Spring Things

I haven’t posted anything here in awhile, and quite honestly, I’m not posting this because I’m brimming with inspiration, but I had a good conversation with a friend last night about having to do creative-ish things – or at least indulge your creative habits – even when you don’t feel like it.

There’s not a whole lot of creativity going on here, either. Just a few podcasts and documentaries and articles that have made me think lately. It’s for the exercise.

Sleepless in Seattle is on TV right now, and it has me thinking about the Nora Ephron documentary, Everything is Copy, which premiered on HBO in March. I’ve watched it once in full, and probably 3/4 of the way through it again, and I know it’s going to be one of those works I keep coming back to. Not even because it is so brilliant (though it was extremely well-done) but because it tells me truths I know I’ll need to remind myself of down the road.

I didn’t really know who Nora Ephron was when I first watched When Harry Met Sally my freshman year of college, but as soon as Sally said, “The story of my life? The story of my life won’t even get me out of Chicago. I mean, nothing’s happened to me yet. That’s why I’m going to New York,” I knew Nora Ephron was for me. The person who made characters who said things like that must get me. That deep connection to those words, though, did not turn me into an expert on the entire Ephron catalogue. I have seen all her Meg Ryan movies, plus Julie and Julia; I’ve read I Feel Bad About My Neck and saw Lucky Guy on Broadway; I know I’ve read assorted other works by her and about her (actually, earlier this year, apropos of nothing, the New Yorker posted this Ephron essay from 2010 to their Facebook page; I’d never heard of it but it was a delight to read).

It was not until Everything is Copy that I felt I had a complete sense of her. The documentary reminded me of her sensibility, and how badly I want to be her. She was a writer, she was funny, she chased adventure, she had an interesting life, she herself was interesting, she was an adult in New York.

I never realized until the documentary how much the subject matter of films like When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail was a departure from her journalism of the 1970s. I loved hearing David Remnick explain how Nora and the “wised-up, New York comic seriousness” of her Esquire pieces taught him, as a teenager in New Jersey, about feminism. I loved watching Meg Ryan remember her fondly. And even though their marriage didn’t end well, I loved learning about how she met and fell in love with Carl Bernstein.

There are lines I want to remember, yes, in the context of Nora Ephron, but also just as generally great writing advice, or as ideals I want to aspire to as a writer and a New Yorker:

Nora saying, “writers are cannibals,” always stealing from their friends’ and families’ lives and experiences.

Mike Nichols on Nora writing Heartburn following her divorce from Bernstein: “She wrote it funny, and in writing it funny, she won.”

And this is not so much advice but rather a line a want to steal: Nora calling Julie Nixon “a chocolate-covered spider.”

Other items on my mind:

Marc Maron celebrated 700 episodes of his tremendous WTF podcast last month with what he deemed a two-part episode, but was really two full-length WTF interviews, one with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and the other with Louis C.K. I picked more specific takeaways out of the JLD episode, but listening to Maron and Louis C.K. talk about comedy and life is a treat, too. Both episodes were masterclasses about how TV and the entertainment industry operate.

What I loved about the Julia Louis-Dreyfus episode was not just her own stories, though they were great (I never noticed that was her in Hannah and Her Sisters!); what I really loved about it was its function as a testament to Maron’s skill as an interviewer. At one point, she told a story about something she did with her teeth as a kid, when she would be out in public, because she thought it made her seem older and more adult to others around her. It was something of an afterthought, but she explained the full story. At the end, she said a little wistfully, “I’ve never told anyone that story before.” I think that’s a testament to Maron’s power. The conversation and the atmosphere naturally guided her to something of a revelation.

I was just about to type, “that’s it,” but I thought of one more recent, fantastic Maron interview. Rob Reiner did WTF just a couple weeks ago and the conversation is exactly what any fan of movies, comedy and showbiz wants it to be. He talks about his dad’s friendship with Mel Brooks, his own friendship with Albert Brooks (“Three generations of Reiners and Brookses, and all of the Reiners were Reiners but none of the Brookses were Brookses”), growing up in Hollywood, making movies, and more. It’s a warm and funny 90 minutes.

Ok. That’s really it. I think there’s some inspiration cooking now. Thanks for reading.

Advertisements

August is weird, so more summer movies.

I’ve gotten to the point of summer-induced restlessness that going to the movies is a form of release, an escape from this never-ending August and a stifling apartment. This week, I saw my first-ever film at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, which is a gem of a theater – it’s near Lincoln Center, one of my favorite parts of the city, and shows smaller, independent films. And while at most big theaters – your Regals and AMCs – take you up, up, up (I do love the escalator ride to a high-level theater at the Times Square AMC) there is something wonderful about going underground to the theaters at Lincoln Plaza. The box office is right on the street, and all the theaters are inside, below.

I saw the new documentary “Best of Enemies,” and I just got the feeling that most of us in the audience were there for some kind of summer escape. Probably 50% of us were there alone, and while I have no idea what brought each individual to the theater that night, I like to think it was a combination of not having a partner willing enough to sit through such a micro-niche film, and just wanting to get out of damn house.

If you have a love for retro TV graphics, you’ll adore “Best of Enemies.” Actually, there are a lot of other reasons to love it, but that was what I found initially attractive. The 60s were so crazy! The documentary explored the William F. Buckley vs. Gore Vidal debates staged by ABC after each night of the 1968 nominating conventions. It was a genius programming idea at the time – something to boost ABC in the ratings and separate it from the other networks doing the same wall-to-wall convention coverage.

They had a great range of talking heads coloring the conversation – the one I found most interesting was a linguist from Columbia University who shed light on Buckley and Vidal’s voices. They spoke in an educated tone, bordering on a British accent, and it would be unthinkable for an intellectual voice like that to be taken seriously on TV today. I thought that was an interesting element to highlight.

There were interesting anecdotes from their personal lives, as well. I went into it knowing the names Buckley and Vidal, but didn’t really know concrete things about them, and now I do. It was interesting to hear about their personal and political sides, from biographers, writers and my personal favorite, Dick Cavett.

The documentary paints the Buckley-Vidal debates as the direct cause of today’s proliferation of talking heads and debate surrounding political conversation, which I don’t know if I entirely buy, but it raises some interesting points. Right before I saw the film, I listened to John Powers’ review on Fresh Air, and I found Dick Cavett’s contributions as a talking head especially interesting in light of what Powers said: “In the grand historical sweep, the Vidal-Buckley encounter’s true meaning isn’t really political. Rather, it marked the end of the days when literary figures and public intellectuals still had prestige. Days when writers like Vidal, Buckley, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and James Baldwin – all men, you’ll notice – could actually be regular guests on the Tonight Show.” Even if today’s media debate doesn’t directly descend from Buckley-Vidal, it’s at least interesting to view it in light of the idea.

And speaking of late-night, the other best piece of media I consumed this week was GQ’s Stephen Colbert cover story. I can hardly wait for September 8 now, when his Late Show begins. I mourned (well, still mourn) Letterman’s departure but this story has turned my curiosity about what Colbert’s show will look like into excitement over what it could be.

I never watched The Colbert Report, save for a few clips here and there, and I kind of regret that I didn’t get into politics before the Colbert-Jon Stewart era was nearing its end. BUT. Colbert is fascinating. This was a great profile and it was also Colbert letting it be a great profile through what he revealed and how he revealed it. He was disarming.

“Here. Look at this. The Death Mask of Agamemnon.”