girls. So what the audience is actually seeing in that scene is not an actress "pretending" to be terrified, but a young girl who really was terrified (The other actress's lines of comfort, improvised on the spot--"Nobody's here. It's just you and I..."--take on extra meaning when you know that).

Was this movie--Is any movie--worth putting an actress through that?

Artistically, I don't really think this movie is "worth it". But if you're talking about Schindler's List, for example--Which has scenes that are just as tough to watch, in their way--then it probably is.

It makes me think about the meaning of "exploitation", of "complicity", of "responsibility", etc (After hearing the aforementioned anecdote--This young actress basically having a nervous breakdown on camera as Craven blithely films away--I couldn't help but see him in a more distasteful light than I had before).

But, for me anyway, the answers are not simple (For example, while I don't feel this way, I know there are people who argue that it's wrong to make the Holocaust into "mere entertainment" like Schindlers List or Sophie's Choice, no matter how well-done it is).

The movie made me think about how I had a "serial killer" phase when I was younger (And no, I'm not confessing to horrific crimes I commited as a teenager; I mean, I had a "phase" where I was very interested in serial killers).

I read In Cold Blood, Helter Skelter, The Killer Beside Me, etc. (Some of the "classics of the genre"). And while it's been years since I've read any "True Crime" stuff, I totally understand why I had that phase.

Part of it was that I was, in a way, preparing to be an actor before I really even knew what "being an actor" was.

But in a deeper sense, I was trying to figure out what it means to be human; When I was younger, I'd read about historical figures and sports heroes, and people of accomplishment, so it was almost like it was time to "study the other side", to try and figure out how people went so completely "around the bend", how they could come to a place where killing other people seemed like a reasonable solution to their problems.

But my "study of humanity" will have to be more fully explored at a later date in time. I feel a powerful need for some extra sack time (And maybe when I wake up, there'll be a message from JS, telling me I booked a gig from one of my last three auditions...)


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