Posts Tagged ‘Spiderman’

My Butt: the musical

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

(This article first appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2011)

“If a man love the labor of any trade, apart from any question of success or fame, then God has called him.” Robert Louis Stevenson

So…some extremely wealthy and astoundingly unimaginative people have now spent over seventy million dollars concocting a musical version of Spiderman, with songs by Bono and Edge of the middle-aged boy band U-2. The Spiderman musical is apparently so bad, pundits cannot find words sufficient to describe the awfulness of this thing, though neo-fascist icon Glenn Beck apparently loves the show and has seen it twice. Yet despite universal media damnation, the musical is expected to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars. And why am I wasting my breath on such trivia? Well, because seventy million dollars would cover the Mendocino County budget shortfalls for many years to come, only we don’t have that seventy million. And why don’t we? Because we haven’t had a surefire way to get it. Until now.

My Butt: the musical. A two-hour extravaganza about buttocks. With songs by Bob Dylan. And if we can’t get Bob, I’m thinking Justin Bieber. And if we can’t get the Biebster, then Paul McCartney. And Sting. Yes! Paul and Sting. They certainly don’t need the money, so no one can accuse them of doing it for the money. No way. They’ll write the songs for My Butt: the musical because they believe in the project.

My Butt: the musical will require the construction of enormous and incredible theaters in dozens of cities around the world where the show will run for decades. From the outside, the theaters will look like, well, someone’s butt. On the inside of these palatial pleasure domes (and each building will, indeed, be a double dome), the special stage(s) will feature huge flesh-colored mounds that rise and fall with the action. What action? I don’t know. That’s irrelevant at this point in the creative process. What’s relevant is a boffo idea combined with a team of famous artists and celebrities combined with expenditures of hundreds of millions of dollars stolen by Wall Street hucksters and used to create a useless spectacle for morons.

Further Architectural Notes: These buttocks theaters would be mass produced in China to guarantee precise sameness and then airlifted to their ultimate resting places, each Lowering of the Buttocks (in London, New York, Beijing, Tokyo, etc.) a culture-specific Christo-like event eating up two or three years of media coverage that otherwise might go to covering war and famine and icky things like that. Tens of millions of dollars will be spent in each metropolitan area on design conferences and political forums and other nonsense related to preparing a major urban area for the landing of a fifty-thousand-ton building made in the image of human buttocks. Wow. Just imagine a butt that big slowly descending to earth from the sky. Gigantic blimps will be used to transport the gargantuan buttocks from China to wherever, colossal blimps resembling you-know-whats that presage the sequel to My Butt: the musical.

Which brings us to the inevitable question: whose butt will be the butt in My Butt: the musical? Choosing that iconic butt will require a talent search that will make American Idol look like a Mendocino potluck. Remember: these buttocks will not only adorn millions of provocative and painfully ugly posters and billboards and screensavers and shower curtains, these buttocks will figure prominently in hundreds of animated advertisements, Super Bowl ads, refrigerator magnets, and coffee mugs.

But now that we’ve broached the question of whose butt will be used for the butt, here come those sibling questions of ethnicity, gender, size, and why not say it, age. Should the buttocks be white or brown or one of each? Mauve? Should the buttocks be male or female or one of each? Should the buttocks be young or middle-aged or one of each? Large, small, medium? And how much of the buttocks should we show? From the waist down to the back of the knees? From just above the crack to just below the bottom of the big downward curve? Something in between?

And just who is the I of My in My Butt: the musical? Oh, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Details like plot and character are way down the To Do list. Remember: stupidity must forever reside at the top of the To Do list, which point cannot be overstated, no matter how hard we try to overstate it. Everything about My Butt: the musical must take the wasting of human potential to new all time lows. That’s what makes the plays and movies and literature of America peerless in the world today, and unless we want to be seen by potential investors as uncool wimps we must prove ourselves to be a powerful force in the downward trend.

My Butt: the musical will be designed to appeal to people of all ages and religious persuasions and therefore must contain a modicum of romance, tons of violence, hints of teenage alienation, sexual frustration, and implications of illicit drug use imbued with maudlin sentimentality jarringly juxtaposed to moronic sadism masquerading as comedy. And, of course, every minute of the dizzying spectacle will be punctuated by state-of-the-art special effects involving butts morphing into, I don’t know, different things.

Music Note: One or two of the songs should be vaguely melodic, but most will require shouting hoarsely over deafening mechanical rhythms.

As for costumes: less is more.

As for dance numbers: think lascivious strip tease culminating in tableaus falling just short of sexual intercourse. Just.

As for the lead roles, the key here will be to give everyone in the audience someone to identify with and/or lust after: a handsome older man with a lost childish air, a verging-on-older woman with the body of a twenty-year-old swimsuit model, a slender young man just barely no longer a boy, and a heartbreakingly beautiful girl barely a woman with the moves of a seasoned pole dancer.

Should they be a family? Should they be a multi-racial family? Should they be human? Should they be aliens? Vampires? We are leaning toward a self-referencing play-within-a-play family-within-a-family multi-layered multi-dimensional presentation that pushes the N in narcissistic several type sizes larger than the rest of the word. Something like Narcissistic. That is to say, My Butt: the musical will be about a family that is not a family going to see My Butt: the musical in a My Butt: the musical theatre where the lines between actors and audience are so blurred, and we are so profoundly confused and bewildered (yet continuously titillated and visually and sonically overwhelmed), that by musical’s end we have no idea what we’ve seen or what has been done to us.

In short, we won’t know anything. And that will be the point of My Butt: the musical, except, wait, we will know one thing. We will know that even though My Butt: the musical makes absolutely no sense and leaves us feeling shattered and lost and inferior and questioning everything, including how good or bad or wrong or right our butts are, at least this thing, this awesome spectacle, exists; and that, in itself, is something.

I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day

When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May

I guess you’d say, what can make me feel this way

My butt, talkin’ ‘bout my butt, my butt…

Bums At A Grave

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

The first movie I remember seeing at a movie theatre was The Court Jester starring Danny Kaye, Basil Rathbone, and the very young Angela Lansbury. 1955. I was six years old. As we left the Park Theatre in Menlo Park, California, I distinctly recall turning to my mother and announcing that I was going to be a movie star like Danny Kaye. To which she replied, “Don’t be silly.”

Three years later, 1958, my parents took me to see Alec Guinness in The Horse’s Mouth, after which I proclaimed, “That’s what I’m going to be. An artist and live on a boat.” To which my father, a psychiatrist, replied, “Just what we need, another narcissistic sociopath.”

Both The Court Jester and The Horse’s Mouth have stood the test of time for me. I’ve seen them several times in the intervening fifty years, and I still consider The Horse’s Mouth to be one of the very best depictions of a person who cares more for his art than for anyone or anything else.

When I was nine, Willy Mays supplanted Danny and Alec as my supreme mentor and hero, and led me off my artist’s path into the glory of baseball and eventually basketball, my twin obsessions until late high school when I was felled by what the western medical doctors called a hot case of ankyllosing spondilitis, which ailment cut short my dreams of athletic glory, returned me full steam to writing and music and drama, and shortly thereafter saved me from going to fight in Vietnam.

When I dropped out of college at nineteen, I knew what I wanted to be: a professional writer, actor, and musician—Danny Kaye and Alec Guinness rolled into one.

Despite a thousand setbacks and highly annoying poverty, I held to this vision of myself, worked day and night at my writing and music, and at twenty-eight was rewarded by having my first novel published and made into a major motion picture. A year after that, I published my second novel, and Warner Brother paid me to write the screenplay for Laura Ziskin, famous most recently as the producer of the Spiderman franchise.

And though by the age of thirty I hadn’t made buckets of money, I had made a goodly chunk of change, so I decided to make a little film of my own to prove to myself and others that I had the chops to offer myself as a director of my own movies. This, of course, was in the days before digital anything, when making a good-looking movie, even in sixteen-millimeter film, was extremely expensive; and so was born my truly minimalist fifteen-minute fictive film entitled Bums At A Grave.

Within a year of completing the film, my career, so bright and promising (in commercial terms) had collapsed. Bums At A Grave became but a reel of celluloid in a canister that lay on my dusty shelf for nearly thirty years. And then a few weeks ago, at the urging of several old friends who remembered the movie and wanted to see it again, I had the film transferred to DVD in a good lab in San Francisco.

Seeing Bums At A Grave for the first time in twenty-eight years was a fascinating walk down memory lane for me. I wrote the script in 1979 when I was living in Santa Cruz, California. The film is set in 1933 during the Great Depression, and seems remarkably predictive of Now. We filmed it in the summer of 1980 shortly after I moved to Sacramento—a two-day shoot in 105-degree heat near Grass Valley. Richard Simpson was the cinematographer and editor, Doug Peckham handled sound, Bob Smith produced, Patty Nolan was continuity person and assistant-to-everyone, my brother Steve starred as Willy, and I co-starred as Trevor.

For years prior to the Bums shoot, I studied movies in search of filming techniques that particularly pleased me. This meant I had to go to movies multiple times, since VHS technology had barely been born and DVDs were not yet a glimmering in the eye of the future. I did not and do not like quick cutting from one scene to another. I very much enjoy action within a still frame, slow tracking shots, and a slowly pivoting camera on a tripod. No handheld shots, please!

Thus when I wrote the script for Bums At A Grave, I intentionally minimized the need for edits while creating setups for active and changing points of view. This not only made for more pleasing cinema, it saved money in those days when even 16 mm shooting and editing was expensive.

For instance: characters at a distance can move (in the course of a scene) to the forefront of the frame where a slow zoom to a close-up can add up to three or four “scenelets” in a single take without the need for an edit.

Bums At A Grave screened at the 1980 Filmex film festival in Los Angeles for an audience of 1200 hardcore film buffs and movie biz folks. They loved the film, laughed uproariously at the Republican joke (Reagan our brand new president in 1980), and gave us a rousing ovation at the end. While we were in LA, we screened the film for Laura Ziskin, and to my everlasting delight Laura pronounced, “Your agents are missing the boat with you. They should be pushing you as a director.”

But life, as the poets say, intervened and I took another road in the opposite direction of Hollywood. Today, at last, you can see scenes from Bums At A Grave on Youtube. Turn up the volume and have some fun. Or view the entire fifteen minutes of Bums At A Grave, Admission Free, at Underthetablebooks.com.