My annual yuletide eulogy to brain cells (with apologies to Clement Moore).
My month of local appearances (judging the Five Minute Film Festival; speaking on branding one’s byline at the Storyteller’s Conference and Expo, emceeing the North Bay Bohemian’s Best Of 2015 awards gala) concludes this Saturday with an appearance at Sonoma County Local Author Showcase & Symposium.
The sensation of having done all this public chatter is one of being everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. This is, in part, because all the events have or will occur within the same 10 square miles – the proverbial “backyard” of any rural locale (especially in this real estate market). The upshot is I don’t feel like I’ve been anywhere. Let alone that this an area for which it’s notoriously difficult to muster the escape velocity to leave. Why would I? It’s culturally dynamic (see the above itinerary of cultural dynamism ) and it’s natural beauty risks infringing on copyrights held by the Monet estate. And yet… Returning to my hometown, I can’t help but think that coming-full-circle is tantamount to being stuck in an enormous rut.
Mind you, I do get out once in a while. I spent a recuperative long weekend in the Berkeley Hills last week, in a restful trance, watching the floaters in my eyes drift across the ceiling. Though I was as happy to return and start the workweek Monday morning, I couldn’t help but think of it all as rehearsal, like a comic sadly working successive open mic nights.
I’m of two minds: either everything in life is merely rehearsal – i.e., the process of groping toward an unattainable perfection; or everything is the real deal wherein total investment often produces wonky results. Can it be both? A particle and a wave? Faye Dunaway’s sister and daughter?
Thus far the gigs have been successful. The only cause for pause came when I caught a glimpse of myself when tagged on Facebook only to discover that my hair is thinner, my gut is fatter, my beard is whiter and my soul is blacker (versus my bank account, which is redder). My future’s so bright I have to wear bifocals. So, this Saturday at the Sonoma County Local Author Showcase and Symposium, you’ll be able to recognize me by the paperbag on my head. I’m working up a new brand identity – the Unknown Author. Wait… That’s all of us. Nevermind. At least I’ll blend in.
Look for me around noon at the Sonoma County Local Author Showcase & Symposium, Saturday, March 28, in the Forum Room of the Central Santa Rosa Library, 211 E St., Santa Rosa, CA.
On the heels of next Tuesday’s April Fool’s Day is the April 2 kickoff of the 17th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival. Though tempted, I’ll avoid cinematic satire and direct readers to the 2014 Festival Preview Guide, which can be downloaded at SonomaFilmFest.org.
For your convenience, certain omissions to the guide are included below for your viewing pleasure. Please feel free to clip, print, forward and share these additions with out-of-town visitors who don’t know any better. Especially if they’re celebrities. And have a wonderful film festival experience!
Cat-tastrophe, USA, 247 min., Dirs. Mick Robbins, Henri Moreau
Just when you thought the Internet’s feline fixation had finally ebbed, a pair of local filmmakers decided to finally finish their opus, “Cat-tastrophe,” comprised entirely of cat videos ripped from YouTube. Let’s not ponder the inspiration for the endeavor (marijuana) but champion the perseverance of the filmmakers, who spent seven years assembling their film from over 750 individual cat clips. The result is the cinematic equivalent of coughing up a four-hour fur ball for four hours. Not since T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” and its infernal musical adaptation (memories!), has such a wuvable wasteland filled your mental litterbox with so little. Expect an endless barrage of purrfect puns to emanate from our local newsrooms, headlining editorials about a spaying and neutering filmmakers.
Dry, USA, 16 min., Dir. Kyle Rice
The SIFF has long supported student films, and the privileged young visionaries whose parents pay for them. Hailing from this year’s student category is local Sonoma State University film student Kyle Rice’s short film, “Dry,” which is comprised of a single shot of a freshly painted lavender-hued wall. “Dry” was intended as a statement about the banality of student film work but turned out quite the opposite after Rice set up his camera, hit record and left only to return to a hole kicked through his main subject. In his absence, Rice’s camera captured the daring escape of a bound and gagged kidnap victim from the apartment next door. The young woman busted through the sheetrock with her feet, writhed through the resulting hole and eventually managed to wriggle her hands free and ungag herself, at which point she looked into the camera and apologized for destroying the wall. Though critically heralded for the “breakthrough performance,” in class, the film received a D for defying its original premise and being interesting.
Theseus’ Ship Redux, Sweden, 122 min., Dir. Buntel Eriksson
A highlight of this year’s fest is a fully-restored, digitally-remastered edition of Swedish filmmaker Buntel Eriksson’s “Theseus’ Ship,” which boasts a complete reconception of the story matter (less love triangle, more bikini-clad espionage), re-shot scenes featuring an entirely new cast (middle-aged musings on mortality have been upgraded to the moral anxiety of juggling multiple sexual partners during Spring Break) and the swapping of the solo nyckelharpa soundtrack for a pulsing electronica score created by Euro-Pop phenom Ch3mTrailz. In fact, this release of the 1966 Eriksson classic is so utterly transformed it resembles the original version only in title, at least to the “redux” part. It begs the question, is it even the same film? An emphatic “Yes!” insist the film’s producers, who dismiss any suggestion that their version of the film is merely a remake posing as the original to avoid paying royalties. “We replaced every frame in an effort to preserve the integrity of Eriksson’s vision. So, yeah, it’s the same film, just totally different.”
There are three items remaining on my 2013 To-Do list that have haunted me since last January. I’ve been meaning to get to them all year, or rather, I’ve been procrastinating until the final weeks of this year to dare even mention them.
In the grand scheme of my ambition, they’re rather small feats to accomplish, but it still feels lethal to let them languish. What will get you in the end? As any immunologist will tell you, “It’s the little things.” For me, they are as follows:
1. Start a Tourism Bureau for Vineburg
The Wikipedia page for Vineburg, California, presently consists of exactly 35 words. Just about enough for a column inch. I’d quote them here, but they don’t amount to much more than “Vineburg is a place near Sonoma. It has a post office.” Why it even has this post office is beyond me since it has a total population of, like, eight. The mail person could just toss the mail at the border of Vineburg and Sonoma and be satisfied it would get where it’s supposed to go. This led me to the realization that Vineburg needs its own tourism bureau. It’s uncharted Wine Country. Obviously, we need to attract developers. If done right, could it be long before we have a new chain of franchise restaurants – Vineburger? A so-called grape and grill establishment? Get your vineburger and frites (because it’s never just “fries” in Wine Country – or “freedom frites” if you’re holding a grudge).
It’s branding is built into its name. At least there’s a “vine” in Vineburg, which is ostensibly wine-related. What does Sonoma mean? According to the native Wappo, it meant either “chosen place” or “big nose” depending on the translator. And if you’re a Wappo, might we consider chatting about a Vineburg Casino? I know a guy
2. Update ye olde fortune cookie gag
About 25 years ago, someone introduced me to the post-Chinese dinner tradition of reading one’s fortune cookie message, then adding the phrase “in bed” at the end. This resulted in much juvenile hilarity a la, “You will meet an interesting stranger – in bed.” During the height of the dot-com boom, circa 2001, a mutant strain of the gag got loose that added the Internet domain suffix “.com” to the end of fortunes. Thus was born “YouWillMeetAnInterestingStranger.com.”
This ungainly URL is available and can be currently had for $12.99 at GoDaddy for those with a yen to start an online dating service. For that matter, YouWillMeetAnInterestingStrangerInBed.com is also available if you want to add an “adult” component. Neither one, however, speaks to my present dilemma of updating the fortune cookie trope. There are dozens of mobile fortune cookie apps (go figure), and the one I just downloaded advises me to “Act always in a way to do good.” Perhaps that means I should just let this one go since little good could come of it. Of course, I could just add “-o-gram” at the end of my fortune and flip to Facebook for a cool billion. YouWillMeetAnInterestingStranger-o-gram has a ring to it.
3. Create a holiday for August
Yes, this has been nagging me since the eighth month , when there is nothing to celebrate beyond National Left-Handers day (the 13th) and a handful of birthdays (none mine). But no real holiday. And by holiday, I mean a gift-giving, over-indulging reason not to turn up to work on Monday kind of holiday. The month’s namesake, Caesar Augustus, doesn’t offer much to springboard from, apart from despotism, which generally isn’t celebrated unless the despot is still in power. The dude died in 14 AD, so that’s out. In fact, it was August of that year – meaning – we could have a bi-millennial celebration of the death of Caesar Augustus next August. Mission accomplished.
One down, two to go. Sigh.
Not a Trekkie, nor a Trekker be. This was advice someone once gave me at the outset of my love life. They needn’t have bothered. I was part of that cultural shift that occurred when Star Wars came along and absorbed the collective attention of an entire generation for anything with “star” in the title.
Besides, Star Trek with its humanist themes and nifty moralizing was distinctly grown-up fare and something I wouldn’t come to appreciate until I was older. Like wine and women.
At the time, my only familiarity with wine, women and Trek was in the form of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, jugs of Almaden wine at family dinner parties and the teenage girls who lived next door who were smitten with some alien life form called Shaun Cassidy.
Clearly, this was not an auspicious introduction, but I eventually figured it all out. Except the Shaun Cassidy part.
That said, Star Trek remained something of a cypher. But if you sit long enough in one place, the whole world will pass, including the Starship Enterprise.
Thus, it was inevitable that Star Trek would come to Sonoma. And when I looked for it, I realized it’s been here for years, in quiet ways.
Consider this: Five years ago, actor Chris Pine, who plays young, brash Capt. Kirk in J.J. Abrams’ rebooted Trek film franchise, portrayed winemaker Bo Barrett, who, according to the locally produced film Bottle Shock, had a hand in the 1976 Judgment of Paris. Just as Vancouver doubles for any location in the States (and its moribund production biz), Sonoma doubled for Napa, Paris and elsewhere – meaning Capt. Kirk was here and I had a chat with him.
After some Internet sleuthing, I learned that our own legendary action-adventure scribe, Jack London, was depicted as a bellboy in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Apparently, Data the android time traveled to Gold Rush-era San Francisco, was mistaken for a Frenchman and helped encourage the young London to pursue his dreams of being a writer.
Following that narrative to its logical conclusion, you can draw a line from “Star Trek” to our Valley of the Moon, where London eventually set up shop. So thanks, Data! And sorry that later in the episode you were decapitated and your head was buried for 500 years. The sacrifices we make for literature, right?
But wait there’s more … Earlier this year, Sonoma’s own Viansa Winery released a series of limited edition Star Trek-themed wines that featured retro-styled labels by artist Juan Ortiz. Certain episodes are commemorated including, The Trouble with Tribbles, The City on the Edge of Forever and Mirror Mirror, which features a goateed alterna-Spock.
And last week, Star Trek reached out to me personally in my capacity as a columnist for the I-T. The Official Star Trek Convention was en route to the Bay Area with “headliners William Shatner and Jeri Ryan” in tow to “celebrate a weekend of everything ‘Trek.’” This is how I ended up chatting with Tim Russ, who portrayed everyone’s other favorite Vulcan, Lt. Commander Tuvok on Star Trek: Voyager. Russ seemed as mystified as me about the Trek experience.
“I was excited to have a full-time gig for possibly seven years. That’s what I was excited about,” Russ said about scoring the gig as the emotionally distant, full-blooded Vulcan. “Everything else was, you know, what came along with the package. It certainly was unusual. It was different. It was a big, fat plus-column of extras as a result of being on that show. The thing is, it’s still benefitting me in any number of ways.”
So, basically, when you’re in Trek, you’re in Trek all the way, from your first cigarette to your last dyin’ day.
“I’ve been able to benefit from other acting roles, gigs that have come as a result of being on the show. I’ve been able to benefit in any number of ways in terms of still earning income, not just residuals but also from conventions that are still going on as we speak, every single year, for 17 years. It’s insane man, it’s insane! I still don’t understand it. I still don’t get it,” said Russ. “I can only talk about that show. How many times can I say the same thing?”
Dude, I ask myself that all the time, then the check comes and the whole “live long and prosper” notion becomes much more clear – clearer than an empty bottle of Almaden.
So, I’m on deadline penning a puff piece about the local choir’s Mozart program and Comcast, my ISP, took a shit on my block, which meant I had to trawl downtown Sonoma for free wifi to file my story via e-mail. The Historic Sonoma Plaza has no fewer than three wifi signals, mostly concentrated around City Hall. “Sonoma Sq. by Americas Freedomlink” was the name of the signal I tapped, which would intermittently swap with a signal called “SonomaWinos Wifi” After making my deadline, the whole business of casually logging onto an “unprotected network” and wantonly trading bits with an anonymous machine – in the park, no less – suddenly seemed like letting my laptop wallow in some order of digital bathhouse. I checked the “wireless connection properties” and looked at my machine’s networking history. That’s when I realized that my computer is a slut. Continue reading “Take My Wifi, Please”