ROCK N ROLLER COLA WARS I CAN’T TAKE IT ANY MORE!

How To Art In Really REALLY Bad Times

Ah, the Salad Days of cultural angst.

When Billy Joel growled out the final words of his 1989 list song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” I wonder if he considered for a moment that the 40 years of world events highlighted in his unforgettable primal scream would, in a mere 30 years, come to be seen as “precious.” Yes, I know that was an incredibly long sentence, and no, I don’t give a fuck.

Who among us wouldn’t trade COVID for British Politician Sex? The Climate Catastrophe for Ho Chi Minh? Trump for Rock n Roller Cola Wars? Whoever said, “may you live in interesting times” can blow me…in hell, if the Christian Right is right.

Color me there!

Like many of my sister and brother writers, I’ve been struggling to find artistic purchase in this exceptionally challenging time. My work-in-progress is a YA fantasy, but it’s set in our world. Our pre-COVID world. I’d also started a play – a contemporary satire – in January that no longer seems particularly relevant as we collectively inhale the reality that nearly one million human beings have died from this plague. And there doesn’t appear to be a true end in sight…at least not one that can be achieved by the application of critical thought.

Untitled, Zdzisław Beksiński

The West Coast is on fire. Sally is having a party in the Gulf while other storms circle like a shiver of sharks in the Atlantic. The results of the 2nd most important election in our lifetime (we blew the first one) are already disastrous, and it HASN’T EVEN HAPPENED YET. Giant chunks of the Arctic are turning into a massive slushie. Sahara Dust is on the way. BLM has had enough of our country’s legacy of racist bullshit, and their anger is so incredibly righteous that it’s contagious – in a good and long overdue way. Schools are unbelievably open, and as of this writing, the number of teachers, TEACHERS, who have died from COVID continues to rise.

RIP Rana Zoe Mungin, 30, a graduate of both Wellesley College and UMass Amherst, who died from complications associated with COVID-19. On two occasions prior to her death, her family said, Mungin went to a hospital seeking a coronavirus test but was unable to get one. (THE BOSTON GLOBE)

And of course there’s more. So much more.

How do we function as artists when our collective frontal lobe is filled with end-days shit that none of us had on our Bingo card? The thought of COVID literature/theatre/art makes me cringe. It’s too big, too awful to reduce to the intimacy of storytelling, and yet, how can we legitimately spin a contemporary yarn without it?

Those who fought in WWI were dubbed the “Lost Generation.” Countless soldiers returned to their homes suffering from shell shock, which we now call PTSD. Their wandering, directionless lives were succinctly captured in works like The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises.

Shell shock wasn’t reserved for soldiers, however. The War to End All Wars was too big, too awful, and the artistic response to what was previously unimaginable was a jagged slash through the fabric of what had come before. Dadaism exploded in the art world in Europe and America, and Theatre of the Absurd was soon to follow. The sensual beauty of La Belle Époque that preceded the war became unbearable to contemplate, and artists scrambled – like many of us are scrambling now – to integrate our unimaginable reality into our individual forms of storytelling. Are we becoming a new Lost Generation? I hope not.

“That is what you are…all of you young people who served in the war.
You are a lost generation.” Gertrude Stein

The German Dadaist, Richard Hülsenbeck, described his world thusly:

“Berlin was a city of tightened stomachs, of mounting, thundering hunger, where hidden rage was transformed into a boundless money lust, and men’s minds were concentrating more and more on questions of naked existence… Fear was in everybody’s bones.”

Sound familiar?

The Dadaists, Surrealists, Existentialists and Absurdists saved our species’ artistic asses while carving out a new space in our understanding of art for daring new forms, which sadly seem commonplace today. Will our generation generate a similar eruption in response to the unprecedented times in which we’ve found ourselves? I really hope so.

Outside my window, the world seems unchanged from where it was a year ago. The grass is green. Trees are just beginning to tease with autumnal blush. Herons fly overhead on their way to the Ten Mile River. Our horses graze, unperturbed. But I can feel it. The thing. It’s out there and it’s terrifying. It taints my every thought. I’ve spoken with other writers and know that I’m not the only one trying to push through this malaise. I have no credible advice. Just keep telling your stories. I’m pretty sure that the world needs us now more than ever, because this fire we so totally started.

Stay safe/Wear a freaking mask/Support the ARTS

The Witcher Bewitches, Sort Of.

Okay.  Like a whole lotta people I binge-watched The Witcher last week.

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Hawt From Any Angle!

Filmed in Hungary, Poland, and Spain (I can almost hear the production location scouts saying stuff like, “Just give me a list of locations that are creepy AF!”) Netflix’s sword & sorcery offering does its level best to fill the hole left in some of us following GoT’s exit.

The Witcher manages to check all the right boxes for a fantasy series.

  • Amazingly convoluted story dependent on a backstory that spawns generations?  Check!
  • Huge cast of characters that takes us at least 3 episodes to actually learn their names?  Check!
  • Amorphous world-building resulting in a continent large enough for several Earth-sized planets?  Check!
  • Ancient dynasties with barely explained rivalries?  Check!
  • Strange mystic castes?  Check!
  • Dragons?  Oh, Check!
  • A special child with frightening powers who everyone wants to control?  Check!
  • Physical violence with a keen eye to hacking?  Check!
  • Magical violence that blows the CGI budget into the stratosphere?  Check!
  • Lots of horses?  Check!
  • A Super Hot Hero and Villainess Who Really Wants to Be A Heroine?  Check and CHECK!
  • Potentially Epic Romance?  Check!
  • And of course, Scary Bad Guy?  Ummm…Check, I guess.

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What’s not to love?

Okay, the writing.  Almost every episode is penned by a different scribe, but I’ll put this one on creator Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, who provided the scripts for the first and final episodes.  The writing isn’t bad, but the story structure is a tad cumbersome.  Those of us unfamiliar with Andrzej Sapkowski‘s book series of the same name, spend the first handful of episodes playing catch-up until we realize that we’re being told three different overlapping stories that aren’t happening at the same time.  Once that mischief is managed, however, it’s pretty much smooth sailing into pure escapism.  Cue the hacking!

EVERYONE is swooning over British actor Henry Cavill, who lucked into the titular role of the series.  There’s a reason for that.  Dude is hot as hell AND he can act.  He also looks amazing in black leather.  If you’re missing Viggo or Kit, Henry just might make you forget your pain for a bit.

But there are other standouts in this sprawling cast.

Anya Chalotra (who also looks amazing in black leather) is riveting as the very complex Yennefer.  MyAnna Buring goes the extra mile as an actress and then some in her ardent portrayal of Trissaia, the cruel-to-be-kind headmistress of Aretuza, and Jodhi May totally brings it as the powerful but tragically prideful Queen Calanthe.  There’s a lot of delightfully diverse woman-power in the cast, which I can only hope serves to light a fire under everyone else’s asses.

 

The Witcher’s production values range from “eh” to “wow!”  The costumes absolutely fall into the latter category.  British costume designer Tim Aslam did a magnificent job clothing his cast, and all I can say is that Anya Chlotra must be particularly pleased.  The CGI budget (saved mostly for the last two episodes) was well spent, and delivered bang for buck, for the most part.  Sonya Belousova’s score is fine.  And no one will ever complain about any episode in this season being underlit.

Of particular note is the creation of The Witcher’s own school for Witchcraft and Wizardry…well, just witchcraft, I guess: Aretuza.  A cruel and frightening place where you either succeed, or your life essence is taken and used to power the joint.  Survival of the fittest at its scariest.  Production Designer Andrew Laws and team got Aretuza just right, and it is, in my opinion, the most striking setting in the series.

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Welcome to School!

A lot of what goes on in The Witcher borders on the nonsensical, but oddly, that only seems to add to the overall derring-do of the project.  The epic gravitas of tales like LoTR and GoT is definitely missing here, but there is something unique about each character in The Witcher, which provides some internalized gravitas for the viewer.

The story is compelling, the acting is solid, the visuals are solid…its FUN, damnit, FUN.

So, if the dark nights of winter seem darker for want of a rollicking fantasy yarn with most of the bells and whistles you’ve come to love, give The Witcher a try.  It sucked me right in, and I hate everything.

 

2019 – You Sucked Balls. #byefelicia

It’s the last day of one of the WORST years I can remember.  Let me see if I’ve got this all straight:

Australia’s on FIRE.

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As of this morning an estimate 500 MILLION animals have died, and the Koala population has been decimated.

“Death to America” is trending this morning on Twitter.

Unknown-14Be honest, do these look like “protestors” to you?

Our impeached POTUS Is chillin’ at Mar-a-Lago while US Embassy workers in Baghdad watch Twitter videos of the “protestors” outside vow not to “spare anyone” when they breach the embassy.  But it’s okay, because Sec. Pompeo has promised to save the day.

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No words…

Small children and infants remain in US “Custody” at the border, forced to endure conditions that no one I know would accept for their own children.  

My dog died.

It’s become cool to egregiously mock 16 year-old young women with Asperger’s who only want us to grow the fuck up and save the planet so she and our grandchildren aren’t forced to live some terrifying version of the Mad Max franchise.

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“Can” is an operative word, peeps!

Somehow THIS happened:

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Again, no words…

Literally too many mass shootings to count.

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What the literal FUCK?

And “Arrow” is calling it quits.

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I may never recover.

I suppose things legit can’t get worse this year, since there are only a few hours left…

So here’s to 2020, which will hopefully usher in a push towards a more compassionate shared reality in which we all do whatever we can to help whom or whatever we can, even if it’s a koala.  It’s time we started acting like evolved versions of ourselves and work TOGETHER.

TO quote Bill Nye: “The planet’s on fucking fire!”

Safety glasses OFF motherfuckers, and have a fabulous 2020!

 

Domo Arigato, Mr. Robot

I just watched the finale of one of the most audacious feats of cinematic story-telling ever.  And now I’m verklempt.

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Elliot Alderson, as created by Sam Esmail and brought to life by Rami Malek will remain, for me, the most intriguing character I’ve encountered on page or screen…or even in real life.

When Mr. Esmail dropped his denouement on my head last night, I felt like it was 1975 and I’d just smoked a joint before parking my ass in Introduction to 20th Century Philosophy with a brand new notebook.  Everything in our home seemed alive and burning with the endless possibilities this life can offer.  Outside the stars glittered in the night sky, singing their siren song of the “what ifs” of quantum mechanics.  I haven’t listen to that music in a long time, but the finale of Mr. Robot blew open all those doors in my brain.

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(Psyched for the new sequel, don’t tell anyone I said that, please.)

Until last night I thought I’d been watching four seasons of a show about a brilliant and exquisitely damaged hacker determined to right our world’s singular wrong: greed.  But last night, oh, Mr. Esmail, you totally got me.  The breadcrumbs were there, but I ignored them.  My bad…or my good?

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I’m sure there are plenty of fans who are sitting smugly in coffee shops saying, “Oh, I totally saw that coming.”  Hmm.  With respect, I doubt it.  We ALL thought we were watching one show – being told one story – when we were, in fact, being told another, completely different story.  I’m sure Esmail’s ending will prove to be controversial, but I thought it was perfect.

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Mr. Robot has the distinction of having one hellaciously outstanding cast.  They’re all knockouts, but for me, the final season will be forever defined by the jaw-dropping performances of  Elliot Villar, B. D. Wong, and Martin Wallström – whose final scene made me weep.

 

So to Mr. Esmail: for the love of all that’s holy, keep telling stories!  Keep taking artistic risks.  Keep blowing minds, because those of us who actually give a shit about the state of the world need to be reminded, from time to time, that the universe is a strange and miraculous place.

And Rami Malek and Christian Slater: You both freaking ROCK.

 

Skin and Bone

When my daughter, Blythe Beard-Kitowski, was graduated from SCAD a couple of years ago and moved to NYC, I honestly had no idea how she was filling the hours between auditions and obtaining her Graduate Certificate in Producing at NYU.

Much to my delighted surprise, our Beast Childe was using that time to write several BRILLIANT short horror screenplays!

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One in particular literally took my breath away when she finally allowed me to read it.  Then known as “Untitled Screenplay,” it gave me an intoxicating peek into the fascinating  depths of this mind that Kevin and I helped to create.  I’ve been writing/storytelling all my life, and was literally blown away to be easily smoked by my own child’s short tale of something terrifying stalking a woman in the OLD WEST!  Western Horror!  Brilliant!

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As previously admitted, I’m addicted to all things horror…but so is my child.  Who do you think is sitting right next to me on the couch when the Ghost Bros Show is playing?

I could slip into a long rumination on the horror genre, but this entry is about Blythe, and her now titled screenplay, Skin and Bone.  She’s submitted it to several festivals, where it’s now an official finalist in the short screenplay category.  I think she’s most excited about being selected by the HorrorHaus Film Festival in LA, where Skin and Bone is an: IMG_2214

Brava, my darling Beast Childe!  Good on you for tuning into the organic relationship between horror and the American Old West, which was fairly horrifying, and creating a short film that I would dearly love to see.  Keep gathering Crying Monkeys – and for the love of all that’s holy, DON’T STOP WRITING!

Nice title, by the way…..

 

 

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