Sunday, September 23, 2012

RUTZ Poem: Mimo


Hometowns remind me of a bird's nest

Changes arrive after each season 

But the overall structure remains the same

Colors either faded or got brighter others completely replaced 

Still I know this space

Every step is filled with trust

These days I can look through dirty windows in familiar plazas

And see the dust of abandoned dreams

The sweltering heat has intensified and

Sometimes it dissolves me back to an array of memories from my childhood

When my energy was abundant 

My thoughts innocent 

And my limbs performed with an ease I shall never enjoy again 

I saw a face that resembled my father's 

I wondered if this resembling face had similar struggles 

Until a transit bus roared past and made me forget what I wanted to think next 

I thought of my mother when I saw a woman walking through the mid-day magic city heat 

Surviving another summer in the winter of her years

I know my mother is proud of who I've become 

But I still feel like I let her down 

I drive away from the settings of my past 

Walk into the hotel and place my body right under one of the central air vents 

Refreshed I start to feel better   

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

RUTZ Classic Movies: "The Birds"

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock    

Line that stays with me: “Don't they ever stop migrating?”


Essay Warning: There are no spoilers or story details. I want to offer the emotion that a film can access within us. Plus I think the best way to watch a film is by not knowing anything about it. Just Go In…So if you haven’t watched this film yet please don’t read this essay. Read it afterwards so we can enjoy the “feeling” together.

The pleasure of watching a great Hitchcock film to me is so varied. Very few film directors have worked as hard as Alfred Hitchcock did to offer us so much on an emotional level. He is known as the “Master of Suspense” rightfully so, and suspense is the key emotion to all of cinema.  A film should always keep your mind stuck on “What’s going to happen next?” Meaning, you forget about your troubles for the next two hours and instead become emotionally involved with what is happening on the screen. To me that is very pivotal for a film, to make people jump through an open window and get lost on the other side. Sadly, not many films offer us that sort of experience these days and when you watch a great Alfred Hitchcock film like “The Birds” you instantly notice the difference in approach. Most films today spoon feed you realities; Alfred Hitchcock created beautifully thought out realities very akin to paintings and wants you to look around. Alfred Hitchcock understood that every human being is built with a natural hunger for voyeurism. Not much of a surprise, the way we are thrown into this world who wouldn’t have an appetite to know what’s happening around us and the unknown. As children we would peek over fences, I remember being in 2nd grade sneaking around the school parking lot to catch my teacher smoke a cigarette. Why? Because it was interesting to watch, I kept wondering, what’s bothering her? To me that is cinema at its best, the visuals set the scene and we become emotionally involved. A bad film will go straight to dialog, giving us a lot of blah, blah, yada, yada scenes that are stale setups and couldn’t be blander. Hitchcock’s nakedness with his voyeurism gave his films room for you to breathe. Dialog is not used in a feverish manner but instead saved for appropriate moments to properly move the story forward. It is a great balance that many films lack these days and it isn’t horrible but it just makes those film experiences as comparable to a fast food restaurant. Hitchcock always offered us a five star meal.

Beauty is very important in Hitchcock films. I love him for that. You can almost sense his tension that comes from looking at a beautiful woman. Alfred Hitchcock never really wrote his own scripts but history shows that he worked very closely with his screenwriters in developing the stories he wanted to tell. That’s why I think his films always feel very personal even when the story seems to have nothing to do with his private life. “The Birds” is a perfect example of this theory.  I believe “The Birds” is Hitchcock’s visual poem to women.  This theory fascinates me for various reasons. For starters, let us not forget that Alfred Hitchcock was imported from the UK. Bird in British slang is defined as:  a female, usually very attractive. This is a big clue to understanding the many facets of Hitchcock’s film. All three main female characters, Melanie, Annie Hayworth and Mitch’s mother Lydia are very attractive females. You can tell that Mitch’s mother was once a beauty and it adds a layer to her character that is crucial to the film. Alfred Hitchcock is elaborating on the “Pretty Complex” if you are knowledgeable with his work; you know that Alfred Hitchcock thrived in psychoanalysis. In this boring America where you can’t call someone ugly, films that use looks in this manner I very much crave. Most films use women’s beauty as a plot device; you know “distract the guard”. Alfred Hitchcock was always attuned to the power of images and understood that beauty is a powerful tool. Through his characters he displayed the emotional weight that comes from living a life as being recognized as one of the beautiful people. Melanie’s attitude throughout the films confirms this. Any lawyer will tell you that appearances matter, bottom line pretty people get more breaks than ugly people. Nothing to cry about, but it is great when a director recognizes these factors and uses it to make his characters hold some sort of truth. 

 From the first scene in the bird shop we can see Melanie in all her true colors. The way she was dolled up by Hitchcock and the legendary Edith Head is stunning; she looks like a walking Barbie doll at times. In the bird shop she exuberates energy thrusting with confidence and control with the flair of someone that can get anything she wants by blinking her eyes. Without even noticing she makes the clerk in the bird store uncomfortable and discreetly forces her to deliver the birds to her house. The beauty aspect of Melanie’s character also correlates perfectly with the story as she is tired of being treated as a plaything. She wants Mitch to take her seriously and put the fun days of “Rome” behind her. Hitchcock’s careful tact in creating his characters makes great use of Tippi Hedren’s beauty. She is not just up there for show but her whole appearance is an integral part of the story. The brilliance of this film is hard to cage and gets even more impressive when Melanie and Mitch’s mother Lydia meet.  It is easy to make a film called “The Birds” concerning some random group of people. (Like most disaster films) It is another thing entirely to create a strong visual metaphor to match your story. When a film is this thought out you can’t help but watch it again to discover more of its grand ideas. Usually when a bird attacks you it is because you are too close to its nest.  In the film we have two women who have created a sort of nest around Mitch. When Melanie arrives on their territory is when things begin to go haywire. She meets Annie Hayworth first; you can sense the conflict between the two but Annie decides to stay calm thus filling her mind with a quiet rage. Shortly after that, Melanie is attacked by a Seagull. One of the theories why the birds attack goes like this: Since birds use the Earth’s magnetic fields to travel, the emotional disturbance felt by Lydia and Annie brought upon Melanie’s arrival is causing the birds to wreak havoc. It makes sense if you follow the film closely. Doesn’t matter if it’s true, no truth on the matter is ever revealed. Like a mesmerizing painting “The Birds” is instantly beautiful, yet forever long filled with mystery. 

As I said before Hitchcock’s “The Birds” to me is very much a poem to women and all the roles that they play in many men’s lives. For example all the important characters in the film besides Mitch are women.  Melanie is the new love interest, Annie, the ex-girlfriend, Lydia, the mother and Cathy, Mitch’s baby sister.  As you can see these are important roles that almost every man has to deal with on a day to day basis. We never truly get to know Mitch, we learn more about Mitch through the women in his life. The point of this set-up to me adds a great foundation for the film’s theme on female psychological behavior and how drastically women change throughout their lives. We have a young girl excited about her surprise birthday party, a fierce pretty young lady whose looks allow her to approach situations with very little boundaries, a bitter broken hearted woman and the abandoned mother. If you put all those pieces together you will realize that all those characters represent women in a sort of chronological order.  Most women will start life as Cathy and end up being afraid of being alone like Lydia. Mitch (which is just one letter away from Hitch) is a very simple man and that’s the whole point.  Women are emotional creatures thus go through more intense changes in life. Men do not have much maternal instincts so like Mitch we get caught in the middle of all the emotional madness. That’s basically what you are watching in “The Birds”. Mitch, dealing with an aging mother, a strange stalker-ish ex-girlfriend, a possible new love interest who demands to be taken seriously and his innocent little sister who he must protect. The horror that Hitchcock is truly trying to get across in my opinion is that the women we love are all those things at once. This represents a strong sense of fear that Hitchcock has towards women, which is apparent in many of his films. I love the honesty of what he is trying to say with his feelings, it doesn’t sound righteous but it is very honest. It takes all the silly dreams of grandeur that many people have about beautiful women and flushes it down the toilet. “The Birds” invaluable insight on these beautiful creatures called women is fascinating yet he never relies on making a point. Alfred Hitchcock, a man dedicated to voyeurism knew that there is no need for a point when behavior itself is beyond interesting.  Which when you think about it that is very akin to the feeling you get when you watch a bird flying through the sky, fascination. 

I very much admire Alfred Hitchcock’s dedication in creating a well thought out movie with many layers for us to discover, but I also love how he respects a genre. This film has some classic disaster/horror clich├ęs which Hitchcock wisely uses as comical relief and to make the film feel like a movie. We meet an “expert”, the stubborn old lady in the diner who knows everything about birds and later in a great moment of shame hides her face in defeat. There’s the hilarious crazy drunk at the bar who speaks of the end of the world and quotes the bible. The “freaked out mother” character who worries about the children and later manically blames Melanie for the birds attacking. The characters I just broke down can be found in countless genre films like “The Birds”, and keeps the film from becoming too serious or realistic. Hitchcock made movies; he was not trying to capture some oblique truth about real life like some lost film student. He was interested in making great popcorn movies filled with suspense and interesting characters. Making popcorn movies is an art form that involves great writing, grand vision, and the talent to highlight moments from life that would bode well in a popcorn movie. What makes Alfred Hitchcock a legend is the fact that his movies were created with popcorn movie intentions but are stuffed with a wide variety of sub-text, and technical beauty that truly make them a work of art. He had the ability to confront mainstream audiences with dark truths almost on a sub-conscious level all the while keeping them exquisitely uncomfortable. 

Many of the best directors of the last three generations are creative children of Hitchcock. Watch Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (The kids in the jeep scene is an homage to a similar scene in “The Birds”) Brian De Palma has dedicated much of his career to reworking some of Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant techniques.  His dedication to creating films that have grace and beauty of the kind that only a perfectionist can deliver is a reason I believe his work will continue to inspire future generations.  A shot of Annie Hayworth standing next to her mailbox is epic because he decided to take the time to find the BEST way to frame that shot and coordinated the colors on the screen for the optimal viewing pleasure.  None of his films mired in mediocrity. He loved to be innovative and desired for us to follow him down dark tunnels that will lead to new cinematic experiences. His classic horror film “Psycho” was created with that mentality and that film changed the horror genre forever. “The Birds” works in a similar way as the film begins with Hitchcock’s love for interesting situations and later it becomes an interesting situation that gets attacked by birds. Unlike most films where it’s usually a very bland situation (with dull characters) peppered with an attack by aliens, comets or whatever Hollywood hacks agree on as a strong selling point. Hitchcock was very different in that regard; he wanted his work to mean something to transcend time. The only way to do that is to elaborate on some human truths that will never go away. Love, pain, fear, jealousy and dealing with a mother. His grand style at first makes his films seem very impersonal but if you listen and pay attention, you will begin to hear echoes of his screaming heart.    

ABOUT RCM: RUTZ Classic Movies is dedicated on writing film essays for films that in Rutz's opinion, have not gotten the credit they deserve. Next Essay: Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown"


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Rutz Song: "Our language"

This is one of my instrumental songs, which I make from time to time. I have a whole EP completed of instrumentals called "A Long Walk" which I hope to release someday. For now please enjoy this one and let me know what you think! A big THANK YOU to everybody who has supported my work and shared it! You guys make my days great and keep me going. Got some surprises coming soon that I can't wait to share with you. I will continue to work hard. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

RUTZ Classic Movies: "Bringing out the Dead"

Directed by Martin Scorsese    

Line that stays with me: “Saving someone's life is like falling in love. The best drug in the world.”

Essay Warning: There are no spoilers or story details. I want to offer the emotion that a film can access within us. Plus I think the best way to watch a film is by not knowing anything about it. Just Go In…So if you haven’t watched this film yet please don’t read this essay. Read it afterwards so we can enjoy the “feeling” together.

Being perceived as a great director must make it very difficult to make films. Knowing that each film you create will be compared to your masterpiece or most recognized film must add all sorts of complications to your creative process. Martin Scorsese is one of those directors. Justified but still rather unfair, I mean he’s being hailed as the director with the best movies in 3 decades. 70’s “Taxi driver”, 80’s “Raging Bull” and right at the beginning of the 90’s “Goodfellas”. He could have retired after making anyone of those films and he would have still become a legend in cinema history. Martin Scorsese is cinema, the fire, the passion, and films that excite you not just for the great storytelling but the images that strike our hearts and minds like very few directors have the ability to do. Martin Scorsese is a director that continues to excite us in the most honest direct way, visually. The way his shots become moments so powerful that you remember them but you do not talk about them, you admire and you know it meant something.  That kind of cinema is very rare, it is like magic. “Bringing out the Dead” is classic Scorsese. NYC, the streets, and a story that takes place in a horrific, dangerous atmosphere in jobs and places most human beings have forgotten to save sympathy for. I think he wants to take us there for good reasons. Paramedics have one of the many jobs in America we take for granted of course that is until you’re on the floor screaming for HELP. If anything this film humbles you. Who would want to go to work every day in a job where there is a strong possibility you will witness someone die in a terrible sudden fashion? It is a job that must be done and a very important one yet we treat these people like nobodies. Reality show stars that eat up precious time you will never get back get more respect but there is very little chance that a reality show star will ever be there for you in a case of emergency. So knowing that I live in this crazy, upside-down, it is what it is world (For now) I thank God there are directors like Martin Scorsese. I’m thankful for those directors who want to open your mind, your heart and take you places that help us better understand us as a whole. They help us see the weird, strange, beautiful, sad and dangerous human beings we can be or become.

There is much to admire in a film like “Bringing out the dead”. Even after watching it seven times, I feel like I still have some unanswered questions that I will probably better understand later in life. For now I love its sense of life, human comedy, and mystery. I know some people view this film as “Taxi Driver 2” and I understand why but I think it is uncalled for. “Taxi Driver” deals with desperation, “Bringing out the dead” deals with salvation. It is not the classic story of a loner gone mad, but a man who is alone because of a job that has taken its toll on his soul.  Unlike Travis Bickle, Frank Pierce can speak to women without creeping them out, he was even married once. Now after a long string of bad luck and sleepless nights haunted by the thoughts of young girl that he could not save, he meets Mary Burke. That’s where we come in and we get to watch this strange relationship develop around death and misery.  The performances in this film alone are worth at least one viewing. John Goodman, Ving Rhames, and Tom Sizemore all have classic sometimes hilarious moments in this film. Nicholas Cage and Patricia Arquette are very fascinating to watch together. They deliver the performances needed to make this film truly special. Nicholas Cage’s moments of wild lunacy are great here; he also delivers great quiet moments like in the scene where Frank and Mary discuss their past. Patricia Arquette delivers her lines with such perfect tone and has simple moments that are performed with great emotion.  Visually the film grabs you from the opening sirens to the perfect soundtrack blasting sometimes at higher than normal levels throughout the film. There’s a lot take in “Bringing out the Dead”, but on a basic film fundamental level this film is very well made. It is done so well that at times it is a struggle to watch this bleak reality and probably why it didn’t do so well at the box-office. This film did not hold back, it is raw with brief trips to the unknown and moments unwanted. 

The film begins with a moment that changes many people’s lives forever, the death of their father.  That scene leads to one of the film’s greatest mysteries. The mystery reaches a climax in that dreadful scene where it seems that Frank could hear the spirit of Mary Burke’s father begging him to pull the plug. There is no way of truly knowing if he really heard his spirit or not but we are confronted with an honest blunt question. What is the right thing to do in such a situation? When the hope for a miracle and the idea that death will at the very least bring resolution, conflict with each other in your mind, promising no easy answers.  The film mainly shows people’s reaction to death.  How Americans deal with death. Frank Pierce has a grand connection to death as saving lives is what makes him feel alive in some way. It is very important to remember that Frank loves his job. He could’ve picked another profession if he desires to be tortured for money but saving lives makes him feel like he’s on top of the world. That’s how this strange world works. Frank Pierce is very much like an addict and near the end of the film and after still not saving someone’s life he looks like a full fledge junkie who’s going through withdrawal.  His partners deal with death in completely different ways, which I think truly says a lot about us as a nation. John Goodman’s character is very corporate about death. I love that hilarious scene where Nicholas Cage asks him, “You ever thought about doing something else” and John Goodman goes on a whole spiel on how one day it’s going to be “Captain Larry” calling the shots, totally ignoring he’s poor friend desperate conversation.  Ving Rhames is brilliant as Marcus, seems like one of the few times Ving Rhames got to let loose a bit and have fun. Marcus is a religious man, which is a business created due to the fear of death and how many people find solace when a death occurs. One of my favorite moments is Ving Rhames screaming “You need the Holy Ghost Frank! The Holy Ghost! The irony and the beauty of that moment is why I love cinema. Here’s Frank struggling with a ghost that haunts him and Ving Rhames’ solution is to go find another ghost. For all we know Marcus could be right but in that moment it sounds terrifically absurd. Tom Sizemore is incredible and also very hilarious at times as Tom, especially in that conversation with Frank about how much respect he has for his ambulance because he has tried to destroy it but it will not die. Tom Sizemore’s character is another classic American reaction to death. There are people who have developed a tough skin and revel in such matters or get excited by the carnage on a visceral level. We all have known people like that, the kind of people that can watch a very bloody surgery while eating a ham sandwich. Well, America is a tough place, New York City especially so it is not surprising that someone will develop in such a way. But like Tom Sizemore in this film those people can be INTENSE.  The breakdown of Frank’s partners in crime in terms on how they deal with death is quite stunning and does speak loudly about Americans as a whole. Larry is the corporate man, whose desire for a better life allows him to do his job without letting the day to day misery of the world ruin his parade. Marcus believes in God and that when it’s your time, it’s your time.  Thus he doesn’t truly feel responsible for someone’s death, it was just their time and that lets him sleep at night. Tom’s character is the man in it for the action; he enjoys the environment, the intensity, jokes about people who are near their death so he must have another layer of understanding. Tom’s attitude towards life will not allow him to get emotionally involved it is just another bloody Sunday for him. Nicholas Cage’s character is the only one that truly lets it in. He cares about people he probably only knew for ten minutes. That makes his character very beautiful but ultimately tragic, he does not seem to understand or believe that there are more powerful forces at work in this life. Some things are out of our control, simple as that. The final scene in the film explains this when Patricia Arquette, with a perfect tone and soft voice plainly tells Frank “It’s not your fault, no one asked you to suffer, that was your idea”. 

Many times one of the best things about watching a Martin Scorsese picture is his soundtrack selections and how he creates amazing sequences with what seems to be the most appropriate track. One great example is how he used Harry Nilsson’s “Jump into the fire” in “Goodfellas”.  Till this day that is my favorite sequence in any film, I am not calling it the best, but it is my personal favorite.  From the opening scene Martin Scorsese uses popular music in a very exciting, thought out way by using the harmonica off Van Morrison’s “T.B. Sheets” to match the ambulance swerving into frame sirens blaring filling the screen with an  atmosphere of vermilion.  You get a crazy crane shot with R.E.M.’s “What the frequency Kenneth” as we arrive on a drug deal gone wrong in the ghetto. Perfect song for its relevance to America’s past and the human disconnection brought upon modern society. You get two great Clash songs, one being “Janis Jones” edited to a wild moment that offers us the brief bliss of madness.  Throughout the film you get to watch stunning moments scored with great songs and when you dig up the history of these songs you will find a whole other layer to the film that Martin Scorsese has prepared for you to enjoy and reflect on. 

The film is a journey through hell.  Something Martin Scorsese is famous for in a way. He wants to take us there and understand some very special kind of people; these are characters no one usually points a camera at.  As if saying if you can grasp some understanding from such dark corners of society than maybe we will be better people as a whole. It is easy to play the blame game, but it is something else entirely to try and find answers.  Even if at the very end there are no answers, the journey itself is the reward. Crucial experiences that will change your life forever and which many times are triggered by a death. The ending of one thing is the beginning of something else. This kind of ideology appears constantly throughout the film. Frank ends his streak of bad luck and finally saves somebody. The death of Mary Burke’s father leads her towards a relationship with Frank. Marc Anthony’s (He has moments in this film) character Noel, Mary Burke explains, was not always crazy. Some drug dealer shot him in the head and like Mary said “He wasn’t the same since”.  The man Noel once was is dead, which is a great example on how death doesn’t always mean dead and buried. The idea of being dead can also correlate to some people who are walking around like the living dead, while loved ones wonder what the hell happen to you?? The fact that I can experience all these emotions, thoughts and continually laugh throughout the film because of the human comedy made me a big admirer of this film. Classic Scorsese at the end of the day can make you laugh one minute then shock you the next all the while caring about the characters. At the end of the film as Frank lies down with Mary Burke and closes his eyes for that sleep he has been dreaming for, I feel his peace. 

ABOUT RCM: RUTZ Classic Movies is dedicated on writing film essays for films that in Rutz's opinion, have not gotten the credit they deserve. Next Essay: Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds"