Undeniable need

The greatest poverty is not to live in a physical world – to feel that one’s desire is too difficult to tell from despair — Wallace Stevens

One of these Mondays, I’m going to miss my self-inflicted deadline of posting a blog. It’s just a matter of time. Not that I have a ton of people waiting every week with baited breath for whatever kernel of silliness that comes spilling out of my mind.

But I like to be diligent and keep my commitments. Things are starting to ramp up over here and I need to implement my game strategy for the next three or four months. Short-tempered, short-fused or sleep-deprived might be adjectives you could use to describe me in the coming weeks.

Hmmm, I should balance that out with short intense moments of decompression, i.e. laughter with folks who know how to make me smile and anything else will make me let go and be in the moment. But doing a little field research will net the same results, as well. Oh, how I love field research.

This past week, I watched three films (in the theatre and on DVD) — Call Me By Your Name directed by Luca Guadagnino, God’s Own Country directed by Francis Lee and Leon: The Professional, a 1994 film directed by Luc Besson. All three films had me thinking a lot about story, setting, character, action/reaction. It also had me thinking about how each director’s values, sensibilities and aesthetics guided the way they told their stories.

I’m still unpacking what I saw. Actually, I’m unpacking a lot of things where the art of storytelling is concerned. In that regard, 2018 has been interesting and in different ways, intense.

I think in a future blog post, I’ll discuss Call Me By Your Name, God’s Own Country and perhaps, Moonlight, and why these films and its directors and actors have so deeply affected me, forged and reinforced the way I think about the art of storytelling and make me want to be a better storyteller.

It will probably be a long read. But if you’re willing to put in the time, you are welcome to read it once I lucidly form my thoughts and opinions about those films and what they mean to me in the bigger picture, creatively and artistically.

I used to gripe about being under-stimulated. Now, I’m just stimulated. But there’s always the threat of over-stimulation that can put anyone into a tailspin and result in a loss of focus.

The next couple of months threaten with unwanted opportunities that could easily lead to scattered thinking. I can’t let allow it to happen. The prize I’m eyeing is too tempting to lose sight of just because the swirling winds of semi-organized chaos created by others are trying to distract me.

God, I hate getting sucked in by the chaos of others.

The need and desire to learn, absorb and dream is strong and undeniable. Nothing must prevent that from happening. Ever.

Moonlight’s win is no joke

This is not a joke, Moonlight has won best picture. Moonlight. Best picture — Jordan Horowitz, producer, La La Land

Usually I don’t pay much attention to the Oscars. Primarily because I haven’t gotten around to seeing any of the nominees before the big night. I might see one of the movies after the statues have been handed out. ‘Might’ being the operative word.

The only time I was interested or invested in what happened at the Oscars was when Brokeback Mountain was up for best picture. I loved that movie. Still do. Naturally, I thought it was an absolute travesty when Crash robbed Brokeback Mountain of that particular Oscar. I remember being quite pissed about that outcome. Calling that win an upset is a mild way of describing it.

Since then, I hadn’t really given two cents to the pomp and pageantry of the Oscars.

That was until I watched Moonlight. Everything about it is perfection to me. It took hold of my heart like nothing else before it and it is a story I champion.

I will admit to not having watched La La Land. Will I ever? Most likely not. I’m not a fan of musicals. I have a hard time connecting to that film genre. Not my jam. But I’m not saying I don’t respect the time and effort put into making that film. Kudos to the film for the six Oscars they earned last night.

Going into last night, right or wrong, the two films were pitted against each other. The nature of competition, I guess. The Oscars, by its very nature, is a tedious awards show to watch, regardless of who is hosting. I’m not sure if it speaks to the shortening of viewers’ attention span, but it seems trying for the average person to sit for more than three hours watching a televised awards show when all they want to hear is who wins the last category of the night.

As expected, there weren’t any real surprises or upsets during the ceremony. It was getting a little boring although some of the speeches were beautiful, like the one Viola Davis gave after winning Best Supporting Actress. I’m all for ‘exhuming bodies’ and listening to those stories. Those are the ones I want to hear.

Another moment of note was actor Gael García Bernal speaking out against Trump’s plan to build a wall along the very long U.S.– Mexico border: “As a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I am against any form of wall that wants to separate us.”

I suppose the only hint that something might not go La La Land‘s way was the fact they did not come close to sweeping in all their nominated categories. Out of the 14 nominations, they took the Oscar in the only six categories.

Quite frankly, I was itching for an upset of epic proportions as the evening wore on. Something along the lines of what had happened to Brokeback Mountain, but bigger. I had always wanted Moonlight to win Best Picture but came to resign myself to the likelihood of La La Land taking that honour.

Then that gaffe happened. Everyone would have preferred that the correct envelope had been given to Warren Beatty and that the folks from Moonlight would have been given the opportunity to enjoy their win more completely. As the saying goes, shit happens. Then you roll with it.

Huge kudos to La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz for announcing there had been a mistake and graciously handing the Oscar statue over to Moonlight director Barry Jenkins and vacating the stage for the Moonlight folks. In any other situation where millions of people aren’t watching you because you’re on live TV, handling the situation with aplomb would have been a lot easier. But when everybody is looking at you and that self-conscious feeling is creeping up on you, you do what you know is right and hope the passing of the statue goes smoothly. Horowitz couldn’t have done it better in a painfully awkward situation.

These two films should have never ended up in this situation. It really was unfair to both parties.

Take away the biggest (and most embarrassing) gaffe in Oscar history and what you have is the epic upset I was looking for.

In it’s most simplified explanation, this film is a love story between two black men. It is a coming-of-age film. The film’s characters are representations of people who exist in the real world but have never really had the chance to exist and flourish beyond art house-style cinema.

This is a film that cost $1.5 million to make and was filmed in under a month. It has shown it is possible for independent filmmakers to go toe-to-toe with the big boys at the Oscars. It shows that stories like the one Jenkins tells in Moonlight are worth telling and should be told. People want to hear these stories. These stories are universal. To be denied the opportunity to tell them is criminal.

Some will excuse Moonlight’s win as the result of the current political climate. That may be partly true but it doesn’t diminish the fact that the film resonated with a lot of people before the U.S. presidential election back in November.

You cannot diminish this win. You cannot diminish the fact the film exists. You cannot diminish the fact this movie is very important to a lot people who have been marginalized in film, mainstream media and society.

The fact Moonlight was honoured last night with Best Picture brings hope that cinematically, we will see more of these kinds of stories, a more rounded and complex take of the world we live in.

Space and shape

In many a piece of music, it’s the pause or the rest that gives the piece its beauty and its shape. And I know I, as a writer, will often try to include a lot of empty space on the page so that the reader can complete my thoughts and sentences and so that her imagination has room to breathe — Pico Iyer

I’m not sure whether any of my writing has included a lot of empty space on the page so a reader can complete my thoughts and sentences. Do I want them to complete my thoughts and sentences? I don’t know. I’d prefer they come to their own conclusions about what I’ve presented them. I don’t see the point in telling the reader to finish my thoughts. I don’t think that’s part of how I define my job description. I could be wrong, though.

But I do whole-heartedly believe in giving a reader’s imagination room to breathe, or at least let them catch their breath (if you know what you’re doing, of course). I believe that is part and parcel of letting a reader come to their own conclusions.

While empty space isn’t exactly on my mind when I’m staring at a blank page, I do think about pacing and intensity — when to find the quiet moments, when to ramp things up, when to hold your breath and when to breathe. Dynamics, not monotony. I think I have natural ebbs and flows in my storytelling abilities. It’s not something I overthink. I’m not sure how successful I am at it, though. Haven’t heard any mutterings on that front. Not yet.

When I think of empty space, I tend to think visually and aurally. I understand it when I see and hear it in a film. It is also something that can be felt and tugs at your emotions. Moonlight does that for me.

Words can’t describe how that movie has affected me. Everything about that movie is perfection. I say that because of how it pulled me in from the first scene, right to the last words spoken in the film. I gotta tell you, those last words were so powerful, honest, vulnerable and heartfelt enough that it made me cry sitting in the theatre.

There are very few films that have the evocative power to move me this way. In fact, I can’t think of another film that has done what Moonlight did to me. I tend to go for the wild ride, the hold-your-breath type of films. Moonlight is it for me. It is one of those gems that you find once, maybe twice in a lifetime. Writer/director Barry Jenkins knows how to use empty space. You see it in the cinematography. You see it in the actors’ eyes and their physicality. You hear it in Nicholas Britell’s music score. You feel it in the dialogue. It’s inspiring. It has stirred something in my soul and it demands to be expressed or manifested in some way in my own life. It’s a process. I’m going to let it play out. I look at it with curiosity and embrace the possibilities to come.

If I can convert a small fraction the empty space I see in my imagination and shape it into something beautiful and, maybe, transcendent, into words the way Jenkins converted words into visuals for Moonlight, I will be one very happy camper.