Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Orange.  Maybe closer to brown.  Somewhere in between.  Burnt umber, according to the Crayola Corporation.

All the walls are like this here.  Lime green, if the lime is overripe.  Sky blue, and oppressively cloudless.  A combination of bright and neutral.  Soothing by design.  Don't want to have anything that might disturb the nutjobs.

But here, in my room, orange.  Two toned orange.  The color of puke from someone who's eaten too many fruit-flavored Pop Tarts.  Not soothing.  Disturbing.

Or maybe it's just me.  I'm the disturbed one, right?  I've got the scars on my wrist to prove it.  Colors that are interesting might somehow angry up my blood, make me want to harm myself.  Not that it would be easy to do that around here.  They won't even let me have a plastic fork unless I'm supervised.  Can't even have a can of instant pudding because it has sharp edges.

But hey, I can have books.  No sharpened pencils for me, but they didn't have a problem with my mom bringing in a copy of Naked Lunch, which, let's face it, seem like the most cliched book a suicidal young man could be reading.  Maybe I should read one of the books they have in the day room, old Arthur Hailey and Harold Robbins potboilers, or one of the eighty million Harlequin Romances.  It might be nice to know what normal people like.  If there are such things as normal people.


The windows in the day room face east.  The blinds are up, and morning light floods the room.  Then again, even with the blinds down, the lemon-yellow walls are clearly meant to induce some kind of fake cheer.  But it doesn't work like that.  When you're depressed, a perfect sunny day is just something to be endured.  The few people who are out sit in chairs as far from the windows as possible.

I seem to be one of the younger people here.  No sign of that cute girl I saw last night, the one I almost certainly won't talk to, because that would mean talking to someone, and I don't do that.   But that guy who looks kinda like Sean Penn in Bad Boys, he's here, still strutting around like he's waiting for his closeup.  Most of the people are in their thirties and forties, lost in themselves, making occasional small talk with the attendants but never interacting with each other.

The TV is tuned to Good Morning, America.  I'd turn it over to cartoons, but that's probably discouraged.  If we saw Jerry whack Tom with a pool cue, it might give us bad ideas.  My first morning here, and I feel like I've been here for years.


Mom called last night, and asked if I'd watched the first episode of some new Earl Hamner-created TV series about young kids volunteering in a senior citizen home.  No, I hadn't seen it.

"Well, if you're still there next week, all of you should watch.  It's so nauseatingly sweet, it'll make you all mad.  You can form discussion groups and talk about how much you hate it."

So, summing up: My mother phones her son in the psych ward for no better reason than to complain about a horrible TV show she watched.

Yeah, we're definitely related.


I made a reference to Zelig during my counseling session this morning, and my therapist actually knew what I was talking about.  She even seemed to appreciate it, and I was encouraged, so I told her I wanted to make other semi-brainy references so she'd like me more, and I'd fit in, and I wanted be the depressed loser I am.  Then she asked me if I'd always felt like that around other people.

No, I said.  It was a joke.  Another Zelig reference.  Ugh.  Jokes never work when you have to explain them.


There's a dry-erase board in the dayroom and every day a new stupid homily/affirmation/line of bullshit is written on it.  Today's bit of wisdom is this: "A comfort zone is relaxing, but nothing ever grows there."

What the hell?  OK, first of all, that's just stupid on the face of it.  So we shouldn't do what we're comfortable with, what we're good at?  Joe Namath's entire post-football career is a strong argument against that.  And did anybody ever watch a Marx Brothers movie and think, yeah, these guys need to do some heavy drama?

But more importantly...what the hell does that have to do with me, or anybody in this ward?  Comfort zone?  I cut my fucking wrists a few days ago.  I don't feel comfortable anywhere.  I would kill just for the chance to have a comfort zone.  I don't know what it's like.  Maybe I will someday, but I doubt that I'll get there if the best you can offer me by way of a cure is meaningless catch phrases and bright colors. 

I go back to my room, to the burnt umber walls and scribbled notepads, and I stare out the window.  There are trees and grass and sunshine, and it all looks like some alien world to me.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


So the Frozen soundtrack is once again atop the charts, the Blu-ray and DVD release is poised to sell a bajillion copies, even as the movie itself is still in theaters, and still racking up record ticket sales.

And that's fine, really.  It's a good movie.  Honest.  It's easily one of the best animated movies of the last few years, which, okay, granted, isn't exactly wild praise.  (It's better than Turbo and Rio combined!)  It tells a good story, it tells it well, the characterizations are vivid, it's funny and even occasionally moving.

I just don't know why it's animated.

This is the problem I have with at least 90% of recent CGI movies: They're so busy trying to recreate reality, with meticulously rendered hair and fabrics, that they beg the question of why they weren't shot in live action anyway.

Consider this, the big moment from Frozen, the most character-defining moment.  In particular note the action starting at about 2:56.

Yes, she's literally letting her hair down, but the moment is a total throwaway, because absolutely nothing is done to emphasize it.  There is literally nothing in this entire sequence that gains from being animated.  Or, more accurately, there's nothing here that takes advantage of what animation can do.  The settings and movements are depicted with thudding literalism. 

This is the recurring problem with computer animated features.  All the software is written to depict a sort of reality.  The settings are meticulously rendered, and furnished with equally realistic lighting.  The Dreamworks feature How To Train Your Dragon went so far as to hire the great cinematographer Roger Deakins as a visual consultant.  It didn't seem to occur to anyone that maybe, for an animated movie, they should employ painters or graphic artists instead.  That's the advantage settings in an animated film have over live action: They can turn abstract, or deploy colors purely for visual emotional effect.  Here's a sequence from Pocahontas, a lesser film in the Disney canon, one of their last big successes in cel animation before Pixar started the CGI revolution with Toy Story.

Even before the visuals turn vaguely abstract, the colors are varied, the shades of blue alone turn according to the emotion of the scene.  Quite a contrast with Frozen, where the color and lighting remains the same from shot to shot.

But the movement is even more mundane that the setting.  Again, consider the shot of her letting down her hair.  She just kind of reaches up, removes the tiara and her hair...just falls.  The moment isn't emphasized, or, more to the point, the movement isn't emphasized.  Animation is all about exaggeration, a caricature of reality, but that isn't what happens here.  It's what you'd see if this was being performed on a stage, but shouldn't the power of animation be used to emphasize the significance of the moment?  She's becoming a whole new person, but this is depicted almost entirely through the song and through Idina Menzel's powerhouse vocals.  True, she's making a palace over in her own new image, but even that is depicted rather prosaically--that is, the character is literally doing this, and we see it, but it doesn't have the impact it would have with more vivid staging.

 I admit, I prefer hand-drawn animation to CGI, but every form of art has its strengths and limitations.  Brad Bird made fine use of stylized movement and realistic settings in The Incredibles, Pete Docter beatifully gave cartoonishly-designed characters a sense of reality in Up and, though the movie itself isn't much, Genndy Tartakovsky proved computer animated characters could stretch and squash with the best of old school cartoons in Hotel Transylvania.  My problem isn't really with computer animation, it's with how it's deployed.  And with the massive success of Frozen, it seems less likely than ever that anyone will try to do anything new.