Category Archives: An Ode to…

An Ode to Movies

What’s a Jew to do in December when Hanukkah was, like, so November?

Everybody knows the Jews created the cinema to give their people a home during the Christmas month more widely known as December. (In my own cosmological version of the Universe, the Jews were a little nebulous puff of stardust that popped amidst all that big banging out and said, Let’s film this sh*t.)

This totally works for me, as I’m Jewish and movies are my favorite thing. In truth, there’s nothing I enjoy more than sitting silently for approximately 90-120 minutes and being transported to another world. There’s a subtext to be inferred here: Jonathan, you like movies because you get to escape your life for approximately 90-120 minutes. But, dear reader (Hi, Mom!), I promise I’m not indulging in film as a symptom of depression. I don’t like movies because they distract me from real life. I like them because they illuminate the emotions of real life, particularly the really hard and complex and messy ones.

That Time Someone Sneezed and Workers Left a Factory

Though my aforementioned creation story is unlikely, I think it’s worth mentioning the real history of movies. We’ve come a long way since the carnival novelty that peep-show parlors offered in the late 1800s. From spectacles of the past to full-blown stories of the present day, we’ve changed. A lot.

The history of film in one paragraph. (With videos!) Let’s do this:

The world in the 1890s was full of new things: cities, steam engines, hot air balloons! Motion pictures became a way to capture and record this rapid change. Thomas Edison was one of the first dudes to realize that these moving pictures could attract a paying audience—in April of 1894, Record of a Sneeze premiered in New York.

The Lumiere Brothers then improved upon Edison and showed that logical, organized, minimalist events could reveal a story (e.g., Workers Leaving the Factory)

Editing soon learned the power of a cut (e.g., The Gay Shoe Clerk, Edwin S. Porter, 1903)…

…and then Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, Buster Keaton, sound, movie studios, Hollywood, the Great Depression, Casablanca, film noir, TV, and Alfred Hitchcock happened. My film history class only covered origins through 1960, so we have to stop at Hitchcock because I don’t know what happened after that.

Kidding.

Meryl Streep and Beyoncé, the two finest actresses of recent decades, happened.

Sitting Is Boring?

My excitement always peaks when I hear one of my creative heroes talk about the allure of movies. Andrew Stanton, a fellow Pixarian, says movies are at their best when they infuse wonder. Martin Scorsese, who I’ve had the privilege of hearing speak a few times in New York, has a more technical answer:

 Light is at the beginning of cinema, of course. It’s fundamental—because cinema is created with light, and it’s still best seen projected in dark rooms, where it’s the only source of light. But light is also at the beginning of everything. Most creation myths start with darkness, and then the real beginning comes with light—which means the creation of forms. Which leads to distinguishing one thing from another, and ourselves from the rest of the world. Recognizing patterns, similarities, differences, naming things—interpreting the world. Metaphors—seeing one thing “in light of” something else. Becoming “enlightened.”

Charlie Kaufman says we like them because our brains are wired to turn emotional states into movies. And me (I have an IMDb page, just like my hero Charlie does!)…I think my attraction to movies is constantly evolving. As of late, I view movies as a mirror to the cycle of life. We’re born a blank slate, ready for experience to color us in. Similarly, when those lights in the theater go down, I take a deep breath, clear my mind, and mentally ready myself to be thrust into another realm—to learn a new world, really. Where are we? What’s the time period? Who are the characters? What are the rules of this world?

More important, there’s a deep and profound satisfaction for me in the knowledge that an ending is going to come—to know that I’m going to get a full story, realized from some subjective beginning to some kind of subjective ending. In that way, movies often take away the anxiety of real life in which the future is unknown and scary. Movies, for me, are sometimes more digestible than real life. I feel this way about all of fiction, really—movies, books, theater. They’re like snippets of life, safe and contained within the confines of the screen or page and stage on which they exist. And, for that, I love them all dearly.

A Year of Movies

In January 2013, I started keeping the ticket to every movie I see in theaters. Though I lost a few of them, my envelope is currently filled with 40 tickets. You know how I feel about recommendations, so I offer the following list as just that—a list of what I’ve seen recently and the impressions these films left upon me, starting with two older films that I just got around to seeing this year:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 2009 (dir. David Yates)

I haven’t seen this one since it was released in 2009. If you’ve watched all the preceding movies, you may be able to notice something that happens with the actors in this installment: they got good. They’ve all settled into their roles (thank Moses Emma Watson stopped delivering every line with her dramatic huffing and puffing), and it’s really, really pleasant to watch. Plus, the sexual tension makes me giggle.

Stories We Tell, 2012 (dir. Sarah Polley)

Sarah Polley’s documentary is unlike any documentary I’ve ever seen. It transcends its genre as it addresses, in short, the philosophy of truth. The subject is Diane, Polley’s late mother. She’s shown in old home movies; yet, as the story unfolds, the footage becomes questionable and you may just start to wonder what’s real and what isn’t.

Frozen, 2013 (dirs. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee)

“Let It Go.” It’s magic. And totally a LGBT anthem. Just download it on iTunes immediately, okay?

Inside Llewyn Davis, 2013 (dirs. Ethan and Joel Coen)

The latest from the Coen Brothers finds us in the winter of 1961 in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. To watch this movie is to essentially watch Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), a struggling musician, as he tries to find a couch to sleep on over the course of one week. The tragedy is that he’s a good musician, but not a great one. What makes me happy: Carey Mulligan (who never smiles), the cat that deserves an Oscar nod for his/her performance, and a young Bob Dylan cameo.

American Hustle, 2013 (dir. David O. Russell)

This one is a story based on the Abscam affair, the criminal investigation of the 1970s in which the F.B.I. called on a swindler named Mel Weinberg to help ensnare public officials. The cast is full of strangers: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence (!!!), Jeremy Renner, and Robert DeNiro. It’s really a work of art. What makes me happy: every scene featuring an F.B.I. supervisor played by Louis C.K.

Nebraska, 2013 (dir. Alexander Payne) 

Payne (Sideways, The Descendents) likes his journey stories. His latest, shot in wide-screen black-and-white, follows old man Woody (Bruce Dern) and his son, David (Will Forte), from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska. What makes me happy: the scene in which the men lounge around and watch football. It just feels so damn real.

Blue is the Warmest Color, 2013 (dir. Abdellatif Kechiche)

The NC-17 Palme d’Or winner from this year’s Cannes Festival. A 179-minute exploration of Adèle, a high school student learning what it means to love and to be loved. She dates guys until she meets Emma, a girl with blue hair who changes her life forever. What makes me happy: Adèle Exarchopoulos (Adèle) and Léa Seydoux (Emma) who act with their faces instead of their words, resulting in two of the most mesmerizing onscreen performances I’ve seen this year.

12 Years a Slave, 2013 (dir. Steve McQueen)

Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) is easily one of my favorite directors. His latest is said to be the greatest feature film ever made about American slavery. There’s a scene I’ll never forget in which Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a freeborn African-American kidnapped into slavery, hangs from a tree with a noose around his neck, supported by only one foot as it barely touches the muddy ground. Lupita Nyong’o plays Patsey in a performance I can’t describe with words. This movie didn’t make me happy, but it did leave me thinking about the thousands who never knew freedom.

Other 2013 notables: Blue Jasmine (for Cate Blanchett), Cutie and the Boxer, Spring Breakers (for James Franco), Don Jon (for Julianne Moore), Fruitvale Station, The Great Gatsby, About Time (for the lovely message about what it means to be a father and a son), The Way, Way Back, and Monsters University (for the DVD bonus features that I got to be in with my Pixar buddies!).

My first Hollywood movie premiere.

My first Hollywood movie premiere.

The End

So why tell stories? 12 Years a Slave offers an answer: because we can. The above films are film at its best. When I left the theater after watching each of these, the world seemed just a little bit heavier. In a good way.

Life for me, as it seems, has really become a series of moments that exist between whatever movies I happen to be seeing that week, month, or year. Movies have changed my life, and I hope that never changes.

I found this picture in a photo album at home in Maryland. The caption read, "Which way to Hollywood?"

I found this picture in a photo album at home in Maryland. The caption extending from the top of my white hoodie read, “Which way to Hollywood?”

An Ode to Telluride

Imagine a place where elk roam free, where majestic mountains and glowing orbs called gondolas hug a quaint town replete with restaurants and friendly “Hello’s.” A place where people choose movies over sleep, and where celebrities and muggles are one and the same. A place where people who like movies transform into cinephiles who love film. (And where nobody will think you’re pretentious for calling yourself a “cinephile,” or for using the word “film” instead of “movie.”)

This, dear reader(s), is Telluride, Colorado. Or more aptly named, Heaven.

I was one of 50 students to take part in the Telluride Film Festival Student Symposium over the past five days. After writing an essay on the movie of our choice, we were invited to the festival as recipients of the royal Kardashian treatment, ushered through 14 movies and 12 intimate Q+As with many of the festival’s esteemed artists.

On the plane back to San Francisco, I tried to think about how to write about my experience, but then I fell asleep. I don’t really like writing reviews because they’re incredibly subjective and, if you don’t know me, you’ll have no basis on which to judge them. This reservation doesn’t really apply here though considering the audience of this blog consists of my family and my best friend Claire.

In any case, I’d like to pass along a summary of my favorite films. They made me feel things, so if they do the same for you, let’s talk. I want to re-live the drama, starting with my two favorites, “Rust & Bone” and “Frances Ha.”

“Rust & Bone” (France, 2012)

  • The Director: Jacques Audiard (“A Prophet”)
  • The People: Marion Cotillard (“La vie en rose,” “Inception,” “The Dark Knight Rises”)
  • The Dish: The story of a chiseled street-fighter, his son, and a free-spirited whale trainer. It’ll have you dancing, then crying, then smiling. I saw it three days ago and I’ve been thinking about it every day since.

 Frances Ha” (U.S., 2012)

  • The Trailer: No trailer, but check out the IMDb page for now…
  • The Director: Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”, “Greenberg,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox”)
  • The People: Greta Gerwig (“Greenberg,” “No Strings Attached”), Adam Driver (Adam from HBO’s “Girls”)
  • The Dish: That new black-and-white Noah Baumbach movie set in present-day New York. Feels like the movie version of “Girls.”

“No” (Chile, 2012)

  • The Director: Pablo Larraín
  • The People: Gael García Bernal (“Y Tu Mamá También,” “Motorcycle Diaries,” “The Science of Sleep”)
  • The Dish: Follows successful ad exec René Saavedra during the 1988 campaign in Chile to overthrow Pinochet. Shot on a video camera from the 80s and featuring a jingle that’ll never leave your head.

“Everyday” (U.K., 2012)

  • The Director: Michael Winterbottom (“24 Hour Party People,” “The Killer Inside Me”)
  • The People: Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle in “Harry Potter”)
  • The Dish: Family drama filmed over the course of five years. Features four incredibly talented child actors who are real-life brothers and sisters.

Wadjda” (Saudi Arabia, 2012)

  • The Director: Haifaa Al Mansour
  • The People: You won’t recognize ’em, but you’ll love ’em.
  • The Dish: First film shot entirely on location in Saudi Arabia and the first by a Saudi woman. Saudi women avoid public interactions with men and aren’t allowed to drive, so Mansour had to direct some of the scenes over the phone. In short: an optimistic story through the lens of a spunky, manipulative 11-year-old trying to buy a bike.

“Ginger and Rosa” (England, 2012)

  • The Trailer: No trailer, but there’s a Bookface page!
  • The Director: Sally Potter
  • The People: Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Annette Bening
  • The Dish: It’s 1960s Britain. Ginger’s parents have a really sucky marriage and the world might (read: will) blow up. Oh and her best friend Rosa is sleeping her way into the family.

“The Act of Killing” (Denmark, 2012)

  • The Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
  • The People: Paramilitary leader Anwar Congo and his lackeys
  • The Dish: A documentary unlike anything I’ve ever seen or felt. Josh spent seven years in Indonesia, asking the leaders of the 1960s genocide to make fiction films reenacting their killings.

The Gatekeepers” (Israel, 2012)

  • The Trailer: No trailer. See Facebook.
  • The Director: Dror Moreh
  • The People: The Five former heads of Israel’s Secret Service, Shin Bet
  • The Dish:  These five men talk openly for the first time about maintaining security in the Gaza Strip. Shot like a spy thriller with stock footage that’ll make you cringe.

Others I saw but didn’t feel like writing about: “Something Wild,” “The Sapphires,” “Midnight’s Children,” “The Marvelous Life of Joan of Arc,” and some flick about corn/racing featuring Zac Efron’s eyebrows.

So what’s the purpose of all these moving pictures? Some of the artists at the festival had answers for us during our discussions. Peter Sellars said they’re a record of community and truth in an era of lies, things that creates space for the artist to discover who he/she wants to be while allowing his/her audience to do the same. Or maybe they’re dramas of actuality (Michael Winterbottom), or studies in the relationship between emotional reasoning versus intellectual reasoning (the luminous Sally Potter).

In any case, think about what’s happening when you buy a movie ticket for $13.50+ and take your seat in a movie theater. On film, 24 individual frames are shown per second, placed one after the other to create the illusion of movement. (An explanation of digital projections is a little less romantic.) We sit, wide-eyed, all witnesses to a technological miracle that subsequently has the power to produce a powerful emotional reaction from within—happiness, sadness, confusion, empowerment to create change, helplessness when change in the world may be needed.

It’s this marriage between the world of technology and pathos that I feel so lucky to be a part of, particularly when it produces important films like “The Gatekeepers” and “The Act of Killing” that illuminate the tragedies unfolding beyond the walls of the theater. Film is my passion, my politics, my religion, I guess. I don’t always know what I believe in, but I know I believe in film.

K gotta go. It’s time to look into housing and flights for Telluride 2013. Hope to see you all there! I’ll probably be the one enjoying a burger in front of the New Sheridan, sitting quietly at a table next to Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner while bursting loudly inside that I’m five feet away from the cutest parents ever.

A (Poetic) Ode to the Chipotle Burrito

Pixar gave a voice to the inner life of toys. After working at the studio for six months now, I find myself thinking a whole lot more about what may be going on in the hypothetical brain place of everyday inanimate things and stuff.

So what’s going in the brain place of a Chipotle burrito?

The Last Bite of a Chipotle Burrito Has an Existential Crisis: A Poem

I.                                                                                                                                         I have made it to the end.                                                                                             How pleasing!                                                                                                                          A remaining tortilla scrap                                                                                                  Is my pillow.

A noise from above.                                                                                                            This is it. El fin.                                                                                                                    Into darkness, I shall pass.                                                                                              Holy hope of happiness reigns.

II.                                                                                                                                  Frick. Still here.                                                                                                                 This last piece of cheese clings to my side                                                                    like a synthetic hormone.

Cold air creeps,                                                                                                                      As it digs silently                                                                                                                  Into my ever-weakening back.

Despair.

III.                                                                                                                            Where do I come from?                                                                                              Organic, local produce?

Bullshit.

Am I being driven?                                                                                                              Or am I driving?                                                                                                              Think too much, life goes by.

I feel the bottom will be forever                                                                              pregnant with silence.

IV.                                                                                                                                        Wait! Movement, from above.                                                                                      Dark, dark is taking over.                                                                                               Muted Mmmms fill my body.

This is it. El fin.                                                                                                                      Into darkness, I pass.                                                                                                   Buenos noches, my amigos.                                                                                               Or should I say, Buenos días?

Is this the end
Or the beginning?

Gulp.

V.                                                                                                                                        ?!!!

An Ode to “So You Think You Can Dance”

You don’t expect to cry while watching reality TV.

This was the condition under which I was operating while watching “So You Think You Can Dance” this season, so I feel compelled to write about the Experience I had while doing so. I don’t watch much reality TV, but I just caught up with this season of “SYTYCD” and feel comfortable saying it’s the only reality show I’d consistently follow.

Let me explain:

The only other time I’ve cried while watching a TV show was during the series finale of “Six Feet Under.” That said, I’ve cried during almost half of the “SYTYCD” episodes this season. My brother doesn’t understand how I could get emotional while watching someone dance, and I’m sure he’s not alone in this feeling; not anyone who watches the show is going to connect with it.

I tried to explain my attachment, though, beginning by saying that dancing—like any art—is an incredibly personal thing, requiring the dancer to externalize the internal, to take emotional turmoil and filter it through the movement of the body. When someone is willing to do this in the public eye—in combination with incredible technique—the result can be something transcendent and beautiful. Magic, really.

So go watch this video and cry. It features Sasha, who I believe should’ve been this year’s winner. And if you feel nothing, you’re a robot, metaphorically speaking.

An (Overly Emotional) Ode to College

What lies below is the second funniest joke in the world:

Once upon a time, you will have the four best years of your life with your best friends in this place called “college.” Four years later, it will end.

(Moment for you to recover from an unexpected bout of intense laughter…)

No but seriously. How are we to compartmentalize the college Experience in our brain places? For me, this conversation has an Emotional and an Intellectual constituent. The Emotion piece posits college as the link between otherwise very different people with very different backgrounds and experiences. Meanwhile, the Intellectual piece refers to how college forms us as academics, thinkers, and doers. (A recent New Yorker article by Louis Menand called Live and Learn: Why we have college asks readers what they would write on evaluations of their college experiences, as if answering a question like “Were course objective clearly explained?” on a typical end-of-semester course evaluation. Most colleges claim to teach students how to “think critically, reason analytically, solve problems, and communicate clearly,” but I’m afraid this doesn’t happen as frequently as it should.)

In this post, though, I’d like to address the former—the Emotional thang. How? Chapter 5 of my memoir. What lies below is an edited version of a letter I sent to my friends upon their graduation from the University of Michigan:

 Chapter 5

Michigan

(Or, A Lesson in Profound and Tear-Jerking Friendship)

I’m an American, which means I’m a consumer of Hollywood. (Note: “Consumer” can be read as “victim” depending upon your physical and mental proximity to that aforementioned Hollywood place.) In turn, I’m a dreamer. The ramifications of this run far and wide, but the most salient in the trajectory of my life’s narrative has been the division of my life into two separate entities: one happening in real-time in real life and the other happening at uncontrollable speeds in my head. Now, if the two were tightly bound as one, I’d have a stressless and anxietyless existence and therefore wouldn’t have the thoughts and feelings I have. (Like: “Yeah so this relationship isn’t going to work because you’re just not, like, James Franco. Ha. Ha. But no seriously. You should probably leave the table now. But leave the bread sticks. And could you cover the tab on this one? I forgot my wallet kloveyouthanksbye.”)

That said, if my time at the University of Michigan was manifested in a Hollywood flick, my feeling is it’d be reduced to a thirty-second montage as a part of the painfully slow second act of a generic drama about a football player who has a traumatic brain injury and is bed-ridden for the rest of his collegiate career. Which is to say it’d be nothing like my time at Michigan. I’m unsure, however, if even an indie drama directed with the heart and soul of someone like Spike Jonze could efficiently and appropriately capture the nostalgia I feel toward the people I met during my time in the heaven that is Ann Arbor.

With consideration to the fact that my name would be changed to Peter, a possible montage from the indie screenplay may look a little something like this:

INT. SUBURBAN CAFÉ – EARLY EVENING

Peter takes a seat at an empty table closest to the window. Hilly landscapes fill the wide expanse outside.

He looks down at his iPad and presses PLAY. A tear-jerking song like “Breath Me” by Sia starts playing. What he sees on his electronic thing fills our screen:

SERIES OF SHOTS

A.            North Campus during winter. A group of friends crowd into a small dorm room and eat Easy Mac while watching the Paris Hilton sex tape.

B.            Group of friends pre-game. Eight shots taken in a row. People begin yelling “Standard 8!!!” which soon turns into “Standard 12!!!”

C.            Frankenmuth, MI. Look of confusion on friend’s faces as they attempt to determine if they’re in a German village, a normal village, or Santa’s Land.

D.            Group drives to Kroger to buy more Easy Mac.

E.            Peter fails to learn the Michigan cheer at a football games because he’s thinking about how the hot straight men are about to start banging into each other.

F.            Group gets rejected from a frat party. They eventually get in and proceed to get disgustingly drunk off beer. Peter dances funnily. People laugh at this.

G.            Peter drives home with parents the summer after freshman year and tries to hold back tears while gripping his pillow like a little girl.

H.            Peter’s goodbye party before transferring to another school. Everyone cries uncontrollably at various moments throughout the night.

Peter presses a button. The film continues in slow motion:

I.            Peter visits Michigan years later and tells everyone he’s gay. Tears and hugs.

J.            Peter visits again a few months later to see his friends graduate. Realizes during a party that he’ll never be together again with those people in that exact time and place.

Peter presses another button. The song stops.

Peter wipes away a tear and begins packing up. We travel through the window and high above the sloppy expanse, past the small café and the town it rests in until–

 FADE TO BLACK.

While my Michigan experience is over and, in truth, I’ll never exist with those people in that exact time and place ever again, I’ll be holding it tight in my head because I have so many fucking great memories from those two years and I’ll never, ever let them go. Even if The Injury or Garden Place (That’s what the aforementioned Hollywood and indie flops will be called, respectively.) tries to reduce them to a montage. Michigan taught me that happiness is inextricably linked to the people with whom you surround yourself and that friends, not your GPA or twelve shots of cheap vodka, define who you are.

——————

And now a sample from Chapter 6:

Chapter 6

 NYU

(Or, A Lesson in Hipster/Homosexuality)

We should get a few things straight from the start: NYU is not a real college, and even if a male student at NYU says he’s straight, there’s an 86% chance he’s lying. While University of Michigan is a real college, I found NYU to be a fictional bubble where an ostensibly large amount of students frolicked around Manhattan like they were made of money and connections.

A sketch of a stereotypical NYU student lies below:

An NYU Student Experiences the Five Stages of Grief in Five Days, and then Experiences a False Sense of Maturity

Day 1: Denial

I’m not a hipster.

Day 2: Anger

I, like, totally hate hipsters and everything they stand for.

Day 3: Bargaining

OK so just to be sure people don’t think I’m a hipster, I’ll stop strategically messing up my hair every morning, but I’m not going to stop charging my Urban Outfitter shopping sprees to my parents credit card.

Day 4: Depression

My. Hair. Isn’t. Messy. Enough. Argh.

Day 5: Acceptance

Who the fuck cares if I don’t really know what irony is?! I’m proud to be a real live hipster!! East Williamsburg, here I come!!!

Sometimes, dear reader(s), I didn’t want to be at NYU and my heart panged for Michigan. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were college dropouts, so why couldn’t I be a dropout? I used to ask myself that, but this thought always followed: Most of us aren’t Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. In the word of Woody Allen: Despair.

 

An Ode To New York City

New York and I first met when I was sixteen. Now after six years (We choose to ignore our two brief separations when I traveled to China and France.), Mr. Big Apple and I are taking a break from our passionate affair as I leave him behind for an indeterminable period. Cue the nostalgia, and, in turn, this blog post.

In reflection of how I first viewed the city with my naïve pre-teen eyes versus how I view it now as my similarly naïve young adult self, it’s become clear that New York is really a fiction of a rare kind. I’ll have a surreal experience meeting one of my creative heroes on the street, but then—and often without warning—I’ll end up on Ludlow and Delancey and smell poop. Like really fucking smelly poop.

We should start at the beginning though. When I was sixteen, I wore my metaphorical Glee-colored glasses over my real-life glasses, which made me look like that wizard boy called Harry Potter. (See picture below.) I was so self-conscious about my wide rims, in fact, that I used to take them off in the hallways of my elementary school upon spotting an upperclassman. But in this place, in New York City, I experienced a new feeling of comfort while roaming the streets with crowds of people who looked even wackier than I did. While clutching my mom’s hand as we scurried down 42nd Street to make it to the theater on time, I learned I could be anonymous if I wanted to be. I thought I could—enter aforementioned metaphorical Glee-colored glasses—walk into an empty Broadway theater, hop on stage to sing my little heart out, and then return to the crowded city streets, changed but unnoticed.

Then Hairspray happened. First, the lights went down. Next, an overweight girl from Baltimore had a dream. And then three hours later, plump little Tracy Turnblad had successfully integrated The Corny Collins Show and I left that theater with a dream of my own. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I knew I was going to find it in New York. It being that same feeling I had while watching that show and those people. Those people who shared the way they connect with the world—song and dance—with everyone in that theater. It was this feeling, this transcendent feeling I had as an audience member that night, that fuels everything I do now.

Sometimes it pains me that I have so much difficulty articulating what this exact feeling is because if I can’t locate it exactly then how will I know I’ve achieved it? All I know is I feel it when I see it. Like when I saw Beyoncé in concert and when I saw a YouTube clip of Obama playing The Lion King at the White House Correspondent Dinner. Or when I see my best friend Will directing and my friend Amanda singing an original tune. Watching them discover how they want to connect with things makes me want to do the same.

And so, as I prepare to move to Chicago this weekend, I can’t help but to be reminded of where it all began. The Big Apple. A place offering a fast-paced existence in which most people’s lifestyles are totally unbalanced, but also where really scary things like talking to your favorite writer or doing standup comedy can be made just a little less so.

So here’s to you, Tracy Turnblad, you wonderfully plucky, hairspray-loving sonofabitch. You gave me a dream.

An Ode To “The Normal Heart”

One of the things I like about living in New York is that even when the city just doesn’t feel like it does in the movies, you’ll still get larger-than-life moments when you least expect them.

This happened last week when I went to see a play called The Normal Heart, written by Larry Kramer and originally performed in 1985 as an Off-Broadway production at The Public Theater. I bought a ticket after a family friend told me it was “really, really great.” I thought it was going to be a lighthearted show, as I often find it difficult to attribute the adjective “great” to something that’s very heavy in nature. (Case Study #47: Many people I know have told me Blue Valentine is “a great film,” but I wouldn’t characterize my experience watching it as “great.” I’d say it hurts to watch it because it punches you in the gut with raw emotion.) But instead I was a part of something bigger, an experience and a lesson in, among many things, the plague called AIDS.

Before I say too much, I’d like to include a few lines from the letter Larry Kramer passes out to audience members at the end of the show. I think he’d want you to go see the show and then read the letter in full after the curtain falls:

Please know that AIDS is a worldwide plague. Please know that no country in the world, including this one, especially this one, has ever called it a plague, or acknowledge it as a plague, or dealt with it as a plague. Please know that there is no cure.

When people ask me why I write I tell them it’s because I’m confused and angry about things. Seeing The Normal Heart illuminated my anger over the fact that nobody ever taught me about AIDS with enough seriousness as to ingrain it in my consciousness. And I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I have many issues with Glee (Case Study #48: How could Kurt and Rachel just bypass an usher in a Broadway theater and sing on stage without getting in trouble? And who the heck was operating the lights?!), but while watching Kurt’s dad tell his naïve high schooler that sex has serious consequences on your emotional and physical health, I couldn’t help but wish that someone had had that conversation with me with when I, too, was a naïve high schooler who believed he was invincible.

Now go see the show, and tell others to do the same. You’ll all be better for it.

Not convinced yet? Watch this video with the cast. You’ll see some familiar TV faces.

——————————————————————–

 The Normal Heart (John Golden Theater) www.TheNormalHeartBroadway.com

Written by Larry Kramer
Directed by Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe
Cast: Joe Mantello, Ellen Barkin, John Benjamin Hickey, Patrick Breen, Luke MacFarlane, Lee Pace, Jim Parsons, Mark Harelik, Richard Topol, Wayne Wilcox
Tickets: http://www.telecharge.com/

Scheduled to run through July 10th.