Saturday, January 31, 2009

George, Lost

I was cooking dinner tonight, humming something or other and stirring the lamb masala, when Ben called me. He had just left to walk the dog a few minutes before, so I was surprised he was calling. He must have forgotten something.

“That was Brian,” he said. I could hear him walking, breathing a little heavier, hear cars driving by. “He called to let us know George died.”

That’s one of those phone calls you never want to get, always want to rewind and take the words away. Whenever I hear someone I know has died, the finality of it is what gets me first. There’s no do over, no more chances to do something better, say something you’d held back. It’s done. Eventually, the grief and missing that person sets in with its own horrors, but the finality of it is what first hits me. Death has come. The world is now forever different. Someone I’ve known, maybe loved, is permanently gone, eternally quiet. It’s hard to wrap my brain around that, that my story continues and theirs does not.

George was Brian’s best friend. Brian has been one of Ben’s best friends for the past 18 years, and now also one of my close friends. Ben had known George all that time, though not nearly as well as Brian. Since George lived in Harrison, several hours away, I had only met George on I think two occasions, but I liked him immediately, and heard reports about him from Brian often.

George was in his early 40s, a tall, heavyset gay man with a giant smile and sad eyes. Everything about him was somehow oversized—he’d startle our border collie Marlowe into fits of barking whenever he’d stand up, we think just because he was suddenly so tall. He bore a strong resemblance to Christopher Hitchens, but inflated.

George’s health was poor—high blood pressure, diabetes, several other things. He often walked with a cane because of a problem with his foot. He lived right by his parents, who very much relied on him. The past year had been rough on George and his family in many ways, including losing his older brother, who also died much too young.

George’s parents came home today and found him dead. We don’t know what killed him. I hope they find out conclusively what happened to their son. This was the youngest of their two children, both now deceased. I can’t imagine.

I feel a deep sadness for George. I met him so late in his story, I at most rate a footnote. But I always sensed his deep capacity for joy, capriciousness, silliness. I know Brian enjoyed his company probably more than anyone else’s he knows.

I could tell George struggled with loneliness and depression. I seem to have radar for such things, and an affinity for the lonely souls and misfits of the world. But I had hope that something would change for George. Maybe he’d move closer to us and we could be closer friends, or maybe he’d meet someone wonderful who appreciated him and would fall head over heels for him, or get back on track with his career. He was so smart and funny, wickedly clever and unremorsefully catty sometimes, and yet also unfailingly polite. He was devoted to Brian, and though they were both largish gay men of the same approximate age, they both insist they were never once attracted to each other; they were from the start just the very best of friends.

I am sad for George, that he will never get to turn that next corner in his life, never find joy on earth amongst his friends again. And I absolutely ache for Brian, who just lost his best friend of close to 20 years and is reeling from the shock.

There will be no funeral, but maybe we can find someway to send his spirit off as friends. I’d like to do that for Brian.

Rest in peace, George. You made a difference here, and are missed. I wish I’d known you better.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thoughts on WALL-E

This isn't a film blog, but I frequent quite a few every day. My favorite is
Living in Cinema, where the posts are always smart and funny and insightful, and the highly lively comments section has discussions among the two-dozen or so regulars that will go on for days or weeks, spinning wildly off topic at times. They are for the most part, way more informed about films than I am, but all are welcomed to discuss. If any of you are movie buffs, check it out. 

Yesterday, a very nice and intelligent feller from New Zealand on there politely asked what he was not "getting" about WALL-E, 2008's animated movie from Pixar Studios. It's won a bunch of critics' awards, even some Best Picture prizes from various esteemed critical groups, and he had just watched it, and couldn't quite see why it was so acclaimed. Movie watching is subjective, of course, but I thought I'd respond with what I thought were the film's strengths. 

I liked the film the first time I saw it, then watched the DVD with my family again over the holidays and fell head over heels for the little robot story. Here's what I wrote over in the comments section at LiC. It's a rather long comment, but a nice size for a blog posting, so I figured I'd double dip and use it over here, too. It's not a formal review, and not as polished as it would be if it were, but I thought my rather forgiving parents, et al, might enjoy reading it.

If you haven't seen WALL-E, try to find a copy soon. I don't own it yet, but I will. 
Here's what I think the critics are seeing, that for whatever perfectly valid reason, you are not.
WALL-E is at its heart a celebration of humanity's ingenuity, creativity, and capacity to overcome even our worst selfish, slothful impulses and grow into something better, for the sake of something bigger than our own bloated selves. It's about the power of one, the power of two, the power of many. WALL-E himself is as much a human invention as the mess he was created to clean up; his character traits (resourcefulness, curiosity, loneliness, dilligence, loyalty, friendship, love, rashness, courage, the ability to learn) are a direct reflection of our own. Eve, too, is a product of us, directly or indirectly. It's a story, not new, but told in new ways, that reminds us through hyperbole and metaphor of how much we, today, now, need to remember to cherish life in all its forms and have the courage to trust and reclaim our own creative spirit.
WALL-E tells this story in a dazzlingly beautiful technical feat of animation that on a somewhat meta level itself makes the same thematic case: Look what beauty we can create, how warm and imaginative this technology can be, bringing us closer together and to our best selves. We mortals cannot be underestimated, and neither can the possibilities of animation. The art direction, animated cinematography, editing, sound, all the technicals are top shelf.
And as a bonus for film critics, WALL-E simultaneously draws from eight decades of cinematic history–most notably, from the dawn of cinema–to quietly honor film's most powerful and poignant role in our lives, that of sustaining us in the dark times and reminding us, through whatever improbable means (Hello, Dolly, of all films, is the one highlighted), of what's really important. It's a film rich in symbolism and layers of meaning that is steeped in film history and makes a strong argument for film's future.
The screenplay gives equal weight to humanity's dual talents for destruction and construction, using the current gathering environmental crisis as a trope that grounds the otherwise sci-fi fantasy in relevance to our immediate future. The real villains in the picture aren't mutinous AI, but the demons within ourselves that compel us to consume more and more and faster and easier and forget what it is that makes us human, that creative spark and need to forge a path ever forward.
Meanwhile, it has a timeless love story between a bumbling but charming and well-intentioned Chaplin-esque male and a fierce and feminist female who connects to her softer core self, each of whom changes and grows better for knowing the other during the course of the film. That's what real romance does, makes us better people individually and as a couple for discovering that soul-sustaining partnership. It is a love that was never programmed to be, and yet, must be.
It's a film that like the best of sci-fi asks, "What if?" and then takes us on a bleak path that does not have to be. It's a film that channels the deep undercurrent of hope, even amidst the darkest of crises–the death of our planet and the devolution of our species–and has a resounding echo of the rallying cry of 2008: "Yes we can!"
To top it off, and almost as asides to its other many treasures, WALL-E also contains significant amounts of humor that don't rely on fart jokes and pop culture allusions, a misshapen band of merry Island-of-Lost-Toys-esque robots who discover they still have value, a prolonged and joyfully magical cinematic sequence of robots in love spiraling through space, and an endearing cockroach who just won't die.
It's one heck of a great film, in my opinion.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Four Sentences

1. It's Inauguration Day.

2. Barrack Obama is about to become the 44th President of the United States of America.

3. In a few hours, George Bush will be leaving the White House in a helicopter.

4. I could not be happier.