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Inspiration

“My knowledge that I will die gives focus and meaning to every day that I am alive.  Were we to live forever, what motivation would there ever be to write a poem?” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

David Bowie. Photo by Jimmy King.

David Bowie. Photo by Jimmy King.

Of course the last opus of David Bowie comes to mind, impeccably released within days of his own death.  Bowie was as much a storyteller as he was a musician, so it is fitting that his last work would be an expression of his final journey.  With the single “Lazarus,” Bowie has written his own requiem:

“Look up here, I’m in Heaven

I’ve got scars that can’t be seen

I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen

Everybody knows me now.”

Bowie kept his 18-month long illness private, which may be why his fans are obsessing over cryptic clues about his death in the lyrics of his songs.

Perhaps the knowledge that we are mortal beings with limited time is what inspires some artists to continue to create until their final days. But why? Is it a means of control? Does it bring meaning to their lives? Is it a way of saying goodbye? Facing one’s death is deeply personal, yet these artists have shared their journey in a public way. Read More

“How to Dance in Ohio”  – Review

Marideth Bridges, right, in “How to Dance in Ohio” on HBO.

Marideth Bridges, right, in “How to Dance in Ohio” on HBO.

There’s a story I was told recently about a boy with autism. One summer, his mother took him to the community pool every day, and every day people would avoid him or stop and stare. The mother worried that this would be his life, playing alone at the opposite end of the pool, suffering the gaping of strangers. One day, towards the end of the summer, a girl about eight years old tried to talk to the boy but got silence in return. She marched up to the mother and asked, “Does he have autism?”

The mother replied, “Yes, he does.” With that the girl turned on her heel, returned to the boy and changed her dialogue to make it much more direct. She said, “Get on the float, and I’ll pull you.  I’ll throw the ball, and you’ll catch it.” And for 20 blissful minutes, the mother saw her baby boy laughing and playing with another child for the first time all summer. Joyful, hopeful tears ensued.

It is with this story in mind that I watched the documentary “How to Dance in Ohio,” a portrait of young adults with autism preparing for a spring formal dance.  (Full disclosure, it was produced by my dear friend Bari Pearlman. )  Well-deserved praise has followed the film since its premiere at Sundance this year, and now it is widely available on HBO. Read More

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

With NASA’s announcement of the confirmation of water on Mars, I’m posting a nod to some fiction inspired by our celestial brother.

Mars has long captured the imagination of storytellers since the discovery of the “canals” provoked the idea of ancient civilization on the red planet.

  • War of the Worlds, HG Wells (1897)

Equally compelling are the stories about the colonization of the planet.

  • Red Planet, Robert Heinlein (1949)
  • The Sands of Mars, Arthur C Clarke (1951)

Colonization breeds imperialism, a theme that was especially prevalent in works from the 1950s, a hot topic on this planet.

  • The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury (1950)
  • The Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut (1959)

Most recently, I enjoyed The Martian (2011) written by Andy Weir, which Ridley Scott has adapted for the big screen. The verisimilitude of surviving on the surface of Mars is remarkable. Sticking to the science of human space travel, once again the story reflects the times in which it was written.  Today a journey to Mars could happen in the next 15 years.

Birdman (2014) Fox Searchlight Pictures

Birdman (2014) Fox Searchlight Pictures

In cinema, the Long Take is one long uninterrupted shot lasting several minutes and usually requiring careful and complicated choreography.  It’s a technique that is almost as old as film itself, yet over the years the technical aspects of the long take have evolved as directors and cinematographers rise to the challenge of pulling off even bigger and better “oners.”

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s Birdman, which won an Oscar for best film this year, is a recent example of a long take – in fact the entire movie is intended to have the effect of one long tracking shot.  But this is nothing new.  Alfred Hitchcock employed same device with his 1948 film, Rope.  Hitchcock was limited by the technology of the time. Because reels of film were only 10 minutes long, the director was required to hide the cuts; many of the takes ended on a nondescript surface so the next roll of film could pick up right where the last one left off.

The use of the long take is often a spectacular display of technical acumen, but it also risks breaking the film’s spell with a flashy moment for the filmmaker to shout “look at me!” when it doesn’t serve the story.  It is most successfully executed when we don’t realize that it’s happening.

While this is by no means comprehensive, check out a select list of my favorites: Read More

Dr Maya Angelou and me in her home in Winston Salem, NC in 2010. Photo by Bob Richman.

Dr Maya Angelou and me in her home in Winston Salem, NC in 2010. Photo by Bob Richman.

On the eve of the memorial service for Dr Angelou, I’m reposting this essay about producing her autobiographical Master Class episode for OWN.

Though my heart is heavy and full, it was an honor to know her even for a moment.  Rest in Peace, Phenomenal Woman.

 

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Macon Blair as Dwight.  "Blue Ruin" Radius/TWC 2013.

Macon Blair as Dwight. “Blue Ruin” Radius/TWC 2013.

“Blue Ruin” is the story of Dwight, a deeply wounded beach drifter seeking revenge for a family tragedy, who blunders his way towards a bloody conclusion.    Written, directed and shot by filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier and drawing comparisons to the Coen brothers film “Blood Simple,” the result is a stripped-down thriller of remarkable tension.  Despite the violence, Macon Blair plays Dwight with heartbreaking tenderness.  The AV Club gave it an A-…high praise by their standards.  And the positive reviews are still coming in. Read More

 Vasily Kandinsky: My Favorite Synesthete

Vasily Kandinsky. "The Seasons" Panels No. 1-4. 1914. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Vasily Kandinsky. “The Seasons” Panels No. 1-4. 1914. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Vasily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was a Russian-born painter known for his use of vibrant color and abstract techniques.  In general, abstract art has never really spoken me, that is until I first saw Kandinsky years ago at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.  His colors seemed to dance across the canvas in weird and wonderful ways that were at once sensual and chaotic.  In that moment, I got it, or rather, I got something.  Stripped of any recognizable form, all that’s left is how the work makes you feel…significant considering that Kandinsky probably had synesthesia.

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Matthew McConaughey in "True Detective."  HBO.  2014.

Matthew McConaughey in “True Detective.” HBO. 2014.

Lo! There’s hardly an actor more committed
to risks of content and character.  He has made
an impression that even Matt Damon admitted
– a dedication that leaves lesser men afraid.
But there once was a time that belied his talent.
A penchant for super-tan flesh like Peking Duck
and bongos concealed the serious actor within
destined for leading man caliber with style and pluck.
In recent days there’s much to admire:
With critical acclaim, his star will soar higher
as did my fondness for his work in Magic Mike.
So, sing love and praise that once you hid.
It’d be a lot cooler if you did.

The Beauty of Nureyev at the de Young Museum

Rudolf Nureyev rehearses for "Marguerite and Armand" at Covent Garden in Britain in 1963. Photo: Michael Peto, The University Of Dundee The Pet / SF

Rudolf Nureyev rehearses for “Marguerite and Armand” at Covent Garden in Britain in 1963. Photo: Michael Peto, The University Of Dundee The Pet / SF

When I was a kid growing up in the 70s, there were few things more magical than when my parents woke me up late at night for something they didn’t want me to miss: a lunar eclipse, a fire truck screaming down the street, or Rudolf Nureyev dancing on PBS.  Through the gauzy veil of memory, I can still picture this man leaping impossibly high and landing with such elegance and joy that I could hardly get back to sleep.  And so it is fitting that I recently accompanied my parents to the de Young Museum exhibit, Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance, in San Francisco.

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