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Lights… Action… Kiss

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Butch and Sundance1.jpg

Bolivia.

Sundance: What’s Bolivia?

Butch: Bolivia. That’s a country, stupid! In Central or South America, one or the other.

From a rock cliff high above, an armed lookout signals to Butch.

Butch and Sundance saunter forward on horseback into Hole-In-The-Wall – rugged Wyoming canyons – where turn of the 20th century US robbers and criminals hid away from the law.

The two are the perfect pair: Butch, an independent, unconventional thinker, has the brains and is a quick-witted visionary, disrespectful of both the law and the establishment… Sundance provides the strong, quick-draw, traditional Western hero.

Sundance has heard Butch’s fanciful dreams before, such as his bright idea that Bolivia has better pickings with its silver, tin, and gold mines… and easy-to-rob-banks.

Paul Newman and Robert Redford were the perfect pair that lit up the silver screen in the 1969 bromance Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. 

Even more than The Sound of Music, it was a romance that captured my movie heart in a deeply visceral way.

Since then, I’ve sat in the darkness of a theatre hundreds of times, gazing up at the cinematic products of countless directors and actors, consuming truckloads of grease-laden popcorn (in a future life, I may return as a movie maker, or failing that, a movie popcorn critic).

There was no on-screen kiss between Newman and Redford (what mainstream audience in 1969 was ready for the kind of on-screen love that Brokeback Mountain unveiled later) but there was a love connection that even Katharine Ross (Redford’s female romantic interest in the film) couldn’t come between.

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When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” ~ When Harry Met Sally

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Movie romance is as common as cheesy love songs in the 1950’s and ’60’s, but just how often do we succumb to their charms?

Most romantic actor combos are sloppy, cliched furballs made from a mixture of lard and lemonade… anything with Matthew McConaughey, Seth Rogen, Jennifer Aniston or Cameron Diaz is a non-starter (I don’t care how good looking they are… and yeah, leave Seth Rogen off that list too!))

Matthew McConaughey.jpg

On the other hand, I’ve been charmed by movie romances of a dozen kinds … deliciously sensual pairings such as :

  • Bonnie and Clyde – Warren Beatty & Faye Dunaway
  • Benny & Joon – Johnny Depp & Mary Stuart Masterson
  • When Harry Met Sally – Billy Crystal & Meg Ryan
  • Silver Linings Playbook –  Bradley Cooper & Jennifer Lawrence
  • Reds – Warren Beatty & Diane Keaton
  • Brokeback Mountain – Heath Ledger & Jake Gyllenhaal
  • The Notebook – Ryan Gosling & Rachel McAdam
  • Thelma & Louise – Susan Sarandon & Geena Davis
  • Leaving Las Vegas – Nicholas Cage & Elisabeth Shue
  • And most recently, A Star Is Born – Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga

Cooper and Gaga2.jpg

I’ve come to the conclusion that you could blend Jennifer Lawrence or Bradley Cooper with any actor sporting a modicum of acting chops and come out with beautiful chemical burns.

Those chemical bonds that spark a romance between actors channel some vulnerable and magical territory. If it was easy to do, we’d be flooded with a tsunami of unforgettable love stories. Smouldering romance takes great writing and actors tuned to each others’ frequency.

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I wish I knew how to quit you.” ~ Brokeback Mountain

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Most of these flicks have left an indelible impression on me because of their balance, the humour mixed with an underlying sadness or trial that infiltrates and takes up residence.

Movie romance needs to be coddled along with enough tension between the “potentials” that you want to scream out, “oh for God’s sake, just admit to her/him that you love her/him“… that unbearable tension needs to be real and believable, delivered with the possibility that the two may never be together in the end…

The Ending

The flirtation finish, like the final taste of wine in the back of your throat, is critical.

So many movies make it to the final 15 minutes in great shape and then collapse into themselves.

I would have added An Officer and A Gentleman (Richard Gere & Debra Winger) to my list of winners above had the screenwriter not blasted it apart with a corny, cliched carry-the-girl-off-to-co-workers’-applause-into-eternal-bliss-from-her-hell-hole-of-a-life ending. BLAH!!

Titanic lost its sensual sizzle when Kate Winslet couldn’t find a way to share her floating door with Leo DiCaprio. Come on Kate… show us YOU own the Heart of the Ocean.

Blessed catharsis

A smile or a tear explodes inside us when we’ve plumbed the depths of human experience… when Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton finally come together on the train platform in Reds, when Benny and Joon make grilled cheese sandwiches on an ironing board, when Butch and Sundance, or Thelma and Louise plunge forward to their deaths.

When the screen dims … when the theatre lights go up… there should be a lingering silence … a moment or two for the actors, the crew, the audience to absorb, reflect, internalize and feel.

Off in the distance, we finally hear a faint echo from the director, “CUT!”

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Goodbye Norma Jean …

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Candle in the Wind.

Candle

One song … of two mysterious but tragically unfortunate women, struck down at the age of 36, in the beautiful prime of their lives.

Long after Marilyn’s lifeless, drugged body was found in her bed on August 5, 1962 …

Long before any of us knew who shy young Diana Spencer was …

Long before Princes William and Harry were born …

… Elton John (music) and Bernie Taupin (lyrics) penned a song called Candle in the Wind… an ode originally written to the memory and significance and tragedy that was Norma Jeane Mortenson. You probably know her more familiarly as Marilyn Monroe.

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And it seems to me you lived your life, like a candle in the wind 

Never knowing who to cling to, when the rain set in.

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The song was on Elton’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album that came out in 1973 when I was a young lad at Glendale High School in Hamilton, Ontario.

It was the most influential set of songs I had heard to that point in my life with pop classics like Bennie and the Jets, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, Funeral For A Friend, and of course … Candle in the Wind.

“Candle” was probably my favourite song (along with Danny Bailey and Sweet Painted Lady) on the entire 2 record album.

I’ve always loved ballads, and Candle in the Wind with its simple chords and melody and poignant lyrics, captured the struggles of untold fame on the lives of simple people.

Songs we love are so important to us because we find meaningful significance in them that the writer may have never intended.

We internalize a message that is unique to our own experience.

For me, Candle in the Wind was an ode to my Mother’s untimely death – I’m certain thousands of others felt the same deep emotional connection within their own lives, whether relating to the death of a significant other or perhaps the loss of a relationship that had once been strong and filled with love, hope, and longing.

When I was a teenager, I would sit in the apartment I shared with my sister, playing my guitar, dreaming of becoming a music writer and rock star like Elton John …

elton john

I wanted the weird, multi-coloured eyeglasses.

I wanted the fame.

I wanted the adulation.

I wanted the ceaseless waterfalls of cash flowing into my bank accounts.

What I didn’t want was to serve up the work ethic and sacrifice that would make it possible.

Like my studies in high school where I did OK, but rarely ever pushed myself, I was a lazy musician and songwriter.

I hadn’t mastered the arithmetic of putting 2 + 2 together yet and wouldn’t for a couple of decades to come. I closed my eyes to the blatantly obvious that the really good things happen when you put in the hours and focus to make it happen.

The hard work happens before the rewards flow. It harkens back to that old 10,000 hours rule of “practice makes mastery” that Paul and John knew, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs knew, JK Rowling and Sheryl Sandberg knew.

Good luck shines on those who pour themselves wholeheartedly into their dreams. Wishing just doesn’t make it so.

I’ve changed now. Both in understanding what it takes to excel … and what I’m willing to bring to that lionized table.

I’ve changed, but not enough to become a rock star, or an esteemed author, or a renowned gardener, or even a celebrated Porta-Potty cleaner.

I’ll never be a famous or acclaimed singer/songwriter because, even though I’m willing to put more effort and time into the things that are important to me, I’m still not willing to make the all-out sacrifice of time, focus and energy that it takes.

I won’t pour myself into making music or anything else for 8 or 10 or 12 hours a day every day. That’s not who I am. Even my vacant macho dreams of becoming a male prostitute to Desperate Housewives peters out as I realize my Peter’s not up to the hard and salacious demands of Urban Princesses.

I’ll always be a Hobbiest, never a Master.

I’ve made my choices and I’ll never be Elton John.

Some candles burn brighter than others, but really, we all cast a flicker of light that provides warmth and illumination to those around us.

Marilyn and Diana were those dazzling, brilliant candles that lived their lives on the treacherous edge of hurricane alley where the storms were always a threat to their light.

Often, those that burn brightest sadly seem to be the ones at the greatest risk of being snuffed out when the winds begin to swirl and howl.

And I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did …

Marilyn and diana

 

 

 

How I Found My Sixth Sense …

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Wake Up!

I must have a SIXTH SENSE.

Dead people

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I see famous people (… not dead people) …

A few years back I remember sitting in a shaded outdoor cafe in central Barcelona before our Spanish language class.

Each early morning weekday we sat next to the narrow, bustling street across from the Babylon-Idioma language school and sipped cups of cafe con leche that sported a small sweet biscuit on the side.

Salman Rushdie (Satanic Verses author) would stroll past us each day as we drank our strong coffees and practiced verb conjugations before class. He looked calm and relaxed, not fearful at all of being assassinated by some swarthy Iranian bounty hunter.

There were more famous people.

John Cleese of Monty Python fame ate paella just two tables away from us at a restaurant on the Barceloneta district beaches. He wasn’t doing any silly walks or banging parrots on the table top, just eating.

Jason Alexander (George on Seinfeld) rode the metro with us each morning on our way to class. He wasn’t sleeping under his seat, hiding from George Steinbrenner.

costanza asleep

OK. You might guess that I’m not telling the complete truth. I hear the chickadees outside my window chirping, “Liar… liar”

It’s the “Doppelgänger” truth.

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Back to the here and now.

Two days each month I volunteer at the local Penticton soup kitchen, called the Soupateria.

I chop onions, celery, carrots, parsnips, fingertips… wait… that last one hasn’t happened … yet.

We prepare 2 different soups – one meat-based and the other vegetarian – in big round metal pots. We throw together about 140 sandwiches of 4 or 5 varieties and we apportion 4 or 5 different dessert items onto plates and into bowls. One of the more popular desserts we serve is “nervous pudding” – jello.

By 11:30 am when the doors are opened, a mass of folks – First Nations, white, black, men, women, the occasional child – flow through the big glass doors and enter a beautifully soup-fragrant hall.

They file past the deep wood shelves containing bags of mildly stale loaves of donated bread and buns for the taking, and patiently queue up at the open kitchen window where 7 or 8 of us volunteers assist with their selections.

The great majority are wonderful, but struggling, troubled people who show gratitude with dentally-deficient smiles and heartfelt “thank-you’s”.

There are so many stories that come through these doors each day. I don’t want to pry into their lives, so I deduce what I can by watching and listening to their conversations.

  • Young francophone orchard workers with bohemian clothing and lovely accents.
  • Some heavily-tattooed young guys – head-down prayers over their soup bowl. The other day one young fellow easily spent 5 minutes head-bowed, talking over his soup.
  • Many grizzled, leather-skinned, middle-aged men wearing worn clothing picked up at the local Catholic church.
  • This week, one leather-skinned grimacing fellow held his hand to his cheek and jaw, nursing the pain from a punch he took to the face while attempting to protect a woman in the street two days before. He was so grateful when I offered him the phone number of the free dental clinic.
  • A 30’ish year old Asian woman with blonde and red streaked hair…
  • barely out-of-their-teens girls with hip-less bodies and mottled faces from crystal meth abuse.

soupateria

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And, just like in Barcelona’s streets, it keeps happening to me.

I see famous people.

Right in my local Soupateria line… most notably, William H. Macy.

WilliamHMacy

Yeah, William H. Macy, that amazing character actor from a ton of movies like Fargo and TV shows like ER and Shameless comes to my local soup kitchen.

Most famous people avoid their fans by wearing sunglasses and baseball caps.

My William H. goes slightly incognito by cutting his hair shorter than in the photo above. He shaves his beard closer to his face, but it’s pretty clear who he is. At least to everyone but himself.

I thought I was stating the obvious when I told him that I knew who he was. There was a look of surprise in his eyes and puzzlement too.

He pretended he didn’t know what I was talking about or who William H. even was.

So the next soup kitchen day that I worked, I printed out the photo above to show him I was onto him. I also passed the photo to the others in the lineup outside the soup kitchen and they all agreed that sure, he was William H., no question.

When he saw the picture he smiled and looked quite pleased that I had noticed the “Doppelgänger” effect. He even asked if I would take his picture with my iPhone and send it to the real William H. Macy.

I took a photo of him smiling proudly, but I didn’t send it off, because, well, he’d obviously seen it already.

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Some folks see dead people….. some lay on their backs in the soft green grass and see fluffy white elephants floating in the sky… some spot Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson in McDonalds’ restaurants.

My imagination is a bit more grounded.

I see famous, LIVING celebrity-type people wherever I go.

How is your sixth sense?

Do you have famous people walking through your daily life?

elvis and michael jackson