Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dog Ears #8: Backstory 4

There was a time not too long ago when even the thought of reading anything in the Backstory series made me feel all icky inside. The four installments of Backstory are collections of interviews with screenwriters of different eras (1 is "The Golden Age", 2 is 1940s and 1950s, 3 is 1960s, and 4 is 1970s and 1980s) compiled and edited by Marquette film professor Patrick McGilligan. Thanks to my own efforts and the gift-giving prowess of Mrs. Word Player, I now have all four books in the excellent but largely out-of-print series, but after a really rough time writing my fifth screenplay Blood is Thicker (still unfinished after working on it for 11 months of '06 and early '07) I couldn't stomach reading all these success stories for a while.

You can't make this stuff up

Thankfully, time heals wounds of this sort pretty efficiently, so when I peeked into the one volume I hadn't read yet a few weeks ago I was happy to discover that my appetite for intimate conversations with working writers had returned. It's funny how the same words can be exasperating one day and inspiring the next...

The following are anecdotes, insights, self-recriminations and new lingo taken from Backstory 4: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1970s and 1980s.

p. 29 "The banalities of married life are, for me, far more interesting and more poignant than the intensity of romance. There's something I find deeply moving about ordinary life."
re: his script for NADINE (1987)

p. 35 "There are two models (of screenplay structure). In one, plot grows out of character. This is the (Howard) Hawks model. In the other, character grows out of plot. This is the [Otto] Preminger model. When I do the architecture on a script of my own, I follow the Hawks approach. I do it so that characters become more complex, and they don't tell you where they're going until they get there."

(Cohen's script for PHONE BOOTH, ultimately made in 2002 with Joel Schumacher at the helm, was once considered by Alfred Hitchcock.)

p. 77 "(Hitchcock) seemed very, very intimidated by Lew Wasserman and the Universal executives, who had more or less undermined his confidence in himself. While making him a very rich man, they'd also destroyed him as an artist. Hitch had severed his ties with [composer] Bernard Herrmann, for example, who had been a close friend and great collaborator, and mainly it was the Universal executives who poisoned his mind against Herrmann and convinced him he needed somebody like Henry Mancini to write songs and a hipper musical score. Which he never got, by the way."

p. 91 tsuris: |ˈtsoŏris; ˈtsər| noun, informal
trouble or woe; aggravation.
ORIGIN early 20th cent.: from Hebrew.

p. 95 "Therefore I consider that slapstick–literally slapstick–is not entirely what I do. Only some of it turns out to be slapstick. Slapstick comes from vaudeville–it comes from what they called "the slap stick" (slapping sound as he demonstrates), which made that sound."

p. 106 roustabout: noun
an unskilled or casual laborer.
• a laborer on an oil rig.
• a dock laborer or deckhand.
• a circus laborer.
ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from the verb roust

"All of this taught me one important thing that carried over to writing. If you are capable of making a living out of your talent and imagination, you are a privileged soul. As to the actual writing, you learn about writing by reading. And then you learn to make use of your own particular attitudes, gifts, and skills by–writing, writing, writing."

p. 113 "I don't pretend to be a scholar about the history and evolution of screenwriting, and I think you have to approach it as a craft rather than an art. But it's the old story; if the craft gets good enough, it is an art."

p. 116 "My clearest impression is that (Michael) Eisner wanted movies to be a kind of pleasantly flavored chewing gum and was almost physically uncomfortable in dealing with anything about the dark side of the human heart."

Remind me to tell you my Harry Dean Stanton story some day

p. 122 (re ALIEN) "I named her "Ripley" (after "Believe It or Not"); later, when she had to have a first name for ID cards, I added "Ellen" (my mother's middle name). I called the ship Nostromo (from Conrad: no particular metaphoric idea, I just thought it sounded good). Some of the characters are named after athletes: Brett was for George Brett, Parker was for Dave Parker of the Pirates, and Lambert was Jack Lambert of the Steelers."

p. 128 "My favorite description of the dilemma of screenwriting comes from David Giler, "Your work is only read by the people who will destroy it."

p. 151 "What I do realize is that I mustn't have a single word that's not absolutely necessary, no "Oh yes, I see," nothing like that. You have to compress and compress and just give them the essence."

p. 170 "That's what the STAR WARS saga is about–it's about following those things which are strongest in you and imposing them on the world. Making a career in Hollywood is like that if you want to do your own work. If you want to do what they want you to do, it's easy. You just say yes. But if you want to do what you want to do, you're constantly manipulating the chaos of the system."

p. 176 "That's what all great tragedies are about for me–that in this adherence to a single idea, we sometimes sacrifice everything."
re: his script for BODY HEAT (1981)

p. 217 "What's amazing to me when I think about it, is that while Hollywood in general prefers plot-driven stories (they ask, "What's it about?"), thirty-three of my thirty-five books, all character-driven and talky, have either been optioned or bought outright for film."

p. 229 "I'm very sympathetic to those characters. I feel that the middle class is not treated in terms of tragedy. You have to be very rich or very poor to be thought of as a tragic figure."

Thulsa-Thulsa Doom y'all

p. 296 colloquy: |ˈkäləkwē| noun ( pl. -quies)
1 formal: a conversation : they broke off their colloquy at once | an evening of sophisticated colloquy. See note at conversation .
2 a gathering for discussion of theological questions.
ORIGIN late Middle English : from Latin colloquium ‘conversation.’

p. 299
PM: Was Robert Shaw really as drunk as they say, shooting the scene?
JM: He was totally drunk.

(Shaw had just been busted screwing the nanny by his wife, and kept interjecting his drunken thoughts about the situation into the Indianapolis scene from JAWS, a scene that Milius wrote as a favor to Spielberg. What we see in the final product, of course, has all the nanny bits cut out.)

p. 328 (this next bit speaks to questions I had after viewing TWO FOR THE ROAD (1967), written by Raphael)

PM: What was the genesis of the film you did make next, TWO FOR THE ROAD?
FR: (My wife and I) used always to just pack up and travel together. While we were driving down to the south of France from London on one of these trips, I said, "Imagine if we met ourselves as we were ten years ago," and of course the idea revealed itself as a movie.

p. 381 confrere: noun
a fellow member of a profession; a colleague : executives from the four broadcast television networks, along with their cable confreres.
ORIGIN mid 18th cent. : French, from medieval Latin confrater, from con- ‘together with’ + frater ‘brother.’

"The difference between a movie and a novel is that a movie is just the surface of things, and the meanings and emotions can only be implicit."

Monday, December 10, 2007

My Word... it's Bond.

Yesterday the New York Times informed me that will be directing the next Bond film, the second in Daniel Craig's sure-to-be-illustrious reign. The fine article, written by Terrence Rafferty, pointed out that Swiss-born Forster (best known for directing FINDING NEVERLAND and the upcoming THE KITE RUNNER) is not only the first Bond director who wasn't born in "the Commonwealth," but he's also the first to be born after the release of the first Bond film DR. NO in 1961. In fact, Forster was born in 1969, two years before I was and only four years before Roger Moore's first Bond, LIVE AND LET DIE.


One can only hope Forster will cast a "Bond Girl" as close to perfection as Eva Green was

Ian Fleming's master spy has played as important a role in my development as almost any fictional character. The first Bond I saw in the theater was FOR YOUR EYES ONLY in 1981, and I can still remember the preadolescent tingle that Sheena Easton's theme song gave me as I wore out the cassette copy of the soundtrack for months afterwards. Mother and Father Word Player would dutifully record the ABC Movie of the Week on our "war horse" top-loading VCR whenever it was a Bond movie so I could see them without staying up past my school-night bedtime. I even read several of the officially sanctioned John Gardner Bond books that revived Bond in print fifteen years after Fleming's death (License Renewed and For Special Services were particularly good.)

In retrospect, the odds were good that I'd marry someone who'd gotten Pussy Galore's autograph

All of this accumulated Bond trivia and youthful devotion would come into play on two notable occasions in my adult life. The first contact Mrs. Word Player and I ever had came over the phone, and years before we met face-to-face. In the days before the internet, workplace trivia disagreements had to be settled by calling someone else in. This was the case when she and a workmate, who was a UNC chum of mine and had moved to LA around the same time as me in '95, had some Bond trivia they needed settling. He said he had a friend (me) who would know, they called and we had the brief conversation that would serve years later as the foundation of a much longer one that lead quickly to l-o-v-e.

Oddly enough, that wasn't even the story that popped to mind as I read the Forster article on Sunday. My "other" Bond story came rushing back, and led me to a box deep in storage that contained a prized possession from the day I met James Bond.

Tis better to've been Bond and lost ...

After working on THE FAN, I took a job as office assistant for a wonderful British producer named Kathy Eldon. A few days a week I would drive up to her cool apartment off Sunset Plaza and answer phones, read scripts, etc. Kathy's primary project was developing the artwork and journals of her son Dan Eldon into various book, documentary and film projects. Dan was a celebrated photojournalist who had been tragically killed at the age of 22 in Mogadishu, Somalia, when demonstrators who were rioting over a U.N. massacre turned on him and three fellow journalists and stoned them all to death. Since my time working for Kathy, much has been published from Dan's life, but the only book I've personally looked through is called The Journey is the Destination: The Journals of Dan Eldon, which I highly recommend.

As it turns out, Kathy was friends with Aussie actor George Lazenby, who portrayed Bond in 1969's ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE. She had George over for lunch one day and, knowing what a Bond fan I was, invited me to join them. I was extremely nervous beforehand, but once we all sat down Lazenby was charming and easygoing, and didn't mind at all answering my questions (although they were all ones he'd certainly answered a million times before).

He freely admitted that he'd gotten caught up in the whirlwind of fame surrounding his ascension from world's top male model to Connery's heir, and that a combination of arrogance, listening to bad advice, and poor management by his trusted advisors led to him turning down a multi-picture deal to continue as Bond. Instead, he signed what appeared to be a sensational deal to star alongside friend and mentor Bruce Lee in his next films. This proved to be the beginning of the end of his acting career, as Lee died shortly before their first film together (GAME OF DEATH) was to begin shooting, and in fact Lazenby had plans to have dinner with Lee the very night he died of a sudden heart attack.

I remember that he seemed more broken up about losing his friend Bruce Lee than about losing the Bond job, which humanized him when he could easily have come off as a sad sack who blew his big chance. He went on to marry tennis star (and member of the Kennedy clan) Pam Shriver, so I doubt he's doing too shabby these days.

Shortly after my lunch with Bond, a close friend (we'll call him Mr. CFA) flew out to LA and attended a party with me at Kathy Eldon's. Lazenby was there and, despite having imbibed a fair share of cheer, remembered me and talked briefly with us. CFA and I laughed for days afterwards at Lazenby's remark that we looked like brothers (even though we look nothing alike).

My brief time working for Eldon was pivotal for yet another reason, and one which I just remembered has another Bond moment embedded. Another expat friend of Eldon's was director , and when Michael told Kathy he needed an assistant (as his latest film IL POSTINO was soon to be released), she sent me over and I landed what turned out to be one of my best and most difficult jobs.

Fast forward to the days following IL POSTINO's five Oscar nominations, when Radford's phone was ringing off the hook with congratulatory calls. One of them went like this:

Hello, Michael Radford's Office?

Yes, is Michael There?

(knowing instantly who it was)
May I tell him who's calling?

Yes, this is Sean Connery.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Re-issue! Re-package!

Best of! Most of!

There was a time not long ago when I made two year-end lists every year, one for the best films of the year and one for best albums. Recently, for a variety of reasons (that can mostly fit under the odious umbrella of getting older), my consumption of new movies and music has declined steeply, which makes it impossible for me to make Top Ten lists for 2007.... just don't have 'em!

I didn't see ten new releases that I loved, and I certainly haven't bought ten records that were released this year... yet I AM in the mood for Top Tens. What better reason to dig through the computer, see what lists have survived, and see if I still feel good about my choices. Maybe you'll find something old to make new again? So, with no further ado... ooh, I can already see some I wish I could change... and some I've numbered and some are in no order at all... and some are missing (damn you catastrophic hard drive crash of '03) oh well...

TOP 10 RECORDS of 2001
Minus 8: "Elysian Fields"
Miniflex: "Sud"
Wagon Christ: "Musipal"
The Avalanches: "Since I Met You"
Jack Dangers: "Hello Friends!"
Daft Punk: "Discovery"
Bjork: "Vespertine"
Syrup: "Different Flavours"
"Dubplates from the Lamp" (Pork Records Sampler)
Herbert: "Bodily Functions"

TOP 10 MOVIES of 2001
LOTR: Fellowship of the Rings
Donnie Darko
Mulholland Drive
Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition
Moulin Rouge
Waking Life
Monsters Inc.
Ghost World

I admire a proper self-sabotaging band name like Crazy Penis

TOP 10 RECORDS of 2002
Royksopp: “Melody A.M.”
Mr. Scruff: “Trouser Jazz”
Gusgus: “Attention”
Meat Beat Manifesto: “RUOK?”
Playgroup: “Playgroup” + “Party Mix Vol.1”
Tosca: “Different Tastes Of Honey”
Crazy Penis: “The Wicked Is Music”
Funki Porcini: “Fast Asleep”
Jazzanova: “In Between”
Cornelius: “Point”

TOP 10 MOVIES of 2002
1. Punch Drunk Love
2. 24 Hour Party People
3. Adaptation
4. Spirited Away
5. About A Boy
6. Bowling for Columbine
7. The Ring
8. LOTR: The Two Towers
9. Signs
10. Dogtown and Z Boys

Ironically, THE RING may not hold up on video, but it was terrifying in the theater

TOP 10 RECORDS of 2004
Mylo: “Destroy Rock and Roll”
Crazy Penis: “24 Hour Psychedelic Freakout”
Arthur Russell: “The World of Arthur Russell” (reissue)
Kerrier District: “Kerrier District”
Wagon Christ: “Sorry I Made You Lush”
Manzel: “Midnight Theme” (reissue)
Rjd2: “Since We Last Spoke”
Quincy Jones and Bill Cosby: “The New Mixes, Vol. 1”
Jack Dangers: “Forbidden Planet Explored”
Air: “Talkie Walkie”

TOP 10 RECORDS of 2005
Isolee: "We Are Monster"
Annie: "Anniemal"
Eugene McDaniels: "Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse" (reissue)
"Cherrystones Hidden Gems" (compilation)
Recloose: "Hiatus on the Horizon"
Boards of Canada: "The Campfire Headphase"
Beatfanatic: "The Gospel According to Beatfanatic"
Madrid de los Austrias: "Mas Amor!"
Tosca: "J.A.C."
Ralph Myerz and the Jack Herren Band: "Your New Best Friends"

Towa Tei is one of the most underappreciated pop musicians of the last twenty years

TOP 10 RECORDS of 2006
Darkel: “Darkel
The Whitest Boy Alive: “Dreams”
Audion: “Suckfish
Nightmares on Wax: “In A Space Out Of Sound”
Major Swellings: “Noid 1978”
Van Hunt: “On The Jungle Floor”
Alan Braxe and Friends: “The Upper Cuts”
Luke Vibert: “Kerrier District 2”
Towa Tei: “Flash”
Burt Bacharach: “The Look Of Love” (3-disc compilation)

The Queen
Casino Royale
Talledega Nights
An Inconvenient Truth
Thank You For Smoking
A Scanner Darkly
The Science of Sleep
The Holiday
Inland Empire

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Broadway Joe and His Super Biopic

OK, imagine Jake "Donnie Darko" Gyllenhall re-enacting this memorable scene from December, 2003...

That's right, the feature film version of "Broadway" life will be coming soonish to a theater near you starring Jake Gyllenhaal. As I read the news today on, I started thinking about the two Joe Namath scripts I read for work a few years back, both titled "Broadway Joe." Neither one really made a convincing case that Joe's life was worthy of a made-for-cable movie then, and I'm even less convinced that his story is compelling enough for the big screen today.

Let's look at the numbers:

On the plus side, he was QB for Alabama's 1964 National Championship team, as well as the only QB ever to lead the New York Jets to a title, winning Super Bowl III in 1968. He was very, very famous sex symbol and sports hero then, and is still a household name today.

On the minus side, his career numbers fall between ordinary and below average. His career Quarterback Rating is an eye-poppingly bad 65.5 (good for #131 on the list of the 148 QBs with at least 1500 Pass Attempts). His touchdown to interception ratio is 173-220. Although he is in the Hall of Fame, his career passing yardage of 27,663 ranks 43rd all time, just 61 yards ahead of Jeff George.

George led the league in MR (Mullet Rating) for six consecutive years

I guess you can throw those numbers out for two reasons:

1. He played in NYC
2. He had star power.

But is that enough to get moviegoers under 40, who weren't even born when his star burned the brightest, to pay $11 to see his story? If the movie takes the clichéd "celebrity is bad for your health" tack, my prediction is no.

I dug in my archives to see what I'd thought of the two other Namath scripts (I would instantly forget what I wrote when I was writing coverage for a living). I'll spare you the plot summaries and redact the names of the guilty (though I can tell you that neither were hired to write the Gyllenhaal film) while pasting in the coverage sections of both.

"Broadway Joe" by XXXX, written 2005

Joe Namath is indeed still famous, but XXXX’s BROADWAY JOE is unable to convincingly justify the biopic treatment for a man best known for backing up his guarantee that the New York Jets would win the Super Bowl 36 years ago. XXXX gives the material a slick, glossy feel but the resulting narrative is a fast-fading illusion of drama, not the real thing. Framing device of a look at the Namath of today backfires. If we open on the drunken mess of a man who embarrassed himself on ESPN and flashback to the past only to find that Namath was a drunken mess of a man then too (but happened to get his act together long enough one season to win a Super Bowl), what have we learned? Script stirs together a father complex, bad knees, the mafia, celebrity pop-ins by Warhol and Elizabeth Taylor, the friction between Pete Rozelle and Sonny Werblin (!!!) and plenty of sex and profanity, but cannot cobble together a central character strong enough to transcend. The description of the on-the-field action is gritty, but Namath’s sudden ability to diagram superior plays during the Super Bowl run comes from nowhere. XXXX loses more credibility when Namath, fresh off a second knee surgery and barely able to walk, dunks a basketball to impress an African-American teammate that he’s no fancy rich boy (p84). BROADWAY JOE tries strenuously, but is ultimately unable to convey that “the Joe Namath story” is somehow meaningful beyond his ability years ago to pass the football.


"Broadway Joe" by YYYY, written 2004

YYYY has undeniable skill in the craft of screenwriting, but shows little grasp of the art of it with BROADWAY JOE. Title is a bit of a misnomer, as the story is far more focused on Jets founder Sonny Werblin. When the titular character of a biopic comes off as a wooden prop, a certain degree of failure is inevitable. Sonny talks a big game about how he’s got Joe’s best interest at heart, thinks of him as a son, etc. but we never get a sense of why he does- Joe isn’t particularly infatuated with Sonny and he’s terrible in the field the first few years, too busy chasing skirt and getting loaded. Joe the character comes off as a bit of a dim bulb, except when convenient for the plot. The season they win the Super Bowl Joe is referred to as “the professor” on p70, yet when Sonny gives him a thematically-relevant book Joe looks through it and complains “No pictures?” (p85). Dialogue is very linear and uses heavy profanity as a spice to flavor otherwise bland interchanges. Very little football action. Script doesn’t cater to existing fans (his infamous guarantee that the Jets would beat the heavily favored Colts in the Super Bowl is only mentioned in passing after the fact), nor is it likely to convert any new ones with dull subplots centered on Joe’s gambler friends and Sonny’s rivalry with Pete Rozelle. BROADWAY JOE reads briskly but the journey is meandering and, at the end of the day, the character work is just not that compelling.

I guess time will tell whether or not my warnings not to walk down "Joe Willie's" cinematic path are borne out. I have a feeling that the deeper into the Deep Fried Media Age a subject lived in/found stardom in, the less likely people are going to be to plunk down money to see a dramatization of things they've already seen unfold in real time. No one can deny that the O.J. Simpson murders and trial were dramatic, but can you imagine anyone who lived through it wanting to see a two hour version of the story on the big screen?

A final note- biopics as a genre are fast becoming as tedious and uninspired as the remake. There will always be a place for the Illumination (an obscure-but-compelling life is brought to the forefront, à la John Nash in A BEAUTIFUL MIND) and the Revelation (what really made a mysterious figure tick, à la Ian Curtis in CONTROL), but the Demythologization approach (see ALI or THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS) is a dicey gamble.

Who wants to see their heroes taken down a peg? Aren't there too few as it is?

I see Evangeline Lilly as Jett.

You know that a genre is reaching the tipping point when it's getting directly satirized (the 12/21 release WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY), but that doesn't mean there still aren't worthy subjects and films to come. Out of the following list of upcoming/planned musical biopics (taken from the pages of Vogue's Fall 2007 Supplement "Movies Rock"), I wonder which subject seems the most promising to you? (Actors listed are rumored or attached)

Miles Davis (Don Cheadle)
Joan Jett (TBD)
Otis Redding (TBD)
Rick James (Terrence Howard)
Muddy Waters (Terrence Howard)
Janis Joplin (Zooey Deschanel)
Iggy Pop (Elijah Wood)
Mötley Crüe (TBD)
Debbie Harry/Blondie (Kirsten Dunst)

In closing, a spot-on quote from Roger Ebert (discussing the Rubin Carter biopic THE HURRICANE):

Those who seek the truth about a man from the film of his life might as well seek it from his loving grandmother.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Dog Ears #7: A Prayer For Owen Meany

In Dog Ears #6 I listed some of my favorite bits from the first half of John Irving's A Prayer For Owen Meany, but not before expressing my hope that the lull that'd set in about 200 pages into the 617 page novel would end soon.

Sadly, I felt it never did. This was a book that ended with a bang AND a whimper, but mostly with relief that it was finally over.

This image is a good match for the book's self-important, unsubtle tone

Soon after the fun of meeting the town of Gravesend for the first time had worn off, and the tragic events that set the story in motion had played out, the book settled into a repetitive loop of heavy-handed foreshadowing and even less novelistic political editorializing. The split arena gambit of telling the story in flashback and in the narrator's Owen-less present backfired severely, and I was sorely tempted to skim any page that took place in the late 80s.

It's one thing to weave in a political theme or point of view, and quite another to hijack what had been a promising tale of predestination vs free will in order to deliver pious shrill rants. This will almost certainly be the last Irving I read.

That said, I did dog-ear quite a few pages in the second half. Let's see how they go down the second time around...

p.372 "She possessed all the up-to-date information that often passes for intelligence among people who make a daily and extensive habit of the New York Times..."
(that one hit a little close to home!)

p.419 peavey: noun ( pl. -veys or -vies)
a lumberjack's cant hook with a spike at the end.
ORIGIN late 19th cent.: from the surname of the inventor.

p. 419 cant dog: noun
another term for cant hook .
(OK... I guess I have to look up cant hook)
cant hook: noun
a hinged metal hook at the end of a long handle, used for gripping and rolling logs.

it's weird to see the word "cant" without an apostrophe


p. 450 macadam: noun
broken stone of even size used in successively compacted layers for surfacing roads and paths, and typically bound with tar or bitumen.
• a stretch of road with such a surface.

They were nuts for macadams

p. 458 "... Canada sold the United States over five hundred million dollars' worth of ammunition and other war supplies... ... by 1970, Canada–"per capita"–was earning more money as an international arms exporter than any other nation in the world..."
(who knew?)

p. 515 addlepated: along with "addleheaded, a synonym for "addlebrained," which means "lacking in common sense; having a muddled mind"

p522 (on discussing the difficulty of teaching students wit)
"It's always description that they miss; I swear, they think it's unimportant. They want dialogue, they want action; but there's so much writing in the description!"

p543 "I will tell you what is my overriding perception of the last twenty years: that we are a civilization careening toward a succession of anticlimaxes–toward an infinity of unsatisfying and disagreeable endings."

Monday, November 19, 2007

What's the Opposite of Schadenfreude?

I must confess that there have been many occasions when I have taken pleasure in the pain of others. I hate that kind of pleasure, but when it comes, it comes. Right?

The good news is that over the past few weeks I've been feeling quite the opposite, taking great pleasure in the success of others. Three others in particular, all of whom I've known as friends and colleagues for nine years or more and who are enjoying varying degrees of public success at the same time.

It's awkward to say "I'm proud of you" to a non-relative in person, but hell, I AM feeling proud of them and what's wrong with sharing a little of that... blog-style?

This one speaks for itself.

The first is Mr. Sam Stephenson, whose excellent article "Southern Homecoming" about native North Carolinian Thelonious Monk's final string of shows in his home state is the cover story of Oxford American magazine's 2007 Music Issue. Before I first met Sam, at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1989, I'd heard tales of Sam. Sam Stephenson can drink a whole keg of beer. Sam Stephenson can throw a baseball 200 yards and hit a moving car. When I did meet him I quickly found out he was a gentle giant (and was laughed at for thinking ANYONE could drink a whole keg... hey I was 18).

Sam is a devoted aficionado, ambassador and archivist for jazz, photography, and specifically jazz photography. His 2003 book Dream Street: W. Eugene Smith's Pittsburgh Project was another highwater mark for Sam, yet I believe it'll one day go down as the prelude to an even greater work on Smith's soon-to-be-infamous Jazz Loft.

Livin La Vida Reilly

The second name I'll drop is Mr. Barry Poltermann, who co-directed (alongside Frank L. Anderson) the concert film/documentary THE LIFE OF REILLY focusing on MATCH GAME fixture (and much, much more) Charles Nelson Reilly. I've known Barry since that day in 1998 that, sight unseen, he hired me over the phone from Milwaukee to be the development guy for his new Venice, CA based film and commercial production company Spoke Film.

Spoke was the launching pad for film financing offshoot Civilian Pictures, which quickly became the focus of both our lives- mine up to the beginning of 2001 and Barry's until... well in a way it still is. Civilian offered ordinary investors the opportunity to buy shares of movies and documentaries in various stages of development, and despite the fact that we raised quite a bit of money and attracted high profile names like Diane Keaton, Keith Gordon and John Sloss, Civilian didn't achieve its ultimate goal of getting Civilian-financed films into theaters... until 2007. First the Wu-Tang Clan doc ROCK THE BELLS made it, and now LIFE OF REILLY makes it two in one year.

I just surfed to to insert the link here and discovered that the investor-friendly homepage that's been up for years has recently been replaced by a holding page, so we'll have to see what Barry and the Civilian crew are up to next. Even though I personally had nothing to do with REILLY, I'm still chuffed to see the Civilian logo in the newspaper movie listings.

If I were a betting man, I'd lay $100 on Riley scoring an Oscar nomination (or at the very least a Golden Globe).

Exhibit #3 is Mr. Todd Eckert, who produced the Ian Curtis biopic CONTROL, which is also now in theaters (thanks to the Weinstein Company's acquisition of the film at Cannes). I met Todd in a shuttle van shuttling us from the Salt Lake airport to Park City for Sundance in January of 1999. I wish I could remember what specifically struck our initial conversation up, but I remember for certain it was music (probably Ryuichi Sakamoto, but I can't be sure). We exchanged business cards, met later in the festival for drinks, and have been friends ever since.

Todd is, without question, the most serious music fan I've ever known. He was a music journalist before transitioning into the film finance world and, lately, into film production (among other things- he's a renaissance man in the best sense of the word). Despite a daunting travel, family and work schedule, he still manages to take in (what seems to me) hundreds of shows and movies a year and always drops band names to me that mean nothing to me at the time yet have a tendency to make sense later when the bands explode onto the scene.

Todd relentlessly pursued CONTROL for years, and took quite a few gambles to get it made the way he wanted it to get made including shooting in B&W, hiring a first-time feature director (Anton Corbijn), first-time feature writer (Matt Greenhalgh) and first-time feature actor (Sam Riley) to play the lead. All this from a first time feature producer, yet the film's taken major prizes at Cannes, Edinburgh, Chicago and more and is cruising towards $1 million at the U.S. box office with far more abroad.

Too all three of you major dudes, I extend a heartfelt "I'm proud of you": I'm genuinely happy for your successes.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Two is the Magic Number

David Lynch won't leave me alone.
I won't leave David Lynch alone.

I have David Lynch's fax number.
I don't have a fax machine.

is my favorite director, but I rarely watch his films more than two or three times.
I have listened to the soundtrack to TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME more than any other album, by far.

It's no secret that Lynch explores the theme of duality in most, if not all, of his work. Three of his last four features have dealt with duality explicitly, and its no coincidence that his most famous creation is TWIN PEAKS.

A devoted father... who nonetheless made ERASERHEAD the most unsettling ode to fatherhood in history.

An interesting counterpoint (or, more accurately, accent) to Lynch's apparent fascination with both sides of the coin is that he named his production company Asymmetrical, which, to me, says that he doesn't feel that the two sides in most conflicts are necessarily standing on equal footing.

I've had Lynch on the brain for some time now... pretty much ever since the release nearly a year ago of his last feature INLAND EMPIRE. The other day I forwarded reflections of my second viewing of IE and an interesting psychiatric interpretation of IE to a fellow writer and film lover, and this was his response:

Also, I've been having a great time reading about IE, but the more i
read, the less i think i want to see it. It sounds almost painful.

I simultaneously hear what he's saying 100%, and also am saddened by it. It's not that IE is necessarily "good for you" and therefore should be watched, or even that I necessarily love it the most and want to evangelize it from the rooftops.

It's simply that I was affected by it, and for some reason, want to share that.

I loved his willingness to stump for Laura Dern's IE Oscar chances in untraditional fashion.

I wonder what it means that I am so taken in by tales of madness, murder, paranoia and dissociative personalities. I'd like to believe that it's a sane person recognizing the realities and shades of insanity, but who the hell knows. I DO know that I am plagued by many of the same dualistic fears and insecurities that the characters in Lynch's movies face.

I am a success.
I am a disappointment.

Inherently, I am a good person.
Inherently, I am capable of evil.

I am worldly.
I am naïve.

I am in control of my destiny.
My destiny is in control of me.

I "get" David Lynch's movies.
I "don't get" David Lynch's movies.

etc. etc.

All I know, is that the dark and confusing hallways of Lynch's films also exist inside of me, and that is a good thing, and a bad thing.

Why is it that THESE people still resonate with me where other fictional characters are long forgotten?

A footnote, if you will. Piggybacking on the DVD release of TWIN PEAKS: The Definitive Gold Box Edition is the CD release of TWIN PEAKS: All New Season Two Music. This is truly fantastic news for diehard fans (like myself) of the show's soundtrack music as created by Lynch, composer/musician Angelo Badalamenti, and vocalist Julee Cruise. IMHO, the music from TWIN PEAKS is the most evocative, transporting, emotional, moody, tactile music ever created. Adding something new to the canon of two that has existed with no change for 15 years is extraordinary.

I found a user review on that summarized my excitement for this new release in a way I (or I) couldn't say better myself...

By L. R. Grubb "empathy addict" (Philadelphia, PA USA):

A decade and a half after Twin Peaks ended, six long years since I finished watching the show, and here we are. This is music that I have quite simply been yearning for for years. There is something about Twin Peaks that has created a condensed kind of nostalgia for series itself, the time in my life during which I watched it, and the people I watched it with, as well as something more, an unplaceable, deep and vivid longing for something that does not quite exist. Twin Peaks: Season Two Music has landed softly into my current life, not unlike a telegram from my six-years-ago self, and even with such magnificent tracks like Shelly, Audrey's Prayer, Harold's Theme, Josie and Truman, Hook Rug Dance, and Half Heart, I'm left with the sense of an intangible absence, one I suspect will never be filled after living ever so briefly in the staggeringly multidimensional world of Twin Peaks.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dream Franchise

Moving into a new home means a great deal of new stimuli to absorb, as well as subconsciously letting go of one's previous set of routines and familiar sights. I've found that these sudden shifts almost always cause a sharp increase in my dream activity, that old dream patterns are washed away and a new anthology of motifs and appearances by random faces from the past are featured.

It's not too unlike a new season of original programming after a summer of reruns.

I see horses out my window every day now, and I look forward to seeing them in my dreams

As I've mentioned before, some of my most fertile ideas occur to me in my sleep, as if the writer-side of my brain is trying to send messages to my conscious self that it has something worthwhile. Instead of a ghostwriter... a dreamwriter. Neither one is really you, but both of them quietly fade into the background if they produce something good for you.

Last night I had a doozy of a dream, the kind where you're somewhat aware that you're experiencing a dream but also can't quite shake the feeling that the jeopardy of the dream scenario is very real.

Mrs. Word Player and I had just bought a condo inside a sprawling indoor casino in Las Vegas. Neither of us were excited about the condo, especially because the doors weren't quite attached to the hinges, and the windows kept hovering slightly off the runners they were supposed to be attached to. I kept losing track of where our condo ended and the neighbors' condos began, as the hallways were maze-like and poorly lit. I kept getting frustrated by the lack of boundaries, so I would walk downstairs into the gambling areas, which looked like the interior of an enormous, vaulted-ceiling airport terminal done in tacky Vegas reds and greens.

The hallways in my dream reminded me of the hallways connecting the two realities in LOST HIGHWAY

I kept running into people I knew killing time playing slots or blackjack. I was always surprised to see them, but they were never surprised to see me. Every time I started to gamble, a voice inside my head told me that I only had $100 a day gambling allowance, and not to blow it all too fast.

(It struck my semi-aware conscious self how odd it felt to be privy to the little voice inside the head of my dream self.)

I wandered away from the tables and into a two story saloon-type bar. I emerged on the top floor balcony overlooking the place, and the big crowd down below stopped what they were doing and looked up at me. The only way down to the first floor was a wire that you had to wrap your legs around and shimmy down, pulling yourself with your hands.

I didn't want to go, but the people down below started yelling at me to, and then I realized that a bunch of ruffian types were approaching from behind. I noticed that the floor was covered in shards of brown and green broken glass inches deep. I started making my way down the wire, and everybody on both floors started shouting and breaking chairs and bottles over each other's heads in anticipation of my arrival.

This was terrifying, and I was sure that the mob was going to rip me to shreds when I reached the ground floor. It came as a huge relief to discover that I had entered a theme restaurant where you get to experience a real Western barfight without fear of getting hurt. The glass wasn't real and the chairs were breakaway props. Everybody crowded around me and rubbed my head and good-naturedly punched me in the shoulder in the "we really had you going" way, until we turned out attention to a new guy who'd appeared on the balcony above, and we all started acting crazy and menacing again.

Breakaway glass sure looks like fun.

That was the end of the dream, but it wasn't until a few minutes ago that I thought how cool it would be to have a real cowboy theme bar where you got to participate in a real barfight... something that few of us ever get to (or would want to, in reality) participate in.

In all likelihood the ship-to-shore dream message was something completely different, but that's probably what I'll remember from it.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mailer Made

Truth may indeed prove to be stranger than fiction, but why is it that truth and fiction always seem to be the only two choices in the running? It's like only having Democrat or Republican to choose from-- very limiting and tends to shove a lot of gray area into the black.

Truth is stranger than fiction is, I think, a widely held belief by most people of a certain age. I wonder what the margin between them is from person to person? Perhaps I'll start keeping a tab on how many moments from reality jump out as being stranger than any fiction vs those fictional moments that strike me as stranger than reality usually offers.

I wonder if... nahh.

Perhaps not.

A dozen or so days ago I was emailing with a relative of mine, and I half-jokingly replied to something he said with:

As you are almost certainly aware, real life is wildly overrated. I’ve been fictionalizing myself for years and have never been happier.

Actually, I was more than half-joking: just trying to say something cheeky without too much thought about how true it was. But the more I thought of it (and for some reason, I did) the more I felt I'd hit on something relatively unconscious and similarly close to hitting... something.

Perhaps not, but it came to the surface again this morning when I was reading the front page obit of in the NY Times. Mailer joins a long list of iconic artists of whose output I'm still only fleetingly aware... I've read more about him than read him. Anyone interested in getting an excellent look at Mailer the raconteur (and boxing fanatic) should immediately rent Leon Gast's truly excellent 1996 documentary chronicling Ali and Foreman's "Rumble in the Jungle" WHEN WE WERE KINGS. He comes as close as I've ever experienced to transforming boxing into poetry.

Ali Boma Ye! Ali Boma Ye!

Anyway, some pullquotes from Mailer's obit (excellently written by Charles McGrath) really struck me, especially these two:

The beginning of "Armies" is both a good summary of Mr. Mailer's life to that point and an example of how he had begun to turn himself into a character in which literary style and selfhood were virtually indistinguishable.

and this, taken from much later in Mailer's life:

His editor, Jason Epstein, said of this period, "There are two sides to Norman Mailer, and the good side has won."

How much do we actively, consciously pursue a heroic third act in life?

Mailer, it appears, had not only fictionalized his life to a recognizable degree, but also managed to pull off a third act denouement to his personal hero's journey that would have done Joseph Campbell proud: his transformation was not only difficult to predict, but also somehow inevitable.

The real question is...
was it man-writing-with-his-own-life-as-paper-and-typewriter, or did it just happen to turn out that way as most lives unfold... blithely hoping for the best?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Islands in the Stream of Consciousness

"Sail away with me, to another world..."

In March, some friends turned us on to the late comedian Mitch Hedberg. Following an outdoor afternoon of food and beverage, we piled into the car and listened to some tracks from Hedberg's record MITCH ALL TOGETHER. We loved it- he sounded like a more energized Steven Wright. The high of enjoying new comedy in tight quarters quickly crashed when we were informed that Hedberg was dead (3/29/05, acute toxicity from heroin and cocaine) and left few recordings behind despite a relatively long and successful touring career.


Despite the rock star look, Hedberg suffered from crippling stage fright.

When we got home, I added Hedberg's lone DVD to our Netflix queue and didn't think about him again until a few days ago when it finally made its way to the top and into our mailbox. His comedy didn't have the same impact watching and listening as it did in purely audio state, and part of that was due to how he looked (eerily like a strung-out River Phoenix) combined with knowledge of how he died. Still, the performance really came alive toward the end after he finished his new material and launched into a crowd-pleasing review of more time-tested jokes.

Afterwards, I was surfing around curious to know more about when I came across this doozie of a description at Wikipedia:

His routines featured elocutive but often short, sometimes one-line, observational jokes on everyday life, mixed with absurd and at times hylozoistic and paraprosdokian elements as well as non sequiturs.

I wonder if Hedberg himself would even have been able to easily digest that one! For my and your edification, here's a breakdown of the five dollar words.

elocutive: this word is actually NOT in the dictionary (yet another reminder not to believe everything you read!), but it seems pretty clear that its taken from the word elocution, which means:
1 : a style of speaking especially in public 2 : the art of effective public speaking

absurd: "absurd" is a commonly-used word that most of us use with ease, but I'm a believer in occasionally looking up words you think you know just to make sure, so:
1: ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous 2: having no rational or orderly relationship to human life : meaningless ; also : lacking order or value 3: dealing with the absurd or with absurdism

I thought it was interesting that absurd means "no rational or orderly relationship to human life" considering the above description that his humor was largely "observational jokes on everyday life" (and that I personally find at least 51% of human life intensely absurd).

Heraclitus was down with hylozoism.

hylozoistic: taken from hylozoism, which is "a doctrine held especially by early Greek philosophers that all matter has life." Furthermore:

Although there is a distinction between possessing soul (panpsychism) and possessing life (hylozoism), in practice this division is difficult to maintain, because the ancient hylozoists not only regarded the spirits of the material universe and plant world as alive, but also as more or less conscious.

paraprosdokian: a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax. For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists.

Does it get any better than Rufus T. Firefly?

Here are some good examples of paraprosdokians (say that five times fast)- Hedberg's discovered connection to one of my all time favorite comedians (Groucho Marx) further explains my newfound affinity for him...

Where there's a will, I want to be in it.
"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it." — Groucho Marx
"Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana." — Groucho Marx
"I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my father, not screaming and terrified like his passengers." — Bob Monkhouse
"I haven't slept for ten days, because that would be too long." — Mitch Hedberg

non sequitur: a conversational and literary device, often used for comical purposes (as opposed to its use in formal logic). It is a comment which, due to its lack of meaning relative to the comment it follows, is absurd to the point of being humorous or confusing. Its use can be deliberate or unintentional. Literally, it is Latin for "it does not follow." In other literature, a non sequitur can denote an abrupt, illogical, unexpected or absurd turn of plot or dialogue not normally associated with or appropriate to that preceding it.

Non sequiturs often appear to be disconnected or random comments, or random changes in subject, especially socially inappropriate ones. When non sequiturs are used frequently for comic effect this can be called "absurd humor".

(ah HAH!)

The non sequitur can be understood as the converse of cliché. Traditional comedy and drama can depend on the ritualization and predictability of human emotional experiences, where the theatre of the absurd uses disjunction and unpredictability.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hooper Super

Halloween is nearly here, and I've got the Skittles in me belly to prove it. Last night Mrs. Word Player and I watched our annual scary movie to prep for the big night: 1963's THE HAUNTING.

To me, Russ Tamblyn will always be "Dr. Jacoby"

As you may have noticed, everyone and his brother has a "Top Horror Movies" list going on their site, and Robert Wise's adaptation of Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel "The Haunting of Hill House" made it on most of the lists. Add to that a personal recommendation by a knowledgeable horror movie fan, and it was Netflixed like Chex Mix (The Movie).

Boy, did it feel like a movie from another era. The era where movies didn't have to make sense as long as the production values were up to snuff. THE HAUNTING looked great in sharp Panavision B&W and infrared, and the sprawling gothic manse itself was plenty creepy to serve as the setting for a haunted house chiller.

One one level, it was fun to see a film that, stylistically, inspired future possessed addresses in THE SHINING, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, and POLTERGEIST. On the other, the movie so unequivocally failed to deliver on its juicy premise and character setups that I felt betrayed and bewildered.

My friends and I saw POLTERGEIST as part of my 11th birthday party. Nice.


As the film slowly descended into its arbitrary and vague climax, I started thinking of another Halloween movie night several years ago. We hosted a couple for a double feature at our tiny flat on Horatio Street in NYC. We the gents made two selections we thought couldn't miss- Boris Karloff in THE MUMMY (1932) to be followed by Tobe Hooper's groundbreaking (1974). I had only seen MASSACRE once before, in college late at night in a room full of woozy dudes, and couldn't wait to see it again in a clearer state of mind.

After some wine and grub and MUMMY, we turned the lights off completely and popped in MASSACRE.

Big miscalculation.

Turns out it's not at all geared towards the ladies. What I hadn't remembered is that the second half of the film is basically the terrorized heroine running for her life in the dark with Leatherface and his demented kin nipping at her heels. My friend and I wound up feeling awful for subjecting the ladies to such a grueling viewing experience, but to the girls' credit they watched it to the bitter end.

And then, of course, they let us have it. What kind of assholes would subject their wives to a movie like that?!

This look sums up how the ladies felt about watching TTCSM

I hadn't thought of that night for years until Mrs. Word Player recounted it at a dinner party hosted by another couple here in LA, much to the delight of Host Husband, a horror fan with an encyclopedic enthusiasm for the genre.

As luck would have it, several months later the same Host Husband was picked up by a friend to attend the premiere of his writer friend Dan Madigan's new horror film SEE NO EVIL (2006) starring the hulking wrestler Kane. On their way to the premiere they picked up one more person- MASSACRE director Tobe Hooper. In the car, Host Husband told Hooper the story of how Mrs. Word Player was so shaken up by that long ago Halloween viewing of his film, and he replied that he was genuinely touched that his movie was still able to deliver the goods all these years later.

I gotta tell ya, it felt super cool when Host Husband told me that Tobe Hooper was tickled to hear about Mrs. Word Player's reaction to my disastrous Halloween night movie pick! I knew there was a reason I made it!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Dog Ears #6: A Prayer for Owen Meany

His vocal chords had not developed fully, or else his voice had been injured by the rock dust of his family's business. Maybe he had larynx damage, or a destroyed trachea; maybe he'd been hit in the throat by a chunk of granite. To be heard at all, Owen had to shout through his nose.

"It is Owen who made me a believer."

So we hear from narrator John Wheelwright on page 3 of John Irving's 1989 novel A Prayer For Owen Meany. So the reader never forgets this unusual method of speaking, John's best friend Owen's dialogue is IN ALL CAPS FOR THE DURATION OF THE BOOK.

At first I found this authorial choice almost too mannered (even for Irving), but the deeper I push into the book (I'm little more than halfway through on p.350) the more I recognize that it's pivotal to never forget Owen's physical peculiarities as the mystery of his "purpose" is slowly revealed to us through the narrative.

I admit the book has been slow going the last 100 pages or so, but the book's reputation as a classic and my faith that Irving is building to some wonderful fireworks in the Third Act are keeping me going.

That, and the beautiful writing of course.

I'm nervous about how Vietnam will figure into the story of Owen and John

Before I get to some of the many, many dog ears from the first half, I'm wondering if anyone else has noticed a great deal of similarities between Owen Meany and Max Fischer from Wes Anderson's RUSHMORE (1998). I'll have to watch the film again after I finish the book, but off the top of my head Owen and Max both:

1. attend a tony private all-boys school, but only with financial assistance
2. become enraged when Latin is removed from the curriculum
3. suffer from delusions of grandeur
4. feud with the school's headmaster
5. are the central figure at the school's newspaper
6. are central figures in local/school productions of dramatic plays

and I'm sure there are more. I'm also curious to know if the book's quasi-official film adaptation SIMON BIRCH (also 1998) is worth watching. Apparently, John Irving sold the film rights, but only with the stipulation that the title never be used. Irving himself came up with Owen's replacement name "Simon Birch."


OK, on with the prose.

p.7 "–but every study of the gods, of everyone's gods, is a revelation of vengeance toward the innocent."

p.34 "Your memory is a monster; you forget–it doesn't. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you–and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!"

p.38 "And in addition to being an almost perfect mother, I also know that she was a happy woman–and a truly happy woman drives some men and almost every other woman absolutely crazy."

p.57 "It's a no-win argument–that business of what we're born with and what our environment does to us. And it's a boring argument, because it simplifies the mysteries that attend our birth and our growth."

p.83 red-letter: of special significance
Function: adjective
Etymology: from the practice of marking holy days in red letters in church calendars
Date: 1704

December is chock full of red-letter days

p.111 "... Mr. Merrill was the most appealing because he reassured us that doubt was the essence of faith, and not faith's opposite."

p.128 "Mrs. Hoyt was the first person I remember who said that to criticize a specific American president was not anti-American; that to criticize a specific American policy was not antipatriotic; and that to disapprove of our involvement in a particular war against the communists was not the same as taking the communists' side. But these distinctions were lost on most of the citizens of Gravesend; they are lost on many of my former fellow Americans today."

p.292 "And Hester was committed to irreverence..."
(what an outstanding commitment! Hester the Molester, I salute you!)

p.309 "Don't ask for proof–that was Mr. Merrill's routine message.
'Faith itself is a miracle, Owen,' said Pastor Merrill. 'The first miracle that I believe in is my own faith itself.'"

'It takes more practice,' I told him irritably.
'FAITH TAKES PRACTICE,' said Owen Meany.

Monday, October 15, 2007


The October 14 New York Times Magazine featured an extensive series of articles and polls that took a close look at what wealth means to the city's over 8 million residents. As a former, briefly-tenured, New Yorker my favorite stat was that only 51% of those polled "think that living in New York City is worth what it costs."

You only find out about the five months of winter AFTER you move there

Since I moved away from NYC, I've had to field many questions as to why I wanted to leave. My favorite answer is "New York is a city designed for the very young or the very wealthy, and by the time we left Mrs. Word Player and I were neither."

According to Mercer's 2007 Worldwide Cost of Living Survey, NYC is the most expensive city in North America (and 15th in the world- shockingly, Moscow edged London for the top spot). I remember a NYTimes article from a few years ago that really took the wind out my sails about NY. It's premise was basically that a married couple with two kids and an annual household income of $1 million could only break even living in Manhattan.

Depressing, no? In 2001, we paid $2000 a month for a 450 sq.ft. apartment in Manhattan... I shudder to think what it's going for now.

Anyway, this Sunday's Magazine had an article on the "superspecialized workers who serve the supperrich" of NYC, such as nannies, party planners, etc. One guy's profession in particular caught my eye- William D. Zabel, Postnup Lawyer.

If you're a "nonmoneyed spouse", this man is the Angel of Death

"What the hell is a postnup?!" I wondered. Here's the blurb from the magazine:

Postnups” — or postnuptial agreements — “are usually for couples without prenups,” says Zabel, a trusts and estates lawyer with Schulte, Roth & Zabel. Why people get postnups: “Either the nonmoneyed spouse — usually the wife — in a 30-to-40-year marriage wants to know what she’s worth and gain some financial security, or the moneyed spouse in a newer relationship — usually the husband, and these days, often a young hedge-fund manager — wants to see if the wife is in it for the money and wants to cap the assets paid out if the marriage were to end in divorce.” Do his postnup negotiations ever lead to divorce? They usually help a marriage, because “everybody knows where they stand.”

Although I'd never heard of such a thing, my gut was in instant disagreement with Zabel's assertion that postnups usually help a marriage. After discovering that "postnuptial agreement" isn't even in the dictionary (though "prenuptial agreement" is), I poked around a little more and found a Time article from 2001 that made more sense to me.

After shocking me (I'm easily shockable these days apparently) with the stat that 20% of newly married couples get prenups, the article lists other reasons that couples get a postnup, including dramatic changes in finances from an inheritance, protection from liabilities one of the spouses may be experiencing in business, and controlling inheritance paths in blended families.

Blake Edwards' films contained hilarious/terrifying perspectives of marriage

I am a happily married man, and admittedly naïve when it comes to marital ruthlessness , but I have been around the block enough to understand (to a certain degree, anyway) why a party with a sizeable amount of wealth wants to protect themselves from someone entering into marriage under false pretenses.

What I don't understand is how any spouse could feel anything but impending doom if, after their marriage partner inherited a big chunk of change, called in the lawyers to cap how much they could get in the event of a divorce. Wouldn't that signal something awful on the horizon if it happened to you? Or am I just being Mr. Sensitive Guy?