25 May 2009

Rockin' the Bow Tie ... (Wait, how did I tie this thing?!)

Rocking the bow tie. Not an easy feat to pull off (or put on) if you don't have the insouciance and/or skill-set required for such sartorial acrobatics. Wearing a bow tie doesn't necessarily equate to looking like the magnate of the popped corn, Sir Orville Redenbacher (God rest his bow tie). Fashion is all about confidence and trying new things and understanding that rules are made to be broken or at least ignored with aplomb.

First things first: You have to know how to tie the ole bow. Don't be intimidated; it is easy to tie a bow tie. So, like a 4-yr-old on Acre St. (in the San Fernando Valley) learning how to tie his shoes under the mentorship of his neighbor Tina and big sis Steph, it takes practice, practice, practice. So too with the bow tie. There are some very good books and magazine articles to get the basics down. But, today, it's as easy as a YouTube click to discover the online tricks of the bespoke trade to rock your bow tie like Kanye, an architect or law firm partner, or Andre3000.

You don't want to be caught out and about at a friend's wedding or work when your bow tie becomes unraveled and then, ugh!, panic. How do I tie this thing again?! Not good to have your favorite gal (or worse, dad) messing about with your cravat in public. Get the basics down so that you can tie it with your eyes closed, and then yes, you are ready, grasshopper, to snatch this bow tie from my palm.
Next, you want to be confident in your ability to pair the bow tie with your wardrobe. My favorite suits look completely different when I sport a bow tie with them, and the appropriate shoes, of course. I used to wear a bow tie episodically (as Ken Starr is wont to say) at the firm I worked for over in Westwood.

Pretty soon, others were wearing them as well once a week or so.  Not that I'm a trendsetter by any stretch; these guys just figured, if this wannabe can do it, so can I! (Btw, the pic left is me with my friend Kristine who married a great guy, Chris, in Malibu last week.) Oh, one more thing, when does one untie the bow tie? Some say never, but remember what I said about the "rules" ... I say that when the evening is winding down, and certain groups or individuals are pairing off, and cigars are being lit, and the Louis XIII cognac is being poured, you can certainly relax the Gordian knot and give the ole waddle a breather, Mr. size 17 collar.

Finally, once you make the decision that a bow tied life is indeed for you, you will find yourself opening up (and your wardrobe and especially your wallet) to other

fashion sensibilities. One cravat caveat: Please don't become the fashion victim like some (fill in the blank here with your favorite celeb) mistakenly do, rather own your fashion sense with critical choices, fun, and above all confidence. You are the man (or wo-man), and yes, you can rock a bow tie without looking the fool, you stud, you.

To see "how to tie a bow tie," click here to visit GQ on YouTube.

23 May 2009

Summer Anthem

Here's my Summer Anthem:

Warm long days (like June 22nd long) that start early at the beach, with two tanned boys playing in the water, trekking back up to our encampment for a breather on their large toweled estate, chomping on cold fruit, while dad watches/reads from his chair and has a laugh.

Warm long days (that seem to last a week) that have two tired boys with sand on their feet crashed-out/napping in the warm car with windows down and wind blowing and classic rock playing and dad driving through the canyon with his sunglasses on thinking about twenty years past while holding hands with his youngest in the back.

Warm long days meeting up with brothers and cousins and mom and dad for a bbq. and jazz playing off in the distance and remembering our little brother who passed away way too young and then heading off to see a summer blockbuster in IMAX.

Warm long evenings with a cigar and some wine sitting in my brother's backyard too stuffed to eat anymore, but politely accepting one last heaping of dessert from my sister-in-law as the kids swim in a warm pool with the pool and yard lights throwing dancing shadows as dancing kids leap to watery landings from ledges tall and terrifying into their own unknown futures reflecting one day upon a warm evening's past.

Warm long evenings with tan calloused feet upon my desk as I scribble some remembrances into two leather journals for my sons (for their high school graduation gifts in 8-10 years) and reading some of my old journals from college when I wrote about their mom and their dad in happy times when the world was young and bodies were taut and lusty passions were summery things that made all memories tan and tenable.

What is YOUR summer anthem? Click 'Pithy Remarks' below and let us know...

Btw, the painting above was done en plein air by the artist John Kilduff. He is a talented artist who sells his paintings regularly online.

Little Dragon, Huge Heart

I have had a music crush on Yukimi Nagano for a couple of years now. She is the lead singer of Little Dragon (she has also done some vocal work for Koop that you'll recall from their 60's poppy "Come to Me"). Little Dragon is a band about as cool as they come. They combine a trip-hop vibe with a strong jazz sensability, and they are as earnest as any new band to come along in a long time. Btw, they are from Gothenburg, Sweden, which just shows how strong electronica has become in terms of its global reach and influence.

There are 4 in their group (Erik, Frederik, Hakan and Yukimi), and when they were in the O.C. about six month's ago (behind the "orange curtain" as we up here in L.A. sometimes refer to that netherland betwixt San Diego and Los Angeles) for a performance at the Detroit Bar. My attorney bud Gary and I got to the show early to watch their sound check. No security. No other fans. Just two hottie bartenders, one sound mixer, and Little Dragon. (oh, and two old guys glad to be out of the house.) I used to live in Costa Mesa right down the street from the Detroit Bar, so it was one of those "full circle" moments in life.

Such a huge surprise to get to speak with the band (and buy a couple of them drinks), and just let them know how apprecaited their album is here in L.A. Yukimi told me that her dad did the graphic design on some of their t-shirts (and I think the album art); they were just about to head to the East Coast to finish their US tour, but I told her that the SoCal love would not be matched, and from what I hear, we're still a band fave!

Local alt-station KCRW (89.9) has provided them with great radio play over the last 18 months or so. Both Garth Trinidad and Jason Bently (as well as other DJs) have just pimped for Little Dragon relentlessly and it worked on me as I am a big fan who has turned several others (about a dozen) on to them as well. And, now I am sharing my current fave band with you, dear reader.

So, if you happen to live in Southern California, Little Dragon is performing at The Glass House in beautiful downtown Pomona off the 60 fwy. this Memorial Day. They just played Detroit Bar again in Costa Mesa (Yukimi's mom and grandmother both live in Costa Mesa, though she and the band and her dad and sisters live in Sweden), but I'm going to see them at The Glass House to check out that venue. Come on down!


20 May 2009

The Brothers Bloom, A Film Review

Brothers Bloom
In screenwriting, it’s kicking in the teeth of the first 10 pages that is crucial in getting your script read and passed on to an actual decision-maker (rather than just some note-taker providing coverage). Writer/Director Rian Johnson clearly understands this maxim as was evident in his remarkable freshman effort Brick and his latest offering The Brothers Bloom. The hook is indeed set quickly in The Brothers Bloom's first 10 minutes through a voice-over in rhyme (by Ricky Jay) as we see the brothers’ troubled foster home beginnings, and how they'd move from town to town trying to figure out the angles. (If you'd like to see it, just click here!) Jay, you might recall, is the skilled veteran of the sleight-of-hand and a David Mamet regular featured in the classic grifter film, House of Games.

It’s this nascent development of their huckster skill-set that the brothers will need to pull off future long-cons. We discover how the brothers become streetwise survivalists, revealed in almost fairytale fashion that has the younger brother (confusingly called Bloom) believing/hoping, even if fleetingly, that their first elaborate “con” against the local kids might just actually prove to be real. The older brother (Stephen) is protector of Bloom secundus and he suffers for it, taking punches meant for his younger brother. Nonetheless, Stephen embraces this sibling call upon his life, viz., acting as buffer against the world and spinner of yarns for Bloom, who is always looking for the real pot o’ gold at the terminus of the long-con rainbow .

(NOTE: The Brothers Bloom had its distribution date pushed back to this past weekend, and has been in the can and making the rounds of the festival circuit since 2008. Usually this sort of start-date push back spells doom for a film, but Summit Entertainment (and Endgame Entertainment) felt that this summer would give the film a bit more room to find an audience; it goes wide next week.)
Fast-forward 20 years, and we find the brothers (Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody) once again setting up a mark (Rachel Weisz) who is a housebound billionairess and collector of hobbies. The brothers are fresh off several elaborate, Russian-novel-intricate confidence scams elegantly executed. But, Bloom wants out; he wants to finally live an unwritten life after many years of playing a role under the stage direction of writer Stephen. But, will Bloom ever really be free to choose?

And, here's the rub, dear reader: Director Johnson is clearly influenced by Wes Anderson (no crime there), and we see where Johnson has actually out-Andersoned Wes Anderson and lifted liberally from Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic and even Darjeeling Limited. From the production and set-design (graphics and art design), to costumes and music choices (the soundtrack is quite good). From the color choices, to the character story arcs, we see precocious children wise beyond their juvenile delinquent years mapping out events weeks in advance. We see characters in love with and practicing the fiery art of pyrotechnics. There are prop guns and squibs. We even have a character wearing eye goggles, and voyage aboard a ship at sea, all

similar to what a viewer has seen in Wes Anderson films. As a huge Anderson fan, I was okay with this. What really bothered me, though, was that there was no real mystery in this film like a good crime-caper/grifter movie requires. We know where Brothers Bloom is going, except for perhaps one twist at the end. But this plot development arrives too late, like a Christmas present a week after the 25th.

Although the casting is strong, Rachel Weisz is especially good, it just wasn’t enough to make up for a weak 3rd act or lack of it. Ruffalo and Brody are two of the best actors of their generation (sorry for the over used bon mot). Interestingly, Adrien Brody is finding himself the actor-traveler of antiquity. In King Kong he travels by steamer, then by rail on an ancient train in Wes Anderson’s Darjeeling, and then again by steamer in Brothers Bloom. The chemistry amongst the three leads is solid, with a fourth especially fun turn by their (silent) partner-in-crime, a mimed performance by Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) who provides some much needed comic relief (and the best line of the film) as "BangBang."

I really wanted to like The Brothers Bloom, but it just didn't quite work for me. It's a fine bit of stylized cool with great costumes in worldly cities, if only Mr. Johnson could have focused a bit more on the last 10 pages of his script as he did the first. But, you tell me what you think if you see it!

Here is an interesting article on Slate Magazine that discusses Wes Anderson's influence on Post-WWII America.

15 May 2009

Oktapodi ... Love is Having 8 Arms to Hug

Here's a little Monday morning fun to help jump-start the week.



13 May 2009

Loves Me Some Jazz

When I first discovered America's only true art form, I was 15 and sitting in a jazz club (that no longer exists) in Westwood.  It was a magical night, and then later at CSUN during undergrad, I took a jazz appreciation class with a terrifically avuncular professor who wanted us to love jazz as much as he did.  This class seemingly covered it all, from the first recorded jazz song ("Back Home Again in" Indiana) to an 18 yr-old jazz upstart in the Northridge music program who performed live for us -- his name was Mr. Eric Reed, and he would later drop-out and tour with Winton Marsalis and is now an influential player in his own right.

The thing that we who love jazz (and those soul stirring standards) appreciate is "discovering" the next great thang (that's right, I said 'thang').  We like to fancy ourselves hip A&R professionals who seize upon new talent and then turn like-minded friends onto them as well.  Witness the new wave of accolades surrounding the hugely talented and unbelievably cool Ms. Esperanza Spalding; girl is just blowing up.   I saw and heard her about a year ago, and thought, "here we go again."  Then I saw her on David Letterman, and that's when you know "it's" over.  The (cool) cat is out of the proverbial bag, and she now beglongs to everyone in the main. 

The same thing happened with Joshua Redman, Madeleine Peyroux, Diana Krall, Nora Jones, et. al.  There's something about discovering a unique blend of jazz and vocal stylings that reflect an appreciation of the old standards but with that "new song" writing voice.   Amy Winehouse has that just once in a lifetime original voice, with that northern soul vibe.  Gawd, I hope she survives her own self and is around for decades to continue making amazing music and just enjoy her life.  But, the music business and its successes has a lot of trappings and emptying disappointments, the likes of which so many Billie Holiday's and Janice Joplin's, Kurt Cobain's and Elliot Smith's can't steer clear of.

Of course, it happens with all genre of music and their attendant music Mecca's, whether it's electronica, rock n roll, or country western.  First it was Nashville, and now its Austin.  L.A. was hot and then it was Seattle.   The cool, hip venue is certainly de reguier, with your young, ultra hipster crowd "in the know" of which nondescript club is the place to see the "act du jour."  But, with jazz, not so much.  Everyone is pretty laid back, from LA to Chicago.  NY to New Orleans.  Jazz brings out the timelessness of music appreciation, almost (I said almost) like classical music.  The jazz aficionado is there to enjoy the music more than he or she is there to ogle the latest act, or get caught up in the scene, which is part of why I enjoy jazz so much.  Sure, it's got its problems like any other music sub-set, but it is not so mainstream as to become tainted by an over abundance of air play.  There is a chance that even the most popular jazz recording artist will still be able to be fairly accessible at your local jazz club when they come to town.  It's (and they are) still cool because the entire scene is still below the radar, a sort of musical anti-proof of the economic theorem of "scarcity."   

Right now, I am enjoying a lot of  the West Coast "cool" trendsetters like Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Stan Getz and Dave Brubeck (with a bit of Johnny Hodges thrown in for good measure).  I am not saying that you should love jazz too; just that I loves me some jazz.  But, that's just one cat's opinion.

And, this just in!  Hollywood Reporter is reporting this morning that Martin 

Scorsese is set to direct the Frank Sinatra biopic by Field of Dreams screenwriter Phil Alden Robinson.  Sinatra had some serious pipes, and could arrange the heck out of a song.  I just wish Clint Eastwood was attached to direct; that's one guy that definitely appreciates some jazz (his son Kyle is a bassist with his own jazz quartet).  Leonardo Dicaprio and Johnny Depp are both
 mentioned as likely to star.  Which actor would you rather see?

12 May 2009

A Big FatScribe Thanks!

UPDATE: FatScribe, in its first 20 months, has now been read in over 3,000 cities, and 115 countries. Thanks for even reading one word on this very humble website featuring the inane, though heartfelt, ramblings and blubberings of yours truly (and a few guest writers who are quite brilliant if I do say so myself).

Just a very quick thank you for your incredible support in visiting FatScribe.com over these last few months. In the past 4 1/2 mos., FatScribe has been visited by over 500 cities and over 50 countries worldwide by repeat readers. Above, I have included a snapshot of the “globe” showing countries and cities that have stopped by for a quick read. Also, I’ve listed the top-5 stories and top-5 cities and countries (by average time on site).
Have a FatWorthy week!
Top Stories:
  1. Bachelor … Bad
  2. French but Not Quite a Francophile
  3. All Obama, All the Time
  4. Band of Brothers … the Next Generation
  5. Crookshank
  1. Albany, NY
  2. Beverly Hills, CA
  3. La Jolla, CA
  4. Perth, Australia
  5. Ontario, Canada
  1. USA
  2. Singapore
  3. Australia
  4. France
  5. Canada

11 May 2009

Milton Friedman, "Help Us Obi-wan Kenobi!"

Milton Friedman was one of our greatest national treasures. He wrote the introduction to the 50th Anniversary edition of F.A. Hayek's great tome, "The Road to Serfdom." Here's a little reminder on why he was so beloved and respected.

Would that Milton could come back like Sir Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan in "Star Wars" and tell our padawan president to "use the force" and let free markets do their thang.

Have a great week making free choices for your health care, housing, and the type of car you'd like to buy!


08 May 2009

Mother's Day Poem

FatScribe is pleased to post the following guest piece by Caleb Garcia.

She wears the hats she needs, no hat left unworn,

As if she wore them all along, they rest weary and torn.

 Always what I need her to be: mother, hero, friend,

Roles that keep a role-player rolling ‘round ‘til the end.


With the heart of a giant, she floats through the day,

Grace in every action and the warmth of sunny May.

She creates with her hands and she loves with her smile,

A confident, sure, identity, that never leaves for a while.


She knows what she wants, and boldly pursues,

The poster child of courage, to live and dream the hues.

Thank you for always believing, it means the world to me,

Destiny sealed by a respectable character is what I always see.


Her giving unending, her thoughts on others dwell,

Lost without her, I would be, a man drowning, one who fell.

 In this life, there’s strong and then there’s Mom strong,

Happy Mother’s Day and thank you for my song.


For FatScribe, Caleb Garcia

(Caleb Garcia is a Junior at the University of California, Irvine)

07 May 2009

Shakespeare and David Kelley?

QUICK NOTE: this article was written during my last semester of law school.

C.S. Lewis once lamented that the modern enlightenment authors were "very small beer and bored [him] cruelly." (1) During my last semester of law school, however, I had a vastly different experience regarding a very "enlightened" professor. Professor Samuel Pyeatt Menefee provided this writer with very fine port indeed - from William Shakespeare to Harper Lee - showing many a law student along the way how little we knew, while nonetheless thoroughly charging us with an inspired challenge for the well-read life. The venerable Menefee, with degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Cambridge, taught a very rigorous Law and Literature survey course that was very popular with the handful of students who fancied themselves soon-to-be-literati. Although I enjoyed the majority of the material assigned throughout this course, Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice was, for me, a favorite. Inevitably, as one whose career path is leading toward the field of entertainment law, this author tends to view and interpret story lines through the lens of a camera. As such, it seemed interesting, if not appropriate, to compare the timeless work of the Bard with that of a successful, erudite and talented writer of today: David E. Kelley, creator of Ally McBeal and The Practice.

While perhaps of slight importance, it still may be of some interest to the reader to know that Mr. Kelley and Shakespeare share some common background information. While Shakespeare s believed to have been the son of a wealthy glove maker, Kelley is the son of a wealthy glove person as well - of sorts. (2) David E. Kelley is the son of hockey great and former Pittsburgh Penguins president, Jack Kelley. (3) While not determinative, growing up in homes with successful, well-healed fathers must certainly have had an impact on these two gentlemen. Kelley and Shakespeare both got their professional starts and first writing successes in their mid-twenties. Both Shakespeare and Kelley (married to the fetching actress Michelle Pfeiffer) sought after a modicum of privacy for their families - both with a set of twins. While the previous trivia obviously do not stretch one's credulity, they're offered merely as shared introductory background information.

Without question, two of the most prolific writers in Hollywood recently have been William Shakespeare and David E. Kelley. An agent in "the business" can scarcely throw his cell phone across town without hitting some of their work sitting on a studio head's or network exec's desk. As any writer can attest, there is a vast difference between being a working writer and being a paid working writer.

As such, it is axiomatic that the odds of Hollywood buying one's manuscript are stacked heavily against the average writer. It speaks volumes, then, that the works of David E. Kelley and William Shakespeare are today ubiquitous on the big and small screens. (4)
Indeed, one could argue that Kelley and Shakespeare, with their prolific writing abilities, set the standard as Hollywood's prototypical writer - nay uberwriter. (5) 

Notwithstanding the several-hundred year time-span that separates the Bard from Mr. Kelley, there are many similarities between the two writers apart from their background, viz., their prodigiousness, importance as writers, and commonalities in their work.

William Shakespeare's return to popularity is really quite remarkable, especially if considered in light of recent academic history. As David Gates of Newsweek eloquently expressed, it was believed that the “multiculturalists had supposedly frog-marched [the Bard] out of school curriculums.” (6) But, Shakespeare, of course, has not always been out favor on American campuses. It wasn’t, as historian Lawrence Levine evinces for us in his Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America - until the Academy appropriated the Bard that he became passé. Thenceforth, Shakespeare's greatest works became elitist protean projects to be dissected, deconstructed, and finally denounced because of their dead, white, patriarchal author. To challenge the canon became a cause celebre, with Shakespeare and his works fodder for the PC movement. While it still de rigueur in most circles academe to stomp on Shakespeare's work - if not his grave, cold these past 400 years at Trinity Church - there seems to be a brief respite from the PC tempest on some American college campuses.

Harold Bloom of Yale University (an institution not steeped in conservative thought) has gone so far as to say that Shakespeare is indeed "the center of the canon. (7) In fact, Bloom's book, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, has become an unlikely bestseller with well over a hundred thousand copies sold to date." Could the rise in popularity of Shakespeare and the ebb of the PC deluge have, in some small way, something to do with the recent string of Hollywood releases? Shakespeare's work is being adapted for the silver screen with amazing aplomb and alacrity. In the last few years alone, almost a third of the Bard's plays have been produced for film or are on current studio production schedules, including: Twelfth Night, Hamlet, (9) Othello, Richard Ill, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Titus Andronicus, Love's Labour's Lost, Macbeth, As You Like It, Henry V, and Much Ado About Nothing. In fact, it was Kenneth Branagh's film-version of Much Ado that really brought the Bard back into favor with Hollywood. Branagh today stands as the number one proponent (and beneficiary) of the Shakespearean adaptation. (10) Besides Much Ado, he will have produced, written, starred-in or directed at least eight projects. (11) Amazingly, Shakespeare had not been produced (at least successfully) since Zeffarelli's Romeo and Juliet almost thirty years ago. (12)

While some are given to hyperbole, calling this prodigious production schedule a recent phenomenon, in truth, the Bard, from the industry's humble beginning, has consistently been a rich source for many a producer to mine. One could argue that Shakespeare has been an indispensable lingua franca for the film industry from its infancy when filmmakers produced some fifty films based on Shakespeare's work (between 1908 – 1911), without having to pay a nickel’s worth of royalties. (13)

To the reader it is probably patently obvious the important role William Shakespeare plays in relation to Western Culture, let alone the United States, so just a quick few words. As Bloom stated supra, and as many would quickly agree, Shakespeare is the fulcrum of today's feckless canon. His writing, especially if viewed in light of recent popularity, is a wonderful atavistic body of literature returning decade after decade, evincing its import to the latest generation discovering his preternatural iambic pentameter, story-telling ability, and love of the English language. With over three dozen plays to his name, the Bard has displayed an oft-unappreciated ability to write the comedy as well as the tragedy.

Amazingly, his works have survived and are still performed on stage and adapted for the screen some 400 years after William Shakespeare put quill to parchment. Perhaps there was something about the environs and climes of 16th and 17th century London that inspired his writing. Shakespeare wrote at a time when the "middleclass" was still a few hundred years from its post-Industrial Age emergence. While there may have existed a small class of individuals not as wealthy as royalty nor as unfortunate as the poor, they were nonetheless, far richer - and smaller in number - than what one would today call middleclass. Shakespeare's milieu, by all accounts, was a bifurcation of rich and poor; his audience was one afternoon royalty and the next "drunken punters," or both. (15) As Australian director Baz Luhrmann posits, "Shakespeare was a relentless entertainer. When he played the Elizabethan stage, he was basically dealing with an audience . . . selling pigs and geese in the stalls. He played to everyone from the street sweeper to the Queen of England." (16)

Shakespeare, as David E. Kelley is wont to do, pulled from the events of his time, putting his unique worldview and indelible imprint on his characters whose words then resonated with the audience, reflecting the zeitgeist of the writer's time. Shakespeare's plays were so skillfully written, imbued with transcendent themes, that they impacted America's culture from its foundation. His works were "a staple of popular culture, as he was in his own era, with [his] plays being performed extensively in working-class theaters and even in makeshift circumstances in Western frontier towns and mining camps. (17) Shakespeare, co-opted this century by certain ersatz intellectuals, has always reached the common man with universal truths. The editorial staff at Cineaste has said "there's no question that the cinema serves as today's Globe Theatre for moviegoers." (18) Pace to the editors of Cineaste, but if there was ever a forum for Shakespeare today, with its drunken minions selling pigs in the aisles, it is none other than The Jerry Springer Show. The appropriate analogue, all joking aside, seems not to be film, but rather television. Over the last two decades there has been a noticeable movement afoot in the American polis (and its well-to-do enclaves) where certain film-going (i.e., the art house with its pandemic sub-titles) has become extremely elitist - or at least bourgeois - with lecture series and cocktails accompanying showings by certain avant-garde filmmakers. Nonetheless, there is little question regarding the impact that the collective works of Shakespeare have had, and continue to have, on the medium of film.

Likewise, there is little doubt regarding the impact that David E. Kelley is having in the television industry - today's Globe Theatre. Although no one would readily confuse Kelley's television writing with the great works of the canon, he is nonetheless the bard of television. While most would not be willing to label Kelley a Shakespearean scion, when one compares the two writers, however, he's far and away the closest television has yet produced, with intriguing similarities evident in their work, influence, and business acumen. David E. Kelley got his first big break, as a writer, on L.A. Law due to his ability to write gripping dialogue and his uncanny instinct to draw plot from the day's headlines. (19)

Kelley is a graduate of Princeton University and Boston University law school. Schooling finished, Kelley then went on to practice as a litigator for three years before he found the law less appealing than the first screenplay he was working on. His break into the business came through Executive Producer Steven Bochco of LA Law/Hill Street Blues fame; Kelley's nascent ability caught Bochco's keen eye. (20) After quickly becoming head-writer for L.A. Law (the show that is rumored to have single-handedly caused the greatest increase in law school applications than any other event in modern US history), Kelley then moved-on to pitch, create, produce, and write several highly successful television series: Doogie Howser, M.D., Picket Fences, Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal, The Practice, and Boston Legal. Remarkably, Kelley's work is seen on three different networks.

While the typical Hollywood producer is lauded and perceived to be successful with only one hit show, Kelley has the Midas touch on every show with which he has been associated. (21) Shakespeare's greatness is self-evident after a multi-century ride atop the Western Canon. And while time will tell regarding the staying power of David E. Kelley, he already is among the most praised and awarded writer/producers in television history. Kelley's success to-date is due in large part to his amazing ability, like Shakespeare, to write both the comedic and dramatic piece. Kelley virtually multitasks each week as he writes two days for Ally McBeal (dramedy) and two days for The Practice (drama) - both hour-long shows.

While most shows have a team of writers (each making over $5,000 per week), Kelley is virtually a one-man show, writing over 40 episodes each television season (not counting other shows he's producing or writing for, plus screenplays). In spite of this prolific output, the quality of the show is insouciantly maintained each week. (22) Camryn Manheim, an actress with a theater background and one who has won both an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe Award because of Kelley, has said that "a lot of plays aren't written as well as David Kelley's scripts are .... It's not hard for me to appreciate what a genius he is." (23) His actors are not the only ones that acknowledge his talent. Kelley, in his early forties, remarkably has also received TV Guide's imprimatur, being chosen as "one of the 45 figures in television history" to have made an impact. (24)

Kelley's impact on television is both immediate and still to be felt. He recently pulled-off an industry coup of winning Golden Globes for comedy and drama in the same year - a fait accompli unequaled in television history. Robert Thompson, head of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University says that Kelley, "[w]ithout question ... is the most interesting, most accomplished, most subtle and most literary writer that this medium has ever produced.” (25) Contemporaries, critics, actors and even network presidents acknowledge the talent of Kelley: "One of the most gifted writers today" - Peter Roth, Fox Entertainment President; "He's the Michael Jordan of TV"- Sandy Grushow, President Fox TV; "Brilliant and prolific" - Jamie Tarses, ABC Entertainment President. (26) "He's a pure writer, a savant. Most writers take two weeks to write a first draft, David takes two days" - Ed Redlich, writer. (27) "He's extraordinary, he should be getting into the [Emmy] Hall of Fame much earlier than any of us did because ... he writes comedy with his left and drama with his right hand" - Carl Reiner, comedian. (28)

Kelley's impact is still to be felt. In a business where reaching 100 episodes is time to celebrate (when syndication deals are their most plum and where networks and production companies make back the money they "front-loaded" to underwrite the series in it's inchoate state), Kelley already has three series in syndication, with two very hot shows guaranteed to soon join them. Kelley says that TV, unlike plays or a movie, is similar to a marathon; that to live in television perpetuity, one must first get to the magical 100th episode. (29) The revenue streams off of his shows, not to mention his royalties as a writer, are bound to keep Kelley around as an influential player for decades. Because of his success, Fox (the network that airs Ally McBeal) has recently awarded Kelley a multiyear agreement with his company to produce shows for Fox on a newly constructed studio lot in Southern California (twenty-two sprawling acres called Raleigh Manhattan Beach Studios). (30) This turnkey operation will bring Kelley Productions another $30 million, plus unprecedented network freedom and support.

It is Kelley's role as a producer that again parallels Shakespeare, this time as businessman. At the turn of the 17th Century, the Bard garnered an equity position with the Lord Chamberlain's Men, a distinguished company of players whose business affairs he managed. (31) David E. Kelley and Shakespeare have both benefited from their strong business acumen. They both have displayed the ability to shrewdly establish ownership positions (not merely intellectual property rights) in the production and presentation of their works -- arguably the surest way to maintain the integrity of one's work product. For Kelley, the best way to protect the quality of his shows would be, above all, to write, retaining his signature mark on his shows that audiences recognize. Kelley admits, "[w]hen you throw out all the titles, I'm a writer .... What I do the most is write; what I enjoy the most is writing. "32 Whenever Kelley has turned one of his shows over to other writers, the resulting thud has been a moribund series plummeting in the ratings. His voice is so unique and has such élan that the audience knows something is missing. While Kelley was at LA Law for five seasons, the show garnered four Emmy Awards; when Kelley left, the series floundered (to-date, Kelley's shows have received some 15 Emmy Awards. (33) When Kelley left two of his other shows, Chicago Hope and Picket Fences, the results were not quite as drastic, but felt nonetheless. Kelley, like Shakespeare, is a shrewd businessman whose quality writing has allowed him unparalleled business security and success.

Aside from the similarities these two gentlemen share in their personal background, professional awards, and business acumen, there are also some interesting similarities in their work, specifically when comparing Ally McBeal to The Merchant of Venice.

The first thing to strike the casual observer in looking at Kelley's television show and Shakespeare's play is that both have wonderfully colorful ensemble casts, each with approximately nine principal players. Indeed, many of these characters come from disparate backgrounds and have interesting quirky personality defects. Upon further inspection of the two works' general reception, both are rather polemical. Ally is a show that many either love or hate (usually because of its too fantastically bizarre comedic special effects: tongues stretch several feet for a quick lick on an ear lobe; eyes "bug-out"; when couples break-up, the dumpee is summarily picked-up by a trash truck and throw into the back; and babies have been known to dance their way into a few scene stealing moments). The show has stirred-up controversy not only because of its topical nature (religion, relationships, sexism, feminism), but also because of its double entendres, "adult" humor, and hemlines.

Likewise, as Editor John Andrews says in his introduction to the Merchant of Venice, "Merchant is a drama that has frequently occasioned controversy." (34) It has drawn criticism primarily because of Shakespeare's presentation of anti-Semitism, especially highlighted by Shylock's forced conversion at the close of the infamous trial scene. In an age of politically correct sensibilities, such a scene rubs obsequious PC lemmings not only the wrong way, but straight over the nearest thought-police cliff. Nonetheless, the two authors deal in straightforward fashion such topics as those mentioned supra. But how do they deal with the American "hot potato" of the 20th Century: racism?

Race relations in Merchant are dealt with in a manner representative of the author's time: prejudices are mentioned, acknowledged, and accepted. Classifying Judaism as a race, the barbs traded between Shylock and his gentile counterparts are in fact tame compared to what one might overhear in one of the boroughs of New York City between its callused citizenry (insert here your own favorite stereotype). When the Prince of Morocco fails in his attempt to win Portia as his wife, she, in the parlance of today's urban slang, "kicks him to the curb" with a pejorative statement about her not wanting any of "his complexion" to win her hand. (35) Nonetheless, as a prince he is allowed to accept the posthumous challenge of Portia's father and its attendant strictures and consequences. (36) While Shakespeare deals with racism head-on; Kelley in his Ally, conversely, doesn't even acknowledge its existence. Indeed, such a stand has raised many-an-eyebrow, and incurred the delicious wrath of a few social critics. National Public Radio commentator Callie Crosslie:

"It's just not authentic ... I find it offensive when he chooses not to deal with race on [Ally McBealj. It's like the ... white elephant in the middle of the room that no one talks about. It's insulting. " (37)

Kelley's show, a view that many support, chooses not to make race an issue. While Venice is the setting for Merchant, with its systemic prejudices, Boston, arguably this country's hotbed for racial tension, is the backdrop for Ally. And yet neither Ally, Greg (Ally's black boyfriend) nor Renee (Ally's black roommate), have ever discussed race as an issue or a problem. (38) Kelley has said that:

We are a consciously colorblind show. In the history of the show, we have never addressed race. The reason is simple. In my naive dream, I wish that the world could be like this. Since Ally lives in a fanciful and whimsical world, there are not going to be any racial differences or tensions. All people are one under the sun. (39)

While Ally's world for the most part is colorblind, Ally's firm did have a client whose skin had accidentally been turned "orange" and was subsequently discriminated against by her employer because of her horrifying hue. In its final adjudication, the court found that the plaintiff’s "orangeness" did not qualify as a protected class, thus the discrimination against her client was not invidious. This suit was one of the few that Ally's firm has actually lost.

While Merchant and Ally have dealt with racism on very different terms, they both have handled interfaith dating as well. In Merchant, Shylock, as any orthodox parent would be, is crushed to learn that his beloved daughter Jessica has eloped, marrying the gentile Lorenzo. Shakespeare portrays Jessica as never even considering how her faith might play a role in her happiness - which seems especially impolitic in that she's to marry someone of another faith. Jessica's impertinent actions illustrate how blind she is to all but the love between herself and her betrothed. She disdains the faith of her father, saying after he has left for the evening, "[f]arewell, and if my Fortune be not cross'd, I have a Father, you a Daughter, lost." (40) Jessica casually references her willingness to adopt a faith antithetical to her father's (cross'd, i.e., the Cross of Christ). While Jessica enters imprudently into inter-faith dating and marriage, Ally turns out to be quite thoughtful and comparatively intellectually honest in her approach to Judaism.

After rejecting a series of suitors because they are not physically appealing, Ally is rebuked by a friend for being "snobbish." After some pensive moments, she decides to date a Rabbi whose previous amorous advances she had initially rebuffed. Ally's approach is also much more enlightened than Portia's. While Portia dutifully entertains the Moroccan Prince (who probably was Muslim), her heart is dead set against him as a suitor, a fact seemingly confirmed when Portia pleads with Bassanio for him to take his time before attempting to choose the correct casket: "I pray you tarry, pause a Day or two, Before you hazard, for in choosing wrong I lose your Company: therefore forbear a while." (41) In comparison, it's not that Ally is not equally desperate to marry, in fact in one episode she muses: "I want to change the world; I just want to get married first. " (42)

Ally and Portia have more in common, however, than just the way they deal with their beauty, multiple suitors, and mutual anguish over their love lives. (43) They both have had incredibly interesting cases of first impression in the courtroom - both dealing with a pound of flesh.

Portia dresses as a man in order gain access to the court where the Duke of Venice is presiding. (44) She appears in court in order to aid her husband's friend, Antonio, who has put up security for Bassanio so he may gain Portia's hand in marriage. As part of the loan of 3,000 ducats, Shylock asks not for usury, but instead for "an equal Pound of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken In what part of your Body pleaseth me." Antonio, the guarantor of the loan, replies, "Content in faith, 111 seal to such a Bond, And say there is much Kindness in the Jew." (45) This issue before the court would have been a challenging and vexing conundrum for any legal counsel, but nonetheless, with abounding aplomb, Portia volunteers to come to Antonio's defense. (Was she perhaps studying evenings at Padua University Law School?) She, of course, saves the day, using the law to "catch" Shylock as he perseverates on his revenge. Ultimately, she procures half of Shylock's fortune for the disinherited Jessica and Lorenzo (All's well that ends ... contrived?).

Ally, on the other hand (foreshadowing here), was hired by a client to defend him on murder charges. His alleged crime? Chopping off his wife's hand, murdering her. In this episode, the client is madly (obviously) in love with his soon-to-depart wife. When she dies, the client, in an insane moment, decides he must keep something of hers; something personal that meant a great deal to him. Ally, in her closing argument to the jury, evokes a nostalgia for first love - for that once-in-a-lifetime Shakespearean type of love - and actually convinces the jury that each of them could have acted in similar manner had they been blessed with this type of spousal devotion. It should be noted here that the murder charge was pretty weak to begin with. The question to be decided was whether the wife was actually dead when her limb was dismembered. Does anyone actually chop-off their wife's hand for the sole purpose of murder? Mayhem, yes. Murder, probably not.

1. C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy.
2. All biographical information regarding Shakespeare is from The Merchant of Venice: The Everyman Shakespeare, William Shakespeare, John Andrews's Editor Introduction.
3. Rob Owen, Kelley's Kingdom, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 5 February 1999.
4. NOTE: It would be interesting to calculate the current market value of the film rights to Shakespeare's plays that have been adapted - some would argue abused - liberally due to their public domain status.
5. NOTE: The amazing fact of Shakespeare's work antedating Kelley by some 400 years is not lost on this writer.
6. David Gates, Shakespeare: Dead White Male of the Year, Newsweek, 30 December 1996.
7. Ibid.
8. Jay Tolson, The Return of the Bard: As the World Goes Virtual, We Crave His Earthy Genius, Science & Ideas, 1 February 1999.
9. NOTE: A personal friend from graduate school is the cousin of Chris Devore who wrote the screenplay adaptation for this recent Mel Gibson project. Mr. Devore, was also nominated for an Oscar for his extraordinary screenplay, The Elephant Mall, back in the early '80s.
10. NOTE: Branaugh, in fact, recently received an Oscar nomination for his beautifully shot, four-hour adaptation of Hamlet ... without changing a single word of the play. Easy work if you can get it, I guess.
11. Hark! Branaugh is Bringing More Bard to the Screen, Hollywood Reporter, 2 October 1998.
12. Editorial, Cineaste, 22 December 1998.
13. Cineaste, 22 December 1998.
14. NOTE: The author here adroitly circumvents any discussion surrounding the "true" identity of Shakespeare (or authorship of his works) to those erudite pedants who are much better equipped to debate such minutia.
15. Maclean's, "Souping Up the Bard: Shakespeare is Hollywood's Latest Hot Ticket." Brian D. Johnson, 11 November 1996.
16. Ibid. NOTE: Baz Luhrmann directed the recent Romeo + Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.
17. Cineaste, 22 December 1998.
18. Ibid.
19. A Change in the Script, Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, 5 February 1999.
20. Kelley's Kingdom, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
21. Lynette Rice, Michael Jordon oj TV Dancing Big Time, Baby, Hollywood Reporter, 11 September 1998.
22. A Change in the Script. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. NOTE: Kelley admits that it was his "procrastinate and publish" habit of waiting until the last minute to write his term papers in college that helped develop his ability to produce under pressure (plus a need for external motivation).
23 Ibid.
24 Don Aucoin, Kelley Scrawls His Way to Top: Prolific Writer-Creator Keeps Producing Hits, San Diego Tribune, 18 April 1999.
25 David Bianculli, Kelley's King of All TV Writers: Awards Galore are Further Proof that Scripter is Best Ever, New York Daily News, 26 January 1999.
26. Lynette Rice, Michael Jordon of TV Dancing Big Time, Baby, Hollywood Reporter, 11 September 1998.
27. Benjamin Svetkey, Kelley's Heroes: He's Hot, He's Sexy, He Used to be a Lawyer, Entertainment Weekly, 25 September 1998.
28. Dusty Sauders, Writer Kelley Scripts Formula for Hits, Denver Rocky Mountain News, 19 January 1999.
29. Kelley's Kingdom, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
30. Kelley's Heroes, Entertainment Weekly.
31. John Andrews, Merchant of Venice: The Every Man Shakespeare, 1991.
32. Robert Bianco, David E. Kelley Has Hockey Dreams, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 17 March 1995.
33. McBeal Makes Sense David Kelley Has Golden Touch, The Calgary Sun, 13 June 1998.
34. The Merchant of Venice: The Everyman Shakespeare, William Shakespeare, John Andrews's Editor Introduction
35. Merchant of Venice, Act IT, vii, 80.
36. NOTE: Shakespeare seemingly "projects" his own racism onto the Prince in his soliloquy in the form of self-loathing. He has Morochus ask Portia not to dislike him due to his complexion. The Bard then has the Prince say he would change his hue for Portia's thoughts.
37. Greg Braxton, Colorblind or Just Blind?, Variety, 15 February 1999.
38. Ibid.
39. Ibid.
40. Merchant, Act II, v, 55.
41. Merchant, Act Ill, ii, 1-4.
42 Benjamin Svetkey, Everything you Love or hate About Ally McBeal, Entertainment Weekly, 30 January 1998.
43 NOTE: This paper purposely (perhaps at its peril) leaves out a rather lengthy discussion on Ally and Portia in light of modem feminism. In fact, Calista Flockhart (the actor who plays Ally) was recently on the cover of Time; the magazine suggests that perhaps Ally is the "New Face of Feminism."
44 NOTE: Cross-dressing and gender/sex role reversals are used in both Merchant and Ally to mislead others. Jessica, Portia, and Nerissa all dress as men to advance their plans. Ally has had some crossdressing, but for more pragmatic purposes (dance partners); however, Ally has feigned lesbianism, actually kissing two of her co-workers, to evade potential suitors.
45. Merchant, 1, iii, 150-154.

01 May 2009

Lost "Fountain Pens"

"Have you seen me? I am a fountain pen that used to belong to a decent bloke who
took good care of me (well at least he didn't pick his teeth with me). He wrote semi-literate notes to his friends and even kept a couple of journals for his sons with me and my indelible emerald ink (as proof that they once loved him after they turn on him in their teens). If you find me, please return me to Gramercy Carriage House in Los Angeles."
-- Thus Spoke Penathustra.
I lost this overly philosophic (admittedly self-important) pen recently. Disappeared into the ether. Have no idea where it could have gone (I've checked my car, the last restaurant I remembered being at, around my kids' XBox360 where I was practicing to kick my kids' butts next time we play).
I love a good bargain, and when I see one I spring into action like a stealthy ninja or hungry jaguar. I circle my prey not giving away my position to other interested shoppers, and then pounce on bargains 40%, 50%, and 75% off with feral aplomb. Armani jacket 90% off? Mine. Montblanc fountain pen 50% off? Gone. Two-for-one on Puma kicks? Done and done. That's a weakness we all share, I think, right?. I (like you, I'm sure) don't acquire trinkets or junk because it's on sale. It has to be value-laden, well-made items that will last. Something about getting a name-brand on the cheap can make a Saturday morning; but, then losing it later, knowing that someone else now has it? That'll stick with you for a while.
And, now that I've lost my fountain pen, I see her all over town. She's looking good, though a little older, but still with a timeless elegance and matching curves. When she stares at you, you see beauty, even if she is standing on her porch with arms crossed, pissed that you brought the boys home again 15 minutes late. And, it just kills me, rips my heart out sometimes, to see her with another. She and her new "owner" have a new little one, and are happy, and have new large savings accounts (they are about to buy a new house). She still comes to mind, lo these years later, with memories sad and happy. But it's the way I lost her, that puts a bitter memory on my tongue. The thing that has helped me get over this loss, though, is just letting it go. I used to sit up many sleepless nights wondering who was writing with her, and at which fancy hotel on some sun-drenched stretch of the Cote d'Zure. Was this new scribe writing better stories with her? Were they going to write a better ending together? Are his lines as witty as mine, and does he flourish at the end of his splendidly crafted sentences?
These wonderings don't plague me with sleepless nights very much these days. Time does indeed work wonders, like an ocean break just pounds away at the rough boulders and smoothes them out. Hold on to those bitter pills and you'll soon overdose on the misery of it all. Let God work a new life for you, my friend, and before you know, you're on your way. Not sure where, but at least not where you were sitting there in a self-induced personal coma. Which reminds me, it's Friday night, and I'm going out to World Cafe in Santa Monica to meet some friends. Wait ... you gotta be kidding me! Where are my car keys?!

All Obama, All the Time

I have been feeling a bit woozy lately, without a smidgen of temperature, none of your typical flu symptoms; but, I have been squealing unexpectedly and at inappropriate times. I think it's a new strain of the Swine Flu -- Swine Tourette's, perhaps? (Note: ancient cave drawings of this strain from Mesopotamia were possibly found, see right.) I'll be playing catch with my sons, telling them about my recent trip to Austin, and then, Wham!, I'm squealing with head back, deep throaty squeals reverberating through the neighborhood, and then a final and triumphant snort at the end with piggie flotsom flying about. My two saucer-eyed boys look at me with mouths agape, gloves at their side, and I utter these comforting words to them: "Don't worry, President Obama is going to fix this. He's already got a bead on the Swine Flu, he can fix this, too!" We return to playing catch, I wiping my mouth, they with worried looks on their faces about my showing up to their school this Friday for chapel.

Now that we are officially at the first 100 days for the Obama Administration, I find many things to talk about in regard to where BHO is attempting to steer this giant ship called America. However, let's focus like a laser, dear reader, on the biggest problem I perceive with BHO: Obama has become the "Ubiquitous American President" who puts his imprimatur on every economic crisis, business scandal, or inconvenient viral outbreak. Where Bush's Uncle Sam was percieved on the world stage as "bully," Obama's Uncle Sam if he's not careful will be perceived as the "daddy state." We as Americans have been a hardy lot, with do-it-yourself skills, and an indefatigable ability to overcome and prosper throughout our 300+ year history. We in the blogosphere are living examples of this. We feel like voicing our opinions, and we start blogs, websites, and even Internet companies. Obama, unfortunately, is ignorant of the business and entrepreneurial side of Americans. He, as an academic for a time in the ivory tower, and then as a politician in the marbled halls, was not inculcated with what it means to run a business or think like an entrepreneur. He is familiar with passing laws and making policies (and discussing them in the classroom) that regulate businesses. Which is partly why BHO is so quick to get in front of scandal, crisis, and TV cameras. (He reminds me of Tony Villaraigosa, Mayor of L.A., in this regard. To borrow from Will Rogers, the man has never met a camera he didn't like.) He wants to discuss, talk, opine, and then stroke a check while arrogating business unto himself (witness his refusal of several banks who wish to return TARP money and rid themselves of the harsh terms accompanying the bailout).

While some call this leadership (the preternatural ability to find an issue and wax eloquent with teleprompter at the ready), I say it weakens Americans to have a "daddy state." Our kids don't become better athletes, students, or citizens by having mom and dad do the work for them. We rear great citizens, and watch our brood become self-disciplined students by allowing our kids to fail. Letting them stumble at times, and then providing direction, mentorship, and a loving parental shoulder when needed. Struggle is good for us Americans. The butterfly must struggle out of the cocoon; the diamond must have pressure; the David sculpture must be chiseled and hammered and sanded with coarse paper. Eventually we shine. On our own, with appropriate boundaries (read, limited government), we succeed and lay a foundation for future generations. Cutting multi-trillion dollar checks to "solve" problems only lays a quicksand trap for our grandchildren, a millstone that will keep them from prospering and inheriting what has from our foundation been a birthright: the ability to succeed.

Who keeps kicking my soapbox? All right, all right. I'm done. Sheesh.