Monday, April 30, 2012

Movie Idea: Russian Ballet

With the decent success of Black Swan, Save the Last Dance and even Centerstage, Hollywood will alwasy trot out a dance movie for the arts community and little girls everywhere. One thing that can help a movie's draw is if there is an international element. Americans love to project themselves into the main character going off to the foreign land, and the foreign land boosts foreign box office draw as the foreigners go "Look, it's set in our country". I propose a dance movie for all ballerinas... failed, functioning or forgotten.

Introductory scene is set in mid '80s USA with a young couple performing a pas de deux. From first shot we see that it is the Russian Ballet Co performing a goodwill "Glasnost" tour for increased openness between the USA and USSR. They move well together and at the end rush off stage. The producer is yelling for them shortly thereafter but does not find them. The couple has escaped the theater, and seeks asylum in the USA. Hurray, they are free. End scene.

Flash forward to young girl doing the ballet thing in a studio with middle aged woman instructing her. She's harsh and critical, but the girl gets it after a few tries. Big hug after the bit, and we see it is the dancer from the opening scene. Papa comes to pick them up, and we get the loving ride home with family chatter. Daughter goes home to sleep before performance the next day. We see her dance themed room. She rises, goes thru dancer prep routine, performs at some recital and makes parents proud. They talk to her about her applying to the Kirov. They support her as much as it pains them to see her go. They warn her of the pressure she will face, as the program is the best, and the added scrutiny of being their daughter. The father will kiss her goodnight, then the mother will stay behidn for a one on one. Mom will explain just how cruel and tough the teachers will be. She'll explain how she did her best to instill their ways in her, which was rough but was to make her the best she could be.

We need the whirlwind montage sequence of young girl setting up life in Russia. Her apartment will be with the grandmother she never met. The Russian grandma ask her if she speaks Russian, she just says "yes", but thent he grandma says 'your russian is bad'. An awkward little friendship can develop. She's going to be shunned, ripped, and even teased about being 'bigger' than them. Those catty Russian bitches. Her grandma will make her Russian meals to 'keep up' with those bitches. The teachers are going to be tough, demanding and cold. A little extra glee will be shown when they criticize the American. They will break her. She will cry alone and not answer the door when her grandma inquires about the crying. Grandma knows. Grandma calls home. Mom calls. Mom and Dad ask if she wants to come home. Nope, she wants to stay, but is worried she will be cut. Mom and Dad say she's done her best. Grandma will shout int he background, "Send her to Yulia". Mom will tell her that if she wants extra pointers, and truly wants to be her best, to let her grandma bring her to her old teacher, Yulia.

Next evening. Grandma and Girl ride train, then bus to an old house. There an old as the hills lady lets them in. She sits and talks Russian with the grandma. She sizes the girl up. Can we start now? No. When do they start the girl will ask? Tells her to come back the next weekend. Rest up. She's going to need it. The teachers at the ballet company will berate her another two days, the girls will mock her, and then saturday hits. Grandma wakes her up and sends her off. The old lady tears her to shreds about everything from how she stands when off the floor, to her facial expressions while NOT dancing, to her demeanor. She says you gotta be ballerina every moment of your life if you think you will make the Kirov. The girl will stand correctly, and then the lesson will start. Start at the basics. She's goign to have to break down what her mother tried to instill in her, and truly form her properly.

We'll need a montage. This old lady is going to hit her with a stick. She's going to yell at her. She's also going to encourage her, and be positive when the girl starts getting it. We'll cross cut to her in the Kirov class doing better, and suddenly beign selected for things. A couple of Russian girls will warm up to her, clinger on types that follow others. The men will even notice her a bit more now. We'll need a pause where the old Russian lady will say "America is too nice. Makes you soft. I will toughen you up", and then a sequence of ballet strength drills. We'll have shots of her doing partner work with some handsome Russki guy. Sequence ends.

She's wrapping up training, preparing for final cut week. She chats with old Yulia about the Kirov. Yulia tells her story. Young girl when it was still called Mariinsky. Hated how it was changed to Kirov because of dead Commie who liked to sleep with ballerinas. Spoiled the name, and now that is how it is called. The Commies tried to destroy every bit of old Russia, but they knew they could not destroy the ballet. They sued it, but it outlived them. Yulia doesnt wish her luck, she knows she'll make the cut. She tells her to think, breathe and exude confidence when she is performing.

Final auditions and of course she rocks it. They do final cut and she will be accepted. Cute Russian guy will give the a 'check' and walk off. One of the bitches won't make it, and then we'll do a scene where she 'imagines' being a normal show off American rubbing it in her face to be followed by her true reaction: stone faced "Not everyone can be admitted, perhaps you can become a waitress". She rushes to her grandma's place to call home; grandma and yulia are there. Everyone happy, end movie.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Book Review: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

How do you catch a murderer that doesn't exist? The deaths are there, the families claim ti is murder, but it's not a murder. Accidents. Wolves. Whatever. Your government, your employer, does not recognize these acts as murders. There is no murder. Stop investigating or we'll throw you in a prison camp. That is the conundrum that Leo Demidov faces as a lowly cop in Soviet Russia. It's also incredibly engaing as you have a chase within a chase within a prison.

If you've read my blogs, you will know I respect Russians, love the interesting blend of East + West inherent in Russian life and love how they have endured through so much horseshit to be tough bastards. Child 44 is set in the post-WW2 Stalin period, and then shortly after, where the Gulag system is still in full throttle. Soviet Russia is an open air prison where you can't run for it, and someone is always watching you. Leo is an MGB officer, which is the secret police who rule horribly over the people. His comfortable world is upended, as he and his wife are spared death but shipped to a remote city as punishment for nothing. in nothing and nowhere, he finds redemption, attempting to find the murderer of random children.

This book is wonderful in the tension and stress it creates of the entire situation. A bad step could lead to a gulag. No one trusts one another, not even spouses. I thoroughly enjyoed the marriage at the heart of the book. A marriage built on fear and fraud that never contained love somehow builds into something organic. You will enjoy his wife. You will enjoy the random Russians that are not total stereotypes. The characters are fantastic.

There's just one catch. The ending is a bit weak, and after a while you see it coming. That bothered me a bit. It was not a cool tight ending like in the movie L.A. Confidential, but it was a bit hokey. It did not ruin the book, but it definitely could have been better. It just pissed me off. As the author has written a trilogy featuring Leo Demidov, I will definitely pick up the next two chapters of his tale.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Quick Book Review: The Forgotten Man by Amithy Shlaes

The Great Depression is often talked about in US history classes. The book, The Forgotten Man, would be a nice little insertion into any course on the Great Depression (GD) and Hoover/FDR responses. My high school education on the GD was the crash at the end of the Roaring '20s, Hoover doing nothing, FDR doing a lot that didn't help much, and then WW2 getting us out of the rut. It is far richer and deeper of a history than that. This book spotlights how the '20s was full of great progress, Hoover did do things, some good and some bad, FDR did try things, many similar to Hoover and some were awful, and really neither did much good. A blind spot in this book is the reality that private debt was at horribly high levels, and only once the debt was either forgiven partially or written off, did we grow again, which also coincided with the USA supplying other countries during the early stages of WW2. It's a quick read, and I enjoyed it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Love + that Greek Classic Everyone Blogs

Last week, my last grandmother died. When I was nearly 10, I still had 3 great grandmothers and two grandmothers. No divorces. Straight bloodlines. Her passing inspried me to write eulogy and speak at her funeral. It is too personal to put here, but when I went home, I saw and spoke with my grandfather. After seeing him for 1 day, I suddenly understood the Symposium 4 legged human story. (Read here for actual story, not bastardized versions.) This story is quoted NON-STOP on Tumblr as every single college kid thinks this is a cool explanation for true love. I agree. I never knew the true meaning until this week. I decided to end my eulogy with that story. My family understood it why.

My grandparents were together for 65 years. No one has ever doubted their love for each other, my gramma's respect for my grandfather and how much my grampa adored my gramma. Fifteen years ago, my grandfather almost died due to a heart issue. In the car, my gramma said repeatedly, "he can't die, he can't die". This last month, my grandfather would leave the hospital with my mom and repeatedly mumble to himself, "she can't die, she can't die". At 88, he still needed her. I've never seen him cry, but he cried for her during the week. He'd sit, look out a window and stifle a cry so my little niece wouldn't hear. He is a talkative elderly man, but this week he was reserved.

I drove him to and fro, and on Easter, he wanted to leave the family dinner early. I drove him to his home and told him how he and my gramma had what everyone dreams of. They have a love we all seek, yet few truly ever have. He told me how in the last year she might only be awake 4 hours a day, but those 4 hours were with him. Now he misses his bride. As we left the fuenral home, he stood at the corner of her open casket, made the saddest sounds and shed the truest tears. I saw him kiss her forehead, walk away, go back, touch her shoulder and then finally turn away.

They are a shining beacon of what lifetime commitment and love means. When you read Plato's story that we would seek our soulmate, and only in their embrace would we reach our fullest potential and our true form, think of that type of love.