Monday, August 26, 2013

Found, lost, found, lost, and found again: a proverb

Egyptian Proverb:  The worst things: 

To be in bed and sleep not, 

To want for one who comes not, 

To try to please and please not.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 - 1940)

Why Hollywood has its head up its ass

I’ve believed  this for quite a while now. Let me explain. Until smartphones took over, every time someone in a movie was on the phone and the other person hung up, the person would rattle the phone-cradle in a way that would do absolutely nothing except assure that the phone was dead.

This bizarre behaviour mysteriously migrated to the general population who routinely did the same thing when they lost a connection. Why? It was in the movies! Everyone did that! If the phone went dead, then, rattle-rattle-rattle, and it would come back! Never mind that it never happened that way in human history. People even did it with that brontosaurus of communication, the pay phone. (As a sideline, have you thought of this? With the phasing out of phone booths, we lose one more venue for steamed-up, hasty vertical sex.)

This technique might have worked during the era of Alexander Graham Bell and the crank-operated phone. The rattling was meant to connect you to the switchboard operator who sat at a giant panel with 100 other “girls” pulling out and pushing in little plugs and saying in a twangy nasal voice, “Num-ber, pleee-aaase.”  I don’t know exactly when this was phased out, but it was likely sometime after World War II.

There’s more. Until very recently, writers were always portrayed a certain way. They hid out in the attic with a manual typewriter and banged away, ripping the finished pages out, crumpling them up violently, and tossing them into the wastebasket in the far corner of the room. Hitting the basket meant it was a good writing day.

I remember this in Wonder Boys with Michael Douglas, in which he wrote a thousand-page novel without carbons (remember carbons? If you’re under 60, you won’t), so that by the end of the movie the one existing copy blew out to sea.

Update, Hollywood, update. Don’t show people slapping a hysterical person. Would YOU like to be slapped if you were hysterical? I’d be tempted to rip the person’s throat out. But hey, if it’s done in the movies, that’s what we need to do. It must work.

Woody Allen, now. (My fingers invariably stumble over his name and call him Woody Alien.) We all know he IS that writer who sits in a little nook in his palatial home banging away at a manual typewriter (and who must have his ribbons handmade for him in Thailand or somewhere). In his latest venture, Blue Jasmine, a tour de force vehicle for Cate Blanchett who plays a sort of latter-day Blanche DuBois, there are some clangers that are not only puzzling but downright offputting. One wonders if Allen has been living in a cave all these years.

Phones are the worst of it, though that’s not all: Jasmine’s low-rent sister Ginger has a wall phone with a cord which her badass boy friend predictably rips out of the wall and hurls, presumably in order to cut her off from all human contact. It’s the equivalent of taking an axe and cutting the phone line. Grrrrrrrr.

Though Jasmine spends a lot of time jittering around on her iPhone, she claims to have no technical experience whatsoever and decides to take a “computer course” so she can study fashion design online.  This is one of the most awkward, embarrassing things I’ve seen in a movie in quite a few years. The computer course is generic, its purpose unnamed, but it reminds me of the things senior citizens used to take in the early ‘90s to reduce their terror of technology.

The people taking this course aren’t seniors, but appear to be college-age students of a generation that grew up surrounded by technology, swimming in it like fish in the sea. My own kids, who are practically middle-aged by now, experienced computers as a fact of life and naturally became more proficient as the technology blossomed, then boomed. My son moved into a career as a techie without any sort of awkward transition and has thrived in it as naturally as a superbly-trained athlete in competition.

So why all these 25-year-old people taking this baffling “computer course”? Because no one dares tell Woody Allen that it’s a clanger of monstrous proportions. It really does get in the way. I’m not a particularly  tech-savvy person and for the most part stick to basics, but I doubt if navigating an online course would tax my abilities because it’s all pretty simple and straightforward.

Allen missed a chance for a splendid visual joke: he could have shown a roomful of seniors desperately trying to get the hang of this, while Jasmine looks around in chagrin. But his pride probably would not have allowed it.

When I saw these painful anachronistic jolts in a movie that is otherwise brilliant and extremely well-written, it pulled me so violently out of time that I sometimes wondered if the movie was supposed to take place in the early ‘90s. I am actually surprised that Blanchett didn’t try to rattle the nonexistent cradle on her iPhone or take a Pitman shorthand course at the local recreation centre.