Archive | Essays

A Double of Doubles

In my latest essay for Word and Film,  I focus on movie zeitgeists, in which a handful of films on the same topic come out at the same time. In particular I look at a recent double of “doubles”—Enemy (opening today), starring Two Jakes (Gyllenhaal), and The Double, starring a neurotic Jesse Eisenberg and a hustling Jesse Eisenberg. An excerpt:

Enemy, which opens this week, stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam, a hapless history teacher who feels threatened when he discovers Anthony, a small-time movie actor (also Gyllenhaal) who is his exact physical double. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, the film is based upon the Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago’s Portuguese novel The Double, a cheerless affair that tackles subjects like self-illusion in what seems like one endless, stream-of-conscious paragraph. The film veers from the book in some key ways – it’s set in Toronto and boasts such surreal touches as giant spiders and an “Eyes Wide Shut”-style sex club – but is no less grim. Gyllenhaal’s acting strength typically stems from his remarkable physicality but his “two Jakes,” perhaps taking their cues from the film’s gray and brown palette, are so lifeless that not even their gorgeous blonde mates (more mirrors!) can rouse them. Some of the problem lies with the normally deft Villeneuve’s one-note direction, which eschews any soulfulness – as though it would compromise his grinding theme of the elusiveness of identity in an empty world.

Here’s the rest, Sirenaders!

La Middle-Aged Vie Boheme

Lately I can’t stop listening to the soundtrack of Rent. I didn’t even like that musical when it first came out, arguably because I was living in the creative ghetto of Manhattan’s Lower East Side amongst a bunch of drug addicts and queens of all genders, and resented what felt like a Disney version of my life. Twenty years later, I adore its cocktail of pathos and joy, which just goes to show you that nostalgia can be generated for anything once it’s passed.

I’m especially moved that, with great heart, this production puts its “Today 4 U” money where its mouth is. Written in the midst of the AIDS crisis, it is based upon many characters who did not survive to see the 21st century, and was written by a young man who, because of a genetic syndrome, knew that he would not. Now that I’m of an age when my peers and I daily live with mortality as a reality rather than a fantasy, I appreciate Rent’s carpe-doomsday aesthetic, even if it does come with jazz hands. I sing selections from its soundtrack all the time. “Light My Candle” as I clean; “Life Support” as I drive; “Seasons of Love” as I cook; “Will I” as I pay bills; “Santa Fe” as I walk block after NYC block; “Take Me or Leave Me” as I paint. Often I weep as I sing, but it’s not unhappy weeping. It’s that my-joy-and-sorrow-connects-me-to-the-universe sort of weeping. It’s weeping along the lines of that Stella Adler quote: Life beats down the soul and art reminds you that you have one.

At the same time I’ve become a ’90s musical enthusiast, I can’t stop painting and wallpapering things. This began when I commenced my home rehab last fall. I’d always feigned the vapors when anything had to be fixed around my rent-stabilized apartment, either Tom Sawyering an innocent bystander or, more than often than not, ignoring the problem entirely until it toppled on my head. (That really happened once; a badly installed ceiling lamp fell on my bed just as I was going to town on a long-lashed lover.) I think I assumed–feminism be damned!–that eventually I’d be married or moneyed, and so would be able to permanently fob off those handyman tasks or just move somewhere grander. But after last fall’s final break from a man I deeply love, I accepted my life might always be white steed-free. So I rolled up my sleeves and commenced to finally fix up this fix-it-upper—to divest and plaster and sand and paint and forage. You know, that Marge Piercy quote: Bless whatever you can with eyes and hands and tongue. If you can’t bless it, get ready to make it new. Continue Reading →

A Cat Lady Testifies: Love Is Love

Though normally an early riser, I could not wake up in these last weeks before daylight savings time. I slept through phone calls, alarm clocks, even my neighbors’ noisy morning sex. Finally, my cat Grace took matters in her own hands. Not by yowling or ruining furniture or biting my toes but by carefully dragging all her toys next to my head, one by one, until I finally opened my eyes. Each morning I was greeted by a pile of soft feathers and strings and catnip mice and her sweet, worried face—the gentlest landing from a flight of sleep I could imagine. It reminded me of how lucky I am to live with such a considerate, tender-hearted little being. And how proud I am to be a cat lady.

These days the words old maid or spinster may be dismissed as outdated, even cruel, but cat lady is still bandied about unreservedly and with the same intent: as a derogatory term for an unattached female. A single woman in a Mrs. Whatsit getup of coffee-stained schlubby layers who reads dog-eared paperbacks, never misses her shows, eats from cans along with her furry wards. Who hasn’t got laid in decades and couldn’t if she tried. Who languishes in a cramped, overheated, urine-stained apartment piled high with dirty dishes, cigarette smoke, ratty furniture, and, of course, cat hair.

If it sounds awful, so be it. That’s the mishegas that gets thrown my way because I am Of A Certain Age and remain unmarried, childless, and domestically solitary save for a feline cohabitant—especially now that nearly everyone can get married and have kids. Forget about the fact that I live in an amazing city, enjoy my work and friends, love my considerate and charismatic roommate. Because she is a cat, there exists a two-word phrase that people can use to dismiss my life.

I am cat lady, hear me purr. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy