A Haunting In New Jersey
by Eric J Baker
This is the true tale of a haunting.
I don’t expect you to believe me. Hell, I’m not sure I do, and I saw it with my own eyes. Nevertheless, it happened. So dim the lights, sit back, and notice that I’m starting my ghost story with a flagrant digression that allows me to mention two brand-new, big-budget films and stick in a cool image which, knowing this blog, will be of a nude man…
The surest way to wreck a movie is to let a computer make it. It’s like crack. If you plan to go on a gang-banging thrill ride and be dead or in jail by morning, you have found your ticket to ride. But filmmakers who care about quality of life and self-respect know that the computer, like crack cocaine, is necessary but best when used in moderation. Art comes from the head and the heart, not from Hewlett Packard.
Sometimes you need one. The Green Lantern, released this weekend, would have been tough to pull off without CG effects, and digital animators working on the upcoming Transformers: Dark of the Moon almost caused a worldwide shortage of gigabytes this year to bring us yet another three hours of reasons for audiences to say, “Wait. What?”
But for a ghost story, I’ve always maintained, let the camera do the work. Robert Wise’s 1963 classic, The Haunting, doesn’t even show a ghost. The specters in the commercially and artistically successful The Sixth Sense (1999) are simply actors. They’re spirits because the story tells us so, not because of digital tricks. On the other hand, there’s the remake of The Haunting, made that same year, with a zillion dollars worth of computer graphics and two hours of miserable boredom, despite the presence of the venerable Liam Neeson and the gorgeous Catherine Zeta-Jones (beautiful brunette alert!). They could have saved tons of money by ditching the CG and hiring that little Japanese girl with wet hair from The Ring to shuffle toward the camera a few times.
And now comes a confession: I used to believe what I just wrote. But that was before my haunting this week.
It began on a day like any other, with me checking my e-mail… A 30% off coupon from Kohls; an offer from Amazon tempting me to buy more Godzilla movies; a Linkedin invite from someone I met for 5 seconds 15 years ago (or a response to the same from me). But what’s this? I said. A message in my inbox from Rob Ford, whom I hadn’t heard from in years? Rob Ford, who moved far, far away? Rob Ford, who looks a bit like Sawyer from Lost?
Rob Ford was my band’s roadie extraordinaire. He was Samwise to our Frodo. In other words, we couldn’t have done it without him.
Note to the gheys: That was a Lord of the Rings reference. You probably aren’t interested in those films, but I gotta say, there’s more homoerotic tension in that series than in Brokeback Mountain, Brokeback Mountain II: the Roller Boogie Years, and My Fair Lady combined.
Back to Rob Ford (disclaimer: any discussions of Rob Ford, me, my former band, and homoerotic tension in the same story are purely coincidental)… Rob’s e-mail says, “Hey, look what I found on YouTube.”
It’s a video of me and the boys, when we brandy new, performing our original music at a high-school gym. Filmed by someone in the bleachers with a camcorder. Now on YouTube. With hundreds of views and counting.
It turns out digital is scarier than I thought.
We all know that these days we are being filmed or photographed whenever we step out in public. Those of us not named Anthony Weiner know those images may end up online. But this musical performance took place before the digital age, damn it, and I never signed a future technologies waiver. Technology today is such that it can reach into the analog past, find you, pull you out, and show you to yourself, taking moments you thought were lost to time and then ear-fucking you with them. My ghost, I have discovered, is me.
Three memories were triggered by the video:
1. There were no monitors, and I couldn’t hear the rest of the band (amps sound like mud from behind). I played my beats from memory and hoped like hell the boys were following.
2. The drum riser was uncarpeted, so my kit kept sliding away. I ended up duct taping my bass drum to the floor.
3. I had made out with this cute blond chick the night before and was wondering if she’d still be into me that day or act like nothing happened. She was still into me! Drums rule.
For local bands, playing live music is a lot more like that show and a lot less it’s depicted in movies. It’s often a lot of scrambling and you can’t hear and your equipment isn’t cooperating and the audience is hostile because they aren’t there to see you, no matter how good you are.
Tom Cruise made an Internet splash this week with the leak of an early image from Rock of Ages, currently in production, in which he plays a fake-looking rocker named Stacee Jaxx. It might turn out to be a good flick, but from the picture it’s not any more authentic than Rock Star or High School Musical. I doubt Tom Cruise is willing to go the Christian Bale route and starve himself until he looks like one of those pale, emaciated, chain-smoking weakling performers who have been fodder for the music gods all these years. After all, every shot is a hero shot in a Tom Cruise movie.
Movies involving rock bands seldom approach reality. According to Oliver Stone, the Doors got famous because a Native American healer imbued Jim Morrison with mystical powers (a variation on the tried-and-true “Ancient Indian Burial Ground” MacGuffin), not because keyboardist Ray Manzarek put together a commercially viable project and managed it through to success.
TV shows are more egregious. Bands perform without amps, no one is ever playing the bass (poor bass players get no respect), and singers are audible without a microphone. Sometimes it bugs me, and other times I think, “Dude, stop watching so much Nickelodeon.”
One film that gets it almost right is the increasingly popular, hilarious Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which I continue to hype because, one, you should see it if you haven’t and, two, it gives me yet another excuse to show a picture of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who still hasn’t called me (come on, Mary Elizabeth. If life had turned out just a little differently for both of us… Say I were a semi-famous rock star some people had heard of and got steady work in the rock industry, and you were an obscure blogger with the same big, beautiful eyes you have now, and you kept writing about me, you don’t think I’d notice? So pick up your cell and dial 555-SEXY. I’m waiting).
Aside from the aerial kung-fu battles, vegan police, sub-space superhighways, 6-year-old girl drummers, and Bollywood-esque production numbers, Scott Pilgrim is pretty believable. The local bands depicted in the film suck, the clubs are dirty, mostly empty caves, and the groupies are bored and can be counted on one hand. That’s the typical experience for an unknown musician playing original music. On the plus side, you don’t make a dime and your equipment gets beat to shit as it’s hauled from club to club, until your spirit is crushed and you finally start playing other people’s music in bars for guys who only want to hear Lynyrd Skynyrd and women who haven’t been cute blondes for a looooong time, have more wrinkles than teeth, are three years from being a statistic on a cigarette pack, and still want to make out with rock drummers.
Forget expensive CG effects. If you want scary, stick one of them in your movie.