Cry Me A River

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Aug 21st, 2011
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 “It is the evening of the day. I sit and watch the children play. Doin things I used to do. They think are new. I sit and watch, as tears go by” (M. Jagger/K. Richards)

I have been working on my first novel for almost a year now. Recently, I made a deadline for my first draft to be complete by Thanksgiving, and a first rewrite ready by mid-January. This may sound overly ambitious to some, and very slow to others, but for me, it just seems reasonable. I look at it this way, I’d rather have self-imposed rules and goals, than have my manager lock me in a kitchen with a raving drunk, and force me to write a hit. This happened to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and while they did come away with the haunting hit, “As Tear Go By”, they clearly, were not happy about their situation.

As it happened, life, and its many trials and tribulations, interrupted my writing more than I care to admit. Stephen King would have my head if he knew that I did not turn my cell phone, email, or Facebook off while writing.  From Jan. 24th – May 14th,2011,  my daughter was studying and traveling in Europe, and believe me, there was more than one occasion that I was glad to have those resources of communication open and ready to roll.  Good old Steve would also be upset that I had to go back and reread what I had written, just so I could continue writing the story. It has not been an easy road to being a real “author”, but then again, King knows that.

In fact, I recently spent 2 months adapting a Danish film for the American market, and found myself brain dead after weeks of watching animated “lip-flaps”, and counting syllables. In fact, while the director claimed to only be able to think in “takes”, I found myself counting everyone’s words, and editing their conversations into shorter, funnier blurbs. Thinking in takes sounded heavenly. I was more than a tad jealous.

Now, all of this diversion may be fine short term, but after a week off from the film, and nothing creative coming forth from my brain, I started to panic. How was I ever going to be able to get back to writing a love story? How could I transport myself back to 1936, when I had spent 2 months in a fantasy world of 3-D animated Barbarians and Amazons, circa…???? And worst, why can’t I think of anything to write for My Ink Project, my self-proclaimed cure for writer’s block?

The solution came to me by accident. I changed my routine a bit, purely out of exhaustion, and sat on the sofa and started trolling through the plethora of channels on TV. After checking out the traffic and weather, another habit I picked up from driving into NYC every day to record, I went station by station, looking for something to watch. Then it happened. I rediscovered TCM. Oh, yeah! Black & White classics, complete with action and a great story. (Okay, I know they show movies in color, but those movies are not critical to my current career path.)

The first movie I watched was from 1933, “Picture Snatcher”, and featured a young James Cagney. For 75 minutes, I just sat there and watched. A funny little love story, where the bad boy turns good, saves the day, and gets the girl. The script was quick and witty, and complete with a bit of drama, some sexual tension, and plenty of laughs. I realized that this was the type of movie that my parents went to see when they were dating. This was their entertainment, in an otherwise dreary time in U.S. History. People didn’t have much money, but they could still laugh. Very interesting and telling, wouldn’t you say?

My interest in old movies renewed, I decided to watch a few of the Montgomery Clift movies AMC recently featured. I had already seen “From Here To Eternity” several times, so decided to watch one of his later movies, “The Misfits” (1961), with Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, and “A Place In The Sun” (1951), his first movie with Elizabeth Taylor. Having had a horrific car accident in 1956, Clift’s beautiful face had been torn apart, so the man in the 1961 movie, was very different from the one in 1951. Regardless, he still was captivating on screen, and managed to steal every scene he was in, including one in which his head was wrapped in yards of gauze, and he was still too drunk to realize that he had been kicked in the head.

I write about this, because watching these movies made me realize how important films are in our lives. The “Ink” of movies, documents history. And, whether watching a film educates us about another era and its trends, it can also stir memories of our own pasts. Who were you with when you saw, “The Exorcist”, or how did you feel after watching, “Apocalypse Now”? I still remember going to see movies when I was 5 years old. Those were the days of getting grape soda in paper cups out of vending machines, and getting to sit in the “loge” area of the cinema. These memories are subtle tattoos on my soul, but ones that make me smile. Some would call them “fond” memories.

Watching films that my parents saw in 1933-36, brings me closer to them, and gives me a little view of how they fell in love. Going to the movies was one of the few dates that a respectable young woman could go on back then, and the roster of movie stars and wonderful romances, was enough to inspire any young couple’s fantasy of love. No wonder people got married and stayed married. It was all part of the fairy tale plot line of that generation of film. You could be Mae West or Shelly WInters, and still get the guy. The stars were real people, and had very distinctive looks and voices. Sure, some of the studios hired lesser actors that resembled more famous ones, but in the end, the acting, and the stories, won.

People were “more” beautiful back in the 1930’s and 1940’s. They didn’t have Botox and boob jobs, liposuction or chin implants. People were real. Elizabeth Taylor was exquisite, Betty Davis had bulging eyes, Katherine Hepburn had her shaky, deep voice, and Lucille Ball did drama. Cary Grant’s voice lightened his serious good looks, Raymond Burr had the ultimate audition for Perry Mason, and James Dean, Montgomery Clift, and Marlon Brando made young women swoon. None of them were perfect. They all had problems in their lives, and were controlled by the movie studios more than anyone knew at the time. Yet, despite years past, and lives lost, they remain young and beautiful, forever caught on film. The ultimate tattoo on generations of souls.

A Place In The Sun

Now, I do not consider myself any sort of movie buff or expert on film, but I do know that this medium has a profound influence on my creative process, and that being stirred to write again, is a good thing. I love to write, but the act of writing can get tedious at times. Like a tumultuous love affair, writing has its ups and downs, and the downs can be depressing, blue times. Once creative flow starts up again, it is exhilarating and puts a writer back on a “high”.

Don’t get me wrong, working on “Ronal The Barbarian”, I wrote my first screen adaptation, and got to work with some amazing actors. I watched precious animated characters come to life in American English, and found myself astounded by how simple changes in the placement of words, made something bland, turn into something very funny. Regardless of the experience, when it was over, I felt at a loss with my greatest writing passion, “Letters To Mary”.

But, with a little help from Ted Turner and AMC, I guess I’m finally coming out of the dark, and closer to finding my headspace of “l’amour” again. 3 months off from my novel has been far too long, and I’m feeling more than a bit homesick for John and Mary. It’s time to shut all negativity off, watch some more old movies, laugh a little, cry a little, and fall in love again. With writing.

Join me, why don’t you?

1 Comment

  • Sj

    Being the daughter of an actress I grew up with these films. It is no accident that 98% of my favourite movies were made before 1960, and that most of them were made in black and white. The Misfits has long been a favourite, both for being Clark Gable’s and Marilyn Monroe’s final film, but for what it represents. The changing of life. You could say that The Misfits is also a crossroads in cinema, between Old Hollywood and the new ways.

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