Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Of Noir and Guitar: One Vigilant Vixen

And here we are at the closing day of, and my final contribution to, The Self-Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films terrific For the Love of Film (Noir) Film Preservation Blogathon. If you go to their respective sites, you'll see that they are knocked out with submissions from writers both lauded and loaded, and as of this writing have already raised over $5000 toward the restoration of THE SOUND OF FURY starring Lloyd Bridges, just from the pocket change of shlumpfs like you and me.

So, the Blogathon may be over, but the love, the appreciation, and the art form keeps on going. Thus I'm posting today in postscript.

While I've been musing on the past in my previous entries, today, we're looking at the present and future. Presently, the Noir still has a compelling draw, as witnessed by the success of this Blogathon and the participants it has attracted. Outside of our little borough, however, it's still a bit of a fight. It's peculiar how we have arguably the most film-literate generation walking the streets and yet so many have never had chance, or even openly eschew the opportunity, to watch classic B&W filmmaking. The studios are no longer putting as much historical love into making them available to the public: where at the dawn of DVD we were spoiled by carefully crafted box sets of favorites and discoveries, catalog titles are no longer a priority and have mostly been relegated to the no-frills frontier of Manufacture-On-Demand releases. TV airings are extremely sparse: if you don't have Turner Classic Movies, you'll have a harder time finding a noir on TV than you would a prison screw who isn't on the take.

And meanwhile in my particular focus, the music video, on the surface, times seem as harsh as the setting of a noir. With the democratization of YouTube, videos are at once everywhere and nowhere, so while they are still made, they're not the must-see attraction they once were - no "MTV Exclusives," no theatrical runs, no multi-million-dollar budgets - so everyone, professional and potzer alike, are fighting for the same scraps of your attention like dogs on a meat truck. A band like OK GO can still get famous for an innovative video, and even build a following on a small budget, but more often than not, YouTube superstars become nostalgia acts as fast as you can say "Chocolate Rain." Nevertheless, good, creative types still explore the possibilities and make three minutes of Heaven, and many of them can even go on to solid success in longer-form work. And if there's an honest pair of dice in this crap game, the following lady just might be next in line.

Victoria Lane is a committed actress, a fearless promoter, a mordant writer, and as Jason Robards once observed about Stella Stevens, the ladiest damned lady I've ever known. Taking the professional subtitle of "Retro Hollywood Starlet," she has been one of a fiercely dedicated group of artists keeping the archetypes of Noir alive and relevant, through modeling spreads and live events. I've been privileged to know her for almost a decade, and to contribute from time to time to her projects.

Recently, the groundbreaking and resilient '80's band Duran Duran announced that they would hold a contest for fans to make their own videos for their new album ALL YOU NEED IS NOW, with winners receiving a cash prize and their videos collected on a DVD tied-in to the physical CD release of the currently download-only album. Victoria has submitted an entry for the song "Before the Rain." Considering Duran Duran's roots in the New Romantic movement, their frequent collaborations with the previously mentioned Noir-enthusiast Russell Mulcahy, and Victoria's love and understanding of the genre, frankly, this is a perfect marriage. As such, I asked Victoria to talk about her background and the production, as an example of how Noir can and will continue to fascinate new generations.

What was your first encounter with film noir?
I grew up watching old black and white Hollywood movies. I am not exactly sure when I first encountered the noir genre specifically, though. I just know that I was well versed in genres and noir was one of them. I was drawn to the early days of Hollywood for a variety of reasons, particularly the elegance of black and white film. Painting with light and the use of shadow were tools I understood very early as an artistic language.

That first noir film I happened upon was a movie starring Veronica Lake. Now that I look back, it’s a bit of twisted foreshadowing that I latched onto her. Many of the things she was accused of or criticized for have haunted me as well, though I’d kill to have had a higher profile career than I have thus far enjoyed. Minus the drinking. I have my vices and have had a wild period that makes Lindsey Lohan look like an amateur but I am nowhere near the tragic alcoholic Veronica Lake was legendary for becoming.

What are the elements that attracted you to it? Were you an instant fan, or did it take time to become your favorite genre?
There was always a little something wrong with me (or right with me, depending upon your perspective). From a remarkably early age, I was able to ferret out the bad guy in a movie before he revealed himself. I was attracted to the dark side. At first it was a sort of innocent type of romance. The thrill of going toe to toe with evil and walking away in tact.
But as I lived, experienced, loved, hated, and saw humanity for what it was, I started to have a burgeoning affinity for darker genres, particularly film noir. The concept of people being forced into extreme situations and engaged in mortal as well as moral combat all at once appeals to me. I understand how a perfectly good person can fall down hard. I fully condone adventuring through one’s vices and partaking in ‘sin.‘ And I like the idea of redemption, though not the sort you’ll find in a church. Having the strength to be you, both dark and light, is very attractive to me. All of that is found in film noir from the writing to the production value.

Up until now, what have you done to elevate its profile?.
I like to refer to myself as a living film noir vixen. It isn’t entirely a compliment in my mind. I am quite literally at that scary point in my life where I am standing at the end of my fading youth after a fast lane life of easy money and big dreams that amounted to so much stardust easily blown away by the faintest breeze. I took it on as a sort of theme from the way I dress to the creative projects I select.
I’ve recently posed in some beautiful images by photographer Mark Berry, done a night of Naked Noir for Dr. Sketchy’s LA and produced a little short set to Duran Duran’s recently released "Before The Rain" with the hopes of perhaps winning a contest to help fund a larger project set to execute this year.

What were the circumstances that led you to make your music video for "Before the Rain"?
That was a perfect storm. I have always wanted to be a Duran Duran video vixen. But by the time I had the self possession to do such a thing, Duran Duran was no longer dominating MTV.
Also, I have been trying to do my first film noir for years now. I had a basic plot and a very lush world carefully constructed. I had the beginnings of a script too. But between the Writer’s Strike and the economy, I had to sacrifice that whole thing to focus on surviving.
In December of last year Duran Duran released their latest album. It was one of the darker months of my adult life. The album was a bit of bright spot that shot like a laser beam through the darkness and woke up something deep inside of me. A week or two later, the band Twittered about a video contest. It was one of those moments where I felt like the Universe was talking to me and giving me the chance to fly if I had the guts to jump off a cliff. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I had to do it.
And so I decided to make two of my dreams come true. I made myself a Duran Duran video vixen (on a very limited stage, of course) and I co-produced a little noir movie with Todd Liebman.



(It has been brought to my attention that the embedded video is not showing up on some browsers, particularly Internet Explorer. If you can't see it above, you can click here to watch at the Genero.tv site.)

Why did you pick this song? Did the film noir concept come first, or did the song inspire the concept?
I picked the song for a few reasons. It was the only near gothic track on the album. And, given the clear hits other people were responding to, I expected it to be largely ignored by other filmmakers.
The song is not a frivolous pop hit. It’s a very dark, exquisite piece of poetry with a distinct pulse. The story we imagined came after listening to the song repeatedly. Granted, the story we came up with and what we were able to film in three days with a very limited budget as well as all the inevitable flaking of others were completely different, which still vexes me. But part of the whole process of making a film is realizing it is a living being that takes new directions. Being able to handle that is just as important as meticulous planning.

Describe the production. Was it a difficult shoot?
Filmmaking is challenging. It is not for the faint of heart nor the stubbornly rigid. Every single day was full of setbacks from locations falling through to people simply not showing up or expecting to be paid insane amounts of money. Indie film is a concept lost on a lot of people here in Los Angeles. When they hear "movie," they think of studio budgets that can shut down swathes of the city. I think we spent a total of $400. And no one was paid for their time. It was all contributed.
Todd and I had to do everything ourselves. Even on a four minute film that is a lot of work, particularly for Todd who was his own crew. It was very odd for me at times to be an actor in the movie but also the line producer keeping everything on schedule. It took some very intense compartmentalizing on my part.
I think the hardest bit for me was having to let go of the original concept and accept what we could get done. When we were shooting, we had a particular deadline looming set by the contest which was later changed. We weren’t aware of the additional two weeks added in the final days.
Also a total bitch? Loading that damn gun clip. Repeatedly. Putting bullets into a clip is not easy. You need some serious hand strength. (The clip was real. But the actual gun was not.)

Do you feel you have more to explore within the noir genre, either in short form or perhaps a full feature film?
I am not even close to finished with the genre. I am still going to produce the feature length noir. The current working title is “Pain Doll.” After seeing what we can do in three days, I am convinced this is what I am supposed to be doing. It’s not a bad first stab at filmmaking and even earned us a few investors as well as a real music video gig.

So what's next?
Next, I finish cleaning up “Pain Doll,” get some financing and kill myself to get it in the can. I’d like to do some live shows, maybe finally get back to singing in some of the lurid little jazz clubs popping up all over LA and pose for more fine art photography. Predictably, I am busy writing the ‘Great American Novel.’ I may eventually finish it up and put it on some dead trees before that becomes a thing of the past. I want to hold at least one book I wrote all by myself in my hands before I die. In fact, I’d like to be buried clutching it to my chest with a look of satisfaction painted on my dead face.

I would say clutching a work of art involving Victoria Lane would bring a look of satisfaction to anyone's face.

If you enjoyed Victoria's video for "Before the Rain," please go to Genero.tv and vote your appreciation for it. While it is not clear whether internet votes will determine the winners of the contest (the band will be picking favorites too), it will certainly help draw more interest and visibility to the vixen.

And, you can still donate to the THE SOUND OF FURY preservation fund by clicking on the custom banner below.



My enormous thanks to Farran and Marilyn for hosting the Blogathon, to Victoria for taking time to talk about Noir, and all you lovely little people in the dark for reading these posts...hopefully not in the dark, it's bad for your eyes!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Of Noir and Guitar: A Prime Mover


Today I continue my contribution to The Self-Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films ambitious For the Love of Film (Noir) Film Preservation Blogathon, where all manner of terrific writers have joined to remind you of the beauty of Noir, and to fund the restoration of the underrated 1950 thriller THE SOUND OF FURY starring Lloyd Bridges. Clicking on the banner above will allow you to make your own donation to the cause. Again, even if you think you can barely help out a fellow American who's down on their luck, a single dollar or two is welcome; we've all lived through a sob story or two. Random donors will be selected for great prizes, including DVDs, original artworks, and books related to all things dark and forboding, so if anything, you might be able to stop your sobbing.

When I left off in my previous post, it was the dawn of music video, where all you needed was a girl and a gun and you had a compelling video. But as the '80's wound into the '90's, the landscape was changing. MTV was leaning on more long-form programming, the audiences at home needed more to wow them, and the record companies were spending more money in order to wow them, so it would no longer suffice to just buy some vintagewear at the thrift shop and restage CASABLANCA. Also, technology was advancing, the toolbox of tricks was expanding, and new directors realized you didn't need to tell a narrative story, you just needed to do something visually interesting. One would think under these conditions, Noir would be replaced on the playlist like Academy aperture was replaced by CinemaScope. But like a underestimated patsy who doesn't know they're supposed to be dead, Noir kept permeating the thoughts of musicians and artists alike.

Looking over the generation of music video directors that emerged from this important transitionary period, I am definitely not alone in espousing that one who has, in his own special idiom, maintained the promise (or, in keeping with the tropes, the ruse) of Noir is David Fincher. Though never so obvious in his homage as the previously analyzed Russell Mulcahy, what he has eschewed in traditional trappings he has more than made up for in emotional roots. And before he was even entrusted with a feature, he planted those roots in the music video realm. And even there, he was able to change the rules: not one of the 3 example videos I've chosen feature a gun or a detective or any of the usual totems of the layman's understanding of Noir.

We are, however, treated to a protagonist who fears a deception only to learn he's sealed his own fate...

...two different interpretations of the physical evidence and aftermath of a lover about to lose their object of affection...


...and an icy blonde growing aware of being pursued by the one hit man no one ever escapes.


And in the shift to features, there is always some similar sort of emotional root of the classic noir in every single film of David Fincher. Consider:

The doomed, violent criminals stalked by a more violent aggressor, who innately understand even if the police arrive, it will not be to save them;



The veteran detective and the young turk who fail to contemplate the depths of one sociopath's calculations;



The rich heel who begs to know who and how many are trying to bring him to ruin and why;



The light sleeper who cannot, or does not, want to acknowledge his darkest wishes;



The working stiff who betrays his rich client in pursuit of an illusory payday;



The representatives of authority who willingly take a one-way trip to Hell in a futile attempt to corner a serial killer who always has an alibi;



The man with a secret, who effectively knows when he will die, and must piece together who he is before he will lose the capacity to do so;



And the cagey manipulator, who seems to double-cross every meaningful person in his life, including himself;



In short, you don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's Rye, and you don't have to wear Fedoras in monochrome to tell the story of a stacked deck.

For my final installment in this Blogathon, you'll meet someone just starting to bring the joy of silvery imagery to new viewers. Meanwhile, keep reading the submissions and send some simoleons through those internet tubes.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Of Noir and Guitar: Origins


Last year, I was privileged to take part in a noble blogathon begun by Farran Nehmes (The Self-Styled Siren) and Marilyn Ferdinand (Ferdy on Films) as a spotlight and fundraiser for the National Film Preservation Foundation. My submission drew lots of praise and is still one of the most-read articles here. Well, they're at it again, with a special focus on Film Noir and a special target for their fundraising: the restoration of an endangered 1950 thriller THE SOUND OF FURY starring Lloyd Bridges. Clicking on the banner above will allow you to make your own donation to the cause. Any dollar amount is welcome - if you've got $10 for a movie or a pay-per-view download, put it off for a night or so and invest it here. Random donors will be selected for great prizes, including DVDs, original artworks, and books related to all things dark and forboding, so you may see your investment pay back in entertainment as well.

To be honest with all the good and soft-boiled-souls reading this blog, I'm not the brightest bulb in the streetlamp when it comes to the subject of classic Noir. I've seen plenty of them, and love to devour them, but there are literally hundreds of writers participating in this event that can be more elegant or punchier in selling you on their seamy goodness. What I am better at, I think, is shining my dim light on their influence in places you would not normally consider. And for this entry, and a couple more to follow, I've chosen a medium that has more in common with the classic noir than initially thought. A medium that, like the low-budgeted and non-star-driven noirs of old, was dismissed by many for years as nothing more than disposable, derivative time filler: the music video.

It is probably hard to consider the music video carrying any kind of respect in the modern day. Even the network that made them famous rarely plays any. What few are made anymore are usually expensive vehicles that are more testaments to performer ego than storytelling. There are still plenty of others that are creative and unique enough to merit passing on to friends and posting on social networking sites, but it is safe to say that they are ultimately swept up amidst the salad of piano-playing cats, news bloopers, vanity webcam testimonials, and all else that constitute the daily memeage in our online diversions. And they definitely are not as effective in their first and foremost directive: to get the song played on radio and purchased by fans. But as stated by Girl On Film at the Images of Heaven blog, "[Given] how bloated and self-important music videos have become in the past 15 years or so, there’s something refreshing about revisiting a clip from 30 years back, when rock bands were loosely corralled before 16mm cameras to half-heartedly mime along with one of their 3-minute songs. The results of these brief, unpolished sessions were often crude little gems that captured more spark and natural charisma than any big-budget video produced today."

And in keeping with the theme of film preservation, many of these groundbreaking works are not being well-preserved. I saw a compilation DVD of Michael Jackson videos a couple years back and "Thriller," once the most expensive video ever made, shot in 35mm by John Landis and even exhibited in theatres, looked like it had been sourced from an old 3/4" tape! While most arguably famous artists have had their videos remastered from original film and tape sources and posted on the web by their record companies, many others surface only from fans' old home recordings...and, ironically, often get yanked from YouTube by the very record companies that have failed to preserve them! Reportedly, when WB wanted to include the two-part promotional video for Cyndi Lauper's "Goonies R Good Enough" for a DVD release of THE GOONIES, Sony Music only had the first half in their archive; a collector had to provide the concluding segment. While not often as prestigious or of august artistic value as a classic Noir, this still is a part of our cinematic history that deserves better protection that what it is being offered by those charged with its custody.

While many of the nascent directors at the dawn of music videos were taking their cues from an obvious source - the grandiose movie musical full of extras and spectacle - just as many, if not more, were taking their cues from Film Noir. Whether they were experienced filmmakers like Roger Corman protegee Jonathan Kaplan, whose Hitchcock-influenced video for "Infatuation" by Rod Stewart features MURDER MY SWEET co-star Mike Mazurki, or rising talents like Steve Barron, who made a matryoshka-style tribute in his video for "Don't You Want Me" by The Human League, they seemed to know that this was a chance to indulge in a style that was not often in demand for studio features. Bands themselves were just as inspired: the New Romantic movement of the early '80's popularized by Roxy Music and Duran Duran emphasized head-turning glamour to provide contrast to the no-frills bluntness of punk, and reveled in Noir imagery and themes. It is safe to say that the tropes of many a beloved Noir - B&W photography, smoke, rain, romantic obsession, criminal tendencies, and nihilistic endings - were the same tropes in music video that became so commonplace as to seem parodic.

And of the directors who made a name for themselves in this period, and used those tropes time and again, easily the most prominent Noir champion was Australian director Russell Mulcahy, lovingly described by Quentin Tarantino as "the poor man's Ridley Scott," an apt metaphor considering that Scott's '80's output (BLADE RUNNER, SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, BLACK RAIN) has been considered among the vanguard of what constitutes modern Noir. In a recent interview, he laid out the basis of his attraction to the art form, stating, "[The] older noir films definitely had a quirkiness to the them and a black humour, but they also had a serious, strange, underlying tone to them..." And time and again, Mulcahy drew out those elements, in varying ways.

It could depict feelings of unexplainable persecution, as in one of many clips for Ultravox...



...or of solitude and isolation, as in this starmaking clip for The Motels and their lead singer Martha Davis...



...or even darker ideas, such as getting inside the mind of a stalker with violent fantasies.




It's an aesthetic that Mulcahy would carry into his feature filmmaking career. While he has worked in genres like science-fiction and historical epic, it is definitely the Noir that is his favorite. His most famous film, HIGHLANDER, is ostensibly a sword and sorcery action film, but spends much time in the dark alleys and fog of the big city.



His underrated adaptation of radio and comic book hero THE SHADOW reveled in the period accoutrements.



His most recent film, GIVE 'EM HELL, MALONE, takes a more meta-whimsical approach, placing the trappings of Noir in an otherwise present-day setting.



One could look at his style and snarkily say he's just blowing smoke up the viewer's ass, but nobody blows that smoke quite like him, and that's what makes him such an entertaining quantity to me and a laudable keeper of the flame.

In posts to come, I'll look at the work of an even better-known, Academy Award-level director with a Noir influence, and an up-and-coming champion bringing their love to the next generation. Meanwhile, visit Farran and Ferdy's blogs and read the other outstanding submissions to the Blogathan. And donate, so that our children will know the pleasure of villains and vixens!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"I'll just die if I don't get this recipe."

Hope Kaplan is a close friend, a virtual den mother to the music cogniscenti of Los Angeles, and keeps a rather fine blog of her own. Don't ever dare question her rock'n'roll credibility: she was a Tacky Tartan Tart, and you weren't.


About a week ago, Hope wrote a thoughtful distillation on Radiohead's 1995 hit "Fake Plastic Trees," partnered with "Creep" as one of the band's best-known and loved songs, a cut which even the average over-40 "not too hard/not too lite" radio listener is familiar with and can hum a few bars. As detailed by Hope, songwriter Thom Yorke explores the notion of artificiality in the quest to conform to a societal standard, and how people, both through coercion and through willingness driven by loneliness, are sucked into the charade.

It's a common theme in his other songs, such as "Bodysnatchers" from the "pay what you will" 2007 album IN RAINBOWS ("They got a skin and they put me in"). According to Yorke, the latter song was partly and directly inspired by Ira Levin's novel-turned-cultural-talking-point THE STEPFORD WIVES. Yorke directly referenced the work in his earlier song "A Wolf at the Door" from the 2003 album HAIL TO THE THIEF ("Stepford wives who are we to complain?")

More importantly, however, it is readily apparent that his appreciation of the film was already in place back in 1995. Look at the hit song's equally iconic video directed by WELCOME TO THE RILEYS director Jake Scott...



...and look at the final scene from British director Bryan Forbes' 1975 film adaptation. Better yet, watch it, then turn the sound off on this clip, and watch a second time playing the song over it:


(Sorry for the anamorphic squeeze on this -
I tried to stretch it to a proper width but no luck)


Primary research has not turned up any conclusive proof that direct homage was being made by Yorke and Scott to Forbes' staging, and this ain't quite Dark Side of the Rainbow territory, but I think the elements are in place to suggest that the band has had an appreciation for the film and the themes it explored years before they began to actually write about it themselves. And their 1995 song meshed against the 1975 production fits as nicely as a Victorian maxi-dress on Tina Louise.

Then again...This is all so silly... it's just my head. This is all so silly... it's just my head. This is all so silly... it's just my head...

Friday, February 4, 2011

"No, I better, I say, I better not look; I just might be in there."

Twelve years ago this very day, I became a Los Angeles resident. First parked my car in the garage, slept a night in my apartment, bought a bag of Jack in the Box. It was easily the biggest change in my life I ever made. I came out here with a dream, a dream that to a significant degree is still unfulfilled, but if you consider that the average sleep cycle contains multiple dreams, then it can safely be said that while one has yet to arrive, others have been lived out quite nicely.

I do not think it is hubris or hyperbole to bring up the fact that a significant portion of today's readership of this blog is due to the generous nature of filmmaker Edgar Wright. When I declared his most recent film to be one of the decade's best, he liked my words so much they were tweeted to over 200,000 followers, many of whom came to visit, and out of that contingent a select few have chosen to continue visiting. I subsequently had occasion to provide some material assistance to Wright's second programming block at the New Beverly Cinema and again received both public and private gratitude from the genial maestro. While I do not classify myself as any kind of professional critic, and he has been just as generous to my friends Julia Marchese and Peter Avellino so I am not any kind of golden child, I daresay I have not witnessed this kind of mutual appreciation between creative visionary and cultural arbiter since Werner Herzog and Roger Ebert. And it serves as template for one of the installments of the REM cycle that came in the package with my move to the West Coast.

Like many a child of the '70's, I was raised on the groundbreaking story and song omnibus FREE TO BE YOU AND ME, and among my favorite pieces was Betty Miles' modernized (and to some degree, benevolently sanitized) legend of Princess Atalanta and the foot race, where a headstrong princess plans to thwart her father's desire to marry her off by agreeing to wed the winner of a marathon she knows she will trounce all competitors in, and an ordinary boy who wants merely an audience with the princess and trains fiercely to compete in the race and match her skill. They end up in a tie at the finish, the boy refuses to accept the marriage unless the princess desires it also, and both parties choose merely to spend an afternoon getting acquainted and go their separate ways, with the narrator proclaiming that perhaps they will meet again, perhaps not, but in either case are living life as they wish. While most read this as a feminist spin on traditional fairy tale myths, few seem to pick up that it is also a rather observant parable on aspects of our desire for fame which a lot of people never quite understand.

James Mangold's WALK THE LINE more explicitly provides similar insight into what we might call the Atalantian myth. At the beginning of the movie, boy Johnny is shown as fascinated by show business, lovingly quoting Foghorn Leghorn, and more importantly, a fan of precocious child star June Carter, the unspoken key being that she is living the life that seems so unlikely but that he yearns for: comfort, warm family, singing, success. While he grows older, he aspires to the dream, works at it quite fiercely, but he otherwise follows the patterns of sensibility by marrying a childhood sweetheart and getting a salesman job, because everything he's experienced says he won't make it, even dwelling on the fact that he really does not know first wife Vivian that well, but he begs her to marry him because he has already absorbed the notion that she is as good as he deserves or can expect. Then Johnny breaks out. And now he's considered the equal of a hitmaker like Elvis. And, more importantly, the equal of June Carter; he gets to talk to her and be friends with her. He's gotten validation that yes, what was seemingly impossible is happening, and unfortunately, his wife hasn't dreamt as large as him. Sure, she loves him and is happy for him, but she sees entertainment as a job that can be left behind when at home, when he sees it as his whole reason to go on.

Let me compare this to a plot thread in Stephen Hopkins' rather terrible HBO biopic THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS. There is a crucial scene where he tells his wife and family that he's leaving them because he "loves Sophia Loren more" than them. Maybe those were his exact words, but in the way it is presented in the movie, it is not correct to his character. Yes, Sellers was a cold, selfish bastard who put himself ahead of his family as opposed to Cash, but in a way they were similar. What Sellers was likely trying to convey to his first family was that after years of being the chubby boy who did silly acts in the longshot hope that a pretty girl would just look at him, he was now getting that kind of attention without having to be "on." He was in love with what Loren represented, that he was cast as a romantic suitor for her in a movie (where, in keeping with the Atalantian myth, she was playing a princess), and that it was considered plausible to do so. Again, it may not be fair to compare two famous people of different integrity, but the execution of this common obsession which unites Cash and Sellers is handled better. In both biopics, we see the requisite road flings, the tension at home and on travel, the channeling into drugs and violence. But Hopkins' agenda is just to show what a nasty prat Sellers was, at best an egotist and beauty/star-fucker, while Mangold understands that Cash stays drawn to June because in his youth, he basically wanted to be her, and upon getting to know her, and their heretofore unknown commonalities (overshadowed by a "better" sibling, sublimating insecurity through comedy, dealing with public shame over a first divorce), realizes (too late for his own marriage) his insight was better than he could have guessed and that they were meant to be in each other's lives.

Sure, on the surface this is naive, and could be interpreted as suggesting that Jodie Foster should have had a one-nighter with John Hinckley. But this does get at why we love certain stars: the notion that they are doing the things we would like to do, and that if we worked hard enough on our own, we could be on equal footing to them. The term I particularly like for this status of equillibrium comes from professional wrestling. Most matches you see on TV are called "squashes" - some ham-and-egger gets pummeled by the star in under two minutes, demonstrating that the erstwhile challenger is clearly not in the same class as the victor. But then there are the matches where someone still rather unknown but not obviously green is in the ring with a much bigger name, and that match goes for a longer stretch, and even if the star still wins, he has made it look like that new guy was a legitimate challenger, and the crowd starts respecting that new guy more and paying attention. It's called "The Rub." An established, respected performer elevates a lesser-known individual and gives them the appearance of being on their level. And all of us who ever plucked three chords or first learned how to say "To be or not to be" go forward in the hope that our skills will be strong enough to earn that rub from those that inspired us.

Which is where I drag myself into the story. I would be lying if I didn't admit to some of my hopes upon moving to Los Angeles being unrealistic. In some cases, such as meeting a pretty ingenue at a premiere party and asking for a phone number, they still are. And on those nights where you're looking at $30 in the checking account and how many $1000's in credit card debt, in a cluttered apartment where no woman has set foot for as many years as it took to release "Chinese Democracy," you wonder if the whole megillah is a misguided notion. But in the decade-plus I've been here, I think it's safe to say on more than one occasion I've run that foot race with Atalanta, and spent some wonderful vigils together. Whether it was Mark Cronin putting me in pole position on a silly game show for 130 episodes, or Edgar Wright tweeting this blog to some of you this past New Year's Eve, there have been enough applications of The Rub to tell me that my dreams are still worth pursuing.

So here's to 12 years of training, prayers, and vitamins, and down-to-earth princesses. Let's keep running a while shall we.