The Forgotten Cinema

Sandwiched between a fifties style café and gourmet bistro, stood the mighty cinema. Its tower had distinct turquoise bay windows. Its façade was pinker than a flamingo.

In fact, the whole shopping center was pink. It represented the highest in late 80’s architectural sophistication. Inside the Canyon Springs Cinema, great films of 1989 and early 90’s played.

Moviegoers stood in line for such classics as Wayne’s World, Addams Family Values, My Girl, Clueless, Too Wong Foo, The Lion King and (dare I say) Titanic. It was a gathering place for the community, which included many workers from the nearby, March Air Force Base, and students from UCR.

In the late 90’s, Riverside had a movie theatre boom. Theatres were easily found in two-mile radius. The Canyon Springs Cinema stood strong. Then pinker than a flamingo shopping center began it’s gradual decay.

Soon competition from nearby theatres finally hit Canyon Springs, like an incurable virus. The cinema and its mighty tower eventually faded away.

Once a beacon to mainstream cinema, where tears and laughter filled tacky red seats, neither emotion was ever felt again. Rather than being torn for a more modern structure, the cinema has remained abandoned. It’s interior, emptier than the Great Plains.

The shopping center did have a beacon of hope, curry. The neighborhood’s most delicious Indian restaurant livened up the bland scape. At least one can still have a spicy and delicious Chicken Tikka Masala, in the shadow of an abandoned shrine to film.

Snowy Empire

Somebody please cue to the Star Wars theme. In a galaxy not so far away, lived a lad. Like any proper New York singleton, he resided in a modest fifth floor walk-up.

One morning he glanced out his window. There was snow, snow and more snow (not unusual, but hey it’s winter). “It looks like the set of the Empire Strikes Back,” he proclaimed.  Naturally, it appeared that way, if the “Empire Strikes Back” were set in New York City. Like a courageous Luke Skywalker facing Darth Vader, he braved the elements. Successfully, he reached the subway and made it to work, in the face of another blizzard.

As expected, I am referring to yours truly and my random fascination with Star Wars. I didn’t have Chewbacca, C-3PO, Hans Solo, Yoda or Princess Lea on the voyage from Harlem to Grand Central Station. So, this is where I fast-forward the story.

While galloping around the icy sidewalks of Harlem, I thought to myself “no major blizzard (9.5 inches of snow) will keep me away from a wonderful walk. I felt triumphant, as I successfully maneuvered through the frozen canyons and icy puddles. The Star Wars theme continued to play in the radio station of my brain, ” Cardigns 95.5 FM- New York.”

Then with much disruption, radioactive transmission stopped. It finally happened, I had met my match with black ice. I flipped backwards, landing on the slippery pavement. My stuff flew alongside the perfectly appointed brownstone block.

Wait isn’t this the part, where my life flashes before my eyes? I thought in great panic. I expected to see a montage of memorable events, then the unthinkable happened. “Oh yeah, I didn’t bump my head, I landed on my tuckus,” said I, as I picked myself up slowly

The fall really hurt, but I attempted to find humor in my mishap. While walking home, I watched every step more carefully.

As the weekend approached, the Jedi did indeed return. I was enjoying the snow, immensely. Regardless of experiencing pain from the fall, I still adored the wintery weather. On the weekend, I took a journey into Central Park.

Snow fell from the sky, while blinding the eye. There were snowmen; families sledded down the powdery hills and an unexpected musical accompaniment. While there was a commercial break on Cardigans FM, I was serenaded by the sounds of a saxophone player. It made the perfect soundtrack to a most memorable New York moment.

Film School Nerd

Every great civilization and individual, experiences the dreadful dark ages. From this time of recession, a renissance of art & self-expression is typically cultivated. In the dark ages, otherwise known as high school, I underwent my own time of recession.

On a simply gorgeous spring day, my mom uttered the words, which would change my life. “You’re grounded. I saw your report card. Are you daydreaming too much again?” I shook my head. “No.” In actuality, I was jet setting into the land of daydreams, where fashion, interesting people and cappuccinos ran wild.

“No TV, no movies and absolutely no music,” said mom. My eyes grew wide open with fear. What’s my life without a riveting CD collection to keep my right brain in creative/arty mod? I read books, which luckily were not banned. However, I had to find a way to keep my stimulation away from Bermuda Triangle of boredom.

In the common world of American high-school students, I grew up in a cluster of track homes. I took my walks after school along an undeveloped land. It was a little hostess cupcake of nature, until I stared to the left of me. Freeways and more track homes reminded me, ” oh yes, I really do live in suburbia, tear, tear.” As the dust flowed into skies of grey, I decided to say  “Fuck it, I am going to write a movie.”

Not yet acclimated to lap tops, my father took me to the drug store. I bought a pair of inexpensive notebooks and a few magazines. Turning the dull notebooks into a lively piece of art, I cut out high fashion advertisements from the magazines. I then started working on my screenplay.

“Breakfast in New York, Lunch in London, Dinner in Tokyo,” was the title. It was a witty romantic comedy about a journalist doing a story on a jet setting Central Park West socialite. Act I was the typical “boy meets girl” fare. I plugged away with my pen, turning the white bland pages into a world filled with glamour and wit.

While suburban surroundings left me with a lack of stimuli, I turned to my characters’ lives for escapism. There were escapades in Madrid, polo matches in England. Quickly, my characters arrived in ACT II. The story progressed in Paris. In a most cliché manner, the journalist and socialite fell in love with the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower bursting into romance.

By act III, the story hit a less than fabulous speed bump. While digging through my backpack, I noticed act I went missing. It was nothing, but a silly notebook. However, as I writer it was though a body organ had gone into oblivion. I cried and realized the emotional connection I had with my work.

The next morning, I bravely asked my Spanish professor if I had left my notebook in class. He nodded “yes.” Fireworks exploded from my head in joyful glee. By the look on his face, I could tell he didn’t approve of the Versace ad adorning the cover, which made me feel very, very hip. The saga of “Breakfast in New York, Lunch in London, Dinner in Tokyo” commenced.

Act III took place in Tokyo, where the journalist loses the socialite’s love. He regains and they live happily ever after. At the end, they both ride camels into the sunset with a backdrop of Egyptian pyramids. After writing an entire 3 act film in long hand, I considered my fete, a huge accomplishment. I thought it was a film that could be made and change the world, even though it was formulaic romantic comedy.

Eventually, I was let go from being grounded. The whole screenwriting experience led me to film school, where I received a BA in film. I didn’t grow up to be the next Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson or Sophia Coppola. Instead, I found my calling in advertising.

Today, I work in the creative department of an advertising firm, with the goal of becoming a copywriter. I live in my own New York City apartment and enjoy the very stimulating environment. While my teachers and mom complained about my daydreaming, as I grew into a writer, I realized it’s called “being creative.”

Romantic Comedy

Like any proper Nora Ephron film (When Harry Met Sally/Sleepless in Seattle), New York evokes a spirit of wit & romance. Snow falls romantically, where 72nd meets Broadway. Jazz fills the taverns of old bars along Bleecker Street. At Katz’s, couples find love over a hot pastrami sandwich and matzo ball soup. The city is truly the most magical setting for a romantic comedy, until shit hits the fan.

Summer in New York can be described as three months of living in pea soup. Stepping out of one’s modest apartment equates instant schvitzing (sweating). The only romance involves that special feeling, when the a/c is turned on. Icy cold winds spew from a precious window unit spurring up a three-month love affair.

During the summer, I hibernate. However, one summer’s day I looked out my window and decided it was time to go out and have a date with the city. I had a fancy dinner at a pizzeria and wondered around Union Square. There were the quintessential anti-war, anti-chemical & anti-government protests. In the midst of liberal thinking, skateboarders, every weirdo and their mother, an old fashioned moment was just around the corner.

As I wondered through the opposite end of Union Square, a romantic sound filled the air. The sounds of tango echoed across the busy crossroads of downtown & Gramercy. There underneath a dimly lit arch, tango dancers danced cheek to cheek. The violin accentuated the guitar, in a perfect musical marriage.

Regardless of the heat, couples of all ages just danced. Some struggled, while others glided effortlessly against the heated pavement. It was one of those only in New York moments and would’ve been the perfect setting for a romantic comedy. Afterwards, I was in the mood to watch every romantic comedy set in New York from Moonstruck to Serendipity.

Dearest Yenta

Yenta is a Yiddish word for matchmaker. I discovered the term while watching Fiddler on the roof on Broadway. There is a song/dance routine inspired by the Yenta. In film school, I too gained a Yenta card. However, I didn’t stand in line for the card, it fell in my wallet.

During my senior year, I had to direct a scene for (surprise, surprise) a directing class. We picked a scene from our choice film and brought it to life using real actors.

The films of Wes Anderson have always sparked my interest. I love his use of quirk, dark humor and overall directing style. Therefore, a scene from the Royal Tenenbaums would be my choice. I picked a scene, which involved romance between a brother and sister.

I had to hire passionate actors who could pull off such a fete. For the male character, I asked my personal trainer Will to star. He excitedly accepted. The challenge was then to find an actress. Through a friend, I had a reference to a theatre major, Jenna. With both actors in place, I was ready to direct.

We did a cold reading. Then came the actual rehearsals. I secured a classroom in the theatre department. They both displayed great pathos as they brought the characters to life.

The scene called for kissing. They smooched. Then they asked to rehearse the kiss again. I politely go “sure.” Something dawned on me; they’re enjoying making out way too much.

By the time, they performed the scene for my class; there was a certain passion I don’t typically see on stage. It then dawned on me; I think these two just fell in love.

Six years later, Will and Jenna dated and are getting married this coming weekend. Little did, I know my directorial debut would lead to marriage. I haven’t fulfilled anymore of Yenta duties. However, If I start singing “matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match” they may comeback to me.

The Perks Of Being A Film Snob

One fine winter’s day, I received my fifth grade report card. It was a spectacular one. I didn’t particularly love math and science (still don’t, yawn), but survived with a C. My parents were so proud that they decided to reward. They took me to the record store, where I bought Green Day’s “Dookie” album. Then they offered to take me to the movies.

I kept seeing previews and reading about Pulp Fiction. It looked beyond interesting. Of course, my parents were oblivious to movies, especially those with blood, guts and the words fuck + shit being uttered after every declarative sentence. Therefore, I told my folks, let’s go see Pulp Fiction.  ” John Travolta is in it,” I told my mom. She replied ” Oh I loved him in Saturday Night Fever.”

We arrived at the movies; I was sitting in between both parents. From the get go, Pulp Fiction started off with “fuck, shit, fuck.” It was followed by violence and then the opening theme song ” Miserlou” by Dick Dale. Both mom and dad starred me down. They feared I was enjoying the profanity and violence a bit too much. I just smiled nervously.

Then came the famous dance sequence with John Travolta and Uma Thurman. They calmed down a bit, until the drug overdose scene came on. That was followed by another stare down. More gun violence, cars running people over and strong sexual scenes made up the remainder of the Quentin Tarantino classic.

My parents walked out in shock. I tried to hold back my gleeful interior. Wow, that was some movie I told them. Thank you for my good report card present. They just nodded. We drove home. That very night, I decided I wanted to grow up and become a film major. Pulp Fiction also set a standard of high film achievement in my book. I never saw films the same.

Pre-film school years, I found myself quite attracted to independent, low budget and foreign films. Trainspotting, Kids, Last Days of Disco, Velvet Goldmine, Virgin Suicides and Metropolitan helped shape my love of excellent story lines and character based films. It was a stark contrast to the big budgeted blockbusters, which I saw more as appealing to the masses.

In film school, they wanted us to write those mainstream blockbusters. I opted for indie style films. In the tradition of Pedro Almodovar meets Wes Anderson, my characters were dark and quirky. They wrestled with mental disorders, coming out of the closet and getting their brains zapped. It didn’t fly in film school, but I enjoyed writing them.

After graduating with a BA in film, I did the quintessential office jobs in New York. However, I still found solace in the dark and chilly movie theatre. One of my favorite holiday memories in Manhattan revolved around the Sunshine Cinema in the Lower East Side.

I went there one Thanksgiving with Natalia. We watched a Pedro Almodovar flick with a gaggle of East Village/LES hip people dressed in all black. It was not only fun people watching, but it reminded me why I studied film. It brings people together and is another very effective tool of storytelling.

After walking onto Houston Street after watching the great film, I felt energized. It reminded me of the good old days in film school after we watched classics like Network and the Graduate.

I opted to pursue a career in copywriting as opposed to screenwriting. However, I learned a great deal about character development in film school, which in turn helped with the storytelling process through ad campaigns.

Not to say, all mainstream films are bad. The Addams Family, Bring it on and Legally Blonde are a couple films, which I love to watch. I do enjoy and appreciate the lack of special effects in indie films. The genre also tends to be more centered on a character driven premise. Thanks to my parents who surprisingly sat through all of Pulp Fiction and didn’t make me walk out.