I spent some time with an old friend last night. We used to share our poetry with each other in college and she reminded me of a poem that I wrote in honor of her. It’s an imagined reality, one where I have sex with a woman. I’m sharing it with you because I think it’s pretty good. What’s a poem if it’s sitting, alone, on Google Drive?
It seems at the beginning of each year I attempt to revive this notion of a blog being a part of my life. My friend Don Hall, who blogs regularly at his internet home base here, says that you have to write every day to make it work. I’m not setting out, as I did below in 2011, to do that. It’s not likely that I’ll have the stamina to integrate blogging into my life in that way. I’d like to get there…maybe in 2014? But here - in the form of my take on cinema, circa 2012 - is my attempt at clicking on that stovetop fuse. Once again.
I stopped counting how many films I saw this year when I got to 100. Between the Chicago International Film Festival, Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and weekly trips to AMC River East 21, it’s been a cinema soaked 365. With the Filmspotting 2012 Wrap Party just concluded, I thought I should take a long, hard look at everything I’ve seen this year, so that I would understand all the jokes, jabs and accolades.
But what the hell does ‘favorite’ mean? And why are these lists so damn important? My boyfriend gets frustrated at my superlatives. I ask him, frequently, “What was your favorite part of that movie?” Or, “Who’s your favorite actor?” “Why do you always have to have a FAVORITE?!” I never have a good answer, other than to shrug through a half-assed “all the cool kids are doing it.” I’ll half ass another answer for you, my adoring public. You see, I’m an avid podcast listener - most of my time is split between talking with actual humans and listening to the voices in my head(ears). Film podcasts are packed with folks who have pretty distinct opinions about the things they like and don’t like. I can’t help but absorb these behaviors and try to be like them. “The cool kids.”
My top five films were stories that left me smiling - either through tears or out of joy - at how fresh the experience felt when it was finished. When you see over 100 films, it’s the ones that slap you in the face that you remember; the ones that remind you that it’s still possible to be surprised in a dark room that don’t evaporate into all the other films you saw this year.
Cloud Atlas left me absolutely stunned: a messy visual delight that kept us on the edge of our seats for nearly three hours. Django Unchained was gory and political and scary and balls-to-the-wall fun(ny) as hell. The Master was epic in a way that felt small, a level of intimacy unlocked through performances that still have me wondering if those two dudes are just THAT good, or if they are two clicks shy of the looney bin. The Imposter was a documentary that felt like a narrative feature. It forced us to suspend our disbelief and go on this weird, truly unbelievable ride. And, finally, ESPN 30 for 30 Films: Benji. What can I say? I haven’t been this deeply moved by any story - film, theatre, radio - in a very, very long time. It hit really close to home, the story of a Chicago boy whose life was cut tragically short by a senseless gun death. In a city defined by gun violence, it’s incredible that I hadn’t heard the story of Ben Wilson. It’s thanks to Coode and Chike that I now hold a piece of the history of this gorgeous, complicated, deeply flawed city in my blood, forever.
I highly recommend that you check out these “pictures” (as the cool kids say), in addition to The Sessions, Silver Linings Playbook, Argo, Life of Pi Movie, Flight Movie and The Queen of Versailles. Thanks to everyone who went to the movies with me this year. Let’s keep sitting in the dark together and telling stories, yeah? With our clothes on.
Or off. Whatever works.
Dear Tyler James,
You’d think that for someone like you, one who thrives on the notion of lists and note-taking, that New Year’s Eve and all the prioritizing it brings would be, for you, the closest thing to Nirvana. But the excitement for the impending year is thoroughly trumping all that occurred in this past one, isn’t it? This was a year about making a choice to turn on the switch, to live in big, bold colors and make actionable moves to propel your career and personal life beyond the stagnation of 2010. With the switch fully clicked and the alterations in motion, it’s no wonder you want to get out into that Chicago night and celebrate what’s to come. It’s no wonder that these lists are making you dizzy. I ask you to pause, momentarily, to reflect on all of the things that brewed this particularly potent momentum…and then, only then, will you be allowed to dance your dick off.
You spent the majority of 2010 pretending that you were back in college. You stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, imbibed in many of life’s distractions and made stupid decisions, personally, financially and emotionally. The kicker with 2010 was that none of those decisions were destructive enough to be cause for widespread panic. You were very good at concealing the sadness, inaction and immobility that defined your every choice that year.
Bleeding into 2011, you had the same sense of stagnation through the end of the summer. Then, thanks to your dear friend Patrick Kelly and the confidence of Daniel Ash and Andrew Arganbright, you were brought into the fold at WBEZ. You became a part of the truly world-class Strategic Communications team at the station and your life suddenly had purpose beyond your own self. A month later, you got an email from The Moth stating that they had interest in considering you as a Producer for the StorySLAMS in Chicago. Thanks to your friend Holly Hughes, they had the faith to invite you into the fold. Building on the momentum of WBEZ, you rocked the transition into producing The Moth in Chicago and now bring both StorySLAMS to hundreds of Chicagoans each month. Somewhere in the middle of those transitions, your dear college friend Paul Whitehouse asked you to direct for 2nd Story, a company with whom you’d always wanted to work. With a stellar cast of storytellers, you directed the hell out of that night of stories, remembered how cool it was to direct and made some solid friends along the way. And finally, in October, you saw 35 films as part of the Chicago International Film Festival. The Festival caught wind of this and, in addition to broadcasting that accomplishment to their 28,000 subscribers, invited you to join their Junior Board, which works to support the educational outreach programs for Cinema/Chicago. This was a year of ingesting stories, producing them for the populace and encouraging others to share those stories with the world. This was also, now clearly, a year of moving past settling and shaking up the foundation of your own life. It was a year opposite in every way from that of 2010. And best of all? Your sister brought a child into the world.
So, with that in mind, what stood out this year for you as some of the most memorable pieces of art? PARIAH, directed by Dee Rees and starring your friend Adepero Oduye, takes the cake for the film of the year. This was a story about new beginnings, painted in big, bold, complicated colors. It was also a familiar film in which a good friend of yours became a true, world-class movie star. Adepero Oduye is the real deal. It’s success stories like this that remind us GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE. The film closes with a poem that helps sum up the year:
It couldn’t have been said better, so thank you Dee Rees for such beautiful words and an exquisite portrait of growth and change.
Other favorites films include Steve James’ riveting THE INTERRUPTERS, Nick Refn’s visually innovative DRIVE and the emotionally vivid WEEKEND, featuring two of the best performances this year in Tom Cullen and Chris New. Theatrically, roommate Krissy VanderWarker’s thesis production of DR. FAUSTUS, as well as About Face Theatre’s THE HOMOSEXUALS and the incomparable Alice Ripley in NEXT TO NORMAL made the grade. Watching friends and colleagues produce POWERLESS elicited a pride not felt previously. Finally, for music, this was the year of Rihanna and Beyonce, Beirut and The Hold Steady.
This next year will include more of the same - performing for 2nd Story in February, added responsibilities at WBEZ, perfecting The Moth for all Chicagoans and working with my fellow Film Festival Junior Board members to plan some exciting events. It will also include the formation of something truly exciting - a gift for the city of Chicago - with your new friend, fellow blogger and storyteller, Mr. Don Hall, as well as a whole host of world-class artists and thinkers. Let the world see what all of this training and love has created.
I ask you, self, to hold onto PARIAH’s message and move forward into this beautiful world knowing that you are not broken and, indeed, you are free. And never forget how you came to this place, thank your friends, family and colleagues daily.
All my love,
I’ll start right off with an admission: this could fail. If the past is any indication, my attempts to nurture an online community, simply by sheer statistics, has a good chance at failure. I’m always intensely motivated at the start and, after promising to be your loyal wordsmith and servant, I get lost in the wonderment of life, the mundane tint of everyday existence and neglect to store that wonder and mundanity online.
Despite the broken promises of the past, I vow for this time to be different. I’m a changed man. I recognize fully that talking about oneself online is one of the only ways to get ahead in this Twitter-verse, technoscape. I know that my real life friendships mean much less, really, than what forms out of the randomness of the internet and all of it’s related communities. I know that without a blog I’m pretty much a loser.
In all seriousness (you saw that coming, didn’t you?), I hope it works this time. I think the success of a blog really boils down to intention. What do I want for you to read? What is it that I want to share with you and you with me? And, after those questions are answered through our posting, you’ll visit if you like the way the information is presented or, on the contrary, if you hate the presentation.
The goal of this venture is to provide a space beyond Facebook or Twitter for more substantial “shares,” “likes,” or “dislikes.” My life is split between some fairly exciting Chicago cultural institutions, I’ve made some rad friends as a result and I’ve been trying to culture myself by seeing a ton of film/theatre and, by extension, letting Chicago culture me. It’s my hope that this blog allows me to share this city with you and see what you have to say about it. It’s my therapist’s hope that the spastic chaos which I share with her gets extended to a wider circle of consumers. She’s tired of the bullshit.
It’s a good time to tell you a little bit about how I function. I’ve got this brain that fires on multiple cylinders and what my college poetry professor calls a ‘hummingbird heart.’ I think the latter is just a nice way of saying frenetic, superlative wielding, emotional gay dude. She’s always been a kind lady. I know this may sound like I’m beating myself up - and lately I have - but, in general, I think that if I’m going to attempt the formation of a community, you should know your leader. The Real Great Leader, if you will. I’m not afraid to tell you what I love with a lot of words, nor am I fearful of your response.
Previous to this post, I spent a good twenty minutes typing a personal history. Somewhere near the fifteen minute mark, I got tired of talking about myself. If you wanted to know about all the cool stuff I did, you could look at my Facebook profile - again, it’s all about intention. What I’d really like to provide is a current context and what the past has brought to my current life.
I spend my days inside the walls of WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR affiliate. I’m also a Producer for The Moth StorySLAMS in Chicago, which occur on the third Monday (Haymarket Pub and Brewery) and final Tuesday (Martyr’s) of each month. I occasionally tell/direct stories for 2nd Story (upcoming on Valentine’s Days I’ll be telling of my adventures teaching abroad in South Korea). I also serve on the Junior Board for the Chicago International Film Festival and Cinema/Chicago.
All of this to say that, along with my past experiences, I’ve discovered my career will be spent somewhere in the middle of storytelling and journalism. I thoroughly enjoy the community that public radio generates. The ensuing conversation (and the evolution of how we speak to members/consumers) is fascinating to me. Given the state of the aforementioned technoscape, I can’t imagine a more exciting intersection than that of stories and the archiving of them.
Throughout this journey together remember:
Without stories and the talk generated by them, we ain’t shit.
Let’s do this thing!