Heartbreakers

We’ve all been there: the first look, the initial teases, the memorable first date, the breathless anticipation, the shy touches and blushes . . . and then the shocking flame-out.

Male-female relationships? That’s kid’s play. No, I’m referring to the heartbreaking cycle I’ve endured with my unrequited passion for TV series I loved and lost.

I’m reflecting on that special kind of pain after NBC pounded me with previews for its new series Revolution throughout the Olympics. I even watched the extended preview with scenes of the U.S. after the collapse of the electrical power grid. The view of a weed-choked Wrigley Field in Chicago echoed the conclusion of Planet of the Apes. I saw a young cast led by a bow-and-arrow wielding heroine, sword play, and the quest to turn the power back on. Of course the preview hinted at a vast, shadowy conspiracy and the need to uncover what was really behind the calamity.

I could love this easily imagined scenario. My passion for conspiracy-minded TV is vast. I watched every episode of 24, which rewarded me with thrills and chills and Elisha Cuthbert for eight uneven but gripping seasons. I even posted essays on 24 fan sites, a pre-blogging kind of expression I’ve never done before or since. I also loved the first season of The Walking Dead when I could get it on video; I even read the very long graphic novel afterward. Years ago, I read Stephen King’s The Stand, which was haunting, and enjoyed the mini-series with Molly Ringwald. I became a fan of Firefly, a beloved and influential series that Fox bungled, long after its cancellation — my son suggested that one for me.

But I wonder about Revolution. The tease caught my interest. Would this be the start of a beautiful relationship, or merely the latest in a dreary series of network equivalents of one-night stands? I’ve always been a sucker for sci-fi and apocalyptic TV and movies since I watched The Time Tunnel and Lost in Space in the 1960s. Raquel Welch’s Fantastic Voyage and One Million Years B.C. also captivated me, for more hormonal reasons.

In recent years, my devotion led to naught but regret as one sci-fi series after another dished out the wham-bam-thank-you-Van treatment.

My entertainment Walk of Shame started several years ago when I fell hard for FlashForward. The first episodes were brilliant. Everybody on the planet blacked out at the exact same moment, for the exact length of time, and had disturbing visions of their future. FBI agents, wracked by their own dreams, started to unravel what happened. Even as they did, the series itself fell apart. My sense was the writers couldn’t put together a coherent explanation for the blackout or its aftermath. Loose ends piled up, conspiracies became muddier. I missed some episodes, although I hung on to the end, which hinted at the next flash forward dream. Fox cancelled the series. America yawned.

Saddened, I kept hope for quality TV alive with The Event, with semi-immortal aliens captured by the U.S. government in Alaska. The series grew on me as it progressed. The aliens were riven by intrigue and disagreement about the path to take in deciding whether to cooperate or exterminate earthlings. Since aliens are often portrayed in Borg-like agreement on everything, I found this angle refreshing. The series picked up steam and direction as it moved along. The very last scene promised an explosive second season, perhaps on the lines of the movie Independence Day, but that season never happened. A long gap in the airings (curse you, Fox schedulers!), baffling personality changes in the aliens’ leader, and the usual bogus swamp of plot clutter—always involving a sweaty, treasonous Vice President, lurking in White House hallways whispering into his cell phone—sank the series. Viewers fled in droves. Canceled.

I’m feeling sheepish about my most recent ill-starred love. Goaded by relentless promos, I watched most of Fox’s Terra Nova. Go ahead and laugh; looking back, I have to ask, “What was I thinking?” The show threw an attractive multicultural cast in the time-travel blender, built a set that looked like a pre-historic Club Med resort, shook well – and created a mess. I kicked myself for wasting time even as I watched the episodes, hoping the show would coalesce. But it stayed stuck on stupid. Terra Nova had too few rampaging dinosaurs, NO exploding volcanoes and way too much idiotic teen romance. The writers lacked the courage to truly explore the show’s premise. If you could go back in time to rebuild human society, what would it look like, and how would people interact? (Terra Nova opted for Dawson’s Creek with pterodactyls.) The concept of building a new society in the past is strong enough without gumming it up with Road Warrior-style opposition forces and yet another corporate conspiracy. The ending intrigued me—the settlement leaders discover a 17th century ship, hinting at past settlers from other eras—but by then millions of other viewers had broken up with Terra Nova and the relationship ended. Adios, dim-witted teens and brontosauruses. Raquel Welch did far more with far less with her fur bikini in One Million Years B.C.

Sometimes I recognize a loser and bail out before I’m too far in. I tried Kiefer Sutherland’s series, Touch, where he was the father of a silent, autistic boy with the power to bring people together through number patterns. Two episodes of cloying global goodness and an impending conspiracy had me reaching for the remote control. I just couldn’t handle an autistic savant.

So that brings me around to Revolution. This is from NBC rather than Fox, so the commercial breaks might be slightly shorter (less time to wash dishes, fold laundry, etc.) and the plotting more focused. I greatly enjoyed executive producer J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield, a story told completely through found footage from cell phones and camcorders of a monster wrecking New York. Abrams’ vision of a powerless America, including shapely women wielding medieval weapons, could lure me back to the TV singles bar one more time in my endless quest for love with a remote control.

Or if it bogs down in its own relentless seriousness and conspiracies, I can always do a Stargate marathon.

“High Art,” Odd Jewish (Sort of) Movie

Departing from my usual fare, I had Netflix send me High Art, a 1998 movie set in the drug-addled art-magazine world in New York. The cast had promise, with Ally Sheedy, Patricia Clarkson (struggling and failing to maintain a German accent) and Radha Mitchell. The photo-magazine setting also caught my interest, but the druggy characters and dark settings dampened my mood. Ally Sheedy as Lucy looked dreadfully gaunt as an alienated star photographer in emotional exile — I hope that was just acting, not real life.

What added an odd angle to High Art was Sheedy’s interaction with her mother, an upper-class German-Jew who rails against Sheedy’s German girlfriend and drives a Mercedes. The strained mother-daughter relationship and the explicit Jewish angle (including a scene with Shabbat candles in the background) were so at odds with the blank backgrounds of the other characters that I had to wonder what was going on.

Did Holocaust traumas drive Lucy’s drugging and withdrawal? What’s the backstory on the German girlfriend and the mother’s hectoring? Lucy carries the weight of history as well as addiction in her, and that added a fresh element to a romantic threesome movie set in the late Clinton era of New York. High Art is worth watching, but it’s no feel-good date movie.

Thinking About Body Images and “Someday Melissa”

I typically scan the New York Times obituary page for lives well lived, but the December 21 edition with the tiny-type paid notices was wrenching with its sketches of too-soon loss. One very long notice was for Suzanne Hart, the advertising executive killed in an elevator accident a week earlier. By contrast, the memorial notice for Melissa Rose Avrin ran only 7 lines, plus a photo. It read,

Dec. 21, 1989-May 6, 2009. Your movie is a reality. It’s changing lives around the world in the battle against Eating Disorders. Missing and loving you forever, Mom. www.somedaymelissa.com.

I followed the link and found that “Someday Melissa” is the name of a documentary made by Melissa’s mother, Judy Avrin, as a response to Melissa’s death at 19 from a heart attack related to her bulimia. It has already accepted at a film festival and screened at medical schools, universities and Jewish community centers. Someday Melissa includes journal entries from Melissa and interviews with family members, friends and medical and mental health professionals.It deserves wide viewing and discussion.

Melissa Avrin’s wrenching and fatal bulimia resonates with me as the extreme expression of body-image issues. In my dating days in the 1980s, I met women with bulimia and the memories of their deep distress over appearance and other psychological issues still haunt me. I tried to be as supportive as possible, but I realized the matter was far beyond my influence, other than saying I accepted them for who and what they were. Whatever self-perceptions led them to behave this way had no basis in reality — they were attractive and fit. But we’re not talking about reality with any of this. I couldn’t save anybody, and it took years before I realized that.

I touch on body image issues, both men’s and women’s, in my book. I don’t know if Jewish women are more prone to eating disorders than any other ethnic group, but they are perhaps more articulate in acknowledging and addressing them. I look at the film’s website and I think of other women and their pain. The film already has had an impact, judging from the hundreds of comments posted on the site’s guestbook about viewers’ responses to it. I can only hope that Judy Avrin’s response to her great loss leads to comfort and support for people who punish themselves when looking in the mirror and not seeing the God-given wonder they truly are.

 

“Gloomy Sunday” — Finding Compelling Jewish Cinema Via Serendipity

Planning for a four-day weekend, with three days without library access, I went a little wild on Thursday scooping up DVDs. My son’s with me so I looked for films through his eyes. Several genres called out to me–a big film noir collection, 13 Assassins in the ever-popular Japanese samurai mode, Gilda with Rita Hayworth, and finally, from the German shelf, Gloomy Sunday. I had never heard of the movie, but the Holocaust themes and Budapest setting suggested this could be worth a look.

We kicked off our holiday film festival with this movie. I highly recommend it to anybody looking for a different take on Holocaust cinema. The Amazon link gives plenty of details about the film, so I’ll focus on what made it especially notable for me. First, female lead Erika Marozsán throws out some of the most smoldering looks ever seen in a movie — the term “bedroom eyes” must have been invented for her. She plays a waitress for a Jewish restaurant owner in Budapest, before and during the war. The character and probably the actress aren’t Jewish, but she’s integral to the plot of a movie that relentlessly moves toward the deportations from Hungary, which happened in 1944. I’ve already updated my mental list of the sexiest Jewish movies to include Gloomy Sunday on the strength of Marozsán’s performance.

The Holocaust aspect is compelling but not nearly as explicit as Schindler’s List and The Pianist. I found Gloomy Sunday also interesting also as a Holocaust movie set in Hungary. Other movies that came to mind are the Hungarian-language Fateless and English-language Sunshine are other movies set in Hungary, and they all deal, to differing degrees, with the lives people made after the war ended.

As an extra treat, Gloomy Sunday has a conclusion that makes rewatching earlier parts of the movie a delicious, retributionist pleasure.