Monday, November 27, 2006

The Veil Is Lifted

When I began this blog I was somewhat hesitant about revealing my identity on it. I'm pretty sure all of my multitudinous half-dozen or so readers know who I am, but I do link to here from some political sites I comment on, and my fear had always been that some right-wing wacko whom I had served a little too much snark to would hunt me down and shoot me.

I've realized, however, that one of the therapeutic effects of this blog is that it forces me to show the same face to everyone: friends of different stripes, family, business associates. Like perhaps most people, I had projected slightly different images to different groups in my life -- depending perhaps on what I thought they expected of me. This blog says: this is who I am and this is what I think. That act isn't complete unless I say my name. It's William Gadea. Everyone calls me Will.

And by the way, I just updated my professional website. You can see the animated short I recently finished over there: it's called SuperMadge.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Casino Royale

I went to see Casino Royale at the Ziegfeld last night with my friends Keong and Tom. Given the critical acclaim the movie has received I had high hopes for it, but I must say I was a little disappointed. Don't get me wrong, there are wonderful things in the film: the chase at the construction site was one of the best I've seen in years -- and Daniel Craig is a fine new Bond. However, the pacing in the second half seemed a little slow and the storytelling is often patchy, with missed steps and turns that haven't really been set up well.

Still, I'm glad the series has stepped out of the camp parade. Maybe if they get Christopher Nolan to direct the next one...

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Good Stuff

I remember the day I realized. It was when I got home from the zillionth disappointing Woody Allen film and saw one of the better episodes from the first season of The Practice. It was hard for an unregenerate film snob like me to admit, but the best TV was -- on its own terms -- as good as the best films, and a whole lot more reliable.

Here's what I'm watching now:

Rome: I know it premiered a while ago, but I'm only now catching up to it on DVD. The period of Roman history beginning with Caesar's return from Gaul contains some of the most colorful narratives in all history. Shakespeare was able to squeeze not one but two plays out of it. Rome keeps its end of the bargain. Although some of the performances bug me a little bit -- James Purefoy as Mark Antony comes off as a bit too melodramatic for my taste -- it still works and it's as addictive as popcorn. Rome is crowding the top of my Netflix queue.

Entourage: I have a feeling it might have peaked in season 2, but these bad boys are still damn entertaining. Think Sex and the City with boys instead of girls and fancy cars instead of shoes. Smart, funny, and Jeremy Piven is in the role he was born to play.

Weeds: I have an insane crush on Mary Louise Parker, so I would probably see this show even if it wasn't brilliantly written. An ordinary suburban single Mom starts dealing weed to make ends meet. It's The Sopranos meets Desperate Housewives.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: I know it's not that good, but I keep watching anyway. Maybe it's because I'm hoping it will get good. Maybe it's because I miss The West Wing and still need my fix of Aaron Sorkin characters jousting verbally and occasionally pausing to remind each other of how smart they are.

Drawn Together: My friends Susan and Zach turned me on to this show. A bunch of cartoon characters, all parodying well-known animated figures, live together in a mansion so they can be filmed for a reality show. The episodes are a little uneven, but at its best this show is as maniacally inventive as The Simpsons at its peak and more outrageous than South Park at its wildest. Funny, funny, sick, sick.

What are you watching?

Friday, November 24, 2006

La Seduzione - The Story

The story of La Seduzione is very simple: A guy walks into a cafe, sees a girl and immediately decides he's going to pick her up. She's a bit put off at first by how strong he comes on, but he manages to recover and smooths things over. They leave the cafe together.

Well, it's not quite that simple. These aren't really human forms... they're disembodied eyeballs, eyebrows and mouths that are hovering around in front of geometric shapes: an oval for the girl's face and a triangle for the guy's. And they don't talk -- at all. They express their ideas, intentions and moods by rearranging their face elements into new configurations.

Of course, as the title suggests, the movie is set in Italy. The go-go Rome of the sixties, to be precise. I'm thinking of my characters as Marcello and Sophia, in honor of my two favorite Italian actors (not that they ever get a chance to use each other's name.)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

An Amazing Statistic

The costs of U.S. occupation in Iraq is roughly equal to the entire Iraqi GDP. Why don't we just bribe them instead of fight them? We can say, "hey, we'll double what everybody in the country earns if you just chill out, okay?"

Democracy and War

The Iraqi conflict is now the third-longest foreign war in our nation’s history, after only Vietnam and the Philippine-American War. President Bush has urged us to maintain our resolve. I’m not going to advance an argument about our options in Iraq (at least not today,) but I do want to make a narrower point: if we choose an option that, in order to attain success, requires a commitment of more time than is left in Mr. Bush’s term, then we need to be reasonably assured that the public support will be there to maintain that commitment.

From the evidence of polls and the recent mid-term elections, that support is not there and is unlikely to grow. If troops levels stay where they are and the Republican candidate in 2008 is forced to defend an unpopular war, then even John McCain – perhaps the most popular politician in the country – would be a certain loser. To say that this is a good war to fight if only there were public support for it is like saying this would be a great car if only the engine worked.

I’ve noticed that the farther right you are on the political spectrum the more likely you are to embrace principle-based ethics: “does this action follow my principles?” Liberals and moderates, on the other hand, tend to prefer utilitarian calculations: “does this action lead to the greater good?” While a principle-based ethics may have many advantages on a personal level, on the world stage it is potentially disastrous. It should be of very little consolation to President Bush that he is following his principles if doing so leads to a greater amount of death and misery.

Now there may be a way to bargain with the public. If the Iraq Study Group comes up with a plan that at least reduces troop commitment, and if bi-partisan support can give that policy cover, then maybe we can embark on a strategy that is sustainable. But to ignore political concerns is to deny the peculiar nature of a democracy at war, and to spurn the lessons that reasonable Republicans have tried to impart.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Robert Altman, RIP

Robert Altman has passed away. It's remarkable that he spent twenty years directing documentaries and TV episodes before breaking out in 1970 with MASH. At the age of 45 he became a youth market icon! Well, more power to those late bloomers; they're encouraging.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Why Make an Animated Short?

One of the things I'd like to do on this blog is chart the progress of the animated short I'm working on, La Seduzione. Perhaps the first question to tackle is why I am making it to begin with.

In the romantic imagination an artist isn't motivated... he is possessed. Inner demons (or angels) compel him to create, and nothing -- not hunger or sickness or the cold indifference of the world -- can prevent him from doing so. Right. (My first instinct is to insert that bit of sarcasm, but there are people like that -- and I do sort of envy them.) The more jaundiced view is how Samuel Johnson saw his craft: "No man but a blockhead wrote except for money." Good for you, Mr. Johnson. Personally, I've long since stopped judging my motivations, or other people's. There is no bad reason to create: money, fame, food, sex, the exaltation of God, or just plain fun... if it works it works.

The most honest answer to why I'm making La Seduzione is because I'm happiest when I'm working on a project which I conceive myself and where I have final say on all creative decisions. However, there are other rationales (or maybe rationalizations) that I need to uphold before I can commit the enormous amount of time necessary to complete a project like this. They are these: it will improve my skills in 3D animation; and it will hopefully be a good portfolio piece, exhibiting and promoting those abilities. There. With the pragmatist in me satisfied that I'm not doing something too stupid, I can go ahead and play for a few months.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

No Second Acts?

There is a famous adage often ascribed to F. Scott Fitzgerald: "There are no second acts in American Life." These words are in the air these days because Trent Lott, the former Senate majority leader who left his post in disgrace after making remarks that were interpreted to be racist, has returned to the Republican leadership. "There are second acts in American life," says George Will on the tube this morning. "That's the most untrue truism ever" says David Brooks on another show, becoming quite exercised. Of course, Brooks is right. Google the term and you find that practically all the hits are debunking the saying rather than quoting it affirmatively.

How did we come to adopt an adage we so thoroughly disbelieve? Where does the stickiness factor for this saying come from, to borrow Malcolm Gladwell's term? We cite these words not as a truism but as a horror story: nothing scares an American more than the possibility that self-invention is impossible. To disprove such an idea is infinitely comforting.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Theatre and Drinks with Vaclav and Madeleine

I received a tip from a friend last week. Vaclav Havel and his friend Madeleine Albright were to attend a performance of one of his plays being featured in the ongoing Havel Festival. The occasion was the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. If you’re imagining red carpet and velvet ropes, you’re way off. The venue was The Brick, a tiny little black box in scruffy, hipster-packed Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

There might not have been red carpet, but there sure were a couple of flashes going off when the guests of honor pulled up to the theatre. They arrived together, along with Mr. Havel’s pretty wife (who was on crutches – hopefully not for long) and a small retinue. They sat on the front row.

The theatre made sure the house was packed… they even had people sitting on cushions, at the edge of the risers. Emails had been sent to the theatre’s stalwarts: show up, but don’t tell the cast who’s coming! Depending on your point of view, this was either a gesture of mercy or sadism. As I arrived to the theatre a little earlier than usual I met one cast member outside who I knew socially; she seemed veritably nonchalant about the evening. Later on, when I spoke to the lead after the show he confirmed that he didn’t know who was in the audience until intermission, and that he was glad he didn’t. I’m not sure whether everyone in the cast felt that way or not. I spoke to an actor who was not in the play, and she said she might have found it extremely disconcerting to be in performance and, out the corner of your eye, catch sight of the very famous author of the words you’re speaking.

The play is called Temptation and was written in 1986. It’s a retelling of the Faust story, but your sympathy is definitely with the devil. A scientist, appropriately named Foustka, labors by day in a research institute where power plays and sucking up are the main order of business. Foustka has developed a secret interest in the occult which, if it were known, would threaten his position at the institute. A Sorceror comes to visit him and attempts to seduce him into the ways of black magic. The tension between these two worlds puts strains on the Foustka’s kinky affair with an office-mate, in which they play-act scenes of betrayal. Finally, we discover that the Sorceror was really an informer for the institute; Foustka’s fate is sealed. No doubt the play had special resonance in 80’s Czechoslovakia, but its message of struggle against orthodoxy retains a universal punch.

The production had enough credible performances that the audience was with the piece all the way through its three-hour length. Yes, the pacing could have been a little faster, and the show suffered from that scourge of off-off-Broadway: moving furniture during the blackouts between scenes. Nevertheless, like a rolling snowball, the evening seemed to accrete power as it went along, so that by the time we see Foustka’s fall we are surprisingly moved.

After the performance and the curtain call, the director came onstage in a fireman outfit and invited everyone to stay for the reception. A band playing Velvet Underground covers was coming on, he said, so please clear the aisles so they can get through. The faces of the cast curdled at this point. Someone whispered in the Director’s ear and he got out of the way: Mr. Havel joined the cast for another curtain call and everyone was happy again.

The band came to play, bringing all acoustic instruments including an accordion, a violin, and an upright bass. Mr. Havel and Ms. Albright drank beer from the bottle. The band leader onstage asked the Havel retinue what an appropriate Czech greeting would be for the Velvet Revolution anniversary (which he kept mangling into “Velvet Underground Revolution Day”). Mr. Havel came to the microphone, more as a shy playwright than a retired politician. He uttered a few un-sonorous words in Czech, which we were glad to hear even if we couldn’t understand them. It seemed like that would be that, but of course, Madame Secretary knew what was the right greeting, and of course she was self-possessed enough to let us know. “The correct greeting for this day is ‘Havel na hrad!’. Havel to the castle!” said the Prague-born Ms. Albright. So Havel na hrad it was.

They stayed for a couple of songs, but by the last chords of Waiting for My Man the slight figures of Ms. Albright and Mr. Havel were pushing up the aisle. All the actors, the playwrights, the hipsters in the audience turned to face Mr. Havel as he exited. Most of that crowd were young people trying to create an artistic legacy of their own; they said goodbye to a man who had done that, impressively… and also freed his country from despotism without firing a single shot.

A Beginning

I'm not sure what this blog will be. A journal of my creative projects? A collection of my political rants? An account of my goings-on? Perhaps it will just be my random thoughts and observations. I know there will be long stretches when I will not post. But I hope the writing will be decent and entertaining, and I hope this will diminish complaints from friends and family that I am insufficiently communicative. Grand ambitions, I know.