This week, I watched All About Eve, Tick, Tick… Boom!, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower; and I listened to: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and Hiding in the Spotlight. I couldn’t decide which one to review, so I’m going to pile my comments on all of them.
Actually, I was wondering whether I should review what I liked best, or what I hated most. Neither would be fair. To put the dots on the i’s, I loved Hiding in the Spotlight. Why? Maybe because it’s a memoir, since biographies and memoirs relate real life, meaning that the plot was devised by God. Destiny is rife with lessons; or questions. One can debate ad infinitum why God would allow certain things to happen, or plan other events in a person’s life. Often, the wisdom of it all cannot be ascertained until the end. On the other hand, a man-made plot is only the human author’s point of view and therefore fulfills only his/her limited view of life/ the universe.
If Hiding in the Spotlight were a work of fiction, critics would smother the author with remarks on why should a young girl, or for that matter, two young girls, be able to escape the Holocaust just because they happen to be piano prodigies. But because their lives were planned by God, we are left plucking through the threads of their tangled fates to figure out why. It could be correct that God sent a number of “guardian angels” to help the girls out along their journey through life’s vicissitudes — I remember actually laughing out loud when Zhanna/ alias Anna dared complain that there were too many guardian angels when she was asked to play publicly when all she wanted was to hide her identity! However, it could be that music — good music — is a balm, a reminder of peaceful and happy days, and is therefore equally attractive to all humans, regardless of ethnic background, age, or which side you’re on in a war. One very interesting detail which might illustrate this point was the denunciation by the jealous dancers, and the ensuing interrogation of this one woman and her son who knew the girls back in Krakow. The German officer –twice!– believed the lies of the witnesses and never tried to investigate the accusations further. The question that begs to be asked is why? He probably did not want them to be Jewish, because he wanted to continue enjoying their performances. Although the ending was expected –after all, it was written by Zhanna’s son Greg Dawson, the last name giving a clue to who Zhanna married — I could not help the tears flowing when it happened. Such is the power of real lives.
The other memoir this week was A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. This was told in the first person, in this new style called stream of consciousness. I only finished it because I’d paid for it. I felt ready to opt out before the end of the first chapter. The voice of the author just reminded me too much of my psychiatric patients who’d derail all the time when speaking. Isn’t it one of the advantages of the written word to filter out unnecessary phrases, redundant or out-of-place thoughts, and particularly obscenities? I’m so tired of having to listen to the F word and all its related variants. A particularly long book, AHWOSG was short on plot. I don’t have anything against simple plots, after all, a young man raising his 9-year-old brother after his parents die of cancer can be just as interesting as a piano prodigy surviving the Holocaust. People with plain lives have equal rights to an audience. But, please… OK, I get it, I get the author’s voice, thoughts, immaturity, etc. Enough. Move on. What else is there? At least, the author tried to give the long rambling monologue some structure by framing it with his mother’s death and coming to terms with it by scattering her ashes. Which, by the way, raised the question of WHY did he not consult with his siblings before doing so? He, by his own account, screamed at his sister when she decided not to receive the ashes, an individual decision without the input of the brothers, specifically, the author. Then, when quite by chance he does find his mother’s ashes, he does not bother to notify the other siblings.
I could go on and on about how I want to scream as I read through this book, but it doesn’t deserve it.
About the movies. I always start by looking up a classic movie that I have never watched, or one that I did watch but too long ago. I actually was surprised to find out I’d already watched All About Eve some time in the past, and was equally surprised to find out I’d never noticed — or remembered– that the main character was Bette Davis! Ha. Or that a very minor character (Miss Caswell) was a very young Marilyn Monroe before the curves. Yes, already she was cast as the dumb blonde. What I found really very interesting was the theme: young come-uppers trying to replace successful people by insinuating themselves into their life and imitating them. This happened to me too. Oh, I’m nothing like a Margo Channing movie star, just successful within my own community. And, like her, I was too naive to see through such a snake in the grass. Looking back, I wonder that it took her telling me so in my face for me to realize what she was up to. I guess we all cannot fathom thoughts we do not have ourselves. We all then project onto others thoughts and deeds we would have had in their place. So maybe, in a way, we all are egotists and narcissists, only bathing in a world of our own making.
Tick, Tick… Boom! is probably considered artsy? With a layered story-telling seasoned with songs. I nearly opted out too, because the plot seemed scattered and I couldn’t identify with the protagonist. Thankfully, the puzzle pieces started gelling together and characters started fleshing out, and things started making sense. I suppose that what sustained me through this opening phase was the good music. Then came the suspense of the reading/audition. I loved how the one singer and one piano sounded… well, tinny and skeletal, but with more singers and more instruments, the whole thing welled up into an object of beauty. As a creator myself, I could identify with the push and pull of devoting oneself to one’s art versus going for a “normal” job and paying the bills; the surrender to the absurdity of market economy because idealism will not survive realism. Maybe, the image which I carry away is that of Jonathan Larson standing there saying that he is running out of time. He meant then that he was turning 30 and had yet to achieve something. [As Yue Fei said, “30 years of fame and achievement, nothing but dust and dirt.”] But we the audience — well, if said audience had bothered to look up Jonathan Larson and found that he died of a dissecting aortic aneurysm the day before the opening of his first musical at age 35– realize the uncanny clairvoyance of this statement.
I wanted to watch next a successful book-to-movie, and stumbled across The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a much lauded YA book. Well, though it did touch me somewhat, there were so many holes and questions and negative comments in my head that I looked up reviews of the book. Well. Apparently, the movie is better than the book. Really? I totally agree with the criticism of piling all the possible bad things that can happen to a teenager and not dissecting each properly. Throw it in and run on. I agree even more on the tone of the writing which seems like that of a 7-year-old though he says he bowls over his Advanced English teacher with his essays. I was really interested to see more of the teacher-student interaction, the discussion of good books, but … nada. Just an opening of Charlie guessing correctly (but not speaking up) that the author discussed by Mr. Anderson was Charles Dickens, leading to their first connection. And nothing more except for classmates teasing him for handing in an essay early. Then the parting at the end of the year when Charlie does raise his hand to answer a question (he has moved beyond his shell) while Mr. Anderson decides not to move, and consequently become a writer, though this was never mentioned before. La di da. So, it takes child molestation, drugs, sex, LGBTQ issues, suicide, nervous breakdowns, etc to make a person move on?
Again, it’s not a memoir, although Wikipedia says it’s semi-autobiographical. I guess Stephen Chbovsky had a bad childhood/teenage years, but not bad enough since he had to pile in everyone else’s bad experiences…