Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Jingle All The Way

 Stay with me.

I'm inching back toward this blog.

It was once all about film written exclusively by women, although mostly me.  And as anyone near to me already knows, my interests in recent years have veered more toward things like ballet and advertising, and insofar as anyone can pursue it, the beach.

Today I want to talk about advertising. 

Being behind agency doors is a lot different than I imagined it to be during all those years, particularly during grad school, when people would say "You should be in advertising" after they asked what I planned to do for paying work post-graduation.  I would knit my brow hard and say charming things like, "I am going to be a film critic."  Because, motherfucker, I study the cinema.  It was super cute.  Some people I know have actually become critics--paid ones!--and their ambition and seeing it through-edness is not to be diminished.  Those motherfuckers are amazing.

I took my first copywriting job in 2006 out of necessity, but now I love the work.  I was broke then and the contract gig paid well.  I kept taking jobs like this until years later I snuck into a full-time copywriter position at a downtown agency by the skin of my teeth.

It was a terrible agency.  But the experience was invaluable.  The thing that ran most through my head during that time was the idea of the missing byline.  How many ads, TV commercials, radio spots, banner ads, and dastardly page take-overs have you read or heard without ever knowing who authored them?  The answer for me was innumerable.

Having come from an industry where securing a prominent byline was as valuable as the payment for work itself, the mystery of how all these ads could go by on a mass scale without a name attached was fantastic.

This voice, the "byline", as one comes to learn, is called "the brand."

Gross, right?

Why the fuck is an inanimate object, a goddamn label, talking to me?  But it totally is.  Coming to terms with this truth--in the wise words of Cher from Clueless (1995)--I am overcome with a sense of "ickiness."

I'm still not really at peace with it.

When I was at that first terrible agency job I spent loads of time researching old ads I liked.  I realized I liked a lot of them and they were meaningful to me.  A pattern emerged and a fondness for commercial jingles was revealed.  I had no idea I contextualized so much of my childhood and adolescence via songs written for consumer packaged goods.

Freedent gum.  It "takes the stick out of gum."  Jhirmack shampoo.  "She's got Jhirmack bounce back beautiful hair." Dino-Riders action figures.  "Harness the power of Dino-Riders."

I found a mentor at that agency.  One day I emailed him with a link, "Remember this song?"

Salon Selectives.  "Choose to be your most beautiful."

"Remember it?" he asked, "I wrote it." 

Ladies and gentlemen, I had found the byline.  Here, the man who had of late spent most of his waking hours by my side turned out to be the author of perhaps the most influential commercial jingle of my lifetime.

Here's another iteration.

(This one is even better, but for some dumb reason it won't let me preview it for you.  Whatever.)

Our professional relationship and his mentorship of me become, suddenly, something more powerful.  For one thing it answered the question, Who wrote this?  More importantly he became a part of a memory. 

That jaunty tune was really a tale of my older sister scooping those coordinating shampoo and conditioner bottles off the store shelves and into our shower, filling the air with its fresh apple scent.  I was forbidden to touch these products.  She would smell my hair to make sure I didn't steal a squirt.  That stuff was coveted.  Having Salon Selective products was as much a beauty solution as it was a story of sibling rivalry.

It was strange to think of my coworker stitched into that long continuum of jingle-listening and sisterly fighting.  It was strange to think of him as a person who was with me unseen for all that time.  If we weren't already so chummy together I would have fallen mute, into an awkward silence of awestruck reverence.  That's how much this song meant.

I sang it for years.  When I glimpse the bottle on the shelf (it is still available in certain Walgreens drug stores) I still sing it.

And the thing is, love this song.

I decided some time around then that writing a smart commercial jingle could not surpass much else in this life.  Some of you want marriage and kids.  Me, I fancy a song about chewing gum.  Last summer I was dating a guy in advertising.  An accomplished copywriter.  I told him how much I loved jingles.  He told me to forget about it, "jingles are dead."  Now, so is that relationship.

A dear friend and respected coworker shared with me the theme for Chewels gum a couple of weeks ago.  A gem of a ditty from 1984.  While I'm not sure how this managed to miss my radar as a kid, I can say now that I wish it was available on iTunes for purchase.  This song is so fucking amazing I haven't closed its YouTube tab on my browser at work for weeks.  If I could play it on repeat, I would.

Did you even just see that?!!

I took my mom to meet my old college professor and friend a few weeks ago.  We sat on his couch singing our favorite theme songs.  He sang us this catchy number, for the Castro Convertible:

Then there was a duet from his wife and my mom, for Fritos corn chips.  "Fritos make lunch munch better."


 And so I want to know, what are your favorite commercial jingles?

The jig is up.

I know you've got them.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

BFFs of the TFF

Heyo.  Just back from the 40th Annual Telluride Film Festival.  It was a special one to attend this year, for the festival not only marks its 4th decade in existence, but also celebrates the 25th anniversary of its unique education program, the Student Symposium.  I attended this delightful program headed by film critic Howie Movshovitz and film scholar Linda Williams in 2002, just as I completed my Bachelor's at the University of Colorado.  They told us then: embrace this opportunity, because it won't happen again; you only get to attend the Symposium once in your life.  And it was a hell of an opportunity.  50 students who apply are chosen to attend the festival with a complimentary pass, access to exclusive conversations with filmmakers, actors and artists, and are given a cash travel stipend--which is much appreciated to help account for the highly expensive trip to the secluded mountain town in southwest Colorado. 

The Symposium is more rigorous than what's required of typical festival attendance.  Sure, no matter who you are--press, the public, or students--you can't really count on more than 5 hours of sleep during the thick of festival season.  But for students the day starts at 7:15a.m., where we meet for a breakfast discussion before we're off to queue up for the first flick at 9:00a.m.  On average we see up to four or five movies per day, a day that is broken up with quick trips to the staff commissary for lunch, and special one-on-one talks with filmmakers, and that ends somewhere in the neighborhood of 2:00a.m.  On my best night I got 5 hours of sleep.  On the worst, two-and-a-half.  And you know, for all the anxiety those numbers are wont to induce, there's such a grand energy among the students that you mysteriously whisk through your day with incredible adrenaline. 

Could be the coffee.  But, for me, it's the people.  When I attended the Student Symposium 11 years ago I met some of my best friends.  We miraculously stayed in touch just days after the five day fest ended.  It was dumb luck that this year, on the 25th anniversary of the Symposium's institution that Education Dean, Kate Sibley, and the rest of the Symposium staff accepted 25 alumni to attend again.  I was lucky and honored to be invited back.  I reunited with my past--my friends, my teachers, that sublime mountain space--and met people who will define my future, new friends and filmmakers. 

Published in the TFF program is a short essay I wrote about the friends I made in Telluride in 2002.  And posted below is the article in its entirety. 

Do you ever read significance into things like the number tacked to a door?  6g was our condo number in 2002, and that’s what we call ourselves now—6g—a name that stuck from the first time we crossed the threshold of that door.

It began a few months before that, when our “den mom,” aka the Education Programs Dean at the Telluride Film Festival, Kate Sibley, sent an email to 50 of us saying we were accepted to the student symposium.  Secure housing quick, she urged, because accommodations are as scarce as they are expensive.  The rush of introductory emails from fellow students trying to figure out housing was so fierce that responding to everyone became the structuring device of my day, a lively lifeline at a pre-career desk job.  We made jokes and gushed in anticipation of what was going to be an awesome festival.

A few days later, Jeff from Missouri put out a call for roommates.  He found a condo at the Lulu City lodging complex on the west end of town and we jumped on the offer.  The summer skipped forward with sporadic logistical notes about travel and anecdotes about the terrific symposium teachers, Linda Williams and Howie Movshovitz, which some of us knew from respective film classes at Berkeley and the University of Colorado.  There was a loose force acting around me, as I remember it—I don’t even know these people—and as it always happens in that mysterious, imperceptible way, strangers become familiar. 

Floridian Barry Jenkins (TFF Ringmaster and Shorts Curator) and I composed long epistolary notes about movies via email for months.  Weeks later, Camille from Tennessee emailed to ask if there was still space in our condo, it looked like her housing would fall through.  She was welcome, becoming the tenth member of our house party, likely to bunk in a bedroll or the bathtub at this juncture, but in the meantime I had to know, What are you watching?  The rising feeling of possibility and compassion in those individual exchanges brought us square into the festival.

We arrived and spent swoony high-altitude days and late nights watching films and debating them until the only thing left to do was hit the bar where our merry delirium could be sated in time for two hours of sleep.  Maybe the movie that defined us the most was Alexandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark, which Josh, a Denver, Colo. native, remembered blinking in and out of at 9:00a.m. after an almost sleepless night.  6g opinions are split on this flick that was shot in a single 90-minute take.  Barry, Jeff and I call it sublime.  Chava, from New York, and Camille call it boring.  The rest of the votes are truly hanging chads.  Maren, the group’s California girl, to wit, “I’m with Josh.  I enjoyed what I didn’t sleep through.”

Festival highlights trumped one after the other.  We had exclusive conversations with documentary filmmakers, D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, and Ken Burns.  We sat rapt as Howie and Linda introduced us to director David Cronenberg.  Legendary screenwriter Betty Comden regaled us with stories before the 50th anniversary screening of Singin’ In The Rain.  We were ecstatic to meet stars on the street.  We snagged pictures with a patient and kindly Willem Dafoe.  I exchanged hellos with Paul Schrader, and we invited Michael Moore to the final night 6g condo party.  He didn’t show, but we sang through the riotous night anyway, “Cheers—to Telluride!  To 6g!”

The rest is something of lore.  An email chain started somewhere in the days following the festival, and it never ended.  The group of us have had reunions and met family members.  Four are married now with an average of 1.25 kids apiece and more on the way.  Movie debates continue over Gmail, and we’ll never, ever agree on Russian Ark.  We’ve become our own mini-symposium that’s in touch weekly, sometimes daily now for 11 years.

It’s not unusual I come across an apartment number, a hotel suite, an item number on a take-out menu, “6g.”  I always stand back and admire it—the cosmos knows.  And then I come to and realize the coincidence as the simple reminder it is, of friends that are always there.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

For Roger Ebert

 I thought about it for months.  Distracted thoughts about what movie I would finally write about to resurrect this blog.  Every attempt failed.  The drive was gone.  What was my problem?  I didn't know.  There was some anxiety about it.  I knew I was disconnected from a thing that at one time in my life had been a primary means of expression.  I tried to understand (still in my distracted state) what is was exactly that prevented me from taking the reins of my own thoughts.  Beautiful movies had come and gone.  Bad ones, too, that begged to be struck down.  And indeed it was just that: every movie I watched had asked for a response in one way or another, but I fell mute.  I stared back like a dummy unaware for months and now it was taking a toll.  I felt the repressed action scratch at my conscience at night.  I decided, consciously, that the feeling would continue to scratch until it was downright clawing my soul.  Action would be easy to take then, out of the necessity of mere sanity.

That's a window in the the state of a repressed writer.  Then today upon the announcement of the death of Roger Ebert, the prolific patron of film criticism who helmed the Chicago Sun Times movie critic spot for 46 years, I felt a deep pain.  It was heavy and not the pitiful kind you can so easily put upon yourself, like I have done, as I noted above, for months.  I was sitting at my desk.  It's at the ad agency where I work.  I flicked over to the New York Times tab to confirm that the "RIP Roger Ebert" hashtag now trending on Twitter was true.  The story had barely broke.  It's weird being in that space then, among so many faces that have no sense of my identity as it ties to the movies, or movie criticism.  "Oh, God," the trembling tenor of my words filled the immediate air.  Everyone wanted to know and so I told them.  In foreign lands like these sympathy is ephemeral though.  I understood this and took to obsessively refreshing my Twitter feed for support.  The virtual community was there in collective mourning.  I tore out a sheet of legal paper and scribbled two sentences that would be the start of a blog post, the one that would break this long silence.

There was a terrible unintentional irony in the sentence, "Here's what's going to bring this blog back to life, words in memoriam for Roger Ebert," but that was the first one taken down with my runny blue pen.  I've amended it.  I struggle sometimes to understand how I can feel so much for a public figure I never knew.  But Roger Ebert is one of those guys that even if you didn't know him you felt like you did.  My mentor and great friend Howie Movshovitz has been Ebert's friend for decades.  Howie is the longtime film critic at Colorado Public Radio.  On a visit home at Christmastime last year, he regaled me with stories about Ebert's bickering relationship with Gene Siskel, with anecdotes about his hard drinking days, and mostly about his loyalty and generosity to him, and others, as a friend.  Howie took a guest slot on "At The Movies" after Siskel died and the show was seeking a replacement.  "You have to talk fast," is what Howie said to me about the experience after taping then.  I asked him about it again at Christmastime.  "My conversations with Roger were always additive," he said.  They didn't quarrel or disagree meanly.  It was non-competitive.  They supported one another.  There was mutual respect and fondness.  I think they were just plum happy to talk about the movies together.  They were those kind of friends.

In the late 1990s when I was enrolled in Howie's film history class at the University of Colorado in Denver, he told me about this thing called the Conference On World Affairs, which took place on the CU campus in Boulder every spring.  He told me to go to it.  Roger Ebert would be there and he would host an event called "Cinema Interruptus."  It went like this.  You watch a movie at beautiful Macky Auditorium on the first day in its entirety.  You report back to the venue for the next four days in a futile and very fun attempt to see the film through to its end again.  See, in those subsequent four days audience members are invited to yell out "STOP!" at any time during the movie, at which point they ask a question or make a statement about the shot or scene.  To put things in context, the year we watched Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) on the first day we made it through the opening credits, and those just barely.  Ebert was filled with knowledge and conversation points at every pause, creating dialogue and understanding of the images we were watching.  It was like film school, but, you know, fun.

Ebert made talking about the movies fun. 

There was a critic at the now defunct Rocky Mountain News in Denver.  I checked up on his reviews every week.  He ranked them by grade and almost nothing made it past a C or perhaps a -B.  I was about fifteen when I began this ritual, and even then he struck me as an unhappy person.  He hated everything.  No movie was good enough.  Roger Ebert became a fresh voice in the competing local paper, The Denver Post, where his retrospective pieces were reprinted every Sunday.  I heard his voice right away, as clear as a bell and happy to be there.  His clarity.  That was undeniable, even in those hazy grad school days were I temporarily cast him off in favor of Béla Baláz, Sergei Eisenstein, and other guys whose heads were somewhere beyond the stratosphere.  But I'm a simple gal at heart.  Nothing gets me more than a good nineteenth century vaudeville song, a bit of Turkish Delight, and quoting a scene from Ghostbusters (1984). 

I went to Ebertfest, or "The Overlooked Film Festival" in 2008 with a dear friend.  We were immediately endeared to the crowd, mostly natives to the Champagne-Urbana, Ill. area, who exhibited the most refreshing lack of pretension.  The elders of the bunch carried Ziplock bags of boiled sweets, butterscotch and hard peppermints.  And we learned that we could lay our faux Pashmina scarves across our seats and that would suffice to everyone as a placeholder.  No arguments were waged.  You'd never seen such manners!  Roger was sick then.  He wasn't there.  Chaz, his wife, dialed him on her cell phone from the dais on stage and relayed his greetings.  We were all thrilled of course.  We watched movies day and night for five days.  Paul Schrader was there with his own 35mm copy of Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters (1985), and the Philip Glass score to that movie has been running in my head with eerie pace since.

In the past few years usually whenever Roger was invoked it was to either describe the rich clarity of his writing abilities, or to note what a generous, loyal friend he'd been.  Sometimes they sounded like eulogies, although he was still alive.  I read an essay--that I can't seem to track down--that Roger wrote about his father.  It's one of the most beautiful I've ever read.  We've all seen the excerpts from his memoirs in the Sun Times obituary now, but I'll quote them here.  They bear repeating: 

I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world.

Before 8:30a.m. today I had called 911 (witnessed a hit and run), 311 (Housing complaint), my super and my landlord (terse words over a repeatedly broken boiler), and I don't know how you'd say I actually got to work.  I arrived there surely, angry and unshowered, between some intersection of dejection and total fatigue.  And that latent guilt.  The sort that suggests I should act better than how I'm feeling, that I should be grateful.  The day progressed as it always does.  Deadlines were met.  Fires were put out, as they like to say.  On the subway, bodies seemed to swell.  One man was within the densest point of the crowd. "Excuse me," his voice rang when the doors opened at his stop.  The crowd cleared in a way I saw as oddly miraculous.  He wasn't angry or rude or entitled, just direct.  And it cut through the cacophony, graciously.

I'm home now, finally, and I'm writing a post about Roger Ebert that has brought my writing back to life.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Yogawoman (2012)

Oh, boy.  There's a documentary for everything.  You shouldn't be surprised that there's one about the yoga trend, and more precisely, one that follows its vast trending among the female demographic: Yogawoman.  85% of people in the United States practicing yoga are women.  That's a lot of yoga pants.  Annette Bening narrates this made-for-TV documentary--and who would be a better fit for the role?  If you want to convey female strength and resiliency, there's no woman with more steady intonations.  The gurus out there will enjoy this for its showcasing of high-profile yoga instructors.  But it moves quickly and skims the surface of a number of yoga-related topics and organizations, that will leave the rest of us, ultimately, a little bored.  My capsule review is live at Time Out Chicago now.

Friday, October 12, 2012

How To Survive A Plague (2012)

 My review of the new documentary chronicling the rise of AIDS awareness in New York City in the '80s and '90s is live on The Rumpus now.  Please check it out, and more so, see this marvelous film that's put together from stacks of home videos during the organization and mobilization of perhaps the fundamental grassroots gay activist-AIDS awareness group, ACT-UP.  The people involved incited radical, smart, intuitive, and heart-felt change to the healthcare and political complex that for years ignored them.  It's a fantastic, inspiring film.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Top Ten Films of 2011

An old punchline from a dear friend and cineaste sums up this post nicely:   “Yesterday’s news tomorrow!”

Here, finally, is a list of my favorite movies from 2011.   But why now on this odd date?  January 17th?  What is that, a Tuesday?  Everything about this is unremarkable.  But I saw Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011) for the first time only three days ago.  This, taken with a few more 2011 releases over the past two weeks, makes me feel sufficiently versed to submit a comprehensive favorites list.

Hugo was promptly moved to the top of a previously submitted (though not published) Top Ten Films of 2011 list through one Mr. Tativille (Michael Anderson).  His site complies the results of select film critics’ top films of the year for a cumulative ranking.   My list was in poor form when it arrived in his inbox at the 11th hour on the day of his deadline.  And as the deadline approached, apathy not urgency took over my mind state.  For all of the cinema I had missed from 2011 at that point, it became impossible to reckon these omissions with the publication of a list that implies a level of authority on the subject. 

So I scrapped together ten films that were not altogether different from a list that might be titled, “The Ten Films I Watched in 2011.”  The playing field was that small this year.  New interests and routines took me in directions away from new film—though not entirely off its track.  My vigor for the movies has been newly restored after watching Hugo, a life-affirming ode to the movies, to movie history; a capable example of what makes 3D worthwhile, and a sweet story that tenderly affirms humanity.  And those are just the platitudes!

But that’s the key: a total engagement with what cinema is—how it works technically, narratively and emotionally—is what makes Hugo the standout film of 2011.  I use it as a tactful juxtaposition to show the flaws of the films I disliked in 2011, big favorites like The Artist, for example.  I watched only half of this movie, a saccharine homage to silent cinema, before I gave up.   The Artist was content to display its knowledge of film history—as a business and technical art—without inventively saying something, anything new about it.

It is here I’d like to invoke one of Mrs. Tativille’s (Lisa Broad) great lines about Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011) as analogy.  Midnight is, she says, “light entertainment for geniuses.”  And while our sentiment for Midnight differs, her point is taken, and by extension I’d like to say The Artist is something akin to this, perhaps “light entertainment for film history students.”  Or something like that.  There’s a kind pandering or self-regard about it, like a cute show of “this is how things used to be” while it yawns one big stretch of “so what?” as it goes along.

Walking out of movies is not my typical behavior either.  I used to consider the integrity of a film and demand that I finish it whole, even if gave me heartburn to do so.  But the intervening years have taught me that time is too precious to be wasted this way.  A keen topic, time is, in the context of this note remarking on another year gone by.  It’s for this simple reason that I enjoyed Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which cheerfully asks us to love the past, to anticipate the future, but to always, always be alive in the present.  As you look through my list of the top films of 2011 below, I think you’ll find that’s a sentiment favored in them all.  Even Insidious.  But really, that movie is so good it’s scary, pun intended.  Any movie that makes me suppress terror-vomiting or that incites roller-coaster quality screams for a solid third of its running time garners the title of “Best Horror Film Since The Exorcist” in my book.

Happy belated New Year, everyone.

The Top Ten Films of 2011
  1. Hugo
  2. Insidious
  3. Drive
  4. Midnight in Paris
  5. Pina
  6. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
  7. Certified Copy
  8. A Separation
  9. Poetry
  10. Bill Cunningham New York

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Janie Jones (2011)

Oh, Jesus, I've been away from this blog long enough for my precious few followers to completely forget about it.  I'm genuinely sorry about that, but I have good news.  I'm breaking the long silence.  Fresh up on is a tiny review I've written about the new indie release Janie Jones starring Abigail Breslin, who steals an otherwise lame show.  She's actually the one thing I loved about this movie.  She's very comfortable in front of a camera and exudes such a natural presence.  I wanted to like more about Janie Jones, but its technique overwhelmed me.  Read the review for more complete thoughts on that.  In closing, I LOVE YOU.  Thank you for clicking back over to my blog, nice reader!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tabloid (2011) - Review in The Rumpus Today!

My review of Errol Morris' new documentary Tabloid (2011) went easier on the director and his latest film than I think my heart had in mind.  I walked out of the film totally irked by the fact that a male filmmaker devised a film about the nature of exploitation while exploiting his very own subject, who happens to be female.  It seemed unjust to me that the only one speaking on behalf of this woman was that woman herself.

Meanwhile, her story is contradicted by a number of tabloid journalists and a few male associates she knew in the past.  It seems way too easy to malign this woman who already seemed at a terrible disadvantage.  It's almost like Morris got joy out of labeling Joyce McKinney as the unseemly figure she was made out to be in 1977, when a stack of professional nude photographs emerged in the media.

Isn't there something innately tragic about a woman who falls back on the porn/nude modeling industry without the media and Morris bringing further insult to it?  Later, McKinney is splayed across tabloid covers with no regard for what perhaps brought her to such extreme measures (that's the real nature of tabloid journalism); and later still Morris profiles her with silly frivolity here in Tabloid.

Which is not to say the film isn't capably constructed.  Which is not to say the movie didn't move quickly and hold your attention at every turn.  Which is not to say I don't think Morris has an actual interest in McKinney and the business and nature of the tabloids.  I only find it offensive that his interest is framed in way that's so completely oblivious to his role as the dominant male dictating how this story about a woman plays out.  It's a movie to me that's contentedly ignorant of the boy's club it comes from.

My much gentler handling of this movie is here, at The Rumpus.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dumbstruck (2011) - Review Up Today!

New review up today on!  No new notes to add here that aren't already in the review itself, which you can read here, except to say putting the word "dumb" in the title of your movie is a practice that should just be avoided.  Just sayin'.  Anyway, IT'S A VENTRILOQUISM MOVIE HOLY SHIT!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Poetry (2011) - review out now!

South Korean director Lee Chang-dong's newest picture Poetry (2011) has been touring about the festival circuit for the past year, and has finally landed in theaters from distributor Kino International.  The film follows a single grandmother who is diagnosed with Alzheimer's and raising a troubled grandson on her own.  Immediately after her diagnosis she enrolls in a poetry class.  Her assignment, write a poem by the course's end.  The film follows her struggle to express herself while the world around her increasingly loses its meaning.   Poetry is a subtle portrait of a woman struggling to create an impression on the world when she herself is fading from it.  You can read my full review at!