Saturday, February 24, 2007

Life on camera

Well, I had a camera crew in my house this week. I was coordinating and video project at work, and we needed a house where we could shoot both interior and exterior footage. Almost before thinking, I volunteered my house. I immediately began re-considering the sanity of such an offer, but it was too late to back out.

Part of me was sure that the director would come out to scout the location and say, "This place is a dump! There's no WAY we're shooting here!" However, he seemed to think it would be all right, and everything was set for Thursday morning. On Thursday morning, a big white van, several cars, and a HUGE truck full of equipment arrived. Yikes. Men tromped through my house with BIG lights, screens, cameras, and other paraphenalia. I think my electrical circuit got tripped a few times. People were running around, hoisting equipment and eating doughnuts. I alternated between hoping that these guys didn't trash the place and praying that the cameras didn't pick up the cobwebs in the corner or my shoddy drywall patch job.

We shot a few hours of video before the crew decided they had what they needed. Then, like bedouins in the desert, they packed up their gear and disappeared. After I swept the kitchen floor, it was as if they'd never arrived. A place for everything, and everything in its place.

Of course, I did notice later that they left a large black screen on some kind of heavy-duty metal stand in the back yard. I imagine it'll make a great screen for my sun-weary camelias this summer . . .

Written in the stars

I got the chance to see the touring Kessler production of Aida last week, and it was an enjoyable enough evening.

First, a quick synopsis - Aida, princess of Nubia, is captured by Egyptian general Radames, who's engaged to Egyptian princess Amneris. Knowing she'd be a prime bargaining chip in Egypt's campaign against Nubia, Aida keeps her identity secret. Ignorant Aida's true stature, Radames presents Aida as a slave to his betrothed. Radames finds himself drawn to the oddly regal slave, and the two fall in love. Amneris discovers the deception, and the two star-crossed lovers are buried alive as punishment. (Cheery, huh?)

Several things - first of all, this is a fairly contemporary musical, with book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls, and David Henry Hwang. Music is by pop legend Elton John. In a way, I think this musical strives to be a blockbuster affair, like one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's productions. Epic, sweeping, you get the idea. The problem was, it never got there for me. It seemed awfully preachy at times, and it never felt truly "epic" the way Webber's stories do.

The performances were good but not great, with the lead characters displaying more vocal range than acting ability. The two standouts were Leah Allers as Amneris and Dane Harrington Joseph as Mereb. Allers displayed both emotional and vocal dexterity, switching nimbly from over-the-top fashionista to betrayed lover. Joseph's all-too-brief songs were filled with emotion, and I particularly appreciated his understated but moving death scene.

All in all, an enjoyable evening, but it would have been so much more if the leads had been on their game.

Of note

I recently had the chance to see two films - one was a happy accident, and the other was one I'd been wanting to see for a long time.

I stumbled upon The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio totally by accident. I'm a fan of Julianne Moore, though, and the opening credits looked fun, so I thought I'd give it a shot. Glad I did. Moore is, as always, wonderful in it, and it was definitely worth watching. In a nutshell, Evelyn Ryan (Moore), Catholic housewife and mother on TEN children, has a way with words. She's married to luckless, alcoholic Kelly Ryan (played pitch-perfect by Woody Harrelson), who drinks away the money he makes as a machinist in a local factory. For fun, and to help make ends meet, Evelyn participates in national contests for jingles, rhymes, and other marketing mumbo jumbo. And she's good, too. Her winnings make up the down payment on the Ryan house and also include cars, kitchen appliances, supermarket sweeps, and more. Frustrated Kelly is by turns resentful and amazed at his wife's prowess as she neatly feeds and cares for their brood. The movie is based on a true story, and for the most part, it's a feel-good family flick.

Moore and Harrelson are the true stars of the film, and I don't know which one is better. Moore's character is imminently sympathetic, maintaining a good attitude and a can-do spirit in spite of her husband's failings. In contrast, Harrelson is masterful as Kelly, a good-natured but weak man who can't seem to succeed. He is torn - his status as sole provider is consistently challenged, making him defensive. However, at heart, the viewer does feel that he loves his wife implicitly and admires (indeed, depends on) her resourcefulness.

I also FINALLY got around to watching Good Night, and Good Luck, starring David Strathairn, George Clooney, and Robert Downey Jr. Very impressive. First of all, the black and white film lends the movie a nostalgia that is difficult to describe. The cigarette smoke alone deserved an Oscar nomination.

The movie tells the story of Edward R. Murrow's stand against Senator Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s. Murrow (Strathairn), together with Fred Friendly (Clooney) was one of the few who publicly stood against McCarthy and pointed out the holes in the search for closet communists. The film itself is a fascinating look at the role of the media in American democracy, the obligation of the fourth estate to serve as a watchdog on our government. It is almost as if the filmmakers were asking us to LOOK at our media, at how far it has sunk. There was a time, apparently, when news was about more than ratings. It's a pity that time has past. I imagine that much of Strathairn's "on camera" script was verbatim, and it was pure poetry. Newscasters no longer speak with such eloquence nor demand so much (intellectually) from their audience. It was yet another eye-opening moment.

The film also explored the damaging effects of public opinion, particularly in the case of Don Hollenbeck, played expertly by Ray Wise. Hollenbeck, once in McCarthy's sights, is a doomed man. Although he tries to refute accusations made against him, he eventually commits suicide rather than face continuing public shame.

The soundtrack is smooth and instrumental, indicative of the time. And the film had an interesting topic for me, considering my profession. (When in grad school, we studied some of the research that Fred Friendly produced while at Columbia. Interesting stuff.) I highly recommend this film.