Saturday, April 16, 2005

Al Pacino came to me in a dream

A few weeks ago, I inexplicably dreamed about the 1982 movie Author! Author!. This was Al Pacino's stab at a Kramer vs. Kramer type role (he turned down K vs. K, leaving the role for his arch-rival Dustin Hoffman. Okay, maybe they aren't arch-rivals, but I like to think they are.) He did this movie between Scarface and Cruising, so he was clearly trying to prove he could play the "wacky dad" in this drawn-out movie sitcom.

Occasionally I browse through the movie selections on TiVo to select movies I might want to see, and lo and behold, there it was - Author! Author! I didn't know why I dreamt of this movie - I've never seen it, and in fact I remember when it came out that it looked like the sort of movie I would hate. But I thought, hey, maybe there's a hidden message in it. So I TiVo'd it and tonight had a spare two hours to watch it.

Maybe Al Pacino was coming to me in a dream to say, stop watching crappy movies that you find on TiVo.

There were elements of the movie that were just bizarre. Tuesday Weld plays the Meryl Streep-in-Kramer vs. Kramer role, the slightly unstable frosty blonde who gets our hero in trouble. In the movie she has a flock of children, all with different fathers (she gets bored and leaves each marriage after 2 or 3 years.) Al Pacino plays an Armenian playwright whose show is opening on Broadway - if only he can fix the second act! Al, Tuesday, and their six adorable children live in some enormous fantasy Manhattan brownstone, as people in movies do. Tuesday, who works as a school teacher, leaves Al halfway through the movie; he takes up with Dyan Cannon, playing the improbably named Alice Detroit, the movie star who is playing the lead in his show. She moves in, and shortly thereafter, moves out again. Al goes to Gloucester, Mass. (in a New York taxicab!) to drag Tuesday back. But she leaves again. He keeps all the kids. His show gets a good review. The end.

The bizarre things in the movie, though, were the strange little actions that were never explained. At the beginning of the movie, it is Al Pacino's birthday. Tuesday appears with an enormous sheet cake, which she and the kids shove into his face. After dinner, they are cleaning up in the kitchen, and Tuesday puts the clean silverware, a frying pan, and the party hats into the refrigerator. Al, understandably, asks why she is putting the clean silverware, a frying pan, and party hats into the refrigerator. She says, "It's an honest human mistake!"

I'm sorry, what?

There are several instances of characters referring to other characters by other names. "I need to go talk to Kravinsky." "Who's Kravinsky?" "I said Davidson." "No, you didn't, you said Kravinsky!" Never explained further.

Again, I'm sorry, what? And, WHAT?

With the party-hats-in-the-fridge moment, I thought, is this woman insane? Or unraveling? In the film, she sort of was, but not in any sort of way that would explain this kind of thing. The movie was full of this - people saying strange things to one another. The screenplay was by a playwright, so perhaps it was "artful dialogue." It mostly just made me blink in confusion. How was I supposed to get the message that Al Pacino was clearly trying to communicate to me? This movie was bad, and strange. What is the message, Al?

In the movie, Al's Broadway play seems to rehearse forever - weeks on end. Also, bowing to the usual movie convention, it rehearses right in the theater where it will open, as the director, producer and playwright all sit in the red velvet audience seats. Of course, this is not how things happen - all you theater people know this. Ordinarily you're in a rehearsal studio somewhere, and don't move into the theater until technical rehearsals, when you start working on the actual set under the stage lights. The movie did get one thing right - it is devilishly hard to get your second act right. It's the thing everyone loves to pick on - "It's great - just needs some work on the second act." I'm currently working on a show which has had at least five completely different versions of the second act. Maybe that was the message - hey, thanks, Al. I'll keep working.

One more bizarre sight in this movie was Richard Belzer, the standup comic who played detectives on Homicide: Life on the Street and is currently on Law & Order: SVU, in a five-line role as the swishy stage manager. He helps Dyan Cannon on with her mink and declares that it's "just divine." He is wearing the same smoky glasses he still wears to this day.

Another tiny role - the Ms. DiPesto-like secretary -- was played by Judy Graubart, who was a cast regular on The Electric Company. She played Jennifer of the Jungle, among many other roles. I loved her - she was my favorite.

Although the movie was generally mystifying, it was nice to see shots of New York circa 1982. The "Village Cigars" store near the Christopher Street subway stop looks exactly the same. Times Square, on the other hand, looks completely different.

At one point, when people come out of the theater where Al Pacino's show is playing, you can see that the theater next to it has the RSC's production of Nicholas Nickleby, which was a big Broadway hit in the early 80s. It was an eight-hour adaptation of the Dickens novel, performed over two nights, starring Roger Rees, who later turned up on Cheers and the West Wing. My undergraduate college performed Nicholas Nickleby (trimmed to six hours) in 1985; I played a few assorted schoolboys and orphans.

Was that the message, Al? Something about Nicholas Nickleby? Dickens? Orphans? Eight-hour plays? Anything?

I admit, I always look for messages in dreams, and in everyday moments which could be brushed off as coincidence. I thought it was too odd that I would dream about a movie that has never crossed my mind, and that it would turn up on TiVo. Maybe it's just my subconscious mulling over my own career as a writer (in the movie, it's Al Pacino's birthday, and mine is coming up.) Maybe I need to stop storing my leftover party hats in the fridge.

Or maybe, just as Al's play had no ending, I'm meant to discover that this post has no ending, either. Maybe that's it.



Blogger jwer said...

I think the message is that, when you get back to Baltimore, you want some sort of pita sandwich. Felafel!

9:25 AM  
Blogger Rindy said...

Author! Author! has always reminded me of that attempted Brady Bunch spinoff, Kelly's Kids, in which Ken Berry adopts a lovable trio of orphans of various races. Except I suppose in Author! Author! there was more swearing and running away from home and police involvement.

And: my crush on Roger Rees continues unabated.

1:25 PM  
Anonymous Kate said...

I dreamt that my coffee pot had a crack in it and all the coffee just kept driping out whenever I tried to get a cup.

Perhaps if I had only washed it in the refrigerator, I wouldn't have had the problem...

8:30 AM  

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