Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Domestic Life of Magicians

_/ ][

I'm now in pre-production on a short film I'm directing
taken from an episode in Harry Swan Jr's memoir Alter Ego.
Swan Jr. is doing the voice-over narration, but more than
that he's been answering my questions.  I asked him if he didn't
think it was a problem for magicians getting married when
deception is their profession and life-blood while marriage
is based on trust and honesty.

"It's tricky," he said, quoting one of my own films back
at me, then he pulled one of his business cards from his
coat pocket and handed it to me.  "Check and see there's
no other card in my pocket."  I looked.  There was no
other card.

  "Turn it over," he said.

   On the back he had written, "I knew you'd ask this
sooner  rather than later.   Choose an odd number
between 10 and 50 in which the two digits are not
the same.  For instance 11 would  not work but
15 would be fine."

  It took me a moment to understand the
instructions, but then I looked up at him and
said 37. He smiled slightly and handed me a copy
of Alter Ego. Before I opened to page 37, I knew
what would be printed there:

    Any average magician knows that when a move designed to be secret is spotted by the audience, the trick is to some degree exposed even if the exact mechanics remain unknown.  On the other hand, a gesture that looks like a secret move when the sleight has already occurred can be the perfect misdirection, and in retrospect make a rather simple trick look life a miracle. 

    Here, the confident magician is able to let the alert spectator think herself into an inescapable corner.  By thinking she has spotted the crucial move, she feels she has some sense of how the trick was effected and goes home feeling a bit superior to most, if not all, in the audience.   She goes to bed in innocence and peace only to wake with the realization that the trick could not have possibly been done the way she thought. 

  She does not go back to sleep but spends days and nights racking her brain, all hope of discovering the right method thwarted by the precious bit of misinformation she holds onto and which she keeps using as the foundation to work out a new variation which will hold up under her astute scrutiny.  It does not take long for her obsession with knowing to turn to an obsession with the magician who knows. 

   It ends in marriage - or from another perspective begins - and on the wedding night she withholds the expected favors until the truth be given to her.  The magician faces a dilemma.  Beyond his sacred duty to his art, he must ask himself:  will he lose his hold on his love when she learns how banal was the artifice, how simple the ruse for which she fell?  Will she still love him when she no longer needs him to free her from the impossible place in which she has cornered her mind?  

  The confraternity holds that whether the two will make a relatively happy or the most miserable of unions depends on how the delicate matter is handled, i. e., he must find a way to satisfy her without actually exposing the banality of the magic which has fascinated her for so long, that is he must lie to her and effectively.  If he tells the truth, she will never forgive him for being a magician.   

  How often has this old scenario played itself out one way or the other in the backstage annals of magic?  Many, many times certainly, second probably only in frequency to the endless variations of the magician becoming obsessed with his assistant - always futilely, it need not be added, as a magician is nothing without his secrets, which his assistant believes that she already knows. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

That Certain Physical Manifestation of Feeling

Harry Swan Jr. in his entertaining samzidat,
Alter Ego, recounts a day in which

"Nothing I could think of was wrong.
Everything seemed fine.  Everything had
been fine the day before.  Nothing preyed
on my mind - well nothing but the usual
things over which I used to eat my heart
out but which had lost most of their
anxious urgency over the years - and yet
I could not deny that my heart, not my
symbolic, poetic heart, but my my actual
physical heart was encased in a heaviness
which I can only label as depression.

I think of depression as mental, but I
know these physical sensations well,
the hyper-awareness of my inner chest
heart area, the way this heaviness
ebbs and flows down the left inside
of my torso, sometimes at its furthest
extension, bending to the right into
my small intenstines, never moving
straight down into my leg or up into
my shoulder. And they are not simple
pain.  They are not even in themselves
painful.  For a few moments, you'd
think nothing of these sensations, but
when they extend themselves over time,
they become depression itself, not
the physical manifestation of something
else, but the rude, unholy enchiladada itself."

Swan Jr's description ran very true for me,
but when I get my physical equivalent of
this form of seemingly purely physical depression,
I often find it's an early warning system of anxiety,
or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it's the
first stage of anxiety about something coming up
which had not entered into my consciousness yet.

Still, I doubt this facile explanation covers all cases.
When I was younger I often woke up horribly depressed,
though I had gone to sleep happy.  I knew I was depressed
because of how my chest felt, but the intense physical feeling
tended to dissipate rather quickly over an hour or two. 
Now such episodes are much, much rarer, but they last longer. 
_                                                                                   -

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mussourgnakov's End

              _                   _

And finally he came to
Where good writers start
And failed writers find their end:

He turned to writing poetry.

--                                               _

It was perhaps because Chicago was the 
Eastern Europe of America that he felt 
so at home here.  -- Life of Mussourgnakov

Monday, August 16, 2010

And Who Will Report on The Newspaper?

Further Thoughts on Donald Rosenberg's Law Suit
(see Cleveland UnPlain Dealer 8•15•10 below)

What was the point of Don Rosenberg suing his own
newspaper for taking him off the Cleveland Orchestra

Strange as it may sound, it may have been the only
way for Rosenberg to fulfill his function as a reporter and
to cover - or in this case uncover that which  The Cleveland
UnPlain Dealer would dearly have liked to cover up -
i.e., the story of how the Cleveland's leading newspaper
came to let the Cleveland Orchestra dictate how
music director Franz Welser-Möst would be reviewed.

The great Chicago labor lawyer and writer, Tom
Geoghehan, has taught us that the underdog must
often file lawsuits they know they can not win - even
though the moral right is on their side - not to win in
the courts but precisely to move the issue from the
judicial courts to the court of public opinion. 

Donald Rosenberg needed to file his lawsuit for
a related reason:   not to win; but to make sure
that editors and publishers know they can pay
a price for kow-towing to the powerful.

Rosenberg has stood up for all the critics in
America whose editors certainly don't want to
face the same fate that has now befallen Susan Goldberg,
the editor of who put the Un in front of Plain Dealer.

Simply put, this one decision will define her career
It is her legacy.  She has proven that an editor has
a right to muzzle any writer on her staff who writes
something the rich and powerful don't like, but I
doubt it's the legacy she would have chosen. 

Most journalists have idealistic streaks, or they
would have chosen more remunerative fields,
and I picture Ms. Goldberg as a girl imagining
herself fighting corruption and standing up for
the truth against the powerful.  Life is complicated
and somehow she ended up on the wrong side of this

She has defended herself saying she sensed a
closed mind in Rosenberg's writings.  It sounds like a
fair reason to reassign a writer, but if she really
felt that Rosenberg had lost his objectivity, the
least she should have done was let a very respected
critic write a goodbye column in which he was
not only allowed to use the words Cleveland and
Orchestra together, but also in which he could
have justified himself and let readers decide if she
were right or wrong.  

In the end she felt enough in the wrong to fear
his pen as much as she feared the Plain Dealer's and
The Cleveland Orchestra's interlocked boards.
This fear is evident in the restrictions she has put on
what Rosenberg can write even away from his beat of
reviewing the Orchestra, and she didn't have the
nerve to let him write that necessary farewell.  She
must have realized that not only The Plain Dealer but
her own career would tarnished if he had his say.

It is this failure of nerve by which her career
will be remembered and defined.  But what
about Rosenber's legacy?

Editors and publishers beware:  Donald Rosenberg
has shown critics how to cover the stories their
own papers would like to bury.
                                                     -   = >

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cleveland UnPlain Dealer

I just read that Don Rosenberg lost his
law suit filed against the Cleveland Orchestra
and the Cleveland Plain Dealer for conspiring
to fire him, simply because he told the truth
as he saw it.  I have a lot of sympathy for
Rosenberg, but if newspapers were expected
to stand up for the truth, what would happen
to the First Amendment?

Given the proximity of this suit's outcome
to Lebron James leaving Cleveland, Susan Goldberg
and the Cleveland Plain Dealer should expect their
names to be forever linked to Dan Gilbert and
the Cleveland Cavaliers, both institutions
finding their leadership to be quite awkward
in dealing with ungrateful employees working
in the public eye who won't meekly toe the line.  

(The most interesting discussion I have found of
the controversy is here:

Some of the comments add quite a bit to the discussion.)

As to judging Franz Welser-Most's significance in the classical
music world, I think a good indicator of his importance lies
in the fact that outside of Cleveland it's hard to find a
classical music fan who even knows how to spell his name,
much less who has a firm opinion of music making abilities. 

Sports Fans

_                            _                               _

Going by the numbers, being a sports fan
makes no sense.  Only one team a year
wins a championship.  Every other team's
fans end up to some degree unsatisfied.

The further you go, the more painful the
loss.   The Black Hawks won the Stanley
Cup after 49 years of struggle, and it was
the Flyer's who felt like a team of destiny
whose fans suffered the most.

The amount of suffering sports affords its
fans is much greater than the joy.   So why
do we think sports spectatorship is worth it?

Desmond Morris believes that sports takes
care of our hunter - gathering instincts in
a society where we're cut off from the
primitive expression of these instincts. 

The jolts winning and losing give the fan
also seem related to the urge to gamble with
its uncertain rewards system, the excitement
of which for some becomes highly addictive. 

Sport fans become addicted too, but to the
excitement in other people's lives, not their
own winnings and losings. 
_                            _                               _

Saturday, August 14, 2010


_ ___  ____   ______     ________       

You'll notice a new link in the sidebar of my works,
though the work has been up a while actually.  

It's to a youtube entitled BAJALICA or "Healing Chant."

Natasha Bogojevich, a wonderful contemporary composer,
wanted to write a piece for various instruments (winds in
the case of this version, though not all) electronic drone
and video.  Natasha and I have collaborated on 4 pieces,
3 of which have been completed and the fourth to be
performed in the fall or winter.   I think she's a genius, but
at first I didn't know why she wanted visuals to add to
her incredibly powerful music.

After I was done though, I realized that my images were
an intensifier to her work.  For one thing, most people
don't have attention for new music anymore.  The
images help keep the mind still, so the ears can listen.
(It's somewhat analogous for my needing to write in
a coffee shop surrounded by noise and distractions.)

She had one important rule.  No images of people.
It was the exact right amount of direction I needed to
figure out how to set images which help other peoples
eyes really hear her music not only with their ears but
with their whole nervous system, electrified up and
down the spinal chord.

Bajalica  pt 1


I shot this with a consumer grade still camera set on
video.  I knew I couldn't compete with great
cinematographers on professional equipment, so
I went the other day, focusing especially on
different forms of movement.

This video has been shown dozens of times
as part of live performance, including at the Maryenski
Theater, the most famous theater in Russia. 


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Grand Hotel, Mackinack Island

Tonight I had to put on a jacket and tie
to make a phone call.  My children were
sleeping in our hotel room, and the Grand
Hotel where we are staying has a policy
that you have to wear a jacket and tie to
hang around in the halls after 6:30.

(It's a funny hotel.  There's a sign that says
Your Room is Free if our Clerks Don't Smile
above the check in desk, and our clerk didn't
smile.  How do you collect on that?  "Excuse
me, but you didn't actually smile, can I stay
an extra night?"    There is also a big sign
which warns, No Tipping!  which may well
be the reason the clerks aren't smiling.)

Still when I got to the lobby to make my
call, the director with whom I'm collaborating
had to bag out for a sick child, and I spent
the time working on my short play,
The Youngest Detainee, about the youngest
detainee at Guantanomo Bay.

Walking back to my room, I passed photos of
John Kennedy and Harry Truman and other guests
of this hotel which has played an outside role in
history - given its remote location - and I wondered
if part of its lore would someday be that Hurt
McDermott worked on The Youngest Detainee in the
lobby.  If so, the little factoid will never compete
with the fact that Somewhere In Time was shot here.

My 2nd Shortest Story

________________                  ________________

Wisdom is hard to come by, my father always said,
which may be why he never found any.

From which, the lack thereof,
resulted all our heartbreak and suppressed tears.

Is this a story?  Does it conjure a world
 for you?  Cunningly made?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Does Ἀπόλλων Ever Give Διόνυσος or Διώνυσος His Due?

Ἀπόλλων & Διόνυσος or ΔιώνυσοςA

All right, I'll give you the Apollo/Dionysus dichotmy
if you'll admit it was Apollo who suffered more for love.

Still even we followers of Apollo must sometimes give
Dionysus his due.

Who Could Deny the Healing Power of This Reveling?

Start Wearing Purple

And who could resist the Wanderlust Kings? (sic 'em)

Ἀπόλλων & Διόνυσος or ΔιώνυσοςA

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Redoubtable Steve Key

I ran into one of my favorite actors, Steve Key,
in the streets of Chicago of all places.   He had
just come back from a national tour with
Steppenwolf in Tracy Letts's August: Osage
County, a play with a deceptively hard to
remember title. 

Steve has what I consider the trickiest role to cast in
BLACK MAIL, my most recent film.  He played
the cop who romances  a Presbyterian minister
who is in every way above his head.   She is
beautiful, better educated and has veneer of
sophistication he can not match; but in the
same way Benedict ends up with Beatrice in
Much Ado About Nothing he wins
her heart by knowing how to take his time. 

Beyond his acting talent, Steve is just a wonderful
guy, and it was such a joy to see an open seat
next to him on the bus.  Being an independent
filmmaker entails making films with about 1% of
your time - if you're successful, that is - you spend
about 10 times that trying to get a film up and a lot
of time writing.

It's a real gift to run into someone who thinks of
you primarily as a filmmaker!  It helps you get
through the 90% or so of your life you spend in
exile from the film community.  It puts a smile
on your face.