Tuesday, May 31, 2011

seven words I never want to hear

"Mom, I want to be a doctor."

Vet, OK. But no doctor. Not unless the medical profession and its operating practices change a lot in the next 10-15 years. I've had to witness some of the most calloused, jaundiced behavior from docs over the past few weeks that have both shocked and soured me to the entire profession.

Last week my mom's doctor's office called on a Friday, late afternoon, to say that something showed up on a routine scan — a thyroid nodule. She would need to get a thyroid scan now. And we should probably make an appointment to see an endocrinologist. That seemed more than a little preemptive to me.

Well, in case it's something.
But she hasn't even had the scan yet. How big was the nodule?
Doesn't say.
You got a report from a doctor's office that they say there is a nodule, but they didn't measure it? And you want me to make an appointment with yet another doctor without any results?

I was not in an immediate panic about this nodule because I had gone through something similar two years ago. Apparently thyroid nodules are very common and usually nothing. Not to say we won't get the scan, but why are they calling us on a Friday, when nothing can be done until Monday anyway except worry about it? Because the doctor wanted to check something off her list. Because she basically doesn't give a shit. That is the state of medicine today. Refer to a multitude of specialists, don't practice compassion, forget that you are dealing with humans, just check, check, check, get the check in the mail and cover your ass.

As if that wasn't enough, this week, at another visit, with a different doctor, one of her specialists, where it was suggested that we switch out one of her medicines for another to see if that might get some better results. We started the new medication and within two days she was having a very extreme, adverse reaction of severe nausea (One of the side effects on the bottle where it says "Call your doctor if ...") I called the doctor's office, saying that I thought we should probably switch back to her original medicine. Her regular, prescribing doctor wasn't in, but another doc on staff OK'd it and suggested that I phase back in to her previous medication at just half a tablet, as that would help avoid any serious side effects. Hmmm. Why hadn't her doctor suggest we phase in the NEW medicine at a half dose? Maybe she wouldn't have had to go through this at all.

Once the nausea abated, she started having severe back pain. I did some online research and one of the uncommon side effects of the medicine is joint and back pian. Her back is a weak area anyway, as she injured it years ago and it's sore from time to time, with arthritis and mild osteo. After a day of suffering with that and Tylenol Arthritis not being effective, I called the doctor again. First, to let him know what was going on, and second, to see if we could get something a little stronger for the back pain, as she had been essentially bed-ridden for the majority of the day since this whole debacle started. My first call to the office was at 9am. No living person ever answers the phone, you need to leave a message and they call back.

His assistant called me back and told me the doctor usually returned calls by the end of the day. Fine. But how about a pain prescription to help her out in the mean time? Surely they could pass him a note and he could write a quick scrip? They shuttled me to the prescription line. That made me nervous, so I called again and said that I would still like a chance to speak with the doctor, even at the end of the day, as this all seemed a cause and effect of switching medications.

I got a call back at 3:15pm from the woman who handles prescriptions for the office who had no idea what my original message was. I went over it all again and she said she'd ask the doctor. At 3:45 I called back and left my cell number, as I had to pick up my daughter. I actually got through to her and she said not to worry, she'd call me back as soon as she called something in. At 4:45 I called back when we got home from school and got the office answering service. I had to argue with that person that this wasn't just a prescription refill — she suggested I just call the pharmacy. I told her that I needed to speak to my mom's doctor. The on-call doctor called me back around 5:10 and suggested I take her to the emergency room. Jesus. I stood firm until he finally said he'd call in a pain medication. I was able to pick it up at the pharmacy 45 minutes later and she got her first dose at 7p.m.

Her original doctor never called us back. Did he get my multiple messages? Does he just not care? At the beginning of this week, after our office visit where the medication switch was suggested, when we were leaving his office, my mom said to me, "I'm never going back." I had pooh-poohed that at the time as she hates going to the doctor. But you know, now I feel differently. We are never going back to his office, that's for sure. And when I speak to her regular doctor, I am going to mention that. And that I wish her office would hold all calls, unless they are good results, until a Monday. How about good practice and good medicine?
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Monday, May 30, 2011

happy memorial day

Some vintage family photos for Memorial Day.

On the Town

My Dad, lower right, and his Coast Guard buddies.

John Massimo in uniform, c. 1939

My Uncle John, Dad's brother, in his National Guard uniform.

Billy in his uniform

My maternal Grandfather, in his RAF uniform


My maternal great-great grandfather, in his Union, Wisconsin Regiment, Civil War uniform

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

don't you keep your cheese in the freezer?

That's a lot of cheese.

I love this movie.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

fun at the school carnival


Friday, May 27, 2011

that's how she rolls

She likes to roll, originally uploaded by xoxoxoe.
... And rolls, and rolls.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

it's good to be a pirate

I still have no idea what "stranger tides" they were talking about. I'm pretty sure it doesn't really matter. There was some nonsense about the Fountain of Youth, but the main attraction was Johnny Depp. I did enjoy Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. It's only the second Johnny Depp/Jack Sparrow film that I've seen. I saw the first one and liked it, primarily for Depp's drunken rock and roll pirate persona and Keira Knightley's spunky damsel not-in-distress. I never bothered with #2 or #3, as the first one was amusing, and enough for me.

It's good to be a pirate

I do love that Depp loves the character, so I gave this one a try. It was actually quite fun to watch. And the kid liked it, too. Not a great film with a capital "F" surely, but I wasn't expecting great. Or much at all, except watching Depp swagger and sell eyeliner. A Judi Dench cameo was a blink-or-you'll-miss-it pleasant surprise. Geoffrey Rush can do no wrong and was clearly having a blast. Ian McShane started off strong, but the script kind of lost interest in his character. But instead of getting ticked about that I shrugged it off. It's a summer popcorn movie. About pirates. And it has Depp, not directed by Tim Burton. I liked it.

Some high points:

Sparrow finds that Blackbeard has magically imprisoned every ship he has conquered, including his beloved Black Pearl, in bottles. "Ship in a bottle. How do we get it out?"

Keith Richards, as Sparrow's dad asks Jack, "Does this face look like it's seen the Fountain of Youth?"

With Blackbeard

Captain Jack escaping from the King of England's palace, and also later dueling with Angelica (Penélope Cruz).

Sparrow with Barbossa (Rush) on Ponce de Leon's wreck of a ship, and also later the pair's escape from Spanish troops.

The big action sequence of mermaids attacking Blackbeard's sailors.

Depp has gotten to the point in his career when he can work with who he wants to, and on what he wants to and he obviously still enjoys playing Captain Jack. Pirates included many actors he has worked with before — of course Rush and the previous Pirates cast members. But also Cruz (Blow) and Stephen Graham, who is one of my new favorite actors. He was great as Baby Face Nelson in Public Enemies with Depp. He's also terrific as Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire.

Captain Jack Sparrow does not convince

The theater where we saw Pirates last weekend was doing a special promotion for the kids and had face painting, balloon squids and swords, and plenty of dressed up pirate actors galore. I've already ranted about the ridiculousness of giving this film a PG-13 rating. It was not only marketed towards kids, but was fine as a family film outing.

Will there be another Pirates movie? Since it has already made almost $400 million dollars world wide before playing a full week — more than likely. Will I see the next one? Only time will tell. But as Depp has discovered, it's good to be a pirate.
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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

pictures at an exhibition

The school held an exhibition, as sort of a celebration of what all the grades had done in art classes this year. Yes, the school year is almost over. It finishes up next week. All students could exhibit one piece. The kid's is from a project where they were studying African masks. Picasso would be proud, as am I.

At the art show

At the art show

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

the way we listen to music changes ... again ... except, maybe not

iTunes revolutionized the way that most people listen to and purchase music. Personal music players fueled with downloaded tunes are now the norm. Yesterday, in a one day only promotion, Lady Gaga gave a major gift to her fans and nudged the music industry at the same time by offering her entire new album, Born This Way, one of the biggest new albums on the pop music horizon, to be purchased and downloaded on Amazon.com new MP3 cloud player for a mere 99 cents.

Plenty of folks will still fork out the full-price (15.99 on iTunes) for the album, but it sent a strong message that social media is a great marketing tool — the cut rate offer was tweeted and picked up and spread across the twitterverse like wildfire. Folks that probably never would have bought a Gaga album, might not have downloaded even one tune from it, signed up to pay just shy of one dollar. Why not? People love a bargain.

I was intrigued that this could signal be a new way for folks to buy music, and maybe even give iTunes a run for its money — that is until I checked my 99 cent download and only was able to get two songs from the album. And I'm far from the only one. According to Amazon: "Amazon is experiencing high volume and downloads are delayed. If customers order today, they will get the full Lady Gaga, Born This Way album for $0.99. Thanks for your patience."

I'm still unable to download more than track 13 and 14, but Amazon was quick and efficient when it came to emailing me my .99 bill of sale. Oh well. It was a nice idea, this cloud player thing. Call me, Amazon, when you get your act together. And when the rest of my album turns up. Until then, iTunes still rules.
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Monday, May 23, 2011

who needs PG-13 anymore?

Article first published as Who needs PG-13 anymore? on Blogcritics.

Both Thor and the just-released Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides movies are rated PG-13, but who are they kidding? They are also both marketed heavily to the kiddies. At our local multiplex, there was a special Pirates promotion going on this opening weekend with face painting, balloon animals, Renaissance Fair-style role-players and Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and Blackbeard (Ian McShane) impersonators.

Clearly plenty of parents were taking under-13 age children to the movie (myself included.) So why did the film have a PG-13 rating? Wasn't PG enough? A parent has to decide either way whether to take their kid to the movies. That's the parental guidance part. On any website today you can get an itemized list of content that might offend (violence, sex, drugs, drinking, language). So why bother with trying to (over) specify the rating?

After seeing Pirates, which did include some (not graphic) deaths and scary creatures (mermaids) I don't think that it had anything too scary for my seven-year old daughter. I told her as we went in that if anything was too frightening for her, she could cover her eyes, hide behind me, or we could duck out for a few minutes, but that was never really necessary. She did grab me for some of the fight scenes, but overall she enjoyed it. And sometimes being scared and cuddling with mom or dad is part of the fun. If there was anything that did bother her about the movie, it was that a few of the plot points were left dangling and open for the next movie. But that's just how movies are today, which I explained to her — they want you to come back and see what happens to Captain Jack Sparrow next time.

I used to watch scary movies on TV all the time when I was probably "too young" for them — that is, her age. I distinctly remember being allowed to stay up and watch a vampire movie with my dad and going to bed scared that night, wearing my bathrobe over my nightgown, convinced that if my neck was covered up a vampire couldn't get me. And these weren't sparkly teen vamps, this was a B&W creepy Count Dracula. Most fairy tales are full of scary things — witches and wolves that eat little pigs and little girls that favor the color red.

I don't think parents should be irresponsible. My daughter has seen the first three Harry Potter movies and that's it. She loves the kids and other characters and is rightly frightened by Voldemort — we usually skip those scenes on the DVD. The same goes for another film she adores, the first Lord of the Rings. She is in love with Frodo, but wants to skip the Orcs. Frankly, I feel the same way about the Orcs — they are unnecessarily gross make-up wise. Director Peter Jackson could have scaled them back visually a bit and they still would have been scary. But back to Potter — I haven't let her see the fourth Potter film and beyond because the emotional content gets more mature. Characters start dying, and not just the Cowboys and Indians sorts of deaths that kids role-play and are familiar with, as in this latest Pirates movie, but deaths of people that they have grown to love — I still find Cedric's death in Goblet of Fire very upsetting. Movies with tear-jerking moments can be cathartic — for adults, but kids don't really need that level of sadness from a movie.

Apparently we have filmmaker Steven Spielberg to blame for the ridiculous distinction between PG and PG-13. In 1984, "Spielberg … advocated the creation of the new rating. The proposed change, however, has been opposed by MPAA President Jack Valenti. He argues that the current system is working well enough and that adding more classifications would cause more confusion. 'Who is smart enough to say what is permissible for a 13-year-old and not for a twelve-year-old?' Valenti asks. 'Who can draw that line?'" Valenti either changed his mind or caved in, as the rating began to be applied to films that year and ever since.

But does the PG-13 rating really apply to the latest Pirates movie? From the MPAA's definition of PG-13:

Any drug use will initially require at least a PG-13 rating. (None)

More than brief nudity will require at least a PG-13 rating, but such nudity in a PG-13 rated motion picture generally will not be sexually oriented. (The mermaids are topless, but no nipples are shown, their long hair or the water covers them, so, none)

There may be depictions of violence in a PG-13 movie, but generally not both realistic and extreme or persistent violence. (Pirates has lots of sword fights and some deaths, but none too graphic. There are sword wounds with a little blood, as in an old Errol Flynn pirate flick.)

A motion picture’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context. The Rating Board nevertheless may rate such a motion picture PG-13 if, based on a special vote by a two-thirds majority, the Raters feel that most American parents would believe that a PG-13 rating is appropriate because of the context or manner in which the words are used or because the use of those words in the motion picture is inconspicuous. (There were no curse words that I recall. There was some mildly sexy banter between Captain Jack and Angelica (Penélope Cruz) referencing their prior relationship, but nothing explicit.)

I think that Hollywood should just drop the silly PG-13 rating. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a family movie. I know, that's a bad word for some, but too bad. Sometimes I wonder if films now use PG-13 as a ratings opportunity to attract the adult audience. Do the studios think a plain PG will turn off grown-ups who don't want to go to a kiddie film? Does PG-13 make it just a tad cooler or less, well, PG? As the line-up of Pirates toys and related merchandise in Target and other stores attest, the film's rating, in this case is beyond meaningless.
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Sunday, May 22, 2011

still here

Now that's rapture ...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

and it's finger popping twenty-four hour shopping in rapture

Maybe the zombie apocalypse isn't so far-fetched after all ...

And you get in your car and you drive real far
And you drive all night and then you see a light
And it comes right down and lands on the ground
And out comes a man from Mars
And you try to run but he's got a gun
And he shoots you dead and he eats your head
And then you're in the man from Mars
You go out at night, eatin' cars
You eat Cadillacs, Lincolns too
Mercuries and Subarus
And you don't stop, you keep on eatin' cars
Then, when there's no more cars
You go out at night and eat up bars where the people meet

Lyrics by Chris Stein & Deborah Harry
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Friday, May 20, 2011

thank god it's frigg's day

With all of the rapturous talk going on about tomorrow, Saturday, it's got me thinking about our American "Christian" culture and how it's not really that Christian at all.

The days of the week, for instance.

Do most bible-thumpers even realize that pagan cultures are a huge part of our everyday lives? When they were the predominant world culture, the Greek and Romans gave names to the days of the week, after their gods and celestial bodies. When the Anglo-Saxons invaded, they substituted their own god names.

So we have:

Sunday: Named after that big old star the Sun.

Monday: Named after the Moon.

Tuesday: Tiw's Day named after Tyr, a Norse god of war, equivalent to Mars — Martedì in Italian, Mardi in French, Martes in Spanish.

Wednesday: Woden's Day. Woden, or Odin, was the most powerful of the Norse gods. Take that, hump day. The Greeks and Romans originally honored Mercury on this day, hence Mercoledì in Italian, Mercredi in French, Miércoles in Spanish.

Thursday: Thor's Day, that Norse god with the big hammer. The romance language equivalent is for Jupiter, by Jove: Italian Giovedì, Spanish Jueves, French Jeudi.

Friday: Frigg's Day, the most powerful of the Norse goddesses. Thank God it's Frigg's day. The Romans felt the same way about this being the best day of the week, naming it after their lovely Venus: Venerdì in Italian, Vendredi in French, Viernes in Spanish.

Saturday: Named after the god and planet Saturn.

So if you're still scrambling, trying to make some end of days plans for tomorrow — Saturnalia, anyone?
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

duck, duck, beach

I know ducks like water, but usually not salt water. But these two Florida ducks have been hanging out at the beach the past couple of days. The ocean has been so calm and the morning's so nice, not too hot, who can blame them?


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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

the cats of palm beach

Every city has stray animals, but this island near the sea seems to have more than its fair share. Every morning as I walk the kid to school I see at least three or four stray cats. They are all breeds, shapes and sizes.

Palm Beach stray cats

A long-haired ginger bobtail, a black and white shorthair, some gray tabbies, black cats — one who has really lived a street life, as he only has one ear ...

Local cat

Some are friendly and some are very standoffish. It's hard to tell how many are strays and how many are just outdoor cats, as some always seem to be hanging out around the same houses. This little ginger kitten was very friendly, but I only saw him once this week.

It's so tempting to rescue these critters, especially Ginger Boy. But I'm not sure how our two cats would feel about him, and I don't want to bring any street cat diseases into the mix. I don't want to become a "crazy cat lady," and apparently Palm Beach has already had one of those.

When we adopted our dog from the local shelter it was depressing to see the dogs and cats in pens and cages and know that I couldn't help them all. I know the shelter is doing its best, but wouldn't it be nice to create a space for cats to roam free, but also be fed regularly and get their shots, etc. On the kid's favorite show on Animal Planet, Must Love Cats, they profiled a woman who did just that. Of course she also has a monthly cat food budget of over $20,000.

Even if I could solve my stray cat guilt, what about the gray fox roaming the streets at night ...
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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

hellraisers squared

Article first published as Book Review: Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole by Robert Sellers on Blogcritics.

Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole, and Oliver Reed is not a great book. Author Robert Sellers appears to have just assembled various anecdotes, the seamier the better, in a loose chronology. And that's it. No insight into the characters of the four actors, or the British stage or screen, or Hollywood. The only thing slightly analytical comes from some quotes by the actors:
"Burton, Harris, O'Toole [and] Reed ...shared the common experience of being war babies, of being bombed, of being evacuated, of facing compulsory service ... there was rationing: no meat, no food and no booze. ...'Bollocks,' railed O'Toole. 'We ... wanted the roaring twenties, please. The ... drinking was a liberation from the fear and restrictions of the war years. The frivolity and the fun had gone. Booze was a way of recapturing it. We certainly had a bloody good time.'" 

The joyful inebriation that O'Toole described was probably intended by the author, but reading about drunks is not the next best thing to being there. One drunken story after another does get to wear a bit thin. How many times do we need to read about Reed throwing a table through a pub window or Harris trying to get into a barroom brawl? Their constant state of inebriation gets as tedious for the reader as it must have done for the (sober) people in the actors' lives. After twenty years of carousing, each man's health started to fail, and the drinking got a bit much for them (excluding Oliver Reed who was out looking for a party until the end.) From Richard Harris, talking about Richard Burton, " ... the stories he tells [about their prior meetings] are hilarious and totally unprintable. So what's the point of doing things that only other people get a kick out of? ... After all, your life is your memories. So what life have I had?"

In chapters like "The Plastered Fifties," "The Soused Sixties," "The Sozzled Seventies," a decade's worth of drinking stories jump from actor to actor, but Sellers never attempts any thematic relation, even when the actors' paths cross. Burton and O'Toole were great pals, but we only know that because Sellers repeats one of them saying so and mentions a few episodes of their carrying-on. Harris also palled around with Burton. Reed seems to have traveled in completely different circles, hanging out with rock star Keith Moon and director Ken Russell, and making completely different kinds of films from the other three. Does he really even belong as part of this quartet or in this book?

Both Burton and Harris worked with American actor and raging alcoholic Lee Marvin, and Sellers introduces him in each of their anecdotes as if for the first time. Didn't he remember when he was writing about Marvin's and Reed's antics while filming The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday that he had already told similar stories about Burton and Marvin when they were working on The Klansman?
< From director Peter Medak (who worked with O'Toole in The Rulng Class), "... all the great actors were like that; they had no pretense about themselves ... not like stars today who are so isolated from the real world, from the public ... Burton would go back to Wales into the local pubs ..." Whether the actors had demons or not, drinking was clearly a social activity for them. But they didn't just drink to make friends, they drank to excess, to make headlines, to get into fights.

The other thing that bothered me about the book was all the Brit-speak. Sellers tries way too hard to sound conversational, as if he is pals with each actor. But all of the "boots" and "wanks" and "kerbside" shenanigans get old fast. I'm not against writing that uses regional slang or language. Russell Brand's My Booky Wook was rife with Cockney-isms, and it was a delight to read. It just feels inconsistent here, as there is so much borrowed material the book never has a voice.

A good trashy biography can still be a fun read, but Hellraisers, unfortunately, isn't even that. Sellers doesn't confine himself to outrageous stories about the four principals. He repeats almost verbatim some terrible behavior at a party at the Burtons by the drunk-as-a-skunk actress Rachel Roberts and includes her even more terrible fate — but the same recounting of her death can be read on Wikipedia and imdb. Sloppy.

Hellraisers is an opportunity wasted, as the quartet were involved in some of the best and most famous films of the '60s and '70s (Becket, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? [Burton]; A Man Called Horse, Camelot [Harris]; Lawrence of Arabia, What's New Pussycat [O'Toole]; Women in Love, Tommy [Reed]). Some critical analysis of these works would have easily elevated the book beyond its merely trashy aspirations.

From top: Richard Burton, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole
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Monday, May 16, 2011

nature's light show

Last night we watched a heat lightning storm off of the Atlantic Ocean. There was no rain or thunder, just a terrific light show, starting at sunset and going into the wee hours. I kept snapping shots with my iPhone and fortunately caught some of the lightning bolts, but it was a truly non-stop show. Folks flocked to the beach to watch, like a fireworks display.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

shell ginger

This gorgeous Shell Ginger is planted along the sidewalk on the way to school. It is so much of what I love about Florida - it is fragrant, exotic, unexpected -  the flowers are heavy and thick and waxy feeling, not at all delicate. It is unbelievably beautiful and over-the-top.

It is apparently also a medicinal plant. According to Wikipedia:
Its leaves are sold as herbal tea and are also used to flavor noodles and wrap rice cakes. Its tea has hypotensive, diuretic and antiulcerogenic properties. Decoction of leaves has been used during bathing to alleviate fevers. The leaves and rhizomes have been proven effective against HIV-I integrase and neuraminidase enzymes.

So not only beautiful, but very useful, too.

The kid is a little shy of the plant, as it is a prime bee-attracter. But I can't help staring.
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Saturday, May 14, 2011

sunny florida

With the help of an iPhone photo app (old camera), morning sunshine can look pretty atmospheric ...

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Friday, May 13, 2011

down time

Blogger was out of commission for most of the day. It gave me a chance to relax and not think too hard about what to post. And who better to provide an example of how to relax but a cute sausage dog? Here she is, hanging out in the kid's room:


And looking a tad coy:

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

gaga for gaga

Article first published as TV Review: Lady Gaga Presents the Monster Ball Tour at Madison Square Garden on Blogcritics.

Lady Gaga took over HBO the other night with a filmed concert special, Lady Gaga Presents the Monster Ball Tour at Madison Square Garden. "Little Monsters," marginal fans, and just the curious could get a look at what a Gaga concert would be like, and she really delivered the experience, clocking in at almost two hours of non-stop Gaga.

As much as I appreciate her wanting to give her fans far and wide the experience of a live concert, HBO and Gaga could have made a much better film. It is clear from the opening and closing of the special that there was another, much more entertaining and fascinating route to take than just the aleady-in-place narrative of the yellow brick road to the Monsters Ball. Running over the closing credits is a wonderful version of her latest single, "Born This Way," which hints at the film that could and should have been made.

The program opens with Gaga walking down a block in downtown New York City, wearing a leather jacket, bodysuit, and fishnets, on her way to the local deli to buy a coffee pre-show. What must be a familiar scene from Gaga's New York past helps underlines her need to be loud and proud in all aspects of her life. There are a few more conversational snippets in the car on the way to the big show at the Garden (and lots more available on YouTube).

As she's getting made up pre-concert Gaga confesses, "Sometimes I still feel like a loser in high school." The special just uses an abbreviated clip, which is taken out of context — a random quote, which may help fuel the fire of her detractors and former fans, now nay-sayers, already bored with Gaga's mainstream success and ready to move onto the next big, edgy thing. But alonger version of the interview shows a vulnerable person, and a look into what drives this performer, and performers in general, into the limelight. She's more than an outrageous mannequin for a dress made of meat.

The concert begins and a succession of elaborate sets — a big green junker car that is also a piano, a subway car on the way to the Monster Ball — and even more elaborate costumes — delight the tons of screaming fans. It must mean a lot for Gaga, née Stefani Germanotta, to have finally made it big in her home town, as she reminds her audience and the viewers at home throughout the concert. But it is sometimes hard to see her in such a large venue, because she is still essentially a club act.
The cameras help as HBO gets in close for all the grinding choreography, but I can't help wonder what the experience was for the folks in the nosebleed seats. The nuances are mostly lost on the stadium crowd. I've been to the Garden and sat in those seats. Gaga has too, and tries to keep it as clubby as she can, with neon lights and the stage more square than rectangular. She also has her far-away fans in mind as she frequently pauses between songs to yell up to the rafters, "What is the monster Ball? The monster ball will set you free," and promising, "No bitches lip-syncing!"

Theatrical and performance-art elements are mixed with the de rigueur synchronized dancing that makes up pop music these days. Gaga and her troupe can certainly dance, as they choreograph their way through her hits "Just Dance," "Boys, Boys, Boys," "Papparazzi" and "Poker Face." Wearing a glittery body stocking and chains she introduced "Poker Face" as "The record that changed my life." The rest of her hits, including "Telephone" and "Alejandro" got equally shiny treatment. But Gaga's art school background (NYU's Tisch School of the Arts) came through in her choice of costumes:

A Spanish Inquisition cast-off meets Norma Desmond meets Carol Burnett's curtain-rod shoulders

A see-through plastic dress with a Flying Nun wimple, claw hand, and Wendy O crosses on her breasts

Wearing a long, black leather trench coat, sunglasses that melt across her face while playing a Dr. Who-looking custom-made keytar

A wedding cake plastic fronds dress complete with motorized fans that open and close
And many, many more.

She is constantly compared to another petite Italian girl who made it big, Madonna, but as much as there are many stylistic similarities — their style of dance music, collaborations with fashion designers, religious-themed music videos — Gaga sets herself apart from Madonna and every other pop princess when she sits (or stands) at the keyboard and belts one out. Two of the best performances are at the piano when she sings "Speechless" — quite nice, and later, "You and I" — quite bluesy. Madonna could never do that.

She alternates cabaret chit-chat with the audience with guttural yells at them. It's a little too much inspirational banter for my taste, but you sense that she is sincere when she thanks the audience for being her fans and buying tickets to her show.

I don't think it was my HD television, but for the most part the sound quality was just OK – much of her talking with the audience and a lot of the lyrics weren’t as sharp as they should have been. The audience seemed to hear her between-song monologues, so could it just be how HBO recorded the event.

It was funny to hear her keep telling the audience to put their hands up, in cheerleader fashion, during a song's chorus and watch a sea of iPhones raised to record her every move. And then she was off stage, for a sip of water, a new hat and her next number.

Gaga and her dancers ended the show, and apparently the concert journey, in pale yellow toga-like outfits to sing the anthem "Born This Way." And then off she went, in a long jacket made of feathers, whisked away from the concert, with everyone back to their mostly glitter-free reality as the tremendous black and white a capella clip of Gaga and her back-up singers rehearsing "Born This Way" played over the closing credits  As fun as the sideshow can be to watch, that's the Gaga I want to see more of and HBO or someone should make that film, exposing the Gaga beneath the glitz and feathers. The woman can sing. She's the real deal.
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