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May 2001

Death of a Soundtrack

To feed my ongoing obsession with (well, appreciation of) with Moulin Rouge (which was just as delicious after a second viewing, made posible by Mike's patient indulgence of my insistence that he see it with me), I picked up the soundtrack, putting a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm. I’m happy to own some of the music from the film, but pretty frustrated that they decided to release a soundtrack that would sell like a pop album over a soundtrack that would actually collect the songs from the film.

The Diamond and the DollfaceIt's a symptom, I suppose, of the way soundtracks have become such big business as anthologies or tribute albums. More often than not, they're a way to collect a bunch of new songs from music-industry all-stars — previously unreleased tracks, jazzed-up covers, old standbys — that had been scattered throughout a movie. Hey, great, whatever — there'll be no complaints from me about random, fun collections like the stuff from Charlie's Angels or Can't Hardly Wait. There certainly won't be any rumblings about soundtracks that collect music that was brilliantly, evocatively used in the movies, like Rushmore or High Fidelity (which could put out a second volume that would be just as good). The thing is, though, that Moulin Rouge is a musical, goddamnit, and I wanted to get the songs from the movie, not an all-star line-up of songs that played in the background for a moment or two, or songs that were "inspired by" music from the film. Three of the biggest, best numbers from the film don't show up at all, basically because they're clearly in the "musical" realm (which is debatable, since one of them is "Like a Virgin"). so instead of a couple of brilliant, big songs that are crucial to the story, we get half-assed covers from Beck and Bowie and Bono and such. Thank you, come again.

Even with stuff that appeared in the film, they opted to rework some of it into good fodder for release as a single. Now, I can see where it would be hard to deal with some of the stuff from the movie: the opening sequence at the club itself is a long, frenetic montage that keeps shifting gears and getting more intense (end even sinister) as the pace picks up. By separating the elements out into discrete tracks, though, they all suffer. In the movie, there's a brilliant blend of songs like "Lady Marmalade," "smells Like Teen spirit," "Rhythm of the Night," and the can-can, but they break it down into (yet another) relentless, repetitive Fatboy slim track (he's barely even trying now, or he's run out of good ideas or something); a dull cover; and a totally uninspired, hip-hopified version of "Lady Marmalade" which misses everything that makes the original so sexy, or the one in the movie so dizzying. (And my complaint about that is not a prissy poo-pooing of hip-hop. I love a lot of stuff by the fine, fine ladies who did this cover [I exlude teen whore Christina Aguilera], but this is just a blatant attempt to make a marketable novelty track.)

It's a pain in the butt if you're coming at this from the side of someone who likes musicals (and that’s really the one place where my fagitude comes out in full force). If you started with no trouble about the movie as a musical, rather than needing to be tricked into liking it, you're bound to be a bit let down by the way the soundtrack caters to the more ironic sensibility of the movie, the sensibility that looks at is a gimmick, like a long spike Jonze video. Frankly, I might have forgiven this approach if they put better pop music on the soundtrack when all was said and done. Instead, you get lackluster singles and untapped potential.

I'll also admit that some stuff I love in the movie doesn't work as well when it's stripped down to just the audio. The visual pace of the movie is so quick that music written for it sounds a little odd. The big love song is nice, but it seems to go on forever without the montage to go along with it. "The Elaphantine Medley" (don't ask, just go see the movie — you'll think of Whitney Houston whenever you see Ewan McGregor forever after) and the Bollywood number are just as much fun, but seem a little hurried and jerky when you're not being led along by the manic editing style of the movie.

This Story Is About Musicals

I was expecting to hate it, or at least think it was a pretty but unsatisfying bauble like Romeo + Juliet, but I totally loved Moulin Rouge. It was definitely the visual delight I expected, even turning out to be more lush and grandiose than I would have guessed. The typography and graphic design alone was enough to make my head spin. I thought I would pass out during the ending credits, they were done so beautifully. (I’m a type geek. sue me.)

Overall, the movie does a tricky maneuver for which I may be the target audience. It starts off as a zingy, MTV-ish pastiche of movie-musical clichés, recklessly making fun of them with a dash of affection and a lot of flash to impress modern audiences, but it switches along the way into a totally earnest musical that uses the film medium to say a few things about the nature of the theatre. It masquerades as a parody of hokey love stories, but actually tells one with a certain amount of depth. (It helps an awful lot that the two leads are good enough actors and capable enough singers to pull it off.) I had the distinct impression that to really get into the movie, you have to love musicals and appreciate the artifice of the whole genre, but still be jaded and media-savvy enough to know how goofy they are. Bingo! Nice to meet ya, I’m Sparky.

Ok, the good stuff:

  1. The music kicks major ass. It's funny, mixing in snippets from all over, forcing you to play name that tune throughout the movie. It's also takes goofy sentiment and makes it terribly poingnant, which is a nice touch. The pastiche is pretty clever, that way. If you're just po-mo pop music fan, you'll get a kick out of the camp arrangments of pop and rock classics, but if you can handle musical theater you'll be amazed at how well the pop songs used work when they're handled just right.

    Ewan Mcgregor, who jumps back to the top of my fantasy boyfriend list, is actually a great singer, even if he's a bit of a belter. His gimmick in the movie of suddenly bursting (and I mean bursting) into song whenever he gets tongue-tied is funny, but again it totally makes sense as an element of a musical, whether you see it as parody or homage.

  2. Catherine Martin's costume and production design. Please god, throw a few awards this woman's way. Totally lush.

  3. Balcony with sacre CoeurCGI Paris. Goofy, yes, but a pretty way of making a 3-D version of a painted backdrop that would have made MGM proud. Also, I it made me all sentimentalto see Montmarte showed like that, since I stayed right at the foot of the hill, down the block from the real Moulin Rouge (a horribly tacky tourist trap), when I was in Paris last February. Also, cheers to the Man in the Moon who lurked in the background now and then.

  4. Retro fin-de-siecle typography. Totally gorge. I can't stress this enough. Maybe this has to do with my recent obsession with collecting wood type, but the design really made my mouth water.

  5. Knowing when enough is enough and too much isn't enough. This is, trust me, a campy, campy movie, even if it's being so with a coy, smart, post-modern wink. It lays on the cinematic drag really heavy, but then moves off into something a little more sincere, more restrained just when your head is about ready to explode. And just when the sincere melodrama is getting a bit too heavy, in comes some other slapstick or kooky musical number. Pacing, baby, pacing.

And the requisite irritating stuff.

  1. John Leguizamo could not possibly have been more annoying. Unlike the rest of the cast, he never becomes anything more than a cartoon. Bleah.

  2. MTV-damaged approach to editing. sometimes those quick cuts are punchy and exciting, usually they keep you from being able to actually soak in what's good in a scene. With stuff that pretty to see, you want a chance to enjoy it. sometimes with the music, too, the tendency to throw different stuff in, fast and furiously, makes you want to slow things the hell down. (I dunno, maybe I’m just getting old.)

OK, enough raving for raving for now. The real test will be if I like it this much after a second viewing.

Does this remind you of Leyendecker or singer sargent?

Terrified of the Heartland

I am such a city kid. Really, I’m just beyond hope. I’ve always lived in big cities: I grew up in New York Fuckin' City, and spent eight years in Boston, which seemed like a charming hamlet by comparison, but an overwhelming urban nightmare to people who'd come there from the sticks. It's the only way of life I know, really. Everything else just seems like...well, television.

A friend/former squeeze of mine has been forced by circumstance to take a break from the big city for a while and go back to stay with his folks in Nebraska for a bit. He sent me a postcard from his hometown of Billings, Montana, where he went for a brief visit last week. The image on the card — downtown Billings surrounded by vast, hilly open space — is a curious, alien landscape to me. Weird, open, desolate, sleepy. I shudder to think of it. A teeny little burg surrounded by emptiness like that just gives me chills. Of course, when I get e-mails like this I know that my reliance on city life is cheating me from some of the truly American, rock-n-roll experiences that can be found out in the heartland:

I forget that the Montana highways make up for a lot of the other faults with this state. Nothing really beats the escape of slipping into leather pants, a muscle tee, aviators, a cowboy hat, and a pick-up truck and hitting the highway. Heavy metal is the only choice for music [well maybe some sleater-Kinney is ok]. You kind of forget where you are, who you are. Is it the speed? You can drive so fast here...but I think it's the truck.

That just sounds so hot and cathartic to me. Maybe I should get that driver's license once and for all. (I say this willfully ignoring the horror I felt the one time I did a road trip to the Midwest and was confronted for the first time with a completely blank horizon, devoid of mountains, skyscrapers, or oceans and filled with more corn and soy than I care to remember.)

I’m a Loser, Baby

Beck, via eMode.comI generally steer clear of dumb online personality tests, but at least I got a result I like this time:

Sparky, your inner rock star is Beck

Yeah baby, the rock star part of you is all Beck. Women [sic] are enthralled by your seductive energy, a perfect mix of intrigue and poetry. You and Beck have got it all together because you're unafraid to say exactly what's on your mind, and let everyone in on your quirky point of view. Intellectual and sexy, you continually dodge conventional stereotypes with your eclectic personal style. But when you really break it down, it's just your great sense of humor and easygoing talent that makes the crowds go wild. Throw a fiesta, and inspire your inner Beck.

I guess that means I really wanna have sex with my inner self.

Good News, All Things Considered

So after weeks of getting used to things — telling people, taking medicine every day, being tired and depressed more often than not — I finally got some encouraging news from my doctor today. One of the worst feelings (OK, well maybe not the worst, but it's been in there) is a sense of being in limbo, making no progress, or at least not knowing if there was any progress going on. I’d only been to the doctor a couple of times at the beginning, so there was no curve to plot yet. Now that we've reviewed my blood work for the first time since I started the drugs (AZT, 3TC, Ziagen) six weeks, it looks like I’m doing really well. Considering, of course, that I’m still infected with a potentially life-threatening, infectious virus. Let's look at the stats:

date

viral load

CD4 (T-cell) Count

CD4 %

3/09/2001

282,000 p/ml

235 p/ml

16%

3/23/2001

246,000 p/ml

425 p/ml

16%

5/14/2001

660 p/ml

533 p/ml

21%

that’s no typo — the viral load really did drop down to 660 p/ml (50 p/ml is the benchmark for undetectable load, 3,000,000 is really dangerous) over the last few weeks, much faster than the doc or I anticipated. And my CD4 count has risen much faster, as well. (Anything below 250/18% is worrying, anything below 200 is considered the start of AIDS. The percentage is the more stable, telling figure. I can't find any thing that says what percentage is considered the start of AIDS.) so basically I’m responding really, really well to the drugs and it looks like I won't have to switch to any of the stronger ones as long as I keep progressing so quickly toward an undetectable load and nearly normal CD4 levels. Rock on!

You know, considering...

A Flight of Fancy

Just pretend that you're reading something I’ve written that is charming and insightful, perhaps with a wry or slightly self-depracating spin. Pretend the language is proper English punctuated by a few bits of the vernacular to make it light-hearted, just like when I talk in person. For kicks, pretend I’ve made a saucy allusion to the sex life I once had.

There, wasn't that nice? Just like the old days. Isn't imagination wonderful? Pardon me while I go back to blowing my nose and making corrections to the 2001 Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, section V, Article 30, "Terminology for Nondestructive Examinations Standard." If I’m lucky, I'll have time to squeeze in a review of Section II, Part B, "Nonferrous Materials Specifications"!

Ah, screw it. I know what you're here for, ya voyeuristic freaks. New pics here.

Breakdown, of a Sort

I finally lost my composure last night. I’ve managed to let go a little bit during the last two months since I found about the whole mess, but it's been a little forced. I got a little teary the first day I came back from the doctor. When Gina died, I wept for about half and hour at work, but that was really about her more than anything else, and my own drama only figured in as an added bonus.

Last night, though, I finally told Fran over the phone, and I lost it, just like I figured I would. I can't hide anything from Fran, emotionally speaking. she's much too much like me to be fooled, and I love her too much to try and fool her anyway. The shpiel of telling people has been getting easier, perhaps a little routine, which makes me uncomfortable. I couldn't keep up the brave face talking to her, and I just began sobbing while on the phone. I couldn't be serious and calm, or edgy and joking. This was Fran, after all — my great love, my dear friend, the standard by whom I often judge myself. she can see my neurotically, fidgety brave act a mile away, and she would know that it was worse than that. All the sadness and loneliness came pouring out, and for maybe the first time I really felt how ashamed I feel about all this, how I feel like such a failure to myself and to the people I love. For all my quixotic efforts to be perfect, there's always gonna be this to remind me that I fucked up somewhere.

Now that I’ve had a couple of months to get used to this, a month to get used to being medicated for the rest of my life, I’ve been worrying that despite all the ups and downs in my mood I was getting a little too numb to it. Of course, part of me knew that I was likely to break down when I told Fran, and it looks like I haven't really been handling it as well as I thought. Gracefully, maybe, but clearly not well. I’ve gotten a grip on some of the new routines that HIV has imposed on my life, but not that I have the time to think more about the implications of it, I can tell that this is really fucking with my head and my heart.

I’ve been playing phone tag with someone at Body Positive the last couple of days, trying to find out how to sign up for one of their twelve-week counseling sessions for guys who've just learned about being positive. I’m so averse to therapy (not that I think it's pointless or ineffective, just because I cling to this ridiculous notion that I ought to be able to handle things by myself) that it's gonna be hard t give myself into it, but I really, really have to do something. My own coping mechanisms are all about burying shit and making it seem like no big deal, but this one is a big fucking deal. And it should be. And I want it to be, so I can remember that I don't just have a disease, but I also have some responsibility that goes along with it.

God, the implications of being positive really just seem to grow and grow, particularly when I think about it being something that is likely to stick with me for a long, long time, rather than being a touchingly poignant early death sentence (which it's really not, any more). Maybe soon I'll be able to tackle the implications this actually has on my love life.

Not today, though. In that regard, the hiring freeze is still in effect.

Busy Butch Bee

Thanks to a rare burst of good spirits coaxed out of me by an evening with the gents, I spent the weekend doing what therapy-phobic freaks like me do with excess bad energy: major home improvement projects! Yessirree, rather than spend another saturday moping and napping, I went over to Oriental Lumber for some supplies and finally attacked a few of the glaring problems with my pad. First, I put down 192 square feet of new plywood flooring to cover up the soft spots that were about to become holes. And then I painted all of it to match the rest of the floor. (smiling to think that the small area I patched was equal to the area of a standard Manhattan studio apartment.) Then I fagged it up a little (relatively speaking, considering what was involved) and painted my bathroom orange, giving it a creamsicle feel. My place is too big and white, and really needed some color (besides all the off-color goings on). My big inspiration was tearing out the ugly old medicine cabinet and replacing it with an old mirrored cabinet door and two lunchboxes bolted to wall instead.

 

After all the heaving of lumber and the crawling around tight spaces to paint the bathroom, how did I top it all off? A few hours of non-stop boogie with Michael at Body & Soul again. Yes, I did a good job of channeling all those ugly, ugly feelings into physical activity, but I bet I feel completely crippled by tomorrow morning once my muscles realize what I did to them.

Rumpus Room Studios

Contrary to what you may read on the Internet, my building will not be the site of the next Real World. Although that would be a pretty good scam for getting my building wired properly.

Subway Scoping

Riding the subway has a way of screwing up normal boundaries. See, there's this really sexy guy I usually see on the L train in the mornings — blond crew cut, pale blue eyes little chin strap beard, thin and wiry, hipsterish — who I’ve developed a wee crush on. Nothing serious, just the kind of fascination that can be provoked by an interesting, unavailable straight boy one sees often enough to make an impression. Today, he was standing by the door as I got on, with one of the few available handholds right in front of him. As the train continued further toward Manhattan, he and I kept getting pushed closer together as the train filled up. Even though I kept my head down, reading my Palm Pilot, I was fully aware of his proximity. Especially since it's warm today, and he was wearing an old t-shirt instead of the usual bulky Carhartt jacket, and his little round bicep dangled in front of my forehead. It was odd, the way we stood there facing each other, standing closer than we would even if we were on a date, me making myself look down, him looking down the car — uncomfortably intimate proximity with a stranger forcing each of us to pretend no one was there at all.

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