Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Three Burials of Miscellaneous Blogada

...in which we put together a mish mash of topics in the hope that it will come to a cohesive end…

Well, we can always hope.

So, how was your weekend Mike?

Glad you asked, Self! It was one of those weekends where the Carol was gone to San Diego andI was left to my own devices. Usually this is a recipe for disaster. I rent a bunch of bad movies and eat junk food. But this weekend was a little different. Oh sure, I still rented the bad movies ( I'm still debating whether Fun with Dick and Jane was worse than Bubba Ho Tep, and Madagascar was no great hell either), but I ended up going out with Kim and Dan on Saturday Night.

Kim and Dan are fellow Canadians living in LA. I've known Dan for years. We did theatre together in Toronto for decades, acting together and I'd directed him in a bunch of stuff. He is one of my favorite people to work with, and just in general. He's got a common sense to him, that is rare in the acting community, and he's basically unflappable. Well, at least I've seldom seen him flapped. He has this innate ability to put things in their proper perspective, which I envy...He's Rudyard Kipling's "If" embodied.

His wife is pretty much the same, and I like her a lot. Also involved in theatre, Kim stuck to back stage...never losing it, that I ever saw. She has a patience that I could never emulate. She managed to stick out the animation courses I couldn't. She's worked all over California for various studios and is currently working at Sony/Columbia in Culver City, which is where they live.

So we have a lot of common ground and when we get together part of our ritual, as displaced Canadians, is to vent about what the crazy Americans are doing. Please don't misunderstand what I'm saying here. It's not out of a lack of respect for the people of the US. They're great. Part of it is what I call Valentine Michael Smith Syndrome (Stranger in a Strange Land). All of us spent the majority of our lives in Canada. We're used to the system. We understand it. Another part of it is the way we as Canadians define ourselves, and the main way we do is by being adamant about not being Americans. Not superior, just different. And living in Canada we are, more than most other countries save Mexico, constantly exposed to American culture. It’s the consequence of being neighbors, or as Pierre Trudeau said, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt…” Hell, I knew more about American History by the age of 10 than I knew about Canadian History (I’ve since made up for it). I still study American History, because it fascinates me. I’m currently reading Sarah Vowell’s “Assassination Vacation”. Dan and Kim are equally well read, if not more so. So when we discuss what’s happening in America, it’s from that informed perspective. And when I say “Crazy Americans” I’m talking, of course, about the politicians…Well, the majority of them, anyway.

Where was I? Oh yeah…So we went out to the movies. Kim has been itching to see Tommy Lee Jones’ “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” since it came out last year ( I wanted to see “The Notorious Bettie Page” which ought to show you where my head was at, and about which more later). It seemed like an odd choice, but she had read good things about it, all of which turned out to be true. On the surface it’s a simple story about loyalty, retribution, and redemption. Underneath that is an examination of the illegal immigration situation and the hypocrisy on both sides of the issue. It’s not heavy handed, or preachy. It’s there for you if you want to see it, and if not, the story is interesting enough on its own.

I’m not going to take sides on this particular issue, as I’ve seen it from both ends. As a landed immigrant with a green card that I had to go through miles of red tape, and jump through several fiery hoops (including not being ALLOWED to work for nearly 3 years) to get, and as a guy who got stopped at the border and wasn’t allowed to be with my fiancĂ©e for almost a year because I didn’t have the proper paper work. I understand that this is a serious situation which has been ignored for far too long and requires cool heads and not knee jerk politically opportunistic reactions (from both sides) which are only going exacerbate the matter. No matter what you hear, there is no quick fix for this and beware of anyone that offers one…

The following day I went to the L.A. Times Festival of Books. It’s an event I’ve gone to every year since we moved to Los Angeles, and I love it, although this year seemed a little less festive than previous years…or maybe I just found less that interested me this year, plus I got a nasty sunburn. Or perhaps it had something to do with the following.

The Festival was sponsored by, amongst many others, The Canadian Tourism Board. I happened to arrive in their tent, greeted by the requisite Mounties in full regalia (Really, if we’re going to get annoyed at other people perpetuating cultural stereotypes, we’ve gotta stop reinforcing them ourselves). As I approached the table, I happened to be just in time for Mr. Loudmouth Blowhard (not his real name). He decided to regale the people working the booth with his sense of humor such as it was.

“Hey (hyuck hyuck, hyuck) Do ya know how Canada got its name?” he brayed.

My eyes rolled to the back of my skull out of reflex…

“They reached into a scrabble bag and as they pulled out the letters they said C-eh? N-eh? D- eh? Hyuck, hyuck, hyuck!!!” ( The real story of how Canada got its name is actually funnier. “Schindler’s List” is funnier for that matter. Look up the story sometime, you’ll be in hysterics…Then again, maybe not, but at least it’s funnier than that joke)

The people behind the counter laughed nervously hoping, no doubt, that any reaction would mollify him and he would go away. It was not to be.

Mr. Blowhard was on a roll. He did another lame joke, and then started voicing his opinion about Canadian Immigrants and how they were just as bad as Mexicans, if politer and at least they spoke English, well most of them…and how they were lucky to be here…ad infinitum, ad especially nauseum…All the while I’m standing there holding my backpack, which has a Canadian Flag prominently on the front of it, facing him…

After another minute of this, and having had about as much as I could stomach, I began to walk away. As I passed by one of the guys at the counter, I muttered “Jackass” out of the corner of my mouth. He broke up laughing, long and loud, thus confusing Mr. Blowhard, who was in the serious portion of his act.

Here’s the thing. The jokes didn’t bother me. They’re as old as dirt, and we wrote most of them. Nobody is better at self-deprecation than Canadians, except for the Brits. Hell, Bob and Doug MacKenzie are the product of two Canucks satirizing the CBC (who had arbitrarily decided that SCTV needed 2 more minutes of “uniquely Canadian Content”)

And while I’m coming clean, we’re also the first to out other Canadians, in any given situation. I’m guilty of it, more than most. Because of runaway production, It’s gotten so I can identify which city something was filmed in from the Canadian bit players in the trailers. My wife finds it annoying. I suppose I would too, if the shoe was on the other foot.

I guess all this by way of saying that we’re proud of who we are, but we’re not loud about it.

I guess my reaction to this guy was more about the overt racism in what he was saying, and the presumption of superiority by virtue of geographic nativity, plus he was just plain rude. Nobody asked to hear his stand up routine or his opinions, but out of politeness they listened.

We’re all about politeness, we Canadians…He even said so.

I left the Book Festival, after picking up the aforementioned Sarah Vowell (whom I love, by the way. Sorry, Honey) book. Having spent time with loftier forms of literature, I wandered over to Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, Kevin Smith’s comic book store in Westwood, near UCLA. I had a Celebrity Sighting…A woman was having trouble getting her kid to choose a toy, and the kid was going through a “What’s this?” jag. I turned to look at one point and the woman gave me a sheepish grin and I realized it was Cynthia Stevenson (Cheers, Oh Baby, The L Word. By the way, IMDB says she’s a Canadian Actress, despite being born in Piedmont, California. Apparently she was raised in British Columbia. See how this is all linking together?). She looked great, as opposed to the other celebrity sighting I had at the Book Festival, Terri Garr. The MS appears to be taking its toll, but she seemed in good spirits.

On the way home I stopped off to see “The Notorious Bettie Page”. Great Movie. Gretchen Mol is wonderful and looks so much like Page it’s scary. A great look at mores and the odd standards of what constitutes pornography. How does this link to everything else, you ask?

The director is Mary Harron, daughter of Don Harron AKA Charlie Farquharson from Hee Haw. He was also one of Paddy Chayefsky’s favorite actors, a witty, erudite man ( I know this because I met him) and a talented writer. His daughter is also an accomplished writer, and directed one of my favorite movies “ I Shot Andy Warhol” (whose star, Lili Taylor also looms large in “Bettie Page” as Paula Klaw, one of Bettie’s principal fetish photographers)

Oh yeah, and Mary Harron is also, you guessed it, Canadian.

See? I told you it would all tie together somehow…

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