Friday, December 28, 2007

Dear Charlie:

Have you ever noticed how much music can make a movie?

Take Halloween, for instance. Take out the creepy octave-jumping in 5/4 time and you got a laughably silly set-up going. It's just not scary without the music. Trust me. I tried it.

However, the inverse can also be true. The wrong piece of music can totally break the mood of a scene, take you right out of the movie, destroy that carefully constructed suspension of disbelief.

Still otherwise, you can have a great piece of music that just doesn't really do anything for a scene. That same piece of music can absolutely smash in another movie, but it doesn't do anything in the wrong place.

See, I just watched Man on Fire again, and I realized instantly that Nine Inch Nails' The Mark Has Been Made is in there, and it's used to perfection. It's also in 300, where I'm not sure I could tell you the scene without watching the movie again (oh, what a shame).

However, in Man on Fire, it perfectly conveys the...disjointed despair...that Creasy feels in the beginning of a flick. He's a man on his last mental leg. A man who cannot forgive himself for his life's work. His only remaining hold on this world is his alcohol and his one friend, and those grips are tenuous at best.

The Mark Has Been Made is exactly that.

And when it changes to that determined, angry drive, so does Creasy. They play just the right snippets to convey his mood. To convey how his motive changes from just holding on because he knows he's damned and holding on just long enough to save the little girl who reminded him it was okay to live.

In 300, I think it might have been when the Persians are arriving in all those boats and a storm swamps a bunch of them. Maybe. But again, I can't be sure without watching it again.

Funny how the same song can be both perfectly used and ill-used. How it can get across the exact right emotion in one movie and leave no impact at all in another.

Oh, well. It's NIN. It can't be bad.

[EDIT: Upon further study -- because I always further study anything that interests me; I'm like a crow that way, "Oh, look! Something shiny!" -- I discovered that Trent Reznor, lead-man and pretty much sole creative force behind NIN, is billed as the "musical consultant" for Man on Fire. Little wonder the music is so well used there. I mean, c'mon. The man is a genius. I may not always agree with him, but I have to respect that kind of brilliance.]

Monday, December 24, 2007

Dear Charlie:

You know how crises tend to bring out a person's true character?

Yeah. While I hope I passed that little test these last two weeks -- one spent without power and the other spent making up for all that time both at work and at home without the money to replace all the food that spoiled or that I fixed and gave away so it wouldn't spoil (and so someone, at least, would enjoy it) -- I know a few people who didn't. One in particular made me despair of the entire human race.

When her power went out, her rich and influential friends (her daughter used to date their son) invited her whole family to come stay in their multi-million-dollar, 6000-square-foot mansion until their power came back on. Or longer, if need be.

Instead of being incredibly grateful, she complained all week about the food. And about how everyone at work was being mean to her. And about how her daughters' Christmas presents had finally arrived, but no one was at their house to accept them, so she had to swing by the post office on the way to the rich friends' house and pick them up.

In a way, it was kind of amusing to listen to her gripe about her woes. On the other, it just made me sad that she didn't realize she had friends willing to put up with her long enough to offer her a place to stay. In, you know, a mansion. *snerk*

At any rate, I told you this story to tell you another. This one is about my beloved sister, who you all probably know. I talk about her all the time, because she's just that kind of person. She's just worth talking about.

So, I drove down to Mom's Saturday afternoon to help her cook for our Sunday Christmas dinner. My brother came with all his kids. So did my sister. We'd already agreed to just buy for the kids, but Sis and I both bought Mom a little something, too. I mean, it's her house that we're all landing on, you know.

Usually, Sis and Mom and I stay in the kitchen and talk the whole time while the guys sit in the living room to get away from our ceaseless nattering. This time, Sis and I didn't really get to talk much before dinner was served, and there were so many kids that there wasn't really room for all the adults to sit at the table. Mom and Joely stayed with them, bless their indulgent parental hearts, while I escaped into the living room with the guys to watch some football and eat in relative peace.

By the time the dishes were all up, everyone with kids was ready to leave, so Sis and I still didn't really get to talk. I missed that, but I figured we'd make it up some time during the week.

On the way home, I swung by Dad's to wish him a merry Christmas. It was all sorts of fun because he got me to watching Spiderman 2, which I'd watched so long ago that it was like watching for the first time again. Good times.

Anyway, by the time I got home, I'd used 3/4 of a tank of gas and had no money with which to replace it. Oh, I had $19 on my bank card, which I can't use if the balance is under $20, and I had $14 on my BioLife card (from donating plasma), but I was saving that to buy a few last minute groceries for baking my Christmas presents for work. I could probably have written a "bad" check, but I'm already so far in the hole that a few extra $25 overdraft charges would put me in the hole even after being paid Friday.

Not a good place to be.

So, when Sis called me up this morning to say that Dad was on his way to her house for a little Christmas get-together and did I want to come along, I politely declined. I wanted to go. I hadn't been able to talk to her at all the day before, and I missed that. But I couldn't afford it. I wasn't even sure I could get to her house on a quarter-tank of gas.

She said that if I could get there, they could get me home.


Keep in mind that my beloved sister has three kids of her own and isn't in the peachiest financial situation ever right now. Factor in that she's just bought Christmas for those three kids and for her husband and for my brother's four kids. And for Mom. And for Dad.

So, I said thank you but no, I couldn't do that. I wasn't sure I could get there anyway, so thank you for the incredibly generous offer but not on your life.

Her husband -- whom I'm guilty of calling That Man because he can be an incredible asshole -- blue-tooths the phone call and says, "Get in the car and come up here and we'll take care of the rest." I said thank you but no again. He threatened to drive all the way here to give me to money to drive over there. To be honest, he's just the kind of stubborn that might actually do that, so I paled a little. No, I really couldn't do that...and he said they were already in the car.

Needless to say, I finally agreed. I put $13 of my $14 plasma dollars into the car and headed that way. I'm so glad I did. I got to hear my 8-year-old niece read the Christmas story from the Bible. I was so impressed. I mean, this is the old King James version with the hard words and tricky grammar, and she did exceedingly well.

I was also amused to learn that I still knew it by heart from all the Christmas programs as a kid. It's good to know.

Of course, I wasn't terribly thrilled with the inquisition from my dad about why I'm not published and rolling in the dough by now, but that's another story and...quite frankly...something I don't care to relive. I'd have rather had the hot poker and the rack.

At any rate, the girls then clamoured to open presents -- the crappy ones from Mom and Dad, not the cool ones from Santa, of course; those are for Christmas day -- and so I was surprised when I had a Christmas card to open. I was even more surprised when a wad of cash fell out of it to go with the heartfelt words both inside and out.

My sister, who has to make every single penny stretch to impossible lengths, had given me probably the last of her cash so I'd not only have enough gas to get home, but enough to last the rest of the week until I get paid. My sister.

Long story short -- I know, too late -- I guess crises don't only point out a person's bad character. Sometimes, once in a great, great while, it proves that there are good people out there, too.

I like to think that for every hundred or so bad people who would complain about the food in a mansion, there's at least one person like my beloved sister. One who makes your last few dollars worth a million. One who makes the three hour round-trip worth it a million times over. One who tries to help explain to a non-writer why publishing isn't like construction work, where "hours worked" equals "hours paid".

One who makes even an old Grinch like me smile.

So thank you, beloved Sis, for arm-breaking me into coming to see you out of the kindness of your giant, super-economy-sized heart, and for the best spaghetti I've ever eaten, and for a Coke to see me home wide-awake, and for the gas money to get back safely. *grin* And thank That Man again for me, wouldja?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dear Charlie:

Sorry for the absense lately, but I haven't had power since early Sunday morning. Yes, I missed the Chiefs game. *sigh* Yes, I've been a little nippy.

However, I've been extremely lucky. My water still works, though my water heater doesn't. I have a gas range, so I've been able to cook, so long as my matches hold out. Plus, while almost all of the trees in my yard were dragged down to toothpicks and shrapnel by crushing, encasing ice, only one landed on my roof and all missed my car. Holy cow!

And the one that hit my roof didn't do much damage. I probably won't even turn it into the insurance company, what with the deductible and what a claim would do to my rates. *grin*

So I escaped serious damage and have everything but heat and hot water. Plus, friends have kicked in and offered places to shower and sleep. So, I'm sitting pretty. Internetless for the most part, but pretty.

Don't worry about me! They're checking the lines behind my house as I type, so it's conceivable -- not probable, but at least possible -- that I might have power tomorrow.

The funniest thing, though, is that the power's been off at work, too, so I've been really dislocated from everything. I'm only spending a few hours at home every day, and I've been sent to another office in my company's complex during working hours. I've been sleeping either bundled up beyond belief at home with no digital clock on the ol' bedside or at someone else's house (which means I'm not really sleeping) for several days. It's just...weird. Not bad, per se, just weird.

I don't have any idea what day it is, really. Or what time. Of course, it's dark so early that it feels much later in the day than it really is. But it all adds up to just this general sense of dislocation. Weird, huh?

Anyway, again, no worries. I'm alive, if not precisely clicking on all eight cylinders. Doing a lot of reading by candle light, which is fun. As Gloria Gaynor said, I will survive.


And until then, enjoy the silence! It doesn't happen around me often!