People ask: Will you attempt to see all of the Oscar-nominated movies before the awards-show deadline this year? And will you again be chronicling it?
I will, and maybe. I began this year in the same spot, having seen only two Oscar-nominated films when the nominations were announced two weeks ago. Progress has been slow: I’ve now seen 11.
I’m feeling less pressure, because here’s the thing about 2013’s pool of contenders.
There are fewer movies in the race. Last year, you’ll recall if you read me, there were 46 nominated movies across all categories and 15 shorts to spy in my annual rite to see everything before Red (Magic) Carpet Day. This year, because of excessive hogging of noms by two flicks in particular (you know who you are, “Lincoln” and “Silver Linings Playbook”), there are only 38 unique features to get through.
Here is the full list, in order of the Academy’s own hierarchy by category, from Best Picture through Writing (Original Screenplay), eliminating repeats. And a note to the Academy: Unsure why you list the writing awards last. They should come first — they do come first in the process — or at least immediately after the top six categories that most people focus on. Check marks indicate the ones I’ve seen so far:
Beasts of the Southern Wild √
Les Misérables √
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook √
Zero Dark Thirty √
The Sessions √
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
5 Broken Cameras
How to Survive a Plague
The Invisible War
Searching for Sugar Man
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
A Royal Affair (Denmark)
War Witch (Canada)
Marvel’s The Avengers
Snow White and the Huntsman √
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I refuse to see “Ted.”
And, for those who care, here are this year’s shorts, across three categories, always 15 glimmering treats:
Mondays at Racine
Adam and Dog
Head Over Heels
Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”
Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw)
The other odd thing this year:
Movie titles are shorter. A fascinating trend. Could it be a consequence of Twitter — filmmakers, wanting to better promote their products on all platforms, have decided to limit their characters (sic)? It seems that a good third — 34% — of this year’s nominated features are one-word titles. Last year, only 28% of the titles were one word. And this year’s words are shorter — heck, “Life of Pi” may as well be one word for all it evokes in eight characters. And if you eliminate subtitles and articles like “The” (even in French, “Les”), the one-word percentage for 2013 goes even higher: 50%, vs. 39% in 2012
“Man of La Mancha,” with national touring sensation Howard Keel, was the first staged musical I remember seeing, at a ripe young age of 9 at the Valley Forge (Pa.) Music Fair’s tent-in-the-round in 1970.
Rape was not in my vernacular then, but I fell in love with the character Aldonza, a “kitchen wench” (prostitute), and somehow keenly felt her hardship, disillusionment, strength and wrung-out, twisted passion. I’d act out her part in front of the pulled drapes in my living room — including a modified take on her gang rape scene. The brutalizing effect onstage was a mesh of music, lighting and dance, but the horror and anger spoke deeply to my prepubescent self. Unwittingly, it gave me a kind of a shield, an armor to grow into, to understand that a woman’s body is not all there is to her.
They say that those things children are too young to understand go right over their heads. I have to wonder. With the advent of the Internet, which defines and exhibits our every curiosity, I cannot imagine being a child of 9 against such a backdrop today. I might have started Googling and been gobsmacked by reality and grown terrified of theater — or men. My understanding of human relations might have been skewed if drama on the Internet, uncontrolled and unfiltered, were all I’d been exposed to — overexposed, at that.
Rape is nothing new on stage and, surprisingly, is not an uncommon topic in musicals. In 1960, “The Fantasticks” made farce of the idea of a staged assault — with ringmaster El Gallo offering a menu of rapes in the thinly cloaked “It Depends On What You Pay.” Apparently, making light of sexual assault seemed ghastly to producers of the 2006 revival, who saw fit to clean up the lyrics, changing references of “rape” to “abduction” or “masquerade”:
El Gallo snatches his innocent young “victim,” who follows him willingly.
“ … An abduction that’s emphatic.
An abduction that’s polite.
An abduction done with Indians:
A truly charming sight.
An abduction done on horseback;
They’ll all say it’s distingué.
So you see the masquerade
Depends on what you pay. …”
The original repeated variations of “rape” in place of “abductions” — an assault to the ears of a rape survivor today.
What happened between the Sixties and now to alter our view of rape in our culture? Is it merely that it has come to dominate so much of it? Or somehow it’s less shocking. Which makes it even more so.
There could be an element of commercialism at work, at least where “The Fantasticks” is concerned. Those who hold copyrights for these shows want to get them produced as often as possible, so why not tame or temper the material to dodge the censors and see them produced more often in high schools and by mass-appeal, general-audience church and community theatre troupes.
The most recent production of “Man of La Mancha” I saw was last year, by the McLean Community Players. Though Aldonza sang the pants off of her role, the assault scene was reduced to what looked like a game of Farmer in the Dell — although that might have been explained more by the portlier cast as opposed to changing sensitivities or morals (generalized portliness being another sign of the times). I’m not judging — just saying. It is, after all, a fairly operatic show, and you need some support for those big voices.
The 2012 production of “Man of La Mancha,” by McLean Community Players.
A few years back, Signature Theatre in Shirlington premiered a work composed by resident artist Matt Conner, “The Hollow,” which he and book writer Hunter Foster adapted from the classic “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” They took liberties, certainly, with the story, inventing a climactic scene in which the object of Ichabod Crane’s affections is raped (offstage). It wasn’t until now, pondering themes of savagery in musical theatre, that it occurred to me the second half of Signature’s premiere double feature, “The Boy Detective Fails,” was also about serial kidnappings, assault and murder — albeit, our human failing to understand or confront the ultimate evil behind such acts.
To say theatre is cathartic is an understatement. Who among us has not entertained a rape fantasy?
As “The Hollow” director Matt Gardiner explained to a TBD.com reporter at the time: “As far as a female character goes, this is the worst thing that could happen. It’s so intimate. And yet it is frequently used.”
Directors are challenged to find a way to plumb the violence with care and concern, considering many in the audience, statistically, have been touched and traumatized by rape in real life.
The TBD article made the point there were a heckuva lot of rape themes in current area shows. As more rape survivors become more vocal, as well they should be encouraged to be, you wonder about the impact on our lively arts, and how we balance imagination/escapism with verisimilitude.
Signature followed up with a play by emerging talent Paul Downs Colaizzo, “Really Really,” inspired by the Duke lacrosse team assault scandal. It was supposed to be “edgy.” But, really, it was only too real.
“It’s challenging,” Gardiner told Rebecca J. Ritzel at the time. “You want the audience to feel uncomfortable — but not so uncomfortable that it takes you out of the play completely. It’s a delicate balance.”
We are all familiar with catching a show at the local high school, and, if weapons are part of the pretense, seeing a notice in the program, as required by the local governing board, vouching that the weapons used are fake. Or signs leading into the theatre that warn patrons with certain delicate conditions that strobe lights, fake fog, startling noises or cigarettes (!) will be used — much like an amusement park ride warns pregnant riders what’s at stake.
Yet I don’t recall many “trigger warnings” being applied in theatre, advisories that depictions of rape, suicide, genocide and the like lay behind the curtain. Heavens to Betsy, if staged works had to list each trigger warning ahead of every production, programs might rival the DSM. Such a practice could wring out much of the drama or shock at the core of even the shlockiest of shows, let alone master works.
Along with a suspension of disbelief, I guess, when patrons enter a theatre they must also enter into an unwritten agreement to suspend all defenses. Vulnerability, culpability, liability — all part of the communal masquerade. Theatre is therapy. Theatre is safe.
And even though it’s a “lie,” theatre is honest. More honest, at times, than real life. Its one true mission: to spur real dialogue.
The first time I fell in love with technology was that last Christmas I pretended to believe in Santa Claus. I had confided in brother Andy, two years my wiser, that I knew it was our parents doling out the year-end bonuses. He persuaded me to keep quiet about it as they’d probably already sewn up that season’s shopping; we could always break it to them gently later.
I later calculated it wasn’t fair that we both “came out” as non-believers at the same time, as he had accumulated two extra years of goodies. But what I found gleaming under the tree that year made up for any petty score-keeping: a Japanese-made, sleek Craig tape recorder model No. 2603, with “Solid State Automatic Level Recording.” This was my version of the Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, aka coveted BB gun, from the now-storied A Christmas Story.
My Craig tape recorder and I were inseparable. I taped everything in sight.* (*Awk. construction.) Dinner conversations, birds out back. I would position it by the radio with a mini-mic and fresh cassette, typically TDK brand, and trigger the play lever while holding down the red record button at the start of every song, preferably after the disc jockey had stopped jabbering. If I didn’t like that song, I’d navigate to “stop” and engage the rewind toggle to cue it up again. Eventually, I’d acquired an entire 30 minutes of my favorite 1972 chart-toppers. Included on that first mix tape, I recall, were such gems as Alone Again, Naturally by Gilbert O’Sullivan and I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash.
Ever since, mix tapes have been my calling card. They are audio journals, spanning every technological platform that followed, from the Sony reel-to-reel to the LightScribe CD burner, whose products I dub “Byrnished Memories.” These mini-soundtracks plot the high, low and medium points of my life. Still, I wasted a lot of dollar-a-dozen CDs getting the song order and transitions just right.
RIP my engraved “TEB tunes” iPod 20GB Click Wheel, December 2004-January 2011.
That’s why my second love affair with technology came in 2004, with my late-to-the-party adoption of the Apple iPod 20GB Click Wheel. I could rearrange songs to my heart’s content and even stretch the playlists beyond the 1.2 hours that fit on a typical 700MB CD. That iPod, outdated as it quickly became, lasted me until last year, when it suffered the click of death. I have not had the courage to fall in love again.
I had been bedeviled by technological flings. My reluctance to spend money on the next big thing had kept me sorely behind on cool gadgets. My husband tried to keep me in the game by gifting me an iPad 2. But something about the iPad only fed my discontent. The glare and eye strain irritated my dry-eye condition. There’s no curling up with an iPad, unless you count bicep curls, which is what it took to read in bed. As much as such Apple products resemble the universal device presaged in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I couldn’t feel the love, and just couldn’t fake it.
The problem with today’s Apple products — yeah, problem, you got a problem with that? — is they aim to be the end-all be-all solution. If technology is dominating your life, distracting and detracting from the act of living, then you’re doing it wrong. The best of technology comes in the form of the right tool for the job, like a corkscrew or an apple corer.
In terms of reading, I have found one good purpose for the iPad. It is the perfect paperweight to hold open your place in an actual book.
Yesterday, I fell in love at first sight with a Kindle Paperwhite e-Reader that showed up, surprisingly, at my door in a smiling box. This device took my breath away. In its unassuming simplicity, it fills a technological void.
Compared with the iPad, it is not a burden but featherweight, even next to such actual tomes as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Its pages look like a book’s. It reads like a book. Doesn’t hurt my eyes with piercing light rays nor does it overstimulate my brain. Doesn’t beckon to me to check my e-mail or Facebook notifs or to play another round of Angry Birds. It lets me escape and focus on an actual book.
Of all the e-books I had downloaded onto my iPad in nearly two years, I managed to finish only one. For me, the famous “i” prefix stands for “incomplete.” But taking my night-light Kindle Paperwhite to bed last night gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling. I’m no Luddite, but this device combines the best of both worlds — the old and brave-new.
Thanks, Santa Andy. iOU. i♥U.
Takes me back to those good ol’ days of Christmas past, when FaceTime (TM) meant something else entirely.
While the man mixes cocktails and lies about her routes of escape (impassable weather/no cabs), the woman says “no” – clearly — a half-dozen times, and itemizes a dozen more reasons for not staying. Written in 1944, originally for a housewarming party hosted by Loesser and his first wife and regularly performed by them to entertain their friends, it eventually was used by MGM in Neptune’s Daughter (1949), starring Red Skelton and Esther Williams, launching its meteoric rise. Given “date rape” was not coined until 1987 by Ms. magazine, it seems that Baby, It’s Cold Outside (BICO) was a half-century ahead of its time in waving red flags on acquaintance rape — an act defined not only as assault but any assault attempt.
Composer Loesser also penned Standing on the Corner (1956), about idle guys’ preoccupation with ogling strange women. Not as potentially creepy as BICO, but still … what gives, Loesser?
A quality of great art is that you can gain different insights each time you revisit it, find new meanings over time. Possibly the hottest and also creepiest performance of BICO is the pairing of 33-year-old Norah Jones and 79-year-old Willie Nelson — he’s old enough to be her grandfather.
If you haven’t paid attention to the lyrics in a while, listen through the filter of a rape survivor — that would be an estimated 1 out of every 6 American women who have experienced rape or an attempted rape in her lifetime — and not all of them survivors.
The most menacing line: “Say, what’s in this drink?” Cosby much?
Whether or not I agree with the malice people read into this particular song, songs certainly offer a great opportunity for parents to explore sexuality issues with daughters and sons. Rather than shirk our duty because it’s uncomfortable or we can’t find the words, music can help bridge this challenge of the ages. It’s doubly effective as a means to stay in touch with the popular music of the day and gain insight into the modern memes and messages being relayed to the next generation.
I thought about what sort of sex brainwashing I was subjected to growing up while listening to satellite radio the other day — The Bridge station, with my invented tagline: Music I Know All the Lyrics To. My first pop album ever was one of Carly Simon’s, and I have remained a fan, but when Jesse came on, I suddenly thought the lyrics seemed seriously sick, as if sung by a serial recidivist abuse victim in need of a restraining order:
Oh mother, say a prayer for me
Jesse's back in town, it won't be easy
Don't let him near me
Don't let him touch me
Don't let him please me
(chorus) Jesse, I won't cut fresh flowers for you
Jesse, I won't make the wine cold for you
Jesse, I won't change the sheets for you
I won't put on cologne
I won't sit by the phone for you
Annie, keep reminding me
That he cut out my heart like a paper doll
Sally, tell me once again
How he set me up just to see me fall
Jesse, quick come here
I won't tell a soul
Not even myself. ...
My friends will all say "She's gone again'
But how can anyone know what you are to me
That I'm in heaven again because you've come back to me - Oh Jesse!
Jesse, I'll always cut fresh flowers for you
Jesse, I'll always make the wine cold for you
Jesse, I can easily change my mind about you
And put on cologne
And sit by the phone for you
Jesse, let's open the wine
And drink to the heart
Which has a will of its own
My friends, let's comfort them
They're feeling bad
They think I've sunk so low ...
OK, there’s something pseudo-innocent-sounding with the fresh flowers, cologne, even the changing of the sheets (unless she gets a lot of turnover traffic) — and something oh-so quaint about “waiting by the phone.” Remember that, and with no caller ID?
But honestly, prayers aren’t going to be enough for this girl, Mom — and it’s not her friends who need comforting, it’s the singer, who is being isolated from her support system and may need professional help.
Compare that wimpy breakup song of 1980 to Rolling Stone magazine’s No. 2 pick for the top 50 songs of 2012: Taylor Swift’s We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. At least Swift is more decisive than Simon, no doubt thanks to the music video director.
Wooing and breakup songs are de rigueur on the radio. Here is a list of just a few songs off the top of my head that could prompt good discussions on various dating/sexuality topics.
1.Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye (LOSS OF VIRGINITY) — When I first heard this groovy song at age 12, I sensed there was something nasty about it; it kinda made me tingly. In hindsight, I praise it for keeping the topic of FEELINGS at its center and promising not to force the issue:
We’re all sensitive people
With so much to give
Understand me, sugar
Since we got to be
I love you …
I ain’t gonna worry, I ain’t gonna push
Won’t push you, baby
2.Imaginary Lover by Atlanta Rhythm Section (MASTURBATION) — It occurred to me only recently what this 1978 song was really about. If you need to assure your children that they won’t go blind, or want to help them learn to love themselves while they WAIT to meet the right person, this song has you covered, under the covers.
When ordinary lovers Don’t feel what you feel And real-life situations lose their thrill Imagination’s unreal Imaginary lover, imaginary lover You’re mine anytime.
Imaginary lovers never disagree They always care They’re always there when you need Satisfaction guaranteed.
3. Under My Thumb by The Rolling Stones (CONTROLLING BEHAVIOR) — Although I love Mick Jagger, I take big offense to the comparison of his (in)significant other to a female dog or sex kitten, so to speak.
Under my thumb
The squirmin’ dog who’s just had her day
Under my thumb
A girl who has just changed her ways
It’s down to me, yes it is
The way she does just what she’s told
Down to me, the change has come
She’s under my thumb
Ah, ah, say it’s alright
Under my thumb
A Siamese cat of a girl
Under my thumb
She’s the sweetest, hmmm, pet in the world
Under my thumb
Her eyes are just kept to herself
Under my thumb, well I
I can still look at someone else
4. On the Street Where You Live from the musical “My Fair Lady” (STALKING) — As much as I love this romantic musical, there is inherently something disturbing about Freddy Eynsford-Hill hanging outside Eliza Doolittle’s residence for two weeks just to catch a glimpse of her, after she has repeatedly rejected him.
5. Paradise By the Dashboard Light by Meat Loaf (COMMITMENT, FOR BETTER OR WORSE) — Again, when I was young, this song was hot and steamy, telling the tale of a couple’s decision to go all the way, cleverly counterpointed against the color commentary of a baseball game (hitting all the bases). What I love about it is that the girl demands a vow from the boy before she’ll “put out”:
Stop right there!
I gotta know right now!
Before we go any further!
Do you love me?
Will you love me forever?
Do you need me?
Will you never leave me?
Will you make me so happy for the rest of my life?
Will you take me away and will you make me your wife?
Do you love me!?
Will you love me forever!?
Do you need me!?
Will you never leave me!?
Will you make me happy for the rest of my life!?
Will you take me away and will you make me your wife!?
I gotta know right now
Before we go any further
Do you love me!?
Will you love me forever!?
Let me sleep on it
Baby, baby let me sleep on it
Let me sleep on it
And I’ll give you an answer in the morning …
(she holds her ground … keeps insisting)
I couldn’t take it any longer
Lord I was crazed
And when the feeling came upon me
Like a tidal wave
I started swearing to my god and on my mother’s grave
That I would love you to the end of time
I swore that I would love you to the end of time!
So now I’m praying for the end of time
To hurry up and arrive
‘Cause if I gotta spend another minute with you
I don’t think that I can really survive
I’ll never break my promise or forget my vow
But God only knows what I can do right now
I’m praying for the end of time
It’s all that I can do …
6. Born This Way by Lady Gaga (ACCEPTANCE FOR FULL SPECTRUM OF SEXUALITY) — It is a shame that it took several decades AFTER the sexual revolution for so-called “alternative lifestyle”-positive music to hit mainstream charts, but Gaga is the queen of feel-good sex music that helps everyone, no matter your orientation, feel both unique and normal.
7. Sodomy from the musical “Hair” (VOCABULARY) — Introduce this song at the right age, then take them to the library for some supervised perusal of old-fashioned reference materials.
8. Love the One You’re With by Stephen Stills (PROMISCUITY) — This song always bothered me. Still does. I’m only hoping he wrote it as tongue-in-cheek advice.
If you’re down and confused
And you don’t remember who you’re talking to
Concentration slips away
Cause your baby is so far away
Well there’s a rose in the fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey
Love the one you’re with
Don’t be angry – don’t be sad
Don’t sit crying over good times you’ve had
There’s a girl right next to you
And she’s just waiting for something to do
Doo doo doo doo
Turn your heartache right into joy
Cause she’s a girl and you’re a boy
Get it together come on make it nice
You ain’t gonna need any more advice
9. IT’S TOO LATE by Carole King (SELF-CARE/BEING TRUE TO ONESELF) — This is just one of the most pitch-perfect breakup songs ever written. Nobody does it better — sorry, Carly Simon.
10. I WILL SURVIVE by Gloria Gaynor (EMPOWERMENT & RECOVERY) — This song should be on everyone’s playlist, for all time.
Other topics, such as TEEN PREGNANCY (check out There Goes My Life by Kenny Chesney or What Would You Do by City High), ABSTINENCE (scour the Christian music charts, lord knows) and MISOGYNY (rap is littered with it, but I’m not down with rap, ha, or rather I’m somewhat down on it, and haven’t kept up with hip-hop) — plus all manner of cheatin’ hearts country/blues music lessons for the pickings.
I encourage all of you parents to come up with your own playlists and jog some conversation with your blossoming children, according to your tastes. It’s never too soon to expose kids to music, and the lyrics will sink in when they are ready to comprehend.
Music memory lasts a lifetime. In those uncertain moments when you can’t be there, it may be a song in their head that supplies them with support and direction. What’s key: drawing kids out to share ideas about what the songs mean and how they relate or feel at different stages of their lives.
If I could, I would start teaching similar playlists in schools as part of the regular sex-ed curriculum — making more of an effort to keep up with today’s hits first, that is.
I appreciate all suggestions. Maybe this will be my volunteering project for 2013.