Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Mr. Dark Shadows

A word about Dan Curtis... just a word, because I'm in the middle of actually writing my script and no doubt this bit of procrastination will take me off my game for a while... but I was researching something to do with my screenplay on Wikipedia and came across the name "Dan Curtis" ... a name that I cannot see without taking pause. Giving thanks. And so, I must here on this blog that nobody reads, will read -- must in print give my thanks to someone who really changed my life for the better and whom I owe big time... a debt that I will never be able to repay now that he's dead. Still, I must say a word about Dan Curtis.

I met Dan as a kid, a very young kid just out of college. I remember my interview with him... I was sent by a temp agency that specialized in Hollywood gigs to work as a writer's assistant. I was warned by the woman who sent me out that Mr. Curtis had a bit of a reputation, and did I think I could handle it. What was his rep? "I've sent over 7 girls there so far and they've all either been fired or quit... the last three were in tears." Apparently, Dan had a reputation for making the girls cry.

Then I met Dan... and out of fairness, I can see and believe that Dan probably did make the girls cry... but Dan was very misunderstood... first off, he didn't talk, he barked. He yelled too.. but it wasn't out of anger, it was just the way Dan communicated... dan was very passionate about everything, and okay a bit grumpy... but Dan was NOT a mean person, not a bad guy at all... in fact, once I got to know him, I must admit that Dan Curtis probably became more of a role model as a writer... if I ever were to have a real mentor in Hollywood, it was Dan. He gave me a chance to experience everything in making a feature film (and a TV miniseries too... people forget, Dan Curtis was a totally split personality guy who could do both serious vampire horror stuff, like create Dark Shadows, and the Night Stalker and produce all those Dracula, horror flicks for years and years... but also he gave us The Winds of War, War and Rememberance, Intruders... lots of stuff... he was the king of vampire flicks on TV and the miniseries). Dan was a generous guy. He gave to charity, lots. He gave people chances, lots of actors that others would not bank on, would not give chances to... and you know who you are... they owe Dan big time. He talked tough, very tough and he cursed like a sailor, that's for sure... I've never seen anyone curse the way Dan did (remember what David Letterman said about him when Dan was on the show about the Winds of War... about him "poneying up the money"... we used to laugh about that one, because Letterman so had the Dan inflection spot on, minus the cursing, of course). He was smart, he knew story, knew people... knew what moved them and what turned them off and he put all of that into his scripts, his films, his work. I'm sure there are many out there who could tell their stories of Dan, probably many have. But this is just little ole' me's take on how he changed my life for the better.

I was hired that day as a writer's assistant, a temp... within a day, Dan was handing me scripts and asking me what I thought about them... and after that, he wanted to know what I would do to fix then... pretty soon Dan and I wrote together... no, I never got that elusive writing credit on a produced film... but I wrote a lot with Dan, we did lots of horror stuff... rewrote Jekyl and Hyde... a great version, if I do say so myself (though he never wanted to do any vampire stuff, isn't that funny). I wrote with the Trilogy of Terror Zuni fetish doll on my desk... the same doll that honestly scared the crap out of my as a kid when I watched late night TV a rerun of that film... I don't think there's been any film then or since that scared me as much as that damned doll... so of course I insisted it sit on my desk to "inspire" me).

There's tons of things I could say about Dan, all those stories he told me... how he let me watch movies be scored (that was a real thrill), how he let me watch the editing process and how he trusted me to be the one to see and comment on the dailies to the film we were working on... I was just a kid, barely out of my teens and to have such responsibility, to have someone like him trust me so much... it really gave me confidence and helped me mature and grow as a writer, a filmmaker, a person. For that I will forever be grateful to Dan Curtis... Mr. Dan Curtis.

One of my greatest regrets is that I never got to say goodbye to Dan, to see him before he died, to comfort him when his beloved Norma died. My mom got sick and things happened and well, I had to be in CT to take care of her and I'm very glad I did... very glad indeed. But when I heard that Dan died... when I read it online, in the newspaper (it barely got a blurb in the Connecticut papers and dammit, Dan Curtis was FROM Connecticut... Bridgeport, actually)... it hurts greatly... I don't know if he ever realized how grateful I was to him for being the person to encourage me to write movies... to inspire me... to give me the confidence that yes, I was good and I could do this and do this well... dan was always so sure I would make it in this business, he told me so many times over tuna fish sandwiches in the commisary (we both loved those damned tuna sandwiches... we could've eaten anything but no, it was always the same... creatures of habit the both of us)... and how he loved to sit outside and have a parade of famous actors pass by and give their thanks go him, their regards... it was like sitting with the Godfather sometimes... the stories I would hear. Dan Curtis touched so many people's lives in Hollywood and so many people's lives in the world with his stories and vision... and heart... such a great heart and passion to tell a good story...

It's no wonder I'm finally writing a vampire movie (and graphic novel) now is it. I'm sure Dan influenced me... sure there's a bit of his vision that permeated through my brain and is now coming out on the page. So often Hollywood and the Vampire thing are used as metaphores. I mean, it's no coincidence that every damned vampire movie or tv show is set in Los Angeles since the dawn of time (except for Dark Shadows... collinwood and LA had nothing in common, good for Dan, always the original). Well, if Hollywood and it's people are like vampires that are supposed to suck you dry, I am living proof that can tell you that it can also be a badly needed transfusion, that will nourish you to life.

And to Dan, I can honestly say, the thought of going to LA and not being able to see you and say Hi, is the first time you've made me cry.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Sexual Politics, Feminist Themes in the Buffydom

Okay, I'm thinking one of the benefits of having a blog (other than providing me with lots of time to procrastinate from the actual writing I'm supposed to be doing for money and fame and fortune, et al), and a blog that most likely nobody will read, is that I can rant all I want about totally useless geeky things that nobody in their right mind would publish elsewhere.

This will be one of those times, as my inner geek has been surfacing more than usual lately.

As you probably know, I'm working on a sci-fi script (or as none of you know, I am indeed working on a sci-fi screenplay and a graphic novel, based on my own story and "universe" -- let's call it the bluesyverse... and in doing such a thing, I am practicing the age old art of research (aka procrastination).

Research for me right now means watching lots of sci-fi stuff and lots of hero stuff and anything that could fit in the whole Joseph Campbell journey of myth milieu. I've gone through the whole Spiderman series (of which let's face it, Spiderman two is not only the best of the three movies, no doubt because Alvin Sargeant wrote it and he is a god of the screenplay as far as I'm concerned... and I know this because Lew Hunter, my mentor, former teacher at UCLA and the greatest screenwriting teacher ever told, er to tell... oh Lew's the best, we all know that... reaffirmed my love of Spidey 2... because in addition to structure, Spidey 2 has character.. it has heart... and I don't know about you but I LOVE a good superhero with heart.... noble and being a champion is good too... nice arm and shoulder muscles, even better... I'm not into skinny superheroes, which would probably be an oxymoron anyway... but I digress... a lot)

So in addition to all the Spidey, Superman, Batman and Matrix movies and the Star Wars Movies... I've been watching and rewatching the first 3 seasons of Buffy, and all the Angel tv dvd's... because in my opinion, it's a major shortcut to watching all these types of sci-fi hero movies/tv shows... it's like watching every star Trek and outer Limits episodes, some Hong Kong cinema (which I love), lots of John Woo and the aforementioned Matrix series... and then some, put together... you can see the homages and the subliminal plotlines and turns from all these things... some intentional, some not... I figure the writers and I were weaned on the same diet of TV and film growing up and it's gotta give you the same kind of warped mindset to really appreciate the in jokes...

More digressing... the point is, as I'm watching the "Becoming" episodes of Buffy, where Angel, or rather Angelus, the bad evil angel who used to be good until he slept with Buffy and now he's soulless has his soul reinstated only to be sent to hell by his former girlfriend. A great piece of storytelling if ever there was on so many levels... never mind that they kinda pillaged off of it in the Angel series when he once again became "bad" not because of sex, but because of trying to get info that only the soulless version would know about (a logic that's a bit too hokey for me, but I can appreciate that they had to get him bad again for SOME reason and sometimes, you gotta go for the stretch instead of say, some nice hypnosis and an alka selzer)... besides, watching David B. do his Anthony Hopkins imitation behind those prison bars is worth it enough to forgive them for how he got there.

What's bugging me though, and what's prompted me to write this rant... is that I've always thought of Joss Whedon's stuff as being rather feministic, not only because he's said so a million times, but because I do appreciate that he's got a super strong lead female character (characters) that are way stronger than all the guys and she knocks them flat on their butts many times over with some very cool Judo or Karate or whatever you call that stuff... and she does it without baring cleaveage and a lot of make-up... I mean, you gotta give the creator kudos for that... at least I gottta.

But, but... there's some things that just don't add up in terms of his message, his theme, his Lajos Egri inspired raison d'etre. Especially in this key episode, addition to the Buffyverse. How can you have a feministic and chauvinistic message at the same time????

Let's start with the framing device. Episode opens with Darla turning the naive "Liam" into a vampire. She tells him of the wonders of her world and tells him to close his eyes. Then she sends him to mortal hell, aka makes him a vampire.

And Episode 2 of the same Saga has Buffy doing what... telling him to close his eyes right before sending him to actual hell.

So thematically, what's the message? If you listen and trust women, they will trick you, tell you they love you, make you close your eyes and then send you to hell. Not exactly huge leaps of deduction going on, I realize.

But I gotta wonder, how does the guy who is giving us feminist heroes also telling us that women are a guy's damnation.

I'm confused... I'm disturbed... I'm wondering was it really worth sacrificing such a large thematic point to pull off a smarty, pithy setup. Say it ain't so Joss... women can be strong, smart and not the cause of man's eternal damnation.

Just because you're being an equal opportunity gender basher doesn't mean you totally should get off the hook (to clarify: having Buffy's first sexual experience make the guy turn into a monster and then taunt her with the old "He was so nice until I broke down and had SEX with him" message can be excused and even admired/laughed at BECAUSE you're at least making fun of the whole thing and not taking it seriously is why the whole series works, after all... and besides, it is good TV)...

But the whole Angel going to hell thing is really NOT played for laughs... both of these episodes play it way more straight than most of the episodes in the buffydom/ or angeldom or whatever you want to call it.

Not that I have an answer. I don't know how you can really get away with both being smart and not saying women are conduits to evil and man's downfall... but just personally, being a woman and all... I think in this case I would've had myself a private moment of "Gee, I could do that and wouldn't it be cool"... but not repeated the scene with the two women and frame it like this... it just adds way too much power to the theory. I wouldn't have opened with the voice-over at all and skipped the whole Darla/Angel/ how angel became a vampire scene in this and instead used it only in that Angel episode (by the way, I do wonder if they redid the scene 2 years later, or just used footage from the first time... I can't recall now if they did but something tells me they re shot it because I do not remember Darla saying "Close your eyes" when I watched it in the Angel season two episode (I think it was season 2 but I will not check... there are levels to my geekdom, after all... though I DO remember she tears at her bosom and uses that to make him become a vampire... a little tit for tat when it comes to equating sex with downfall... and come to think of it, not very feministic either).

Not that there's anyone out there who wants to pick a fight with me on this, but actually I'd be welcome to hear your opinions on this... if you're either feeling bored or pissed off by my ravings. Feel free to reply, I'll post all valid replies. I would like to know if others have felt this way... or not.

Oh, I'm adding a new feature because... well why not. Music I've been listening to today (maybe it's what's affecting my moods... then again, it could be something in the water):
Tom Waits (about 5 different cds, old and new), Aimee Mann (Magnolia), Bowie (assorted), Etta James (Loves been rough on me), Annie Lennox (her latest cd.. played 3 times in a row)... that's it so far but the night is young.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program (in other words, playtime's over, back to the coal mines).


(PS... I broke down and watched "The Namesake" last night... I was right the first time, big mistake... nowhere NEAR as impactful as the book... might not even have worked at all if I didn't know all the backstory by reading the book and loving it so... very disappointed in Mira Nair, who I normally love, especially her work on Monsoon Wedding... maybe if they had Jumpa Lahira write the screenplay it would've had something of the magic the novel had... then again, maybe not... now I'm even more terrified to see what they've done with "The Kite Runner."