Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Sheltering Grey

Yesterday, in the morning, I stepped out--tired, foggy, hungover, my stomach burning, eyes perpetually coated with my body's reluctance to awaken--into the Seattle I sought when I moved here.

Fall has begun its slow creep into the Northwest. Enveloping billows of distressed slate loom overhead, cooling the proceedings while, paradoxically, trapping the warmth of the city's inhabitants close to the ground. This is what I imagined when I imagined Seattle: A city like a movie set, like the city-scape in schlock classic "Streets of Fire"--though less grimly industrial (that fantasy city was, after all, supposed to represent Detroit)--which had been granted its strange, ashen light when director Walter Hill insisted that all exterior scenes be shot with a gray tarp over the set, so that even the ostensible "daylight" would reflect a half-dead colorlessness. Or like Burton's Gotham City.

Funny enough, though, while all my aesthetic comparisons are resolutely dystopian, I've never found anything ominous or sad about rain or overcast skies; and Seattle's enclosed, vaguely claustrophobic fall is, for me, largely a blessing. Maybe it's because I'm a water sign on the Chinese zodiac: When I see clouds, I see water, that which flows, changes state, moves things, makes everything happen. Or maybe, being an actor, film-buff and fan of post-punk music, my interests invariably play out indoors, and are therfore best suited to a cloudy city. But I suspect, more importantly, that the impending precipitation of my city on Elliott Bay, like the terrifying cold fronts I experienced in Helena, MT (the worst was a freak arctic front that shut the state down for four days--temperatures got as low as 75 degrees below zero before windchill factor) and the snowstorms that characterized the Montana winters (and, to a lesser extent, the Cedar City winters), serves to trap us in places where we're forced to acknowledge one another, listen to the things our companions (or would-be companions) have to unload. The cold outside calls upon our own warmth, forces our hands as we become mutually entrenched. Inclement weather as social and spiritual unifier.

Who would guess, then, that my next favorite terrain, next to the misty forests of the Northwest, is the desert. Specifically, the high, mountainous desert of Southern Utah. To live in Cedar City again, I'd either need to hook myself up with a lot of online resources for independent music and art films, and would probably need to make regular Vegas trips to see bands and movies that mightn't make the rounds. But more than the city, I find myself missing the place, the controlled delirium of open spaces surrounded by rising monoliths of crimson rock, the tiny mesquite forests springing from coarse sand. In some ways, the desert possesses the most iconic views of Americana--westerns, road movies and various psychedelic ruminations on our nation seem to take root eagerly in the seemingly inhospitable soil of our driest regions. There's a reason that both pantheism and hallucinogenic drug use thrive in such an environment: It's heat, it's expansiveness, it's dryness--and the shocking volatility with which that dryness is interrupted, the thunderstorms, the flash floods--all conspire to create a nursery for the delirious, the spiritual, the imaginative.

So why would my favorite environments be the northwest rain forest and the southwest desert? You got me . . . although I could throw out the theory that I'm simply a man who loves contradiction. I love to see people in suits with tattoos creeping out the edges onto the hands and the neck. I love beautiful melody played with ferocious feedback and drums that are less played than they are flogged. I love vegans who smoke cigarettes, potheads who won't touch booze. And I like to soak up the rain and fog, or I like to be the rain and fog.

I'm thinking about this because I'm happy with the weather, but generally antsy about life in general. I'm looking for part-time work to supplement our income, because the income isn't even coming close to covering our expenses . . . and we really can't cut out any expenses. We go to and/or rent some movies, but for God's sake! We don't have a car, we don't travel much, I almost never buy CDs, we scarcely eat out (when we do, it's at the pizza/pho/cheap Chinese food level), we play CDs on our DVD player 'cause the CD player on our stereo's been broken for about five years . . . You get the idea. We're not broke because we're living high on the epicurean hog. Anyway, I'm trying to find part-time work, and I've sent out a bunch of resumes, and I'm not even getting reasonable nibbles. I assumed part-time evening/weekend work would be easy to find, since I wouldn't likely be facing competition from other reasonably qualified thirtysomethings. It all leaves me feeling like a bad provider, because the full time job I hold, like all the full time jobs I've held, just doesn't cut the mustard.

Aimless. That's how it makes me feel. Like Bud, the "hero" played by Vincent Gallo in The Brown Bunny, which he wrote, produced and directed. Aimless, like the film itself. Gallo scored an unlikely hit with Buffalo 66, another road movie with Christina Ricci and a cameo by Mickey Rourke (!). And he deserved that hit: The split screens, freeze frames and other devices worked superbly in that film; and the prog-rock tap dance that Christina Ricci does in the bowling alley is so surreal and sexy that it should have won an Oscar all by itself. "The Brown Bunny" is beautifully shot, with a sense of existential stasis that has served directors like Takeshi Kitano, Terence Malick and David Gordon Green well; but where the others use stasis to create a sense of resigned despair, intimate pantheism and uncontainable ardor (respectively), Gallo seems to use this stasis to create . . . more stasis. As it turns out, the film is about stasis, specifically the failure of its protagonist to move on from a failed relationship and a tragic event; but by the time we reach that realization--and the now infamous, highly explicit fellation scene that precedes it--we're hard-pressed to care. There's a nice supporting turn from Chloe Sevigny, and a strangely affecting silent cameo by Cheryl Tiegs (purplestine was nice enough to explain to me who she is), some beautiful travel shots (love those desert road movies!); but for a film that wants to be a meditation on loss and male sexuality to come off as little more than a nihilistic travelogue . . . well, let's just say I'd hoped for better. Not so much a dud as an interesting failure, The Brown Bunny is best viewed as an object of bemused curiosity . . . if, indeed, it's to be viewed at all.


Blogger Stine said...

Not a bad provider. It will come baby, it will come.

And I'm sure I have yet to tell you about many 70's personalities, of which you still have not heard.

12:24 PM  
Blogger amandak said...

The desert is here waiting, darling, whenever you're ready.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Missuz J said...

I remember arguing with you once, in our kind of abrasive days, about the winter, overcast days, gray weather in general. Of course, as a LEO to the LEOIST degree, the sun is my source. I am a solar powered person with no battery back up. That said, I am learning to appreciate the introspection of gray days. Where at one time, they made me feel almost a prisoner--longing for the sun, now I can deal with them, and sometimes even enjoy them.

11:48 AM  
Blogger thelyamhound said...

I've kind of come to terms with summer, myself, although I still hate summer fashion and resent feeling like I have to be in better shape because more of my body is seen. If I had a lot of money, I'd wear linen suits all the time. Even really fat guys look classy in linen suits. Only really skinny guys with lots of tattoos can wear shorts and a tank top without looking like Joe Trailer Park.

My favorite weather, in my experience, is still the kind of fall day you get in Cedar City or Helena around mid-October: Cold, sunny, lots of dry and fallen leaves. The sort of day that makes me think of study, the beginning of a theatre season, when people start drinking tea and coffee. Days of tweed and sweaters, not yet days of longjohns and topcoats. If I could find a place where it's like that all year, I'd move there.

12:20 PM  

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