©2004 Claudine Jones
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Like an orthopedic soprano, Actor/Singer/Dancer Claudine Jones has
worked steadily in Bay Area joints for a number of decades. With her
co-conspirator Jaz Bonhooley, she also has developed unique sound designs
for local venues. As a filmmaker, she is doing the final cut of YOUR EAR IS
IN YOUR NOSE, destined for release next year or whenever her long time
technical task wizard Animator Sam Worf gets his head out of his
Two months ago I delved into my personal history to try to connect some old dots, maybe get a clearer outline of the performance template of my life & see how it has survived with me all these years. I take my share of responsibility for turning away from dance & theater, from performance for anybody but my kids; my vision was blurred by the marriage that I had for ten years. In starting that partnership, I thought I knew what I was doing, that I had choices & I thought we'd work out the kinks eventually if he saw how much it meant to me to perform. I had no idea that I would have nothing to do with calling the final curtain.
Backstage at the Wedding, Part Deux: CSN Stole Our Hearts, Too
Sometimes a cliché you've heard or read uncounted numbers of occasions shakes free of its bad rap and just jumps right into the True section of your brain. You might have said 'I'll believe it when I see it' or some such thing, being from Missouri, and then waited out your whole life with no resulting proof. A great many experiences pass you by in this fashion, for unknowable reasons. In 1969, however, my life was turned around by one of the Biggies: Love by Thunderbolt.
I was an undergrad at UC Berkeley that summer—with the quarter system you could go all year round & finish lickety split, which I sort of wanted to do, except things everywhere were heating up, especially in Berkeley. I had already had my first dose of pepper spray. By the end of the term I was pretty worn out & my best buddy, Janis and her sister-in-law's younger sister Kathy, had a cool idea: Big Sur Folk Festival! Since the three of us were car-less, we posted a note on a campus bulletin board—three chicks need ride to BSFF—and waited for the phone to ring. But it didn't. Bummer.
Time was getting short & Kathy decided to drop out from boredom with the project. I was figuring on mooching off my parents for a week & maybe reading or washing my hair, when Janis called. Two guys were heading down the Coast & were we interested? It was 11 am and they thought they'd pick us up at 2, make it there by evening, no problem. Hell, yes. They'd meet us at Jan's place. As soon as we saw them walking up the sidewalk to where we waited with our stuff, we both went 'uh-oh'—there was something definitely not right. Two obviously young guys, jeans, T-shirts and, oh boy, look at that! The shortest hair we had seen on any male outside of, you guessed it, the U.S. Army. We had ourselves a couple of Spec 4's from the Oakland Army Base, out for a three day furlough. And probably lookin' for fun.
Fast forward through that long car ride during which they looked like they might want to start flipping coins to see who would sit with whom (we both sat in the back). It was great weather, but our souls felt cloudy. You just couldn't go from the bedrock of the UCB campus to the pines of the Monterey Coast with the Army in between. I had a brother just back from 'Nam up in Washington State finishing his tour, which was bad enough. My mind was primed with war statistics & I was itching for a fight, sorry, discussion. But even peace-loving non-combatants gotta eat & Jan & I also had to check in with our folks who wanted to know we were safe, so long about supper time we stopped just short of our destination to have a bite & hit the phone booths. This is where things took an unforeseen turn, because one total harbinger of ... (Oh my lord, she does draw it out! Just get on with it!)
Well, I was standing at the far end of a table being set for the four of us to eat. The guys had been waiting on us gals to catch up with them, which accounts for them already sitting there. I have a snapshot of the Moment: I glanced across the room caught his look & a strange thing happened. A mixture of nausea & something unfamiliar like the first taste of an exotic food, but with an unsettling intensity. You ever seen a car wreck happening & time sort of slows down? That's how it was for just that moment. Afterwards, the phone call to my folks felt like a charade—how could I say to my mom 'hi, I'm fine, they seem like nice guys, & I'm going to marry one of them.'
That's what I did, about six months later in the spring; married Specialist 5 G. A. W---. He was attached to the Oakland Army Base for the duration of his tour after having washed out of helicopter training due to color-blindness—the same eyes that caught mine in Monterey. Now those eyes were going to watch me come down the aisle in an Elizabethan-style wedding dress. (I was totally into Zefferelli's Romeo & Juliet, so my mother had made me a cap just like Olivia Hussey's with a long veil.) I heard my cue and grabbed my daddy's arm, but noticed at the last second that my train was tangled, so I gave it an expert kick to straighten it out. In what can only be described as an entirely theatrical gesture, I approached the altar demurely, eyes cast down through the whole script, waiting for my next big cue ('and do you, Claudine, etc.') before I swept my eyes upwards and directly into his baby blues. His expression of hurt & surprise stung for a millisecond and then it melted away into assurance that I probably was not going to embarrass him. But the same imp who was itching for a fight that summer was not even close to tamed. She was just getting what she thought she wanted: a party with presents.
For G., 1947—1980, who never saw me perform, but who might have learned to let himself.
My Flesh and Blood
Not for the faint and much more than you ever want to know about EB, which kills its victims with relentless torture. Also, if you have healthy children and you even think of complaining about them or mistreating them after you've seen this documentary, you have no heart.
Speaking of hearts, Sean Penn's character doesn't really seem like a math whiz; I was surprised by that, however, he does have a bad ticker, but that's not what weighs 21 grams. I'm not sure I know how and who they measured to come up with the figure.
Angels in America (HBO)
Millennium and Perestroika: This is such a hoot & so full of extraordinary talent, it is a great revisit for those of us who saw it onstage and I'm assuming those who didn't see it will enjoy it despite the slightly dated take on The Disease.
Best Threesome since 'Jules et Jim' with the added weight of impending war and prize for Most Dedicated Restaurateur. Now, 'fess up, okay, who wrote those bloody lyrics, eh?
This was the film that caused my partner & me to develop a new 'No Previews' policy; we saw the trailer for this film an even forty times. Well, maybe only thirty, but the point is that for the first dozen viewings, the trailer was short & sweet, but by the last bunch, it had grown to become so bloated that it almost required its own bag of popcorn. We decided that a strike is needed, a mass movement, a walkout, something to address this lunacy, so what we now do is stake out our seats early and then leave the theater. When the usher closes the doors, we can assume that either we're close to the end of the previews and we can go in, or even better, we can just ask politely to be notified when the movie is starting, not the preshow. Anyhow, Sheridan's film actually is not too bad. Got some good moments despite the spoilers.
There's a short novel out there somewhere whose title I've forgotten that paints the most abysmally realistic picture of 'pioneer' life in this country that you'd ever want to acknowledge. I wish I could lay my hands on it because it set somewhat of a tone for me, a level if you will, by which I could measure the so-called truth in Westerns. I guess it spoiled me for mascara & clean teeth at the kitchen door of the little cabin, freshly shaved & sweet smelling cowboys on plump, well groomed ponies. It also spoiled me for 'frontier justice', 'good Indians', 'bad Indians' and a host of other stuff. I guess I don't like Westerns anymore.
Lord of the Ring: The Return of the King
Two Towers might not have been as enjoyable as Fellowship, but I'm still fascinated by Golum & I love Sam Gamgee, and you get a lot of them here, as well as ups & downs, twists & turns to rival the best downhill course. Now getting on past the finish to the cocoa at the lodge is another thing...
Triplettes of Belleville
C'est chouette! Oscar for Best Dog! But you won't get that tune out of your head, I can hear it now, aaahhh!
Signals the beginning of the conversion of Alec Baldwin into second tier overweight character roles (reminds me of Dan Aykroyd, only Dan doesn't play dangerous & was never first tier). Now the really interesting parts of this film cannot be discussed, only alluded to—I say this because in the pantheon of All-Revealing Trailers, we're talking Grand Prize here, so there's nothing plot-wise that I didn't know about going in—however, there are some choices that were made as to, let us say delicately speaking, views of certain activities in private settings...well, I don't want to say anymore, except that I now feel justified in pronouncing William Macy a truly ballsy actor & Maria Bello an exceptionally hands-on practitioner of the craft.
The Barbarian Invasions
This curiously poetic & mannered look at the last days of a man's life makes a stab at condemning the medical establishment for its callousness, comparing the Canadian healthcare system with the American, and reconciling the sins of a lifetime by having a party while you're dying.
Girl with the Pearl Earring
Lovers of cinematography must RUN to see Eduardo Serra's work on this film; he's also done Unbreakable, The Widow of Saint-Pierre and (yoicks!) What Dreams May Come, universally loathed, but one must admit, cinematically rich. This time it's all about color & form, so go ahead and complain about something you don't like, but NOT the look.
My personal pick for this year's Repeat Viewing Candidate, unfortunately, I'm too cheap to pay full price even for a matinee, so I'll wait for DVD. That's a qualified endorsement, I realize, however I'm writing this weeks after I saw the thing & my feelings are still quite strong—hence the nomination for RVC.
There's another category for which I'm not sure it would be suitable, that of Continued Repeat Viewing Candidate (past Winners include All About Eve, Ben Hur, Raising Arizona, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Somewhere In Time and The Fabulous Baker Boys) These are films which fulfill the following criteria:
1) Great Moments & Terrific Performances (I can hear the howls about Charlton Heston already but there were other people in the film and besides this is my list, you get to have your own),
2) Suitable for home viewing (big screen preferable). This lets out Lawrence of Arabia, but not Ben Hur, don't ask me why, except that I might reconsider LOA with a good surround sound DVD, and also lets out Strictly Ballroom which simply must be seen in a cavernous dark space with lots of other bodies, in fact in the dozen or so times I've seen SB, the audience has without exception always burst into applause at the end, hence justifying its inclusion in another list, that of Continued Theater Repeat Viewing Candidates (see LOA)
3) An ineffable quality that is both depressing & uplifting, i.e.; you know something bad/sad/tragic will happen, but you don't care, you want to watch it happen again & again. This third item is the deal breaker, because:
4) Film can be come upon at any point in its length & viewer will lovingly be compelled to watch it to its conclusion, as opposed to those films for which one has some admiration, but can turn off with little compunction. [A companion to this adjunct is the little known theory that I have developed concerning Beatles' songs: if you're driving about or potchkying in the kitchen or at work at your computer & you hear a Beatles song, their compelling nature makes it an almost 100% statistical improbability that you will change the station before the end of the song and that in fact you will probably sing along, definitely knowing the tune and knowing if not all the lyrics, at least some of them.]
I believe Cold Mountain fits all these criteria, but only time will tell.
Mostly forgettable for the sin of being 'cute'.
Something's Got to Give
Wow, I HATE to think that Jack Nicholson is attributing his newly honed sense of comic timing to Adam Sandler—what's that about?? Is he being disingenuous or politic because AS is box office? Keanu Reeves as a young sexy doctor—I go for that. Diane Keaton is very good looking, enough so to attract guys, but the film just jumps right over the menopause issues. Guess that's another movie.
Over-Trailered to Death, in fact I can't even look at the title without hearing that hokey choral ending over the title (music stolen from Scissorhands). I was walking down the street before it hit me that Albert Finney's weird mouth movements were like a drowning fish. Was that on purpose or was he just trying something different out of boredom...
House of Sand and Fog
M-u-s-t r-e-a-d b-o-o-k b-e-f-o-r-e m-o-v-i-e c-o-m-e-s o-u-t...AKK! Too late!! Thankfully not for me. I must go on record also to correct my Bay Area colleague who complained that the house prices did not reflect accurately for the Marin county location—this would be because the house in the book is in fact located down the Peninsula towards Pacifica in a fictional, but definitely lower rent town.
See, I'm not surprised at all by Charlize's chops 'cause I remember her as Keanu's wife in The Devil's Advocate, (K & Al Pacino looked so father & son!) and she definitely was balls-to-the-walls. Apparently if given half a chance & a sensitive director, she can tap into some pretty deep stuff. (Aileen's documentary next month)
My lasting impression of this examination of the serious subject of Nazi collaboration is that it was completely undercut from the get go by the preposterous notion that a lovely set of Brits should play French folk. I know it has precedent, I'm not arguing that; I'm saying I found every scrap of 'frenchness' that could have made it compelling to be translated into a series of set pieces with the best of British actors. Sorry, they don't seem French, they seem to have stumbled into France on a trolley or something. I just saw a bit of 1965's Lady L starring Sophia Loren and Paul Newman as a pair of French lovers—how ridiculous is that?—or how about the horribly painful 1963 version of Irma La Douce with Shirley MacLaine & Jack Lemmon?—Gadzooks! Even with the best intentions, the essence is missing and hence the project sort of doomed to a frozen quality. I'm positing that in order to get under the skin of the Catholic Church, the priests, the casual citizens who were responsible for supporting the Vichy Government, film it in France, talk to the French, speak in French, soak in the atmosphere & see what must have happened. Otherwise, you're one step removed & in danger of artifice, which in this case is exactly what is not needed.
Back in the late 60's, Director Harold Christensen late of the San Francisco Ballet used to wander into our classes and go up and down the rows of students at the barre. Once in a while he'd stop and grab a girl's foot in mid extension. Caressing it dreamily and smoothing it into a strong arch, he would coo to himself 'beautiful feet, beautiful feet'. Then he'd let it go, back to its business of dance. Down the corridor in another class Monsieur Vilzak would accompany his instructions for the next combination with a thickly accented 'ya dee dee, ya dee dah, ta dee dum,ta dee dum, ya tahtum!' and demonstrate with the slightest hand movements and a bit of a lift of one foot. Five foot tiny Madame Schollar was even more quixotic: with a tight circle of dancers towering around her, she would sketch a combination one time with her hands, speaking the steps in French, pause dramatically and then wave everyone into position, that's all you got & heaven help you if you needed more, not that she was cruel—no, but not to do it perfectly & to disappoint her was punishment enough.
Let no one who sees this film think that it exaggerates in the slightest the world of ballet.
The Fog of War
Required viewing for anyone who was around during the Wars; I only have one quibble and that would be that since I am old enough at least to remember Vietnam, I would have appreciated it if the collages & rapid cuts were relaxed just a bit, especially when there's text. I don't even have time for it to register before it's gone, unless Morris wants it to be subliminal, in which case, just make it faster, then I won't feel slightly cheated that I missed the gist of the message because my eyeballs are too slow. Of course it would be really cool to watch the DVD version with a bunch more footage so we could get even angrier at McNamara.
The Last Samurai
I just want to set aside any judgments about the appropriateness of a 19th century soldier asking a samurai if he can call him 'Bob'. C'mon guys, was that improvised? If so, lose it. Anachronism, anachronism!
Along Came Polly
We were on our way to see another movie & the weather apparently caused the print to get waylaid, so guess what? the only other thing available was Jennifer Aniston (my partner loves her & no, he's never seen Friends) and Ben Stiller (hates him almost as much as Jim Carrey, but not even close to as much as he hates Adam Sandler). Imagine our surprise at also getting Philip Seymour Hoffman and Alec Baldwin (see above 'The Cooler') and omigod, Hank Azaria looking like he buffed up for a year to do this. So we had a good time & came home to find that most reviews are pretty harsh, which I would agree with if it weren't for the fact that we laughed alot.
To Be and To Have
In this documentary by Nicolas Philbert (In the Land of the Deaf), we see vivid examples of the essence of the relationship between children & adults in France as exemplified by their school system. They are tough, old fashioned & gentle in ways that make you want to weep for our lost youth. I know there are many wonderful elementary schools teachers here, but pound for pound, the premise so eloquently demonstrated by Monsieur Lopez is fundamental to the French. Children are to be treated as children and adults CARE for them. How funny and sad to see a French film with a title that says something about the importance of language to the French & goes right over the heads of Americans.
My partner was enthusiastic about this piece, written by Edna O'Brian & directed by Paul Whitworth, in fact a World Premiere running a short month, but thankfully extended through January at Sam Shepard Theatre, FortMason, San Francisco. Being a writer himself, his enthusiasm lies in Ms. O'Brian writing, of which he has read a lot, while mine lies in getting to see Julia Brothers in another play. I've only just discovered her so I'm giddy. Happy to say they did not disappoint. I like plays with & about women, but the didactics that threaten to sink what might be a lovely evening of meaningful theater are blissfully minimal here. Julia says Edna's words & I'm feeling so beneficent after this wonderful experience, I guess having a male director can be forgiven. Lise Bruneau & Tro M. Shaw cannot be faulted for not being Julia; I admit to being prejudiced, but it does seem that the Wife's role is particularly well formed. Don't care for the end, sorry. Can it be re-written or re-worked? Don't know, but it does sit on the play like a fly on a bun.
The Death of Meyerhold
Shotgun Players at Julia Morgan Theater in Berkeley—if you know who Meyerhold was, you're way ahead of most people. A vastly famous, influential & complex Russian-Jewish actor/director in the throes of the Communist Revolution and yet—who remembers him? Everybody knows Stanislavski, (or thinks they do) but Meyerhold slipped through the cracks. In impossibly beautiful staging we get to see actors play actors going through their paces as if the Director were pulling strings to move them. Wonderously visual and only slightly disappointing in some seemingly turgid discussions which while interesting historically aren't really very interesting dramatically or at least aren't made interesting compared to the rest. I wanted also to be moved by Cassidy Brown's Meyerhold as much as I was moved by Beth Wilmurt'sBabanova, but that's asking alot. She puts the bar so high, nobody's up there with her. That's ok. It was a memorable evening,
The Last Schwarz
Just until February 15, Marin Theater Company's West Coast Premiere of Deborah Zoe Laufer's play is worth getting lost in the dark. But come early, eat something and then settle in: you'll meet the family from Hell. Interestingly enough & not sure why, but the older sister role of Norma, with Sharon Lockwood, seems either to be underwritten or stylistically at odds with the rest, leaving the poor woman on the outside in a way that is not necessarily fruitful. Sharon ends up seeming ill at ease, not because Norma is, but because Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker are so at ease that their business, difficult as it is, flows from start to finish. Darren Bridgett & Megan Towle as Gene & Kia together & separately have so much finely honed material I can't begin to pick a favorite scene. Not to fault Mark Phillips as Simon, however, I was not really much convinced by the moonwalking bit at the end. Actually, I'd like to see the play again and see if I understand what that was about.
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