Sep 23, 2004

The Night Before the Night Before.

I've been making phone calls, pacing hands-free in the backyard. I wore a track in the grass and emptied a final half-pack of cigarettes. I smoked enough to make myself ill, and caught Stirling in a momentof drunken confession mania.

His rant was an odd balance for someone so inebriated. It sounded like a break-up from the, "It's not you, it's me," school. On one hand, he claimed to have given up film-making; on the other, he's pushing Mark D'Agostino's newest script on his boss for production, even if it lacks an ending. He said that I'd be successful and inspire the next generation of filmmakers and artists, but seemed to dismiss my work as pandering and shallow. He apologized for ditching Ladies and Gentlemen, but said he'd had different, political aspirations for it, aspirations that conflicted with mine and doomed the project. He apologized for not contributing to Momentary Engineering, but expressed his distaste for the script. He said he would've given $5000 if we'd gone with the other script (Twenty Feet Less Dead) - the script no one seemed to like - including him!

The repeated theme was that I should not listen to him, that he was a lead balloon, but also the King of New York. He said I had to escape the "intellectual" and arrogant East Coast, I had to stop him, Benni, Shaun, whoever, from holding me back.

What motivates these statements? Was it to pump my ego up big enough so I couldn't see around it and notice his dismissal of my work as just Hollywood tinsel? I have noticed.

Yet. Does he think he's not pretentious because he's called his own aims pretentious? If he sees what he is, calls a spade a spade, but holds onto his hand - does that not mean that he values a spade more? Is his adoption of the dismissive term "pretentious" not simply an attempt to speak "my" language? Does he not really mean, I am what you would call pretentious, and you are what I would call pandering. You belong on the West Coast where the air is light with whimsy. I belong in a New York tomb where the air is heavy with truth.

If so, is his calling me pandering, and thus bound for greatness, and himself pretentious, and thus bound for failure, not the most pretentious thing he could say? And, at the same time, the best way to excuse himself from the pursuit, without turning blame for that surrender onto himself? In the end, isn't this a way to exonerate himself of having abandoned these dreams, using creative differences to hide up the more significant difference in our levels of dedication?

His aspirations have shifted. He's selected financial security over what he'd called his dreams a year earlier. His path no longer run with mine. He's changed; I've stayed the same. He must now come to terms with that choice, and this is his way of doing it. His sales-pitch to me was troubling, because ultimately, while he tried to make it sound like encouragement offered to me, it was absolution offered to himself.

In truth, he doesn't know my aspirations - politically, artistically, professionally. He knows that he will no longer sacrifice stability and leisure to follow those dreams and agendas - I will - and so he must invent a line of separation, a line whose reason for being drawn he can live with. He has chosen a line that sets him on the side of unprofitable, but sincere, political intellectualism; and me, on the side of successful, shallow, pandering entertainment. By drawing the line there, he can rationalize his choice to back off. With the line drawn there, he would be silly to do otherwise.

But the line isn't there. Sincerity, political progressiveness, and intellectual depth need not be severed from entertainment. Sincerity, new ideas, and intelligence ARE entertaining. But the key is to utilize a form of communication that reaches those who live in that world (the "East Coast intellectuals") as well as those who do not ("the people I pander to"). That communication is, and always has been, STORIES.

What Stirling, and the ilk, fail to see is this: they are not put-off by someone pandering to the masses - they are put off by someone failing to pander to their intellectual crowd! If the issues and buzz-words and art-house obscurities are absent, they assume the message is not addressed to them, that there could be only foolishness inside, and they disregard it without opening it.

Both the "masses" and the "intellectuals" must accept with openness, must absorb without pre-judgment, the content of a story. One cannot dismiss the entertaining as inherently unintelligent. One cannot dismiss the intelligent as unentertaining.

Story is the first language. Its syntax is the interconnections between ideas and emotions. If one refuses to feel, ideas are lost. If one refuses to think, feeling is lost. The mindlessness of an action movie leaves the action flat and tedious. The callousness and distance of an "art" film leaves the ideas stagnant and unpersuasive. An effective story finds the emotion that makes the idea unforgettable; it finds the idea that makes the emotion unavoidable. An effective story does more than preach to the choir of its making. It is its own decoder.

In short, Stirling, and the rest, can have their self-preserving rationalizations disguised as praise for me and deprecation for themselves; I will keep my self-preserving rationalization disguised as a treatise on the polarizing misconception that sucks life out of movies, novels, and music.

So there.