"Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves." p align>
notes Stephen Dedalus in Chapter Nine of James Joyce's Ulysses. The episode parallels Book 12 of Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey, which details Odysseus's costly navigation of the dangerous Strait of Messia, which lay between the sea monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis.
Read enough great literature and you pretty much find yourself living out a life that has—in some form or another—already been lived. It's humankind's Collective Unconscious at work, and the god-head artists tap into this motherlode of truth as often as they can.
Scylla was a beautiful nymph who fell into disfavor with Circe (over a man, as usual) and was poisoned in her bath by the angry goddess. She was transformed into a loathsome monster with twelve feet and six heads, and each head had three rows of teeth. Her body below the waist, tellingly, was comprised of frightful dog-like creatures that barked and snarled continuously. Poor Scylla—a girl who basically just wanted to have fun—was in utter misery and unable to move. For the rest of her unnatural life each of her sickening heads devoured a sailor from every ship that passed her by.
Charybdis lay just across the narrow strait from this unfortunate creature. She had been the daughter of Gaia and Poseidon who flooded land for her father's underwater kingdom. Zeus turned her into a monstrous whirlpool and had her suck water in and out three times a day.
Individually the two ex-girls were dangerous. In combination they killed sailors by the ship-full. Circe advised crafty Odysseus to "hug the cliffs of Scylla," in order to avoid the whirlpool that could claim his ship, but under no circumstances should he try to engage the six-headed dog-bodied creature, because she was a "nightmare that cannot die."
By the time Odysseus and the crew got to the strait, having survived the Sirens, they were distracted by the whirlpool and—ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ching—six sailors were lost to the monster. This is known in the military as field expedience. A good move by Captain Odysseus (he saved the ship) but not a great move.
And so it is that I find myself—once again—caught between a rock and a hard place or, for eyes and minds more classically aligned, sailing uneasily between Scylla and Charybdis.
Every workplace has it dangerous shoals and its characters best placated or avoided altogether. But Hollywood, that festering petri dish of re-hashed American myth, presents dangers unlike those to be found in Atlanta, Seattle, or Houston, but nonetheless feel right at home in Joyce and Homer.
Hollywood is High School with Money.
For the past month I have been sailing my little ship of fools, a slight entertainment at best (no Apocalypse Now Redux or Titanic here), onwards towards completion at the rate of roughly three nautical miles forward for every two nautical miles back. This is not in itself unusual. What is at play this time around is the threat of back-to-back strikes by the Writers Guild and the Screen Actors Guild.
The whole town is going apeshit, and you'll be able to tell next fall when all these rushed-to-completion projects start to assault you at home and in the theatres. In the meantime—like a legion of Michaels—we worker-bees are just trying to row our leaky boats ashore.
I'm the editor on this project. My Scylla is the director and the good-cop/bad-cop producers. Three heads, I submit, each of them of two minds, are not better than one. Three heads can't even figure out who goes through the commissary door first.
My Charybdis is the studio in combination with the network, a whirlpool of terrifying synergy made more so by the fact that most of its power is hidden below the surface and, basically, is unknowable. Who can comprehend the minds of people who fear for their jobs every second of the day and don't know what to think until somebody else tells them?
We filmmakers, sweating over my Avid Media Composer, have lots of conversations like "Well, maybe they'll think..." or "Suppose they don't like..." and you know something? It's enough to drive me insane, because I'm the guy who gets to try all these different ideas out.
This scene here or there? This beat long or short? Do you like this line in the master or the closeup? Music in or out? Music here or there? Do we have the right song here? Suppose they don't get that? Do you think her hair looks OK?
Suppose any one of them has half a brain?
Rick Nelson said it best: "You can't please everyone; you've got to please yourself."
And I had an assistant editor one time who put it specifically:
"Film Editing is like sex: Put it in, take it out. Put it in, take it out. Sooner or later they'll get tired and go away."
Thank goodness I've read The Odyssey, which tells me essentially that it all works out in the end, and Ulysses, which gives me a practical plan of action.
I, like Stephen Dedalus, shall
"Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past." p align>
I'm not in the middle of a "nightmare that cannot die." I'm just not getting to node as much as I'd like to.
To quote a far-better film, which managed to navigate an even more treacherous strait than my own:
"Some day this war's gonna end."
On Hollywood and filmmaking:
Below the Line
sex drugs and divorce
a little life, interrupted
- Hecho en Mejico
- Sam's Song
- Hemingway and Fortuna
- Hummingbird on the Left
- The Long and Drunken Afternoon
- Safe in the Lap of the Gods
- Quetzal Birds in Love
- Angela in Paradise
- And the machine ran backwards
a secondhand coffin
how to act
Right. Me and Herman Melville
Scylla and Charybdis Approximately
snowflakes and nylon
I could've kissed Orson Welles
the broken dreams of Orson Welles
the last time I saw Orson Welles
The Other Side of the Wind
Below the Line
Final Cut Pro
king of the queens
Kubrick polishes a turd
movies from space
Persistence of Vision
Apocalypse Now Redux
The Jazz Singer
We Were Soldiers