keep a-goin'

August 1. 2000

A guest entry by John Bragazzi.

I've been thinking a lot about persistence recently.

A member of Really Deep Thoughts Right Now (the Tori Amos email list where Bethany and I met) recently saw Patti Smith for the first time, and he was blown away. As he said, "so i got home from patti smith last night spent and wasted and ready to fucking change the world." I think it's great that Patti is being discovered by a whole group of younger fans these days, just as Neil Young was a few years ago. Fads and trends come and so, but Patti keeps on making the music that matters to her. Every time the entertainment industry extrudes one more plastic pop star for our listening pleasure, Patti Smith looks just a little bit better.

And there's Robert Altman, one of my favorite movie directors of all time. He's been in and out of favor in Hollywood, but he keep on finding a way to make movies. Some have been good and some have been bad, and a few have been masterpieces (McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and Nashville, for two examples). He's usually not considered to be on a par with Coppola and Scorsese, though he's made more great movies than either of them. For a while, in fact, many of his best films were not even available on video. Somebody asked him how he dealt with that, and he said he dealt with it the only way he could, by making another movie. At seventy-five, he's still more interested in the next picture than in all the ones he's directed already.

And, finally, there's Orson Welles. He was 24 when he directed Citizen Kane, his first movie. It is widely considered the greatest movie ever made in the United States. Until then, everything in his life had gone right. He'd been a successful actor, director and producer on Broadway, and a popular actor and director on the radio, and he'd arrived in Hollywood with an unprecedented contract which gave him complete control over the films that he made.

Welles once said that he had the same amount of good and bad luck as anybody else, he just had all the good luck first, and then all the bad luck. And he did have terrible luck after he left Hollywood, and he made quite a few mistakes as well, but for whatever other mistakes he may have made, he never gave up. He could have lived quite comfortably by just working as an actor, but again and again he made money as an actor only to spend it as a director. But some of the movies he made in those later years were great (Touch of Evil, Falstaff and The Trial come to mind).

One of my favorite moments in the movie Ed Wood comes when Wood (at a particularly low ebb when the church that's backing his "graverobbers from outer space" movie decides to pull out, partly because they discover he's a transvestite) goes into a gloomy bar to drown his sorrows, and finds himself face to face with Orson Welles. They commiserate (Welles urbanely ignoring the fact that the other man is in drag) about how difficult it is to make a movie, because somebody else always controls the money, and finally Ed Wood asks, "Is it all worth it?"

"It is when it works," Welles says, and tells about making Kane, the one movie where nobody could touch a frame of it except for him. "Visions are worth fighting for," he continues. "Why spend your life making someone else's dreams?"

I love that moment, partly because the idea of Orson Welles offering advice to Ed Wood (who had tremendous enthusiasm but no discernable talent) is hilarious, and partly because the message is true. And Wood, recharged by this encounter with his hero, goes back and makes the movie his way, and the end result is "Plan 9 from Outer Space," widely regarded as the worst movie ever made by anybody.

But, as he says earlier in the film, "The worst movie you ever saw? Well, my next one will be better!"

I guess all of this has been on my mind because I've been thinking about a writing project I put aside a few years ago. It was a huge, open-ended story, with a ton of characters and plots, and I used to post it in installments on BBSs (computer bulletin boards). But then I decided it was getting out of hand, and that it really should be turned into a regular novel (you know, like the ones other people write).

Now I'm not so sure.

Anyway, thanks to Bethany for letting me sit in. I'll see you all in a month for the Hejira One-Year Anniversary bash. I'll be the one in the angora sweater.