Showing posts from 2008

Les lumieres sur la Seine

Jean-Philippe took off his tie. The bedroom was clean. The red duvet was stretched tight over the bed and there were vacuum stripes in the carpet. In the meager light of the bedside lamp, the room was faraway and still. The room was a bed and a clock and the glinting brass of the dresser knobs in the dimness.

He hung his tie in the closet and thought about undressing. He stretched his socked toes and dug them into the soft carpet. He was too tired to undress and shower, which he must inevitably do. He wanted to collapse into the sofa and quiet himself. His head was buzzing with the din of voices and the clanks, bangs, and crashes that were the thousand collisions of a dinner service. If he did not decompress himself, it would go on into his dreams. He would wake in the middle of the night, wide-eyed, his heart beating fiercely. She would ask what was wrong and Jean-Philippe would say, ridiculously, that table twelve had not received their soup.

When he came into the living room, she was…


Yesterday, I was promoted to captain at my restaurant, which is a big deal that doesn't happen all that often. I gave a speech to about twenty of my peers. The transcript follows (with apologies to Robert Howard and John Milius):

I have been characterized as an ambitious man. I don’t deny I own an unquenchable lust for glory. All my life I’ve been told to keep my feet on the ground and my head out of the clouds. There’s time enough for the earth in the grave. Now let’s touch the vault of heaven.

You have been my allies. I remember days like this when my father took me to the forest and we ate wild blueberries. More than 20 years ago. I was just a boy of four or five. The leaves were so dark and green then. The grass smelled sweet with the spring wind.

Almost 20 years of pitiless combat! No rest, no sleep like other men. And yet the spring wind blows. We strive together. We can’t forfeit. We would only be back here another day. Perhaps in worse company.

For us, there is no spring. Just…

La Strada

I met a stripper who worked summers in New York to pay for drama school in Montana. I knew she wasn’t lying because she had big shoulders. She smiled a lot, too, ingenuously, which was how I knew she couldn’t see the irony. Of all the actors I know, the ones who don’t live in the big cities are the happiest. In another time, being the best Iago in Cheyenne would have meant something.

“Is this life?” is a question best asked rhetorically, at the right moments, like when you ride the TGV to Paris and watch the fields of mustard and Syrah pass as you lunch on olive tapenade and onion confit with fresh bread. That’s just one instance.

Another great time to ask “Is this life?” is when you are in a car in the Nevada desert with your Mom and your Dad and your baby brother, with nothing around for miles and miles, and a mad, dusty herd of antelope race across the road just where you are, no coincidence, just jolly good antelope fun, because what would you do all day if you lived in the desert?


A Life For A Life

I had not considered this life. I have to now: I am in it. I have no doubt that it will end, only little idea of when. The hardest decisions to make, I suppose, are the ones that lead us from our good fortunes. My good fortune is nearly accidental. I have worked at it tirelessly, for years. Only I never considered it. I walked blindly into it—choosing this path, surely, but having no idea of where it led or ever announcing it as my ambition. It is not my ambition. It is only that I am very good at it, and that I sometimes enjoy it.

That’s enough, I think. I can prosper like that. Only the gulf between life and fantasy widens, and not only do I not know my way over, I’m losing sight of my dreams altogether. New dreams arrive. And everyday I have to convince myself that I do not want to open my own restaurant, my little vegan bistro featuring food inspired by Mediterranean France, Spain, and Italy, with good wine and cold beer (it’s damned hot today), blond wood and brass, live gypsy mus…

Saturday Night And Sunday Morning

I cannot say where we left off, dear reader, in respect to my orientation in the world and the progression following, but it would be entirely safe to guess that I was tired, overwhelmed, and perhaps a little melancholy, and that any progression at the time seemed wholly in the wrong direction. But that’s obvious, as you can see by the lack of activity here in the last month. I forget so easily that talent is not innate and certain, but separate and predisposed to neglect, like a foster child. My care has been judged deficient.

Back again, then, and hopefully this time for good, though probably not. But quickly, to recap:

Work goes well, I suppose. The turbulence seems to have resided, as New York enters wakefulness and fewer people want to spend their time inside a restaurant. I finally have a decent schedule, all promotions and training complete, and the water looks decidedly calm from here on out. (I have been vociferous lately in decrying superstition, but—dash it—let me knock on wo…

Movie Journal #6: No Country For Old Men

No Country For Old Men

Here is a flawless film, perfectly executed. It is philosophical without being cold, peopled as it is by real human characters, all caught up in a microcosmic game of ambition and expectation versus fate. It is a technical masterpiece, as was Hitchcock’s Vertigo, but like that film it has a soul that runs deeper than its genre or even its medium can contain. It is a great film.

Its strength is in the way it plays by the rules of the crime thriller, but also explodes the genre whenever it can. Here is a drug deal gone wrong and the innocent everyman who finds himself with a satchel full of cash. Here is the sociopathic killer on his trail, and the old sheriff chasing them both.

But look at the care put into Josh Brolin’s everyman character, the way he fills the role, and how observant the filmmakers are in creating a real person. His actions, his motivations, all ring true, surprising as they sometimes are. (I especially love when Brolin, unable to sleep, mutters, “…

Movie Journal #5: Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom

Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom

Now I see it, the difference. Where Raiders Of The Lost Ark was elegant, a mature homage and update of classic Saturday serials, told with wit and an eye for spectacle, awe, and myth, its sequel is merely that: a sequel, another breed altogether. It builds on what is suspected to have worked the last time around, and rather than a celebration of something beloved, it means to explode what came before. It wants you to forget the last go around, and does so mainly by turning up the volume.

Temple Of Doom is loud and graceless, a juvenile gross-out with little of the sense of history or cleverness of its predecessor. It seems to have been made by different people, except that it is again masterfully directed by Steven Spielberg, whose eye for composition is nearly matchless in all of cinema. It’s only that Spielberg lost himself in the whiz-bangery this time, and used character to serve the situation, rather than the other way around.

The most jarring in…

Movie Journal #4: The Outsiders

The Outsiders

I had never seen Coppola’s film of The Outsiders, for a number of reasons. It came after Coppola’s great period, and it seemed almost painful to watch a bad film from that great director. Also, I am averse to nostalgia of any kind, especially that of the 1960s (how grating was Across The Universe?), a period by now mythologized into something that can be nowhere near its truth.

There are, of course, exceptions, such as the Coppola-produced American Graffiti, but these films are usually set in a specific time and place as opposed to celebrating that time and place. Or perhaps there is no hard rule separating a nostalgia piece from a period piece, only a filmmaker’s restraint. In any case, the examples of ‘60s nostalgia pieces far outweigh the period films.

I needn’t have been so skeptical of The Outsiders. It avoids nearly all of the pitfalls of a film of this type in its depiction of the lives and characters of a small group of rough kids from the wrong side of the tracks i…

Movie Journal #3: Into The Wild

Into The Wild

Sean Penn’s film of Jon Krakeur’s splendid book about college graduate Chris McCandless’s admirable and naïve liberation from society and flight into the American wilderness must be credited for treating its audience to an expansive panorama, full of sights and people too seldom seen in the cinema. The movie is at times breathtaking in its depiction of America and its malcontents. It’s only too bad that these highs are so rarely hit in this drifting, overlong film.

Indeed, the book fared better at inspiring wonder, such as when the author visits a tunneled rock formation in the desert, or follows McCandless down the Colorado River into Mexico. In the movie, that wonder at natural beauty is replaced by an awe of McCandless’s spirit, and an investigation into his motives. The book was interested in McCandless, but more as a symbol of a common longing and youthful gusto.

The movie wastes its time on Chris’s family, and bores us with one of those gratingly soft-spoken, semi-poe…

Movie Journal #2: Clerks II

Clerks II

It is fourteen years since I first saw Kevin Smith’s Clerks. I have grown up, and Smith has not. He showed signs of it once, with Chasing Amy, and certain parts of the unfortunately uneven Dogma. But he never followed through, or perhaps he never escaped his own crude instincts or his fan base of groundlings clamoring for more of his clever idiocy.

He is, honestly, still a very funny fellow. Clerks II is bursting with outrageous dialogue and spot-on pop culture references; I was nearly on the floor when drug dealer Jay performed the Buffalo Bill dance from Silence Of The Lambs. But, as always, he strives to make a more heartfelt, wise experience, and where Chasing Amy stung with truth, Clerks II is only unoriginal and uninspired, no more ambitious than any generic sitcom.

The film is not irredeemable. It stars Rosario Dawson, after all (a bright spot in a cast of amateurs), and has enough crude laughs to entertain. It’s only that Smith is so much smarter than this. Jersey Girl …

Movie Journal #1: Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Raiders Of The Lost Ark

What do we do with these indelible masterpieces of our youth? Every scene lays just where it should, every line anticipated and delivered as if it were movie Scripture. Half the experience of watching the movie is remembering it, which leaves little room for freshness, and no surprises. Raiders Of The Lost Ark prospers on surprises.

It is difficult, too, that Raiders, inspired concept that it is, is rather simplistic. It is a concept executed. It has charms, but not human ones. It is a bit cold, an exercise totally in its genre, and forgets that Spielberg’s best touch is his lightest, those small human moments that balance and eventually outshine the big and the breathtaking. From Jaws, I remember most the three men around a table, trading tales, and from Close Encounters, I remember Richard Dreyfuss trying to convince his sons that seeing Pinocchio is better than miniature golf. (The reason Shyamalan is so good is because he cops this side of Spielberg and not …

Quick Change

It is a strange intimacy we share, my dear reader, as you and I sit in nearly the same position, the same distance from our computer screens, and stare at the same image (that of Win Butler’s oh-so-serious earnestness), and think the same thought: where is he? Where is Reilly Owens and what is he doing?

Reilly Owens is building up a life, or imagining that he is. Perhaps he is still at work tearing down the adornments of the last life in search of a true structure. The truth is, I often have less idea than you do of where I am. But let’s not make this a sob story or an apologia. Here I am.

New York is as it was. It is winter still and I hate it. I stay locked up in my small room in my parents’ house when I am not working. I am paralyzed by the weight of my ambition, so much is the quantity of work I must do that I don’t know where to start and instead spend all my free time reading or watching episodes of television series I have decided it important for me to watch, for my education. T…