Category: Entertainment

Making Movies

My first exposure to movie making was in May of 1982, when Baby, It’s You spent a couple of days shooting at my high school. They spent long hours setting up a scene, filming for a few minutes, and then returning back to setting the scene up again. I saw them spend most of a day shooting a character named The Sheik drive up and stop his car; I also saw them spend a couple of days in the Abbott Dining Hall filming a scene with two characters talking over a meal. I remember part of their dialog was commenting about some guy who wore socks to bed. In the end, those two scenes lasted no more than a handful of seconds in the movie.

Rosanna ArquetteRosanna Arquette But, in between takes, some of us who hung around the set did get to meet Rosanna Arquette, who had the lead in the movie.

I took the opportunity to take a couple of pictures of a very young Rosanna, who was 23 at the time, and in these pictures.

A school mate of mine managed to discomfort everyone present by telling her that he had seen her naked in the movie S. O. B. She was embarrassed, and the rest of us were very horrifiedly silent.

Many years later, probably around 1998 or 1999, Joan and I decided to head down to PPG Place to see what we could see for the filming of Inspector Gadget. Unlike the shoot at my high school, there was a cordon around the Inspector Gadget set. After standing around for several hours, and not seeing a lot of action going on, we left. Once again, for the many hours of work on that one scene, it lasted just a handful of seconds in the movie.

So I am very aware that being on a movie set is largely long and boring, with lots of sitting around waiting for those few minutes of actual shooting, and even after hours and days of filming, the final product of all that work and effort may very well be left on the cutting room floor, or may last just an eye blink on the screen.

Now, Magnus Rex

Somewhat behind the curve, Sue and I decided on a whim to show up on June 19, the very last day of extras casting for the movie filming under the production name of Magnus Rex. We stood in line for about an hour until it was our turn to be ushered in. We listened to the casting agent explain the process, filled out paperwork, and had head shots taken.

A couple of weeks after the open casting call, I was notified by the casting company that I had been selected to be an extra in the movie. In the following week, I had been fitted for a wardrobe, and they gave me a free haircut. I was also pleasantly surprised to receive a small paycheck for my time at the fitting. So now I find myself being a part of the largest movie ever to be shot in Pittsburgh.



I got Molly cred

I went with friends of friends to the new James Bond movie Quantum of Solace. Coming out of the movie, I remarked that the actress Gemma Arterton, who portrayed the character Strawberry Fields, reminded me much of Molly Ringwald, to which the others expressed concurrence.

From there the conversation went to listing the works in which Molly had acted. Someone brought up Sixteen Candles; everyone knew this. Then other John Hughes‘ movies were mentioned: Breakfast Club, and of course Pretty in Pink. I nominated a little known gem that Molly was also on The Facts of Life; you know, you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life. There was a general round of disbelief. It was conceded that George Clooney had a part on The Facts of Life, kind of like a Schneider of The Facts of Life. Still no acknowledgement that Molly Ringwald was on The Facts of Life. I held my ground saying that she was on only in the early seasons, and also proclaiming that “I know my Mollys.”

Aren’t we lucky to live in this connected world? Someone pulled out his Blackberry and looked up the facts on imdb, and gamely announced that Molly Ringwald did indeed play Molly Parker in the first season of the show. Someone at that point said, “you do know your Mollys,” and someone else gave me my just props and added, “you have your Molly creds.”

So damn yeah, I got Molly cred.

The first group

It isn’t true that Sirius doesn’t have any commercials on its programming. They just run their music channels without commercials. And just as well; I was listening to CNN on Sirius when I caught their commercial saying that in conjunction of the impending opening of Mamma Mia the movie, they are for a limited engagement dedicating their channel three to all ABBA all the time. They’re calling it ABBA Radio. I’m in heaven.

ABBA was truly the first musical group I ever listened to and followed. I was sooo young. I’m not even sure how I discovered them, but it likely might have been seeing them on TV after they won the Eurovision Song Contest. I remember walking what must have been miles (alone in those days) to get to a movie theater that doesn’t even exist anymore to watch ABBA: The Movie.

The first full album I ever listened to was ABBA’s Super Trouper; prior to that album it never occured to me to listen to a whole album; I just listened to whatever made the top of the charts on the radio. I discovered The Go-Go’s that way on the radio with their We Got the Beat. Later, I would go back to find Voulez-Vous and other previous albums all the way back to Ring Ring. Unknown to me, the seeds of ABBA’s eventual dissolution were already planted by the time Voulez-Vous was released. I thought they would make music forever. It never occured to me that it would end with The Visitors. After their final album, I kept waiting and waiting for another album, and wondering when another album would be released.

ABBA and The Go-Go’s remain two of my favorite musical groups; there’s a lot of nostalgia in it for me; they remind me of a very carefree and innocent childhood filled with discovery.

The secret

The secret to enjoying high-culture arts like operas and the ballet is to know the storyline before watching the performance.

We go to symphonies for the pure enjoyment of watching the conductor and the orchestra paint their tableau of music. There may be a backdrop of information behind the music, or more often than not, there is nothing but the music. But what if intead of just music, there is a storyline? The music by itself is not enough to convey the narrative. This is when the music and the musicians go into the background, and characters emerge to carry the narrative. On one end of this is a musical, with dialog and songs. Moving up the scale is the operetta where almost all of the dialog is rendered in song. At opera scales, the dialog itself becomes more stylized in the form of poetry. Topping out would be a ballet, where there is no dialog, and the narrative is danced as a strict discipline.

Most people start distancing themselves at the opera level, largely because the vocals weren’t quite comprehensible. When it comes to ballets, men flee, and women watch it for the beauty and elegance of the dancers, and not necessarily for the plot.

If you know the storyline to the opera or the ballet, then the audience gets to fill in the context for the artists expression of the story.

Without knowing the storyline, Swan Lake is a nice dance. With the storyline, it is a tale of love, betrayal, and redemption. Not knowing the plot, you lose the motivation for Odette: she is just a dancer moving here and there for no really good reason. Knowing the story of Swan Lake transforms her performance to one of sadness at being cursed to live as a Swan by day, and why even though an evil sorcerer cursed her thus, she still protected the sorcerer from being killed by the Prince because the curse could never be broken if the sorcerer was dead. It requires knowing the story of Swan Lake to understand that Odette and Odile are two very different people, even though in this production, both parts were danced by the same person.

Even without knowing the full backstory to Swan Lake, it was a beautiful perfomance by the dancers. The swans were especially graceful, using their bodies, arms, and legs to mimic the sway of swans.

Part of looking up the backstory of Swan Lake, I also discovered that over the years, there has been several different endings to the ballet, from the romantic to the tragic. The production in Pittsburgh is the version danced by the American Ballet Theater, which has a bittersweet ending in apotheosis after their deaths.

Pittsburgh gallery crawl

There was a gallery crawl in downtown Pittsburgh Friday night. Basically these art galleries open up and let the gallery crawler wander from one gallery to another in the several block neighborhood. The thing reminded me a bit of First Night in Boston that I attended in the very early nineties.The exhibits ranged from the somewhat slap-dash improvised look to the large and I-don’t-know-what-to-think-of-it Amorphic Robot Works.

My pet peeve on this crawl was the gamut of loud (but not in a good way) bands sprinkled variously along the crawl. Didn’t need them; didn’t like them either.

On the other hand, paintings at Watercolors Gallery followed in the traditional sense of an art gallery, as was the collection of political cartoons by Kirk Anderson, Clay Bennet (Pulitzer Prize Winner), Dennis Draughon, Gary Huck, Mike Konopacki, Andy Singer, Bill Yund and P.S Mueller (of the New Yorker) at Artists Upstairs. That proved to be popular stop, reading the commentary on American political life.

Future Tenant offered an installation piece that abstracts the layout and orientation of downtown Pittsburgh into a large angular sculpture.

Pennsylvania Culinary Institute provided a welcome stop for hot food and drinks.

Favorite stop was the Chatham Baroque in the Prime Stage Theater Space. They were playing music written hundreds of years ago. We heard Spanish dance music written in 1700s. The composer isn’t alive now, and pretty much nobody knows the person who set that music to paper, yet the expression of his creativity lives on centuries later. Of all the arts, music is one where the art is not to be statically appreciated in a passive manner. With paintings, writing, and sculpture we experience it by viewing. With music, musicians are interactively performing it, and in doing so are actively expressing the art of the creator. So, here we are listening to music performed live that was conjured up ages ago in the head of a now long-gone composer. But his music lives on.