Monthly Archives: October 2011

Lame Adventure 244: An Hour with Roz Chast

Star attraction!

A few days before the recent freak “What the hell is this snow in October and who ever dreamt of a white Halloween” snowstorm that blanketed The Big Apple this weekend [pause for breath and now, continue], Coco and I hightailed up to my neighborhood Barnes and Noble to attend the appearance by Roz Chast, the terrific cartoonist for The New Yorker.  Thanks to Roz, the mastermind behind Stranger’s Day, I made a complete fool of myself this past August 24th.  Roz is currently shilling her latest book What I Hate from A to Z.

Me:  Gee, Coke, I bet you could have written a book with that same title.

Coco:  Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Coco and I arrived separately.  I get out of work a half hour earlier than my buddy.  She had had a stressful day and told me to get to the store first and get seats.  She needed some chill time and wanted to ride the uptown subway train alone.  I understood completely.  When Coco arrived I could tell from the corner of my eye that the train ride had not worked its magic.

Me (cautiously):  What’s wrong?

Coco (expressionless):  I was stuck riding the train with Under Ling.

Under Ling is my video game loving colleague, but unlike other gaming nerds, she has a personality and the gift of gab.  Coco has also endeared herself to Under Ling because she often feeds her snacks.  Unfortunately, Coco did not have a cookie on her person to make Under Ling disappear.  Hence, when she joined me, my pal was still in a foul mood.  As a woman sitting near us continuously dry hacked, and someone else heavily phlegm-fill coughed, I made a feeble effort to comfort my still-steaming friend:

Me:  You’ll drink a martini afterward and relax.

Coco: I need a vodka just to sanitize this place.

Coco surveyed the room and realized that she was the only person in the audience with fashion sense.  A cop approached a particularly disheveled man.

Coco:  If that cop’s the fashion police, it’s gonna be a busy night of ticket writing.

Me:  Hey, I’m wearing fleece.

Coco gives me the stink eye. The woman sitting next to me, whom Coco has determined is named Sonya, seems to be calling everyone in her iPhone’s phone book.  As Sonya is speaking rather loudly about Roz’s new book she announces:

Sonya:  This is a good gift for Emma!

Coco:  Call her and tell her!

Before Sonya or any of the coughers beat us, Roz arrives, conducts a slide show and gives a talk.  Coco finally relaxes and starts laughing.

Terrible picture of Roz at lectern.

Roz opened her talk with reminiscences about her childhood in Brooklyn, reading the Merke Manual at age nine and reflecting on what the adults around her were prone to say before showing an assortment of her clever and witty cartoons.

Self portrait at age 9 reading "The Big Book of Horrible Rare Diseases".

Little flesh-colored blob at bottom of frame is a chap's bald dome.

This could also be my family at Xmas.

Day job hell.

This one elicited quite a laugh from the Upper West Side audience.

I relate.

Hey, that's my radiator, too! I'll try baking cookies on it.

Could double as my Dad's remote.

My personal favorite.

This one scored quite a hit with Coco.

Roz shared with us that her major influences included the cartoonist, Charles Addams, and Mad Magazine, a magazine I enjoyed immensely in my youth even though my mother promised that my allegiance to it would guarantee failure.  Obviously, Roz skipped taking a ride on that bus, but I … <sigh>

Roz, who is one of the forty cartoonists at The New Yorker under contract, shared with us the selection process.  Even though she has had approximately 800 cartoons published since 1978, there is not a guarantee that her submissions will be selected for publication. The competition is stiff.  She said that “a few hundred” cartoons are submitted every week for the 15-20 publication slots.

Roz's workspace.

The fax machine Roz uses to submit her cartoons.

The phone Roz uses when she makes "the call of pain" to learn the status of her submissions.

Roz's image of The New Yorker's art meeting judges.

During the Q&A an audience member asked Roz what was her most satisfying professional cartoon sale.

Roz: The first cartoon I sold to The New Yorker and the last.

I imagine this cartoon below was pretty special to her, too, even though her parents thought the man was a doctor lecturing about all the bad artery clogging food emanating from ice cream, not quite what Roz had in mind.

Roz's first New Yorker cover.

Even though she knows she’s a professional cartoonist she added:

Roz: I feel cautiously anxious about it.

Roz's file cabinets full of her rejected cartoons.

Someone else asked how she might express herself if she wasn’t a cartoonist.  After some thought, she said:

Roz:  I’m into hooking rugs now.

Upcoming Vatican Announcements - the Roz print in my bathroom.

Lame Adventure 242: Damage Control

Earlier this year, I had reached the breaking point with my fan.  I am not referring to Milton, but my Vornado air circulator.  Even though Milton swears that my capacity for indifference to heat makes me the human equivalent of a hothouse plant, I am now at an age where my internal thermostat can soar from 98.6 to a million degrees in a tenth of a second.  Therefore, I have a greater appreciation for cool air.  I usually run my Vornado air circulator most days all year round.  I also find the hum soothing when I sleep.  Yet, I have been reluctant to have friends visit me in my sanctum sanctorum due to a cosmetic problem I had with it.  I had considered replacing my air circulator because of this unfortunate deformity, but the unit was functioning perfectly, and that seemed like such a rash solution.  The thought of seeing this loyal appliance standing in the street waiting for the trash collector disturbed me.  It sits across from my bed.  What if it suddenly had the capacity to speak, and it spilled its guts about things it has seen over the years?  This compelled me to log onto Vornado’s web site to seek a solution so we could stay together.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that Vornado products are manufactured in Andover, Kansas, a suburb of Wichita.

To: consumerservices@vornado.com

Hello,

I have had the same Vornado 280 CS air circulator for over ten years, possibly closer to fifteen.  I am very happy with it and have highly recommended Vornado products to my friends, family, boss and colleagues.  It makes no sense to me why anyone would buy any other air circulator since Vornado products are so well made and tower over their competition.  My only complaint with my 280 CS is not Vornado’s fault.  One of my clumsier friends has knocked over my 280 CS, not once but twice, the last time knocking out spokes in the grill.  This chap is such a liability he is no longer welcome anywhere near my air circulator.  My grill now looks like a toothless poor relation.  I would like to replace my air circulator’s grill.  Is it possible to do so?  If so, where can I order a new grill to accommodate my 280 CS?  Overall, the unit continues to work as well as the first day I bought it.  It’s just looking much less pretty.

Thank you for your assistance.  I hope you’ll be able to advise me.

Best regards,

Lame Adventures Woman

From:  consumerservices@vornado.com

I would be happy to mail you a new grill free of charge. I will put one in the mail for you.

Let me know if you need anything else.

Adrienne

To: consumerservices@vornado.com

Wow, Adrienne, that is so generous!  It’s a pleasure to know that Vornado employs people that are as terrific as their products.  If my 280 CS could talk, I’m sure it would thank you, too.  Although I don’t feel like I’ve exactly won the Powerball lottery, this jaded New Yorker certainly was not expecting you to gift me with a new grill at no charge.  Therefore, I am experiencing a slight Blanch Dubois  “kindness of strangers” moment.  Vornado truly rocks!

Could you please send the new grill to my attention at my place of employ?

Ten days later …

Xmas comes early - new grill with intact spokes!

Lame Adventure 241: Goodbye New York Film Festival 2011!

The final two films Milton and I saw together at this year’s New York Film Festival were excellent documentaries, Vito and Pina.

Vito, directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, is about the late gay rights activist and film historian/critic, Vito Russo.  Vito wrote the ultimate history book about gays and lesbians on film, The Celluloid Closet.  His book was also made into a fascinating documentary in 1996; required viewing for anyone interested in this aspect of film culture.  Schwarz pieces together Vito’s life story with painstakingly researched archival footage intercut with interviews Vito gave and recollections from those that knew him best, his friends and family.

Vito’s family, all highly opinionated but clearly very loving Italian Americans were resigned to the reality that Vito was different, but they were also very ahead of their time in accepting him years before Stonewall.  This strong family foundation undoubtedly contributed to his confidence as a proud gay man determined to make an impact.  Vito knew that being gay was as natural as being straight and he was going to prove it by being honest about who he was.  This included his practice of Judyism, his devotion to Judy Garland.

His early activism got underway post-Stonewall, during a difficult time when there was deep division in the ranks of gay leadership.  Vito was very accepting of all gay people including drag queens and lesbians, an unpopular stand in the early Seventies.  Following a gay pride celebration in New York in 1973 where the crowd was particularly unruly, he switched gears and focused on writing and the daunting mission of researching The Celluloid Closet.

In the early Eighties, in response to the AIDS crisis, a crisis that had a unifying effect on the LGBT community, Vito again took action fueled by the homophobic Reagan administration’s deeply unsympathetic response to the impact of this deadly disease.  Vito’s relentless AIDS activism was integral in forcing the LGBT community to realize that if they didn’t take action, cold-hearted right wing politicians would continue to ignore the severity of this disease that they foolishly assumed was just a gay plague.  Therefore, they denied funding research that could have led to the development of a cure or contain the epidemic.  Vito was outraged as he watched friends as well as his companion, Jeffrey Sevcik, die far too young from this disease.  When Vito was diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, his mother wanted him to move into her house in New Jersey so that she could nurse him.  His cousin recalled that although Vito loved his mother dearly, “He would rather die in New York than live in New Jersey.”

Overall, this poignant documentary is as much about Vito the man as it is also a history lesson about the gay rights movement and how gays and lesbians were depicted on film.  During the Q&A Schwarz said that his goal is to have Vito screened in high schools throughout the country so that today’s youth can be educated about gay history.  Frankly, I think that everyone young, not so young, gay, straight or undeclared should see this entertaining history lesson about this charismatic force.  HBO will screen Vito in June 2012.

Milton the Paparazzo iPhone shot of Lou Reed standing outside Alice Tully Hall before entering Pina screening.

Pina

Milton thinks and I agree that the documentary, Pina, about the modern dance choreographer, Pina Bausch, directed by Wim Wenders, is possibly the first film shot in 3D where 3D has enhanced the storytelling.  A documentary about dance shot in 3D now seems like a no-brainer, but it took Wenders almost twenty years to figure that out.  He and Pina had been discussing collaborating on this venture for decades, but Wenders was reluctant to take on the project because he was unsure how to effectively tackle this subject on film.  After he had his epiphany, he organized the film shoot, but tragedy struck; Pina suddenly died.  Wenders canceled the shoot.

Eventually, he reversed course and decided to proceed with the project.  With the participation of Pina’s dance company, he has created a stirring homage to his friend and fellow artist.  The dances are intercut with portraits of the dancers staring silently at the camera while they speak their thoughts about her in voiceover.  There are not many spoken words in this film, for it is the complex, athletic dances that tell the story about this woman and her unbridled enthusiasm for expressive movement.

Personally, I am not much of a fan of dance, but I realized after seeing this film, I am now a big fan of Pina Bausch’s emotionally charged choreography, especially in 3D.  Her dancers are men and women of many nationalities and ages; some had to be close to fifty (prompting Milton and I to pop Aleve and swath ourselves with Ben-Gay on the spot).  The musical choices, many by Pina, but others by Wenders, also set the tone of each piece.

Costumes are as varied as diaphanous shifts and ball gowns for the women to business suits and just trousers for the men.  Props and sets include chairs, tree branches, dirt and water.  Several of these inventive dances were staged in actual outdoor locations including a glass house, an island near a traffic intersection and a suspension railway’s floating train.

This exhilarating tribute to such an inspired artist in the 3D format makes the viewer feel like you’re present with the dancers.  Unlike choppy music videos that flit from shot to shot, Wenders editing is generous, showing the entirety of the choreography.  The trailer accurately describes this film as being for Pina Bausch by Wim Wenders.  Pina opens in New York on December 23rd at the Walter Reade Theater.

Lou Reed imploring his friend, Wim Wenders, to make Milton the Paparazzo with the iPhone go away.

Lame Adventure 240: Let’s Make a Deal

Two years ago October I renewed my subscription to The New Yorker, a magazine I have been subscribing to as of last count, a million years.  Two years ago I landed a very satisfying deal – a two-year renewal for $49.95.  I figured:

Me:  When my subscription is up for renewal again, by then the economy will be back on track, my salary will be better, and all will be right in the world.  Sweet!

Two years later, everyone I know (myself included), as well as millions I don’t know (the 99) are all continuing to suffer as things continue to go very  economically wrong in this world.  Sucks!  On top of that, my subscription to The New Yorker is again up for renewal and I was not getting offered any deals remotely comparable to what I got two years ago.

The blow-in card proclaiming that renewing for two years to the tune of $129.99 because that was “the best deal” outraged me.

Condé Nast, you can't be serious!

The email they sent me to renew at $39.99 was disappointing.

This is supposd to make me happy?

I then did what I always do when searching for a bargain, I logged onto Amazon.  Even Amazon let me down with their one-year renewal for $69.99 and two years for $99.99.

Sound effect: the downbeat.

Resigned to the reality of these inflationary times, I decided that I would have to shell out $39.99.  Before logging off, I decided to peruse the customer reviews when I read one written by “katehof” from Norfolk, Virginia.

“You might get a better deal by calling The New Yorker subsciption (sic) office directly: 800-825-2510. My mailed renewal notice price was $89.95/2 years, but they offered me $50/2 years when I called and spoke to a CSR.”

I called the number and got through to a customer service rep called Dana, but I suffered a brain freeze and called her Amanda, the name of Coco’s new assistant, who I have already called both Miranda and Penelope.  This was almost as awkward as a business call I had two weeks ago with a very patient, polite and professional chap named Enrico, one of my company’s computer systems customer support specialists.  As Enrico was helping me set up a monthly tile purchases report that my boss, Elsbeth, had been demanding for the better part of three years, I was multitasking.

I was reading my personal email.

My longtime friend, Martini Max, sent me a missive where he referred to me as “Bartelby”.  Suddenly, Enrico went silent during our conversation.  This struck me as odd and I wondered if we had been disconnected, until it dawned on me that I was now calling him Bartelby.  This prompted me to stop reading my personal email, to ignore my momentary lapse into Demented-ville, and to immediately resume calling him Enrico.

While on the phone with Dana we had the following exchange:

Me:  Can you provide me with a better renewal rate?

Dana:  I can give you one year for $29.95 or two years for $39.95.

Me:  If I tossed ten more bucks your way, would you give me three years for $49.95?

Dana:  Hold on.

Short pause.  Dana looks into the Orwellian computer system and discovers that I’ve practically been reading this magazine since birth.

Dana:  Okay, you can have three years for $49.95.

Me:  Wow, that’s great!  Thanks!

That’s 141 issues at $5.99 each that would cost $844.59 off the newsstand, or 35 cents a copy delivered to my sanctum sanctorum via this thrifty renewal rate, provided that my marginally competent US Postal Service letter carrier can handle the assignment of delivering every issue.  For a moment, I considered asking Dana if I paid $100 for my renewal, could I just have a lifetime subscription?  Yet, I thought that might be pretentious.  Instead I asked her:

Me:  What happens if I die between now and then?

Dana paused.  Apparently, that macabre question threw her for a loop.  She was talking to a potential dead woman.

Dana:  Let’s hope you don’t, but if you did, the remaining issues in your subscription can be transferred to someone else.

To me, that’s almost as good to know as that 1-800 number.  Thank you katehof from Norfolk!

Poignant cover by Barry Blitt for this week's issue. Note the price, $5.99. Ugh.

Lame Adventure 239: New York Film Festival Triple Play

Milton and I have recently seen three very diverse films at the New York Film FestivalShame, The Turin Horse and the Special Work In Progress Screening.

What might this film be?

Shame is an erotically charged psychological drama directed by Steve McQueen about Brandon, an affluent, Manhattan-based sex addict in his early-30s, brilliantly played by charismatic, Michael Fassbender, who makes this relentless horndog sympathetic.  Brandon lives a successful double life earning pots of money in his high tech job, while screwing anyone he can buy or bang for free at any hour of the day or night.  When overcome with the urge in the office, he visits the men’s room for a wank.  A quiet evening at home involves pounding a beer and eating take-out Chinese while streaming his favorite porn site.  Riding the subway into work he exchanges such penetrating eye contact with a woman doling out a boatload of come-hither glances back at him, one feels like a voyeur visualizing exactly what he’s imagining he’d like to do to her.

Brandon is content with satisfying his disconnected sexual compulsion until Sissy, his emotionally needy, hot mess of a cabaret singer sister, played perfectly by Carey Mulligan, invades his well-ordered empty life.  When he watches her perform New York, New York dirge-style, he is so overcome with emotion he cannot stop a tear from rolling down his face.  Needy Sissy also invades her brother’s privacy and discovers his secret, prompting him to suffer an existential crisis in response to her cloying need for love and connection.  Following one of their battles, he takes impulsive action to cleanse himself of his habit.  He even tries dating a co-worker with conventional ideas about relationships, but that temporary fix reinforces his natural inclination for the detached and impersonal.  As Sissy craves rescue, Brandon is trapped in his desire for escape, colliding penchants that ultimately exact heavy tolls on both of them.  As the ending credits rolled I was unsure what I wanted to do more, weep or take a shower.  Milton declared:

Milton:  Compared to what we’re seeing next, this was Disney.

Star Fassbender and Director McQueen at the NYFF.

What we saw next was the Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr’s last film, The Turin Horse, a 146 minute black and white opus that was inspired by a horse that Friedrich Nietzsche saw being whipped.  This act of brutality upset Nietzche so much he threw his arms around the animal to protect it and then he pretty much went off his rocker until he died ten years later.  This film is ostensibly about what happened to the horse, but the narrative is so lean, it’s borderline anorexic.

It opens with a grizzled peasant with a paralyzed right arm who looks 70, but is probably 45, driving a wooden cart pulled by his weathered workhorse through a fierce windstorm.  Once home, he is wordlessly met by his adult daughter, who looks 40, but is probably 20.  They go about their routine of unharnessing the horse from her cart, putting her in her stable, and then they enter their stone house where she helps her father undress, and redress, he lies down, and she boils potatoes for their meal.  When the potatoes are cooked, she announces, “It’s ready.”  They eat wordlessly with their hands.  She clears the table and then sits at the window with her back to the camera watching the wind wreak havoc outside until her father orders offscreen, “Go to bed.”

Fetching water.

This segment is followed with the next six days of their lives, basically a repetition of the same routines in their thankless existence — fetching water from the well, dressing, undressing, boiling potatoes, eating potatoes, drinking a shot of palinka (a Hungarian fruit brandy), occasionally dealing with the horse that is looking increasingly ill, getting a visit from a gasbag neighbor, getting a second visit from an unwelcome band of gypsies that leave without incident, the well running dry for a reason that is never explained, an attempt to leave, failing to leave and finally, returning to what could be their doom — all while that windstorm of biblical proportion is blowing.  The storm stops, the lantern no longer lights, without water, the potatoes can only be eaten raw, and the screen fades to black.

How I managed to stay awake, much less find myself completely riveted to the monotonous routines of these two miserable souls essentially living the saying, “Life’s a bitch and then you die,” is a testimony to whatever it is that Béla Tarr does with the camera.  I never looked at my watch once.  In fact, it never even occurred to me to look at my watch.

As the ending credits rolled, Milton eloquently confided:

Milton: I never want to see a potato again if that shit ain’t fried.

Afterward, Dennis Lim, a member of the festival’s selection committee, conducted a q&a with Béla Tarr, who insisted on standing throughout.

Béla Tarr and Dennis Lim on stage at Alice Tully Hall

Béla Tarr succinctly explained it best why this film works so well for the viewer:

BT: The details are more important than the stupid story.

He answered the question about why this is his last film with a question:

BT:  Do you think I can say more?

He added that he felt no reason to repeat himself.  Afterward, Milton shared another confidence with me:

Milton:  I want to screw Michael Fassbender and marry Béla Tarr.

Another man blocking Milton's path to Béla's heart.

Our mystery work-in-progress screening was for Martin Scorsese’s adventure in the world of 3D, Hugo, based on the novel by Brian Selznick titled, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Hugo is a caper about a clever orphan boy who secretly lives in a railway station in Paris with a broken automaton he’s determined to repair.  On a narrative level, the first hour is so leaden with cliché chase scenes and contrived suspense, it made The Turin Horse seem light as a soufflé.  In the second half, it veers into an entirely unpredictable direction when it turns into a compelling film history lesson about filmmaker Georges Méliès, before reverting back to more contrived shenanigans, yet another chase, and the predictable tugging at the heartstrings ending.  I looked at my watch several times while watching this one.  Hugo is scheduled to open November 23rd in time for Thanksgiving.  Pass the turkey.

Lame Adventure 238: New York Film Festival – Melancholia

It seems perversely fitting that on the day after Steve Jobs buys his rainbow, Milton and I are attending a screening of a film at the New York Film Festival called Melancholia.  Written and directed by Lars von Trier, this is a story about the end of the world.  At this moment, many Mac devotees including myself felt that the world had ended a bit when we learned that Steve had checked out.   Milton has an iPhone, his first taste of Mac hardware but his Dell desktop has often been the bane of his existence prompting me to bark:

Me:  Get a Mac!

On cue, he will grouse about having just paid off his PC, and I will issue my usual taunt:

Me:  Once you have Mac you’ll never go back.

Milton and I had not planned on attending any NYFF screenings of films with distribution, but we both highly regretted not bending our rule for the latest from reliably controversial Lars.  When Melancholia played Cannes last spring, word spread fast that it was one of his best films thus far in his career.  Then he blew all the great press devoted to his work by suffering diarrhea of the mouth at a post-screening press conference when he went on a stream-of-consciousness tangent about Nazis, Jews, being a Nazi, etc.  This stupidity quickly got him ejected from the festival.  Do I think he’s a Nazi?  No.  Do I think he was the king of self-destruction at that press conference?  To get vomitously Sarah Palin here, “You betcha!”  Lars might be the type that recoils from admiration and approval.  Yet, I have no interest in playing Sigmund Fraud (sic) about his psychologically.  Everyone has demons, but most of us keep them under wraps in public or at least when cameras, microphones, and hundreds of reporters are present.

We knew that the Melancholia screening was sold out, but Film Society member Milton visited the box office and asked if any seats were available.  The ticket seller took pity on him and sold him a pair (at his member discount rate) of center section seats in row G; a row that Milton is now referring to as “Row Good.”

An image that probably sends chills up Vera Wang's spine.

This cosmic tale is as beautiful as it is bleak.  The story opens with a brilliant prologue depicting mini-scenes of destruction leading up to the grand kahuna of “holy crap, did we see what we just saw” moments  while music from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde graces the soundtrack.  The prologue segues into the first part of the film called Justine.  Kirsten Dunst plays Justine, a new bride who arrives two hours late with her groom, Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), to their wedding reception held at her sister Claire’s lavish mansion.  A two-word description of the wedding reception is ‘emotional disaster’ as Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg delivering yet another pitch-perfect performance), struggles to make this toxic celebration a success.  Unfortunately, she is fighting an impossible battle with forces beyond her control including her bitter divorced mother (Charlotte Rampling) delivering a speech so withering I became infected with Milton’s giggles.  The foremost force that resists Claire’s good intentions is Justine, who grows increasingly detached from her own party to a socially suicidal degree.

The second part is called Claire, the sister that is fighting hard to maintain some semblance of normalcy in the life she shares with her husband and young son, a tall order to fill since psychopathic Justine is around.  The film unfolds with a sense of calm, but as worried Claire’s anxiety about the fate of the world as a rogue planet approaches escalates, Justine, who has a premonition of what’s to come, seems at peace.  Meanwhile, Claire grows increasingly unhinged and considering the circumsances, who the hell wouldn’t?

If there is a recurring theme throughout the entirety of the film it’s one of hopelessness.  In the world according to Lars it seems that no matter how hard we try to make things right, to play by life’s rules, to be prepared in the event of an emergency, or even if we consciously stop trying at all, either way it doesn’t matter what we do.  Forces beyond our control are out there that are going to crush us one way or another.   On the upside, this makes me feel a lot less lousy about my inability to get out of bed to get to work on time. 

As the ending credits rolled, many audience members sat in a daze.   This thought provoking highly original work is going to stick in our heads quite a while.

Lame Adventure 237: New York Film Festival – George Harrison: Living in the Material World

Milton and I attended the sold-out screening of the HBO documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World at the New York Film Festival.  This 208 minute film directed by Martin Scorsese with the cooperation of Harrison’s widow, Olivia, will be shown in two parts on HBO starting tonight.

We had fantastic seats, seventh row, almost dead center.  The filmmaker, Wes Anderson, was sitting behind us.  We saw Fisher Stevens and we also thought we saw the composer Philip Glass.  I pointed out a guy that I thought could have participated in a John Lithgow look-alike contest.

Milton:  He could have entered but he would have lost.  I can’t believe we have VIP seats!

Me:  Someone probably got fired for making that mistake.

As I was leafing through my program, chatting with Milton, I reached our film’s description page.  The woman sitting next to me, a Bjork-wannabe in the appearance department, floats her finger over George’s face in the photograph and mumbles his name into my left ear.

Floating finger re-enactment.

This unsolicited gesture captures my attention. I don’t want to encourage her but I don’t want to appear rude.

Me:  Yes, that’s George Harrison.

Milton mumbles her name into my right ear.

Milton:  Weirdo.

Olivia Harrison and Martin Scorsese introduce the film.  Then, the lights dim, the screen fills with tulips, and George’s middle-aged face appears in the garden.  He looks at the camera and flashes an ethereal smile.  I instantly feel a lump in my throat, but it just as instantly dissolves because Weirdo unfolds the oversized program guide and starts perusing it using her cellphone as a light source.  She is also leaning over my armrest.  She is so close to me that I can sniff her fragrance, Eau de Gag.

There I am sitting next to a stinky deranged space invader that I’d like to beat with a Rickenbacker guitar while watching what might be the definitive documentary about one of the most spiritual rock stars ever.  Instinct tells me that if I address her, this could get very ugly, very fast.  I inch closer to Milton and stay focused on the film, but I do notice that when I react audibly to whatever is happening on the screen, it  distracts her from her program guide reading and I can feel her staring at me.  If I were  to look at her, I know she’d be looking at me square in the face.  I stay focused on the screen.

Every so often her illuminated phone chimes.  It also fully rang once.  She quickly killed the ring, but the guy sitting next to Milton leaned forward and did address her.

Guy Sitting Next to Milton:  Shut that off!

She followed his order.  At that moment, I could have had that stranger’s child.

The first half of the film, told without narration and deftly edited by David Tedeschi, reveals George’s early life through archive footage and home movies, as well as interviews with the man himself.  This footage is intercut with interviews with key talking heads including the surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, record producer George Martin, Harrison’s ex-wife Pattie Boyd, Eric Clapton, Yoko Ono, Phil Specter (filmed before his world imploded), and many others sharing anecdotes and personal insights about “the quiet Beatle”.  Until Paul McCartney revealed it, I never knew that young George referred to his highly stylized pre-Beatle haircut as “the turban.”

The film conveys George’s frustration as being the lead guitarist to the Beatle’s two domineering writers, John Lennon and McCartney.  In the beginning Harrison’s songwriting talent was undeveloped, but it blossomed over time (being in the company of Lennon and McCartney could not have hurt) but he had a tough time getting his less commercial songs on Beatle albums.  He smashed one hit out of the park with Something.  In the second half of the film, an interviewee suggests that although this classic Harrison composition is about a woman, it could just as easily have been about his close relationship with God.

Part two of the film, the post-Beatle half, devotes much more time to George’s original music as well as to his spirituality.  This was the half where I caught myself nodding out on several occasions.  Yet, whenever he or Ravi Shankar began strumming a sitar, I quickly regained consciousness.

The more controversial areas of George’s life including his philandering and his recreational drug abuse were downplayed.  Olivia skirts the topic of his indiscretions.  It was clearly a painful topic for her, but she answers her own question when she herself asks the secret to a lasting marriage:

Olivia: You don’t get divorced.

A glaring omission was not mentioning that George lost a major copyright infringement suit that lingered for years.  A judge ruled against him when it was deemed that he subconsciously plagiarized the Chiffon’s He’s so Fine when he wrote My Sweet Lord.  Milton and I are both deaf to the similarities.

What we also found baffling was why the filmmakers were so coy about the specific cancer that led to George’s death in 2001.  He was seen smoking cigarettes throughout the film and was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1997.  The subject of his cancer from the initial diagnosis through where he traveled for treatment was downplayed. Yet, it is mentioned that his cancer was in remission when an intruder attacked him in his home on New Year’s Eve 1999.  Dhani, George and Olivia’s only child, eludes that the stress of that brutal attack may have expedited his father’s death.  I am sure that that attack did not help George recover, but I am also sure that smoking a few packs for 30 or 40 years may have also contributed significantly to his passing.  Why not be straightforward about that?  I don’t think this film was funded by Philip Morris.

As we left the theater Milton observed:

Milton: I feel like I was lied to but in a very clever way.

Overall, this film is very entertaining, but there are gaps in the narrative.  As for Weirdo, she left her seat at intermission and did not return.  Maybe Krishna or possibly George himself interceded on my behalf.

Forbidden panel discussion iPhone photo that nearly got Milton handed his head on a plate by a watchdog usher. Left to right producer Nigel Sinclair, Olivia Harrison, Martin Scorsese, Margaret Bodde, David Tedeschi, and moderator Scott Foundas. Note woman in foreground wearing Sgt. Pepper-ette collection coat.