This is an ever-evolving story of a girl writer and her two greatest loves, the movies and travel. As she hikes the trenches of Hollywood, you're brought along for the ride.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

We Are All Slumdogs

Back in November, I was introduced to a little-known film from Fox Searchlight. Much of it was in Hindi, it had a strange title, no known stars, and a very modest budget for Hollywood standards. The film's original distributor, Warner Independent, had been shuttered by its parent company. For a time, the film was an orphan and its future was in limbo.

But, its destiny was written...

I could feel a strange electricity in the air. Thirty minutes prior to Boyle's Q&A that night, Producer Christian Colson, ducked into the theatre to watch the film's climatic ending. He'd seen the film countless times, but he said he never tired of it. A few minutes later, I met Danny Boyle. I was instantly sucked in by his untiring enthusiasm and the glimmer in his eyes as he discussed the experience of making what was to become my favorite film of the year: Slumdog Millionaire.

Like a bicyclist, Slumdog Millionaire has slowly but surely gained on its competitors in the Oscars race. I've heard that visiting India is an experience of overwhelming proportions. It has a cultural richness that few other places on Earth can offer. But you must be willing to accept India for all that it is-- its light and its dark. Slumdog Millionaire has been criticized as being "poverty porn" and/or "slum voyeurism" and parents of the slum kids have come forward to say that their children were not paid their due, especially considering the success of the film.*

Success rarely comes without controversy.

Boycott the film and you'll be missing out. Like India, you have to embrace Slumdog Millionaire for what it is, love it for all its dark and all its light, and embrace it like a person--like yourself. In a sense, we are all slumdogs trying to get by in this mess of a world we live in. Like Jamal, we all have the capacity to write our own destinies, regardless of our circumstances.

In the land that is India, there is poverty and torture, grit and grime, but there is also color and beauty, love and passion, dance and rhythm. Light and dark: one cannot exist without the other. Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire exposes both.


*The children depicting young Jamal and Latika in the film are now attending school at the expense of the filmmakers. According to Mr. Boyle and the film's producer Christian Colson,"financial resources have been made available for their education until they are 18." When they finish their schooling, they will receive further payment from a trust fund. To me, this was the best way to approach the sensitive subject of how to compensate these children. A large sum of money now would quickly evaporate, but an investment in their education will last forever and pave the way for future success.

*In Boyle's previous film, Millions (2004) production donated money to Water Aid, to build a well in Africa (like the family did in the film). (imdb/trivia)

*Among many other places in this world, I hope to one day visit India and my wish is that the place, the real place, is as invigorating and intoxicating as I imagine it to be.


Monday, January 19, 2009

A Tale of Lost Treasure...

A few years back, a producer asked me why I'd wanted to get into this 'crazy [movie] business. It's the magic... it's the way that movies--their images, characters, and stories can become imprinted into your memory. I wanted to be a part of that...creating that experience for other people.

Even as the mystique of filmmaking has worn off as I've worked in the business, I still firmly believe in the magic and influence a well-constructed film can have on an individual.

For me, it all started with one movie... and that was The Black Stallion. Few people may remember the very first movie they ever saw on the big screen. I remember it all. I remember how I didn't weigh enough to keep the theatre seat from staying down and how I was too short for my feet to touch the floor. I remember looking up at cascading, gold curtains suspended from the ceiling, just as those curtains parted to reveal the movie screen. There was no advertising, no interruptions... once those curtains parted, I was completely enveloped in a story set in a far-off land about a young boy and his relationship with an Arabian horse.

By the time it was over, I was in love. In The Black Stallion that day, I saw beauty as I'd never seen it (in the cinematography of Caleb Deschanel), I saw parts of the world I never knew existed, and I learned about the influence that art can have on a person, especially a person as little as myself.

After the movie was over, the other patrons exited, but I raced to those gigantic, gold curtains as they closed on the most mystical experience I'd had by that time in my life. I wanted to meet the horse, I wanted to be back in the story. I didn't want the magic to end...not ever, really, and that, you see, is why I wanted to go into the movie business.

I was thinking the other day about how that movie experience has been changed, even seen my childhood. We're so bombarded by the America obsession to multi-task to such a degree that we're not even present. Two days ago, I was talking on the phone to my dad (who still lives in Omaha.) In passing, he noted that my childhood theatre, Cinema Center was closing down for good. Cinema Center (82nd and W. Center Road, Omaha) was the place where I'd seen the majority of those films growing up, including my first-- The Black Stallion.

Like Indian Hills Theater, another favorite, Omaha theatre of mine, Cinema Center has succumbed to corporate development. Indian Hills Theater, built in 1962, showcased films in Cinerama format. Despite protests, the theater was demolished in 2001 for a parking lot.
Cinema Center, open since 1967, officiallly closed on Thursday. In its place? Office space-- and with this economy, office space that will probably be vacant. It's a sad thing to see... from the standpoint of a moviegoer as well as a film professional.

Not every battle, even those well-fought can be won. Cinema Center, and all the memories I had there, will still exist in my mind.

But most of all, I will always remember seeing those gold curtains for the very first time and how excited I'd get whenever I'd see the studio emblems of Universal or 20th Century Fox or I'd hear that MGM lion roar: I knew I was at the movies and the magic was just about to begin...

For more information about Cinema Center and other lost theatre treasures, see the links below:

The Curtain Is Falling
Cinema Treasures

The Black Stallion
1979/ Directed by Carroll Ballard.
Francis Ford Coppola...executive producer, Fred Roos and Tom Sternberg...producers
Omni Zoetrope

Copyright 2009 by KLiedle
Photo credits: The Black Stallion/Omni Zoetrope, tsunagan/flickr, plasticfootball/flickr.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Day Trip Driving... And Stunning Outlooks

I haven't quite gotten to my new year's resolutions for 2009.  I don't have anything written down, even vaguely: no goals, no bad habits to break, no vacations to plan.  I guess you could say I'm a little behind.

Instead, I'm still crossing things off my 2008 list.  I'd achieved many of the goals I'd set for myself, but a few remained.  Why make a new list?  So, yesterday... I crossed two of those remaining items off my 2008 list.  

I drove over to Sierra Madre for no particular reason other than the fact that I wanted to check it out.  See, I had no concept of what Sierra Madre was like, but I was curious.  Los Angeles seems to have infinite pockets of neighborhoods that I know nothing about so it's good to get out and see them.

Located off the 210 Freeway, just East of Pasadena, Sierra Madre sits at the base of the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.  It's got a small town vibe, but it's close enough to Pasadena that there's no shortage of conveniences like shopping, grocery stores and the Santa Anita Racetrack (if you've got gambling on your mind.)  Like most smallish towns, it seemed to have lots of churches and schools, a women's club, a community theatre (Sierra Madre Playhouse), post office, liquor store, and a local coffee shop (competing with a Starbucks four doors down...) 

On the way home, I decided to cross something else off my list.  After living in L.A. for 7 years, I was embarrassed to say that I'd never been to Griffith Observatory. Sure, I'd been hiking in Griffith Park many times, but I'd never set foot in the observatory.  Part of this hasn't been my fault.  Just a few months after I moved, the observatory was shut down for renovations.  It was shut down for ages (and in my mind, it had never reopened.)  I didn't think of it again until recently when two things happened: A friend of mine mentioned they'd actually been there and then last week, I saw the observatory in the current movie, "Yes Man."

I saw Griffith Observatory written on last year's list and I started feeling guilty.  Yesterday was the clearest day in L.A. that I'd seen for awhile.  It was one of those days when, from certain vantage points, you can see downtown shimmering in the setting sun on one side and the glimmering Pacific Ocean on the other.  

Griffith Observatory was the perfect vantage point to see all of this and, of course, the Hollywood sign.   My timing could not have been more perfect.  I got there right as the sun was disappearing below the horizon-- leaving behind streams of orange across the Los Angeles skyline.  Inside, the observatory offered exhibits about the universe, the big bang, how stars form, meteorites, and public telescopes at every opportunity.  I was intrigued for much longer than I'd anticipated.  By the time I'd exited, the stunning city lights had emerged and the observatory outlook offered such a spectacular view that I didn't really want to leave.

I'd like to go back to see the planetarium show, but at long last, I can now say as an Angeleno transplant, that I've officially been to the legendary Griffith Observatory--  "on the slope of Mount Hollywood...1,134 feet above sea level." (

Copyright 2009 by KLiedle
Photos by Larry Gerbrandt/flickr and icraz/flickr

Monday, January 5, 2009

Walts of the Greatest Generation: Gran Torino

My grandfather never allowed us to curse.  We weren't allowed to say damn, or shit, and certainly never f***.  The rule need not be written-- we just knew.  If you cursed when you were in grandpa's presence, you may or may not live to tell about it.  

Grandpa grew up in the 20s, lived through the Great Depression, and lived most of his life making up for it.  He never cursed, but he had what most people would now consider a derogatory term for nearly every race.  He didn't mean to be racist.  In a sense, he was just born that way. 

He came of age in the years when racist jokes, labels, and stereotypes were thrown about regularly and no one even batted an eyelash.  You could pat a woman on the ass, call her 'a good-looking dame', and not be sued.  It was before politically correct, before worker's compensation, before womens' lib, before social security... 

This is the era of Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) in Gran Torino, Eastwood's latest film.  There are a lot of men like Walt: war veterans, hard-working Americans from our nation's 'Greate
st Generation' (according to Tom Brokaw anyway.)  And in that era, there were also a lot of Walts (including my grandfather.) 

Certainly, Grandpa didn't have the gruff voice or the commanding presence of Eastwood, but when he spoke, you didn't argue.  Grandpa flipped out when it looked like I was going to be bussed to the 'black neighborhood' for 3rd grade... when I got to dating age, he made it very clear that he'd like me to find a nice, white boy of decent stock.  No intermingling of races for me-- not when
 Grandpa was looking anyway.  When I was taking dance classes, he abruptly asked my instructor how old she was, and when she answered, he asked her if she was married. She said "No." He could've walked away.  But Grandpa couldn't leave well enough alone.  

A thirty-something attractive dame, unmarried? What is this world coming to? 

So, his next question was: "Why aren't cha married? Something wrong with ya?" Yes, dear old Grandpa.  On a United Airlines flight to Texas in the early 90's, he frisked an airline stewardess in search of more chocolate chip cookies.  Publicly, she giggled.  Privately, she was probably calling an attorney from the Skyphone.  

His en
dearing term for me was 'pumpkin' and when he was especially proud of me, he'd say, "you're 'all white meat" which I guess was good-- meaning that I was the human equivalent of a chicken breast which I s'pose is the best part of the chicken.  Although, it got foggier when he'd use that turn of phrase on a black man.  I knew Grandpa didn't mean any harm.  When he said it, it just meant he was proud of the black man, in a chicken breast sort of way. 

 The world had changed around him, but Grandpa had stayed just exactly the same.  In later years, when he didn't speak much anymore, he got most of his pleasures from two things: Bessie, his big blue, 1972 Cadillac-- a car he never thought he'd be able to afford and 
ething he never had quite enough of during those Depression-era days.

So, one day, we took him to T.G.I.Friday's where, as we waited for our check,  he tried to stash their ketchup bottle into the inside pocket of his overcoat.  

"Walt!" my grandmother exclaimed.  And Walt looked up with those endearing eyes of his, and reluctantly placed the ketchup back on the table.  (During the bad years, they used to make tomato soup by adding water to ketchup.)  It was then that we all knew that we'd sort of lost Grandpa.  He was trapped in a deflated version of his former self and lost in the fog of his own time, his own greatest generation... 

Some think that Gran Torino is overcliched with Walt's 'old school' language and pollack jokes and the writer's device of the Gran Torino car, but I beg to differ.  Sure, it's predictable to a certain degree, but so are most lives.  Eastwood can go out with a bang-- that's the movie version o
f the story.  But the countless other Walts in the world with just as powerful a presence, have been extinguished quietly... that's the real life version of the story.  I know because my grandfather was one of them. 

Gran Torino 
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Screenplay by Nick Schenk
Distributed by Warner Bros Pictures (North America)
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