Eff Is Wrong With You, Monkey-Boy?
Pete and I have been having an argument of late over “entertainment” vs. “art.” Yeah, yeah, we get hoity-toity every now and again. I suspect this isn’t much of a surprise for you readers.
I’ve been leaning on Pete and some of the Nosedive gang to watch what I guess would be called “highbrow” films. Low budget, underground movies that haven’t gained any mainstream recognition. I’m not talking Sideways or Miramax movies. I’m talking about movies by John Cassavetes, Tom Noonan, Jim Jarmusch. I’m very happy that Christopher Yustin is on a big Cassavetes kick, and seems very eager to see some of these other films I’m bringing up.
Of course, I’m annoying the piss out of some other members of the group. But hey, what else is new?
Since we’re getting ready to stage Dying Goldfish, an ostensibly “serious” play (I mean, I think it’s fun and funny, just not in the way that A Very Nosedive Christmas Carol was) and have McTeague afterwards (another “serious” play), Pete had asked me what play I was currently writing. He wanted to make sure it wasn’t a serious heavy play, rather a lighter, funnier one. It worked before; after we closed Ruins (a three hour tragedy about emotional hunger and loss), we needed to blow off steam and do some light, funny shows (an hour comedy followed by a collection of one-acts).
“We shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously,” Pete said.
I guess Pete is right in many ways. I take things too seriously. I have a tough time relaxing. I get extremely paranoid and think people are out to destroy me or are secretly mocking me.
But at the same time, I see the systematic lowering of standards in this country (and western Europe) and the “dumbing down” of tastes, thoughts and opinions. We often forget how we really feel or what we really think, because the only way to communicate with others is through horrifically banal commonalities that aren’t really commonalities at all (i.e., political party affiliations, opinions of Ashlee Simpson, blah blah blah).
Even when we talk about “serious” films we end up debating over the pros and cons of Wes Anderson (who, let’s face it, is a hack who treats his characters — and his audiences — as precious figurines) or Alexander Payne (another rather fraudulent filmmaker who gets his kicks off of mocking his characters).
We’re getting more and more alienated from each other.
(Maybe that’s just the paranoia talking—
—Shut up, shut up!
Pete told you he hates this technique you use in Jamespeak.
You like needling that poor guy, don’t you?
—Hey, I need my fun. Snrk.)
I do want to test and push our audiences; not in terms of “endurance contests” or in terms of boring or fucking with them, but to challenge them by looking at life — our lives — in a slightly different angle. I’m not saying we’ve succeeded in this, I’m just letting you know the attempt. And I’ve always liked/preferred those types of works (plays, films, whatever) simply because I really have no idea what I think most of the time, and…well…my opinions and philosophies and choices in life bore me. I really don’t particularly care about my philosophy on life because what the hell do I know? A few people thought my comments were tongue-in-cheek when I wrote that I wasn’t in any position to damn the destructive effects of television in the playwright notes for Mayonnaise Sandwiches, especially since the play portrays television as a constant intrusion on life.
I don’t like writing plays about other people’s faults. I prefer to see plays that are about the people making them. For good or for bad, for right or for wrong, I want to see what we’re like. It may be a way of eliminating to a slight degree our alienation.
So, I often get bored with mainstream art, since it doesn’t test or challenge me. I find being tested and challenged entertaining. I like seeing a play that doesn’t share my worldview.
But that’s not even it. Generic shit just bores me. I mean, car chases in films bore me. I don’t think this is an elitist or highbrow sensibility, I just get restless since I’ve seen this sort of thing so many times. You get the idea that the filmmakers aren’t even trying (and they really aren’t).
Anyway, the argument between Pete and I will continue. In the meantime, I’m just going to watch Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy for the 8 trillionth time.
The next few Jamespeaks will be reflections on the previous plays, primarily Monkeys, Allston and Ruins. A little bit of a “post-mortem” and revisiting of scripts (and productions) I haven’t read (or thought about) in a while.
I just hope I don’t look back on what we’ve done and think, “Man. These shows were shit.”
James “Sunshine Club” Comtois
February 20, 2005