Death

Philip Seymour Hoffman: A Legend of the Screen

psmHow do you appropriately pay tribute to such greatness?

With this morning’s loss of one of the finest actors to come from any generation, let us remember that the most appropriate salute to a fallen screen legend is to preserve, respect, and share his craft.

An actor who so powerfully danced from line to line, brewing a quiet storm of character behind each role, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s mastery of acting is unrivaled.

Before we let the cause of death predicate our perception of the man, before we let our curious nature probe into an aspect of his life he never chose to show us, let’s sit back, pay our respects, and drift off into the roles, characters, and the cinematic dream he helped create with each role he shared with us.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

Mother Knows Best: The Identity of Evil in “Bates Motel” vs. “Psycho”

bates_motel_101Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

What ruins Norman Bates?

It’s the question on everyone’s mind as they tune in (in record numbers) to A&E’s drama series “Bates Motel,” the “before” to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. As we approach the series finale (airing Monday), are we any closer to identifying the source of Norman’s otherness—or at least a probable catalyst which makes Psycho a credible “after” for one of the most prominently disturbed characters in cinema history?

At what point does a slightly awkward, attractive, brainy do-gooder of a teenager become a sexually confused, murderous social deviant? The answer has yet to be found within “Bates Motel,” which is just beginning to find its legs as a drama as we come to the conclusion of its first ten-episode season.

If Psycho is Hitchcock horror at its finest, “Bates Motel” is a few Asian sex slaves ahead of being a watered-down Nancy Drew mystery, with the ending already set in stone nearly fifty years ago.

Psycho teaches us that evil has an inherent home within his mother, after all.

…that has to be it, right? We need someone to blame, and if Hitchcock’s extensive filmography has taught us anything, it’s to never trust a woman.

But, the assumption that Norma’s ways are cloying and possessive (damagingly so) has implicated her since the release of Psycho. “Bates Motel” hasn’t exactly shown us otherwise, and for good reason. It’s a classic argument made against the infamous maternal presence in Norman’s life, which is never anything more than a corpse and sloppy-drag incarnate in Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece, but a much more tangible presence in “Bates Motel,” as Norma Bates’ relationship with her son serves as the framework for the series instead of a thematic crutch. If “Bates Motel” were in clumsier hands, the ideology of the 1960 classic might have bled into the contemporary cloth. Norma isn’t worth exploring as a character; she is now and has always been the pre-established burden of femininity; the bane of Norman’s existence; the origin of blame and the source of Norman’s life and his demise. But it’s time we view such analysis as archaic, much like Alfred Hitchcock’s objectification of women in nearly every film he ever made. It’s time to move past old assumptions because, frankly, “Bates Motel” is in some ways the worst potential multi-season narrative ever conceived. With a conclusion that’s become common knowledge far outside just the film community, how does a series earn its legs as a prelude for an already-exposed ending? The answer lies in its treatment of gender and its disregard for Hitchcock’s ideologies.

“Bates Motel” doesn’t incriminate Norma as a woman, but rather as someone on, in the simplest terms, an intense power trip. Having the series set amidst a modern backdrop (complete with iPhones and high school raves) alleviates the foreboding presence of old-timey perspectives on the issues of transvestitism, motherhood, and gender identity which made Psycho at once a blessing and a curse for the queer identity in cinema and society. The time is here and the time is now; dressing Norman up in women’s clothing simply wouldn’t have the same immediately-othering effect as it did in the 60s.

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The strength of “Bates Motel” lies in its insistence on not equating anything, from convoluted morals to pure murderous evil, with gender. Whereas Hitchcock’s Psycho epilogue seeks to explain, bit by bit, Norman’s psychological and gender-based transformation from a man’s mentality to a woman’s, “Bates Motel” instead sifts through the psychobabble bullshit and delivers a pure representation of actions without generalized implications.

The series begins as Norma (Vera Farmiga) and Norman (Freddie Highmore) move to the fictional town of White Pine Bay, Oregon (a town with a local economy supported by Marijuana distribution and patrolled by corrupt police officers staking a cut), to start afresh after the demise of the family patriarch. Norma is a woman, but she’s also in a position of power, enough power and conviction to move her son across the country to build a placid state of blissful isolation from the past. Here, “mother” is not inherently synonymous with “possessive,” but Norma’s relationship with Norman is, at least we’re to believe, almost solely responsible for his social ostracizing in White Pine Bay. When Norma is in trouble (which happens shortly after the move), Norman’s life is put on hold. He needs to “be there” for her, as he often explains, which often gets in the way of his social land sexual progress. Norma is raped in the first episode of the season, and Norman aides in the fending off (and eventual death and disposal of) the attacker. Norma hides the evidence, and Norman assists. Norma is found out, and Norman puts his life on hold to assure her freedom. Whatever the circumstance, Norman is implicated alongside Norma by pure choice. It isn’t until the midway point that we come to understand that Norman’s clingy behavior is predisposed. He has a mental deficiency, one which makes him hallucinate, to see things that aren’t there. Often, it’s images of his mother telling him what to do. We’ve come to observe in waking life that Norma is far more subtle in her controlling ways. She likes to imply, to suggest, and to coax, but never command Norman to do her bidding. Their bond is assumed, and Norman has simply grown to subconsciously accept it as normal, even in the face of strong opposition to the relationship from his brother, Dylan (Max Thieriot), and English teacher, Miss Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy). Norman is constantly overshadowed by people far more influential than he. Acting on the advice and whim of others is Norman’s specialty.

There’s only one explanation (or exposition, one might argue) for this that’s been given thus far. After guiding our suspicions onto Norma for the death of her husband, it is revealed midway through the season that it is Norman, in a fit of all-encompassing psychotic rage after his father harms Norma, who commits murder. This had apparently been going on for quite some time as Dylan, who left the family a few months prior to escape Norma’s manipulative ways, consistently reminds her of the turbulent marriage and its damaging effect on her sons. While Norman is directly responsible for his father’s death, he only did so because of Norma’s involvement. It is a subconscious trigger which fondles Norman’s psychotic nerve to protect his mother, manifesting itself in other ways in his conscious state, particularly within his skepticism regarding her relationship with Officer Shelby (Mike Vogel). The bond is psychological, physical only to the extent of Norma’s keen insistence that her son’s proximity remain consistently close. The bond is not gendered, but rather familial. Would these implications against Norma be any different if the roles were reversed? If Norma had been the physically abusive spouse instead of her husband? Understanding the bond and its balance between mental and physical (and Norman’s inability to accept casual affections from anyone else including Bradley, his crush and first sexual partner) is key to understanding the effects of possession itself versus lumping everything into the category of maternal smothering.

Although Norma is obsessively possessive of Norman, her power as a character is derived from her strong-headed will and conviction to her actions, not solely based on active sexual power or pull on Norman’s sexuality or any other man’s. We’ve been given enough information at this point to know that she’s more than capable of getting herself out of complex situations where coupling is only a loose connection versus a binding commitment. Shelby is a sexual deviant (he traffics sex slaves in and out of his house) Norma sees fit to use for her benefit only after he initiates an attraction. Norma falls into the right line of attraction at the right time. She doesn’t proposition him and serve her vagina with a side of deception, rather it is Shelby who pursues a relationship while Norma falls for him outside the net of intent she’d originally cast by complying with his advances; she grows more invested than simply indulging his desire for her own gain (and the opportunity he presents, on the opposite side of the law but willing to do things like steal incriminating evidence from the storage room to ensure it won’t be used against her), so her power over him transcends both of their sexual desires into something emotionally-based. He wants to protect her, and she is more than willing to accept the help without lording sex over his head; she doesn’t have to. “I love you, you idiot,” he tells her in Episode 4, and she smiles; they kiss as Shelby pushes Norma against her car amidst a backdrop of the misty bay. It’s almost sickeningly reminiscent of a romantic melodrama of the 1950s, indicating that Norma is able to have “real” relationships outside of the one she has with Norman. While sex might be a component, it’s not the definition. And Norma’s frustrations about her son’s budding sexuality seem to stem more from her knowledge of how she experiences sex as a would-be tool for manipulation rather than an all-out attempt to smother him. Again, this is not inherently a “gendered” issue, working against Hitchcock’s insistence on adorning Norman in women’s clothing and a wig as an immediate sign of othering.

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Norma’s ability to have an onscreen sexual relationship with a man who isn’t Norman’s father only strengthens “Bates Motel” as a challenger of Psycho-era ideals of female sexuality. In 1960 her son is a social deviant, a feminized male demonized not only for his murderous ways but also because he kills under the guise of being a woman—of believing he is a woman, of actively making himself a woman. His mother, dead throughout the entirety of the film, lives on only in Norman’s mind. He becomes his mother, or whatever memory of her Norman keeps alive within his own psyche, an unimaginably taboo subject for an audience not nearly as socially evolved (or accepting) as the one watching “Bates Motel” today. With or without being a killer, Norman is othered purely by gendered deviance. The “normal” side of him is calculating and precise; he is fully aware that there is a hole in the parlor wall into the adjacent hotel room. He actively peeps through it, wanting to see a young woman undress, which ultimately triggers the maternal murders. The clothes don’t materialize on his body. It is Norman who puts the dress and wig on, who grabs the knife from its resting state, and plunges it into Marion Crane’s body. It’s a female-driven, female-executed act of male sexuality (even the word penetration resonates masculinity). In “Bates Motel,” we’re still exploring a Norman who is unquestionably uncomfortable with the murderous dreams he has of Bradley (Nicola Peltz), after she reveals that their one-night stand was in fact just a one-night stand. Norman still passively receives the thoughts from his subconscious.

Present-day Norman is not mentally unstable because his mother is a woman with similar mental complexes; it is authority, rather, and the convolution of authority above Norman, which contributes to his state of being. Norman’s father, as we glimpsed a few episodes back, is abusive; lazy; violent. His mother, pushed into a corner far too many times, retaliates. She wins. But she wins through Norman, as her victimization triggers Norman’s patricide. It is Norman rebelling against the male side he’s yet to fully explore (his budding sexual escapades with Bradley, confused emotional attachment to Emma, his acceptance of Dylan as a pseudo father figure, etc., each indicate that Norman is not yet a “man,” but very much still an inexperienced boy on the verge of technical adulthood). Gender plays a role in Norman’s transformation, but it is far from the defining factor of his psychological evils. Similarly, Norma’s relationship with Shelby is not deviant because it is sexual, but rather pathetic in its teetering between legitimacy and fraudulence. Norma enjoys the romantics, but the burden of murderous guilt (and the benefits screwing a crooked cop with ways to decriminalize her public name) prompts her to keep the relationship from gaining as much momentum as Shelby would like. Shelby desires a nuclear family. He wants to claim both Norma and Norman as his own. The problem is he already asserts himself as a dominant sexual force as a sex-slave trafficker. He owns “vagina,” but not “sexuality,” and Norma is far too concerned with preserving an ideal state of illusion to toy with a man predisposed with old-fashioned perspectives on female sexual and domestic possession.

I’ve heard many fans of “Bates Motel,” new to the world of Psycho or longtime Hitchcock savants criticize Norma’s newly personified presence in this TV series. “Sure, blame it all on the woman,” I remember reading on Twitter after the premiere episode, the budding feminist anger building to a slow boil as the show continues. If the viewer is angry that Norma is a convoluted person, or angered by the fact that she’s a woman, or interprets that anger as the show being anti-woman, that’s simply the viewer’s responsibility and lazy projection. Norma is not evil because she’s a woman. At no point does “Bates Motel” offer us any indication that women are inherently deceptive and smothering with the intent to turn their sons into serial killers; Norma’s gender is treated as happenstance, as an afterthought; she is simply Norma. Do we need someone to blame? Is Psycho going to be any less impactful if “Bates Motel” offers an alternative framework to the one we’ve believed for fifty years? More importantly, is it inherently evil of us to assume that a male’s source of deviant corruption can only come from his mother? She’s a mother with questionable parenting skills, but skills which can’t be seen as the sole ingredient in the murderous monster mix of an adult Norman Bates—that is, perhaps, until season 2.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

Top 10 of 2012: Why “Zero Dark Thirty” is the Best (and Most Important) Film of the Year

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It was in the way a few audience members clapped as Osama bin Laden is shot to death, and how more applauded immediately after the final cut to black. I just can’t wrap my head around why someone would feel such a celebratory impulse immediately after viewing Zero Dark Thirty, a film rooted deeply in the middle eastern conflict, whose focus is not the gratification one might feel about the idea of eradicating the most well-known terrorist of the modern era. Rather, it’s a film built on the foundation of certainty–one woman’s, in particular–that ends in an ominous haze of uncertainty. Uncertainty of our future, of our security, of our position as a noble force in the fight to defend our country. For those reasons, it makes the jeers, hoots, and applause (an indication of acceptance) from the audience which surrounded me all the more disturbing. For, you see, Zero Dark Thirty is not a reaffirmation of America in white, Middle East in black; it fiercely calls into question American morals just as often as it castigates those we fight against. Killing Osama bin Laden was a small battle won in a much larger war, and certainly isn’t presented as an end-all, be-all point of closure within the film. Zero Dark Thirty is, in direct conflict with what so many Americans want it to be, a most anti-“America, Fuck Yeah” film.

Zero Dark Thirty is based on “true accounts” from those directly (and some, perhaps more indirectly) involved with the killing of Osama bin Laden. It is not a “true” story as much as it is a true interpretation of events which most likely (but have not been proven) led to the extermination of one of the most hated men in the world. It’s true; Bigelow and Mark Boal (also her collaborator on 2010’s The Hurt Locker), spend a glaring amount of time focused on Americans using torture as a means to elicit information from captured Al-Qaeda members–as well as the boldfaced lies purportedly projected to the public regarding such tactics. It’s difficult to accept the events of Zero Dark Thirty as the truth, both morally and because the film is technically a work of fiction. Protagonist Maya (Jessica Chastain, giving the best acting performance of 2012) is a pseudo mash-up character birthed from various reports of individuals involved in the real hunt for Osama bin Laden, as are the events which lead to the payoff. It’s also, therefore, much easier to see the controversial scenes of torture as something beyond a simple endorsement, the same as Steven Spielberg’s reproduction of WWII-era death camps isn’t an endorsement of anti-Semitism. Spielberg wasn’t present for the Holocaust, and Bigelow wasn’t present during interrogations of captured Al-Qaeda members. That doesn’t, however, trivialize her right as an artist to include such scenes meant for greater effect.

If you’re looking to a film for truth, you’re simply misguided. As it is, it’s colossally difficult to reproduce the truth in a film like Zero Dark Thirty (or any film, for that matter) in the first place, as the vastness of its scope spans multiple countries, intelligence operations, and surveillance missions wrapped within a messy little ten-year timeframe. Thankfully Bigelow and Boal aren’t overwhelmed, able to pick and choose from their resources with what rings only as ease, crafting a remarkably effective collection of fictitious staging with real-world implications. As the film begins, we’re reminded of one of the defining events which set the entire mess in motion. An assemblage of audio from panicked phone calls placed at the World Trade Center on September 11th plays over a black screen at the beginning of Zero Dark Thirty, reminding us not only of the aura of facelessness which plagued that day (attackers, amassed victims, etc.) but also of the fear, a fear and uncertainty that can be heard in the voices of the callers that endures to this day. Our security is not guaranteed, even with the death of Osama bin Laden.

The actions leading up to Osama bin Laden’s death unfold through the eyes of Maya, who acts as a sort of conduit between the fiction of the film and the reality we endure in a world where the death of Osama bin Laden is more than just a narrative climax. She’s in constant conflict with herself, embodying a raging war of preserved morality versus getting results. She’s good at what she does, however, and the fact that she’s a woman in a male-dominated field doesn’t exactly help her showcase it. Her persistence and certainty is marginalized by the male characters in the film, who often mistake her youth for inexperience, her beauty as a distraction. But, as Maya tells a fellow officer who wishes to set her up with another agent, she’s “not that girl who fucks,” and isn’t one to take the influence of others (whether questioning her experience, her accuracy, or her sex life), even in a situation with all odds against her, to mean more than her certainty.

When her efforts lead her to an Abottabad compound where she believes Osama bin Laden to be hiding, Maya must endure a round-table of men who assess the payoff of her ten-year workload with a maximum “soft 60%” chance of yielding results. “It’s 100%. Ok, 95%, because I know certainty freaks you guys out. But it’s 100,” she butts in. Whether it’s sheer confidence or a diluted willingness to accept the best-looking outcome after ten years of tireless work isn’t necessarilly answered in the subsequent affirmation of her speculation. She was right, but the most powerful moment of the film comes at its conclusion as she’s being flown out of Pakistan. “Where do you want to go?” the pilot asks her as we cut to a close-up of her face, strained from sleepless nights and a decade of near thankless slaving. She remains silent, a few tears streaming down her cheeks as the film cuts to black, Maya never giving an answer. The power of these moments is colossal, and it’s here the film achieves its most profound effect. The world knows the gist of Osama bin Laden’s death. It matters that he’s dead, but the way he died is not entirely clear. Sure, it can be reduced to a bullet. But the process leading up to that bullet isn’t mapped out for us. We’ve seen one artist’s interpretation within Zero Dark Thirty, one which does not celebrate the would-be climax as a moment of pure ecstasy. This is not a film of triumph, but of fear and uncertainty; it’s an ugly pre, during, and post of the most notorious manhunt in history. The question the pilot asks Maya is one she can’t answer, for she knows firsthand that it is unanswerable. She’s seen ugliness on both sides. Torture from Americans, suicide bombings from members of Al-Qaeda. A neverending conflict of ruthless vigilance and moral duty, each defined differently by the sides who wield them. Yet, what yields results? Torture doesn’t lead to much, and the only thing the death of Osama bin Laden proves–at least in the world of Zero Dark Thirty–is that steady enduring unrest doesn’t have a solution solvable by putting a bullet into human flesh. So, then, where you “want” to go becomes an issue, as there is no foreseeable place to go. The next target gives us no time for celebration.

Zero Dark Thirty is most powerful when it is treated not as factual representation, but as a film, from which gleaning versus accepting should be your focus. It is, however, a film which seeks to insert itself into our reality, forcing us to question the parameters around us, and the morality of those in power. Immediately following one of the film’s many gruesome scenes of torture, we see a reassuring interview playing onscreen behind a few characters as he (within the diegetic realm of the film, mind you) lies about the country’s use of such deplorable tactics. There’s no proof that this is fact. Zero Dark Thirty might be fiction, but one with powerful reflective qualities. A mirror rooted in fiction, if you will. Do we gain greater meaning from the torture scenes? From seeing our President trying to cover up amoral actions performed for the preservation of the good of the nation? Are politicians complaining about the film’s depiction of torture because we’re uncomfortable that all of this might be true? The uncertainty is real whether in fiction or our reality, and forcing us to accept and confront the absence of closure following Osama bin Laden’s death is where the true terror of Zero Dark Thirty lies; It places us at war with ourselves.

Top 10 Films of 2012:

Note: The only film I haven’t seen that will most likely make an impact on this list is Amour, which I’ll be seeing on February 15th.

1

1 – Zero Dark Thirty
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow

2

2 – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Directed by: Benh Zeitlin

3

3 – The Master
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

4

4 – Silver Linings Playbook
Directed by: David O. Russell

5

5 – Celeste and Jesse Forever
Directed by: Lee Toland Krieger

6

6 – Holy Motors
Directed by: Leos Carax

7

7 – Seven Psychopaths
Directed by: Martin McDonagh

8

8 – Life of Pi
Directed by: Ang Lee

9

9 – Django Unchained
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

10

10 – The Impossible
Directed by: Juan Antonio Bayona

And this, essentially, functions as my apology for hating on Kathryn Bigelow throughout the entire 2009-10 awards season. I still don’t like The Hurt Locker, but Zero Dark Thirty is a triumph of contemporary cinema.

Savoring the “Cinematical” Cord

“The Tree of Life” (Malick, 2011) and its lyrical musings on birth, life, and death.

The womb is the womb. Acceptance and recognition. This is the place which birthed us X or Y years ago.

A cave is the womb. The stone temples of ancient Egypt. Sifting and snaking through columns and crevices, recreating the physical mystique of this primordial pouch.

Things to represent it, things reproduced in its likeness. You must accept that this is where life begins.

It’s funny, then, that over the course of my academic career I would spent countless hours studying cinema. Why? It’s inevitable that at some point during a stuffy film lecture from a “seasoned” (or garnished and overcooked, dry crusts and all?) professor, you’ll hear them boldly equate some element of the medium to sex. What follows is usually the class’ collective “inner vomit,” filling the room with a pungent awkwardness and bitter aftertaste boasting hints of multiple “I just thought of Dr. Anderson’s wrinkly balls.”

But as awful as imagining unsexy people’s sexy exploits always will be, one of the most beautiful things I harvested from the impossibly pretentious film studies crop is the ability to recognize the almighty power of the symbol. From the basis of “Introduction to Film” all the way to “Advanced Film Seminar,” the filmgoer’s experience is constantly likened to that of a fetus’ engagement with the outside world from the womb.

One of the most beautiful comparisons came in the Spring of 2012. Marcia Landy, an accomplished academic and author in the film studies community, helmed the capstone course of the University of Pittsburgh’s film program from the head of a long wooden table, uncomfortably shoved into a tiny nook of a classroom on the Cathedral of Learning’s fourth floor. The room was about forty feet long and fifteen feet wide. Pipes and other structural framework poked out from every crack and corner on the ceiling, the windows blacked out with thick matted paper. This was a room where light was unwelcomed; a submarine quarter with a crew of fifteen students huddled around the table, our captain sitting focused and rigid at the head of the table. She was a small woman with a delicate frame. Her style and stature begged us to make jokes about Edith Head cheating death as she sat before us. Her eyes danced around to each of us as we performed standard introductions, a gaze which burned her genuine interest (albeit blank expression) into our skulls. We finished. Her eyes shifted around the room, making sure we knew she was going to connect her carefully-chosen words with our solitary surroundings.

“Welcome to the womb. Birthing ideas, that’s what we’re here for.”

As ridiculous as the comparison sounds, you can’t help but appreciate cinema’s likeness to the flux and flow of life. Its key defining moments throughout history have only, for lack of better words, birthed new schools of thought, consumption, and pure indulgence. Méliès and Godard, postmodern flair and avant garde innovation, Wilder and Hawks, Tarantino and Herzog…minds and movements spring forth from an ooze, a fetal framework set in motion so many years before. The medium as a whole is a child itself, growing, evolving, expanding beyond its humble beginnings as a cheap, disposable art which critics looked upon as a mere passing fad.

A fad which grew because we chose to expand it. Unlike a child, it is not inherently programmed to blossom on its own. It can’t develop its mind, it can’t write a poem, a song, or fall in love for the first time; it is dependent on our experiences and what we choose to do with them to make its transition from childhood to adolescence. The beauty is that it will never grow old. Will never die, will never leave its loved ones with a void they will try to fill for the rest of their lives.

I didn’t know it then, but when I was fresh from the womb myself (maybe a year or two old?), a void was filled to the brim. I was petrified. Fear, the governing emotion of the day, took hold of my hand and thrust it into my grandmother’s as she coaxed me into the theater. It was a re-release of “Snow White,” playing mid-afternoon at a theater that’s no longer there. She towered over me, protective, watchful, holding me close as we moved closer to the bright lights at the end of this mysterious tunnel I’d only “seen” once prior in a hospital room. I didn’t want to. I really didn’t want to. But she made it OK.

Another inch, both of us still standing in the middle of the aisle.

I welcomed comfort as I felt her hands on mine, her encouraging whispers filled my ears with loving disregard for the other sets in the room that were trying to hear the film, not her.

Another inch.

Was it the darkness? The bright light from the screen? The uncertainty of what lies within either one?  The inexperience of having to think of these things as a child with an undeveloped sense of the world?

Another inch. A few more this time.

Forty-five minutes later, half the movie over, and my grandmother’s patience not a hair thinner than it was upon entry, we sat down. And from that moment, I fell in love. A love was consummated, giving life to a passion that exists to this day.

I thank my grandmother for giving me that. If it weren’t for her (or my dad, mother, and pretty much everyone else in my family) forcing me into things as a child, I don’t think I’d have such intense passions for anything I’m, well, passionate about. It was a birth in itself, pushing and inching which gave way to a new entity that still grows and evolves with me as I grew. Went to school. Graduated college.

There were periods when the passion became routine. During the later parts of my furthered education, film became a chore. A weekly paper. A monthly exam. But I guess every child goes through the difficult stages. I was eating up thousands of my parent’s dollars as this was going on. Munched away at savings like film snacked on my sanity.

But alas, social maturity in college affords us other exploits. And, hand in hand, I learned that films are like one night stands; the bad ones forgotten, the good ones savored, the great ones growing into relationships spanning eternity. As sex is a natural part of the human evolutionary process, a passion is a similar byproduct of yourself, a child that never leaves your side (but also doesn’t bitch about wanting a pair of ‘cool kid’ jeans).

As I position myself as a college graduate, these sorts of experiences are all I have to go forward. I see the other students clamoring into their dorms, nervous about whom their professors will be. Whether they’ll like their roommate. If they’ll still talk to their best friend from high school three years from now. Leaving the “little kid” inside them at home, where they’ll revisit here and there. A new life, a rebirth.

For though I am childless, I wield my passions like a tiara-clad toddler dancing around onstage in that hooker outfit from “Pretty Woman.” I am scared now, approaching my new life as a “real” person. The previous 22 years (I tell everyone I’m 19 at parties) mean well, bidding my childhood goodbye and pushing me out into the cold hands of Dr. Life.

Inching closer to the light, holding my grandmother’s hand.

Am I Wrong to Mourn Amy Winehouse?

(Originally Published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

He can only hold her for so long,

The lights are on, but no one’s home.

Amy Winehouse

It’s a seemingly trite verse lifted from a tune which appears on the late Ms. Winehouse’s sophomore (and, unfortunately, final) album “Back to Black.” Without context, it doesn’t mean much. When examining the all-too-brief life of the woman who wrote it, though, it becomes as searing as her out-of-this-era voice.

The lights were certainly “on” in one way or another for Ms. Winehouse. Five Grammys. International sales certifications named after every precious metal in existence. Top 10 hits in what seems to be every country that hosts broadcast radio.

But no one seemed to be “home” to discipline the young lady with all the accolades. Certainly not Ms. Winehouse herself.

Images of the singer trolling the streets of London, barely coherent, come quickly to mind. This seems to be how the media favored her. She was the celebrity screw-up. The headline disaster that struck once a weekend. An easy target. The butt of the joke. All for being brutally honest about her life, including her addictions to alcohol and crack cocaine.

She was an addict. But she was also one of my biggest inspirations.

Fans know the tragic last years of her life as the “old” Amy. This wasn’t the Amy they wanted to see come out with another album. This was the Amy that whenwillamywinehousedie.com preyed upon; certainly not the Amy I hoped would survive.

The media awaited — and at certain points, even I painfully expected — the breaking news of her death-too-soon.

“I’m absolutely disgusted that her death is receiving more coverage than the tragedy in Oslo,” one of my friends said to me. “People are crying for Amy but can’t even point out Oslo on a map,” he continued, “It’s just proof of this country’s pathetic obsession with fame as well as the total lack of empathy with the common person, albeit in a different part of the world.”

His frustrations have been echoed by many a hipster-Greenpeace-vegan hybrid since the news arrived of Ms. Winehouse’s death. I mean, “anti-establishmentism” is the bees knees nowadays.

It’s not hard to see that Ms. Winehouse was a godsend to many. The fact that news of her death impacted so many people is no fault of the media which is reporting it. If a story is being read, it would only make sense for an outlet to cover it. The public has spoken, and news of Ms. Winehouse’s passing seems to be hitting home with far more than just those “pathetically obsessed with fame”.

News of her death hit me as hard as the first note I heard escape her tiny, delicate frame. I was 16. She was around the same age that I am now. But her voice smoldered with tinges of another era (though it’s done heapings of injustice by any comparison whatsoever) that took me to a place I could experience only by way of headphones and “Back to Black” on repeat.

The time I spent with her music was time I spent getting to know her. Loving Amy was not, for me, about an obsession with fame, as my friend seems to think. When an artist becomes a celebrity because she expresses extraordinary creativity, as Ms. Winehouse did with every song she wrote and performed, she forms a relationship with her listeners. Not only of a consumer-supports-artist nature, but even on a spiritual level.

The darker side of life pervaded Ms. Winehouse’s music. Whether it was in crooning a beautifully subdued rendition of the 1958 Teddy Bears’ hit “To Know Him Is To Love Him” or tackling original tracks like the disturbingly honest “Rehab,” Ms. Winehouse never downplayed her struggles. She needed no safety net, and the public certainly never provided her one.

Underneath the veil of fame was a dark, lonely, self-deprecating human being who placed herself on display through her art. Any fan of hers will tell you that. Her songs are like a diary, written for all of us to read.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big of a Britney Spears fan as the next guy, but I’ll never be more than a “fan” of music products like her. We feel safe with products. Ms. Winehouse was anything but “safe,” in both her artistry and her personal life.

She was a danger to herself and no one denies that. But her public struggle made her a shoulder to lean on for so many people she never knew. And it made her death more tangible to those who loved her. Ms. Winehouse’s lyrics touched the similarly afflicted hearts of those who clung to her as the second coming of Billie Holiday.

Many of the hundreds of thousands mourning her death are simply mourning a friend. We’re not elevating her death above the tragedy in Norway; we’re grieving a personal loss that just so happened to coincide with an unspeakable act of terrorism.

As a culture, we seem to have an “I told you so” mentality. Amy Winehouse detractors “aren’t shocked” or “couldn’t care less” about her death, as I gather from countless Facebook postings and conversations with friends. Now that their “prophecy” has come true, the stake needs to be driven deeper. It can’t suffice that she succumbed to a disease that’s little different from a fast food-induced heart attack or smoking-induced lung cancer. We feel the need to keep talking. Like it’s an addiction.

The song “He Can Only Hold Her” continues:

How can he have her heart,

When it got stole?

Ms. Winehouse’s heart may have been damaged and easily stolen in her search for acceptance, but I’m thankful that I was given at least a piece of it in recompense for the part of mine she’s since taken to the grave.

Rest in peace, Amy. I have a feeling the angels will be doing more listening than singing thee to rest.