Death in Venice

by Kerrin Ross Monahan

Death in Venice (1911) by Thomas Mann, is a story that deals with mortality on many different levels. There is the obvious physical death by cholera, and the cyclical death in nature: in the beginning it is spring and in the end, autumn. We see a kind of death of the ego in Gustav Aschenbach’s dreams. Venice itself is a personification of death, and death is seen as the leitmotif in musical terms. It is also reflected in the idea of the traveler coming to the end of a long fatiguing journey.

It must also be noted there are no women in the story with prominent roles. The hero’s wife is long dead and his daughter has been married and gone for many years. Any women in the story are merely in the background, unnamed and colorless—totally insignificant. Mann has purposely left them out because they are life givers, the symbol of fertility and birth. (The only one scene where women have an active role is in the degrading and violently promiscuous dream.) There are definite homosexual overtones evident almost from the moment Aschenbach sees Tadzio—the object of his obsession.

By far the most important level of death appears in the crumbling of Aschenbach’s life principles: the giving up and letting go of all those ideals that molded his character and had shaped his work and guided every aspect of his entire life. It is a complete handing over of oneself to all that was heretofore anathema to him. The mind, reason, rationality, and all that goes with it: service, dignity, and restraint all buckle and die—all fall in the wake of the onslaught of passion and chaos.

Dreams play a major role in the story, and, throughout the history of literature, sleep has often been considered to be a form of death. Freud (who was professionally prominent at the time the story was written) believed when one is awake, one’s ego acts as a censor of the libido, however, when a person is asleep and dreaming, there is a repression (“death”) of the ego, or conscious mind, thus allowing the unconscious wishes (which were, for the most part, sexual) to then be fulfilled (Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis-Sigmund Freud, Chps. 9, 14). It is ironic that Aschenbach, who had written his book The Abject “as a rebuke to the excess of a psychology-ridden age” (13) succumbs to an egoless state, not only in the last grotesque dream, but directly after it in his conscious mind as well. From this point on, Gustav becomes totally shameless. (We have seen this theme of loss of shame as being a kind of death, and actually leading to literal death as well, in Salman Rushdie’s Shame.)

Mann’s use of Venice as a backdrop is critical. Venice, an ancient city, inexorably sinking beneath the water, a “forbidden spot” (38) with “stagnant lagoons” (28) the “fallen queen of the sea” (36). Venice, with a “faintly rotten scent” (37) “half fairy tale, half snare” (55) “that hid sickness for love of gain . . . (56). The city that had “a disreputable secret [like] his own” (57).

In musical terms, death is the leitmotif, the theme keeps reappearing: heard in the overture (the first stranger Aschenbach sees in Munich), continually sounded in the Venetian passages (more odd men), swelling to a crescendo of hysterical laughter and swirling pipes of Pan, and, in the finale, of fading notes washing into the outgoing Adriatic tide. It brings Wagner to mind, who, with failing health, went to Venice and died there suddenly in 1883. His music was considered to be the highest expression of romanticism in European music and he was the originator of the “music-drama,” wherein the dramatic needs of the story take precedence over the music itself. (Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia Vol. 24, p. 388). There is a touch of irony here, since Gustav had represented the antithesis of romanticism until he met Tadzio. Tadzio’s very name, like “two musical syllables” (32) echoed in the flute notes of Gustav’s orgiastic dream. One is also led to think of the “siren song” of love and emotionalism which led him the break up upon the rocks of passion.

The collection of mysterious emissaries all luring Aschenbach on, starts with the “snub-nosed” red haired traveler with a summer straw hat and rucksack and “long white glistening teeth” (4) positioned under the door of a Munich mortuary. It is here Gustav is seized with the overwhelming desire to travel, which he had never before cared to do. Then, the seedy boat ticket seller with goat-like beard and bony yellow fingers, reminding Gustav of a “circus director” or “croupier” (16). Next, the “horrible old fop” (24) with a “rakish Panama” hat, wig, dyed beard, and hideous false teeth, followed by the “outlaw boatman” in Venice (24) with short snub nose and straw hat, who bared his teeth to the gums (22). Lastly, there is the strolling musician, the “Neapolitan jester” (59) who of course has the ubiquitous red hair and snub nose. These carbon copy agents of death, along with boatmen, porters, managers, and the barber, are all trying to bring Gustav closer to death physically or mentally. (It is only the English clerk at the travel bureau who tries to send Aschenbach out of danger.) We finally see Aschenbach, garishly attired like these mysterious beings: dyed hair, rouged cheeks, with a red tie and a straw hat with a “gay striped band” (70)-and we know his inward degradation has now progressed outward.

Tadzio, of course, is the most significant male figure of all-the primary lure. By not leaving Venice until summer’s end, he is assuring Aschenbach’s death, the final destination on his mad journey. It was Tadzio who unwittingly inspired him to lose his lifelong principles of rigorous duty, discipline, and conservative classical formalism. Tadzio stands for many things: he is Gustav’s muse, he is Art, which “heightens life . . . gives deeper joy . . . consumes more swiftly” (15). Art, which was “war-a grilling, exhausting struggle” (56). He is the essence of beauty, “chaste perfection of form” (25). He is Narcissus, Hyacinthus, Phaeax, Eros, Phaedrus to Aschenbach’s Socrates, his lover, the “charmer” (54) with twilit grey eyes” (74) whose milk white skin was never burnt by sun and sea air (51). Tadzio was also the “crouching tiger” (6) in Gustav’s early hallucination, the “stranger god” in his later demoniacal dream, he was the “pale and lovely summoner” beckoning on the sandbar (75) the plague, the pit, the abyss-Death itself. (It is interesting to note Tadzio, with all his perfect beauty, has imperfect teeth, “rather jagged and bluish, without a healthy glaze” (34), teeth remarkably like all the other emissaries of death.) Ironically, Aschenbacher feels the youth is ill and won’t live long, when actually it is he who is to die.

All his life, Gustav Aschenbach had been figuratively dead. He was caught up in his work, “dour, steadfast, abstinent” (56) to the total exclusion of soul-nourishing feelings. In Venice, after being overwhelmed by Tadzio’s beauty he finally allows the barriers to fall, relaxes completely, and comes alive for the first time in his life. Inspired by Tadzio, he starts writing with emotional intensity, but this turned out to be an arduous and consuming job that left him “exhausted . . . broken” (47). His excessive passions tipped the scale entirely in the other direction and it was this total abandonment of former ideals that killed him. Gustav lacked the balance he felt would have been the artist’s highest joy: when thought and feeling are able to completely merge one into the other (46). He had been able to write solely rationally, then, solely emotionally, but was unable to produce a melding of the two.

It was there in decadent Venice, surrounded by water (symbol of not only birth and baptism, but also of death) that Gustav Aschenbach, led there by Death’s legions, finally gave up the ghost, unable to effect a compromise, a victim in a final terrible battle of the classicism and romanticism gods, caught in the crossfire of what Nietzsche labeled the Apollonian and Dionysian principles. Since Mann has extensively employed paganism and mythology (excluding any Christian references) one can surmise perhaps Aschenbach’s shade would then have been rowed across the Styx (in a black gondola), or more possibly he would have followed Tadzio’s outwardly pointing finger and joined Poseidon’s ranks, plunging “into an immensity of richest expectation” (75) seeking “refuge . . . in the bosom of the simple and vast” [ocean] (31). Gustav thought of the boy as Phaeax, one of the sea god’s sons (29). He had seen this godlike creature “with dripping locks . . . emerging from the depths of sea and sky” (33).

What more fitting manner of leaving the earthly fray than by returning to “the birth of form . . . the origin of the gods” (33)?

Works Cited
Freud, Sigmund.Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Chps. 9, 14.
Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia Vol. 24, p. 388.
Mann, Thomas. Death in Venice. 1911. New York: Vintage, 1958.

Baz Hands! Moulin Rouge Film Review

by Katharine Elizabeth Monahan Huntley

“Here we are now, entertain us.”—Nirvana

After Strictly Ballroom and William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, Baz Lurhman understands what the audience expects from a Bazmark production—a “spectacular spectacular” spectacle.  He presents just that with the theatrical enchantment Moulin Rouge.

Unabashed in its excess of sensation, this many splendored song and dance collage celebrates the burlesque and carnivalesque of bohemian life.  Amid the iridescent artifice of men who preen and prance, and bawdy beautiful courtesans that can-can, a doomed romance reclines in a courtesan’s boudoir.  Tragic and passionate—what falling in love is all about.

Ewan McGregor is dreamy, Nicole Kidman creamy.  As Satine, she allures with red smeary lipstick and a longing for a legitimate acting career.  McGregor’s Christian represents idealism in its purist form.  

Extravagant extravagance, indeed.  Alas, however, is stark reality—fate is fickle and time waits for no one.  Life may be a cabaret old friend, but right outside is the boulevard of broken dreams and all that jazz.

Why the audience for Moulin Rogue should really stop and cheer is the Bazman’s insistence on relating a full bodied fable—underscored by the villain who demands: “What’s the story?”  A question frequently unasked by Hollywood producers in the pursuit of percentage and the show must go on.

Talk to me Baz Lurhman, tell me all about it.

Please note: The original 2021 title of this review is Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!

Bridge Over Seven Decades: Musings of a Mad Housewife

by Kerrin Ross Monahan

California Girls: Artwork by Charlotte Huntley
When you have six kids in ten years you tend to miss the nuances, the fine points of what’s going on.  For instance, you’re busy doing nothing sitting in the gas crunch and because you had a personalized plate (vanity) you could only get in the long lines at seven a.m. with a screaming infant or two, on odd days only.    

I followed Patty Hearst as little as possible, and Watergate was hard to miss.  Boring.  So have a nice day and I’d like to punch out that little round yellow face.  You can tell who’s stuck way back there when they still say that to you.

Forget the lava lamps and mood rings—I didn’t need a ring to figure out what state I was in.  Beanbag chairs were tacky so was avocado anything, especially shag.  Down vests and trail mix were okay, I guess, but if I see another macramé plant hanger interspersed with wooden beads it’ll be too soon. No, I was of aqua fondue pots and terrariums in a cool green Almaden gallon jug.  And Hang Ten and decoupage and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, not Rod McKuen and his ridiculous dog.

Love Story was never having to see sap acting again* and who cares about streaking because I saw plenty of little bare bottoms everyday. Bicentennial and an ice skater’s coif satin jackets. Bare Trap sandals that’s what I saw along with five million in paperback sales: bodice rippers.      

Vietnam then was whacked out Vets committing suicide it was more interesting to see all those Italians killing each other on the screen after they cooked the best spaghetti to die for.  Throwing up Campbell’s pea green soup—I’d rather watch kid Spielberg’s two million dollar nuts and bolts come after you in the steel tank at Universal.    

Tonsils and tonsils and stepping over zonked out freaks on Telegraph, dragging a five year old to the throat doctor and loud discos in convention hotels filled with mid-life plaid polyester.  Irishmen don’t look good in all white and besides they don’t like gold chains.

Parochial plaid and Sister Said cupcake sale and Lip Smackers whoever dreamt that up was a genius just add strawberry (red dye #5) to Vaseline and hang it from a cord for the premenstrual set.

Going from one disaster at home to another give me a dime for every time the milk hit the fan and I’ll show you an operation to rival Dreyer’s.  The upside down leviathan and flames in the Big Guinea and the psycho with the life insurance out of a machine was nothing.      

Take back the Italian horn I get enough virility thanks and leave your Puka shells behind with the tooled leather belt embossed colored flowers and cannabis bronze buckle.     

Keep on truckin’ away from me because I’m waiting for the carpenters it’s only just begun between the pet rocks and pop rocks and it’s all over with the flaming Pintos.
Burn your bellbottoms and chuck the turquoise and silver squash blossom ‘cause the baby just signed his ass over to Uncle Sam, the same ass that was pampered once upon a time.

Say goodnight Mary Ellen, stay high yellow brick road—gotta do-run-run.
 

Haiku Play Review: The Rage Fairy

The Sherry’s the Stage.
Antonia’s Zings Rage.
Murderinos, Sage!

Artwork by Freda Yifan Jing @frida_dearling

Nothing can stop the Rage Fairy from finding love, including the knowledge that her dream man is a literal murderer. All it takes is a little reality-bending. A manic fairy with a chaotic attachment style goes looking for love in all the wrong places–including in the arms of a [aforementioned] murderer. Subsequently, she is haunted by a cadre of murdered girls, even as she tries to maintain the illusion all is well with her dream man.
Written and Directed by Antonia Czinger.
Produced by David Dickens.

Artwork by Freda Yifan Jing @frida_dearling

Sundance 2022: We Need To Talk About Cosby, And I Don’t Want To.

by Coco Quinn

Artwork by Mary Quinn

This morning I woke up to a snowy view of my backyard, the Virginia weather still doing its best to make me feel like I’m writing from Park City. There’s a lake I look out on, and when I felt a sensation something was off, I realized it must have iced over.  Looking further out, I could see ripples in the distance where the surface wasn’t frozen of motion.

I made a cup of coffee, and settled in under some blankets on my couch, ready to watch my first Sundance premier. I’m glad it was sunny outside because it was about to get dark.

We Need To Talk About Cosby, and I don’t want to, because it’s uncomfortable. But we really do need to talk about these things. I think women should watch this movie with other women. Like we did with the Sex and the City movie. With cosmos or whichever cocktail pairs best with catharsis, and talk through what comes up.

Director W. Kamau Bell implores us that we can’t begin to heal without first having some hard conversations. He explores who Cosby was, from the groundbreaking to the terrifying, and what his achievements and actions say about America over the past 50 years. He challenges us to reexamine the culture that lifted Cosby to the level of “America’s Dad.” 

This four-hour-long documentary (in four parts) is airing on Showtime and I recommend it, but it brought up a lot for me. One of the interviewees in the film talks about how sometimes something is put in your drink, but sometimes it’s the drink itself that can cause a blackout. And you might never know which it was, but it doesn’t matter. The intent to incapacitate you is the same regardless of the substance.

I have a night I can’t remember all of what happened, and I’ve always wondered if I was just over-served or drugged by the waiter. He sent over an extra martini or two, on the house. He got my number by taking a picture of me with my friends and texting it to me. He would call and text me for months. I never answered nor responded, and it always scared me. It didn’t stop until I reported it. The brief clips saved as memories are clear, and the blank spaces, they’re still black.

I started just now to write I was okay, but is that really true? I ended up in the hospital. The feeling you get knowing you have gaps in your memory, but were walking and talking (about what and to whom exactly, you don’t know), can be panic inducing. And embarrassing. It’s been years and those feelings still flare up.

I don’t know many women who haven’t had a similar experience. I wish that were not the case. It’s hard to talk about, so usually we don’t. I know that I’m the only person that some friends have told about the moments someone intentionally erased from their memories before they’d even been made. It’s hard to hear it talked about in this film without feeling like that could have been me, or someone I love. That it could have been anyone. That it happened to way too many women. I’m so proud of them for speaking out. It isn’t easy.

When to speak out, or if you should, is hard to say. Especially if that person has cache. Makes you feel special. They impress your friends and family, like Cosby did with these women. When is the behavior bad enough to speak out? What about a famous man you thought was your friend for years and years and then you hear about something really creepy? What are you supposed to do? The easiest answer is fucking mind your own business. But look how that went with Cosby. Scores of people around him looked the other way.

What if you know of a famous man whom you’ve always considered to be one of the good guys, and then you find out he casually asked for revealing photos from a woman you love. And it freaks her out. And then when he next makes contact, she tells him, “What you said really upset me.” And then he goes on and on in a text about how he jokes about stuff like that with his comedian friends and he’s an idiot and was just trying to make a joke. But he’s a professional comedian. And the request wasn’t a joke. And it wasn’t funny. And this excuse rings hollow and weird, and your friend is scrolling back through years of texts wondering if she’d ever said anything to give him the wrong idea, and she hasn’t. And so, she scrolls through her Instagram and Facebook to see if any of her selfies were too provocative. And she’s trying to find where she was responsible for the strange behavior of this friend, and supposed ally.

And she’s feeling bad about herself and fixating on it for days. And the years of friendship feel like grooming because now this guy is acting like a predator. And did she just see behind the curtain? Is he doing this to other women? Girls? Are they sending him pics? What happens next to them if they do? What is his end game?

We Need To Talk About What To Do. Because I really don’t know. My first thought was she should call his wife, that maybe she could talk to her husband about how when someone does something like that to call out your body, especially if you’re a busty girl, that it makes you feel reduced to nothing but your physical appearance. That it makes you question your worth. Your perceived worth. That it shakes your sense of knowing who to trust, if someone you trusted and respected could make you feel so bad.

And now she starts to cry because she feels like she’s ruined him for you. Ruined her best friend’s favorite movie for her because he’s in it. Ruined the kind recommendation letter he once wrote for you, which you have framed on your desk to remind you he believes in you. And you look her in the eyes, and it’s like looking out at the lake this morning. You’re not seeing any ripples. Something is off, someone has frozen a part of her that usually sparkles.

So, you tear up the letter and tell her she didn’t ruin him for you, he did. And now your stomach goes queasy when he pops up on TV. Why is he on so much TV? And it’s not the worst behavior, but it’s not good, and the fact that it is subtle is such a fucking scary part of it, ‘cause it’s easy to blow off for him, but that’s the point if he doesn’t get what he wants, right? And the uneasiness and resentment aren’t going away. And you want to tell him how damaging it is, because he can’t possibly know, or he wouldn’t have done it. But then . . . he did it. And not only does he know, but that’s also quite possibly what he likes about it. And you introduced them, so you feel like it’s your fault. You thought he was a nice guy and you got it wrong.

And there goes one more woman, taking on the burden of a bad man’s actions.

Sundance 2022 Begins: A Starfucker is Born!

by Coco Quinn

The short film Starfuckers starts rather ominously. Plastic on the carpeted floor . . . was someone going to be murdered? An unsettling dynamic between a younger and older man. One of them is a bad guy, right? But which one? And then She appears. A drag Goddess who performs a lip-synch truly for the Gods. Even my brother was like, “Damn.” I had to call my sister into the room so she could see this clip of the film with me, watching her take it all in as I replayed it. At the end she said, “From now on my life is divided between before I saw that performance and afterwards.”

All three of us . . . Blown away by a true “Star is Born” moment.

Antonio Marziale is the face behind this captivating character. He’s also the writer and director of Starfuckers and says of the film, “At its heart a revenge story that explores power dynamics in Hollywood, but it also celebrates the art of drag and how it can be used to create an alter ego or explore alternate realities for oneself. We wanted to tackle serious subject matter with an element of buoyancy and surprise.” Tackled head on with both strength and vulnerability. I watched it twice already and still want more. These are the magical moments that make Sundance so special.

It was hard to get excited about the festival this year. I really wanted to go back to Park City. I have attended every Sundance from 2011 until Covid hit. I wrote my letter requesting press accreditation back in October, the night after I saw my first live performance in a theater since 2019. It was The Lion King. Broadway was back, baby! I was moved to tears in the opening number, masked and vaxed and so excited to be able to be a part of an audience again. I wrote about wanting to cover Sundance because, “Theaters are opening. I’d like to see how the filmmakers feel about reentering that communal space. There’s something magical there.” I shouldn’t have worried when it went away again. Sundance always works out exactly the way it is supposed to.

So, instead of Utah, I’m in my hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Instead of in the Egyptian Theater on Main Street, I’m huddled into my bed as Sundance weather comes to Virginia and snow starts to fall outside my window. I obligingly put on headphones and enter a virtual Egyptian space as an avatar of myself, a little cartoon body and flat, circular head displaying a photo of my face. (Pro tip: If you want to jump as an avatar, press the space bar.) We find seats, figure out how to sit our little bodies down, and click a box on the stage to make the screening fill our screens.         

The opening night film is 32 Sounds. There is a love story we learn about in the film. We hear moments of a phone call shared between these two women who will go on to have a ’til death do they part 47-year-long relationship, in the early days of their falling in love on the phone, long-distance. The giggles they share are charming and animated sound waves cross the screen, representing their voices reaching out to each other. It’s a tender moment. At the virtual hang after the screening, I meet some filmmakers and we wonder what we would sound like recorded in these virtual hangout groups. As with the nervous, new lovers, there are lots of giggles as we chart new territory in making friends.  

Sophia de Baun, Executive Producer of ChiQui, and I met and chatted in a bubble. She was in her bedroom in New York as the rest of her team were in another part of her apartment. They’d all tried to talk together as one avatar, but it was a bit much. “I’m wearing the turtleneck I bought for Sundance, even though I’m just in my apartment,” she told me. I loved that. We’re all committed to getting the closest-to-normal Sundance experience we can. And even though my camera works, so people can see me snuggled up from my fluffy white chair in the corner of my room with a scrunchie holding my hair in a pile on my head and no makeup on, there is a glitch and I can’t see the videos of anyone else. It doesn’t matter. The conversation in the bubble is lively and we’ve all been moved by the film we’d just seen, together, though far apart.

I watched 20 other films on Day 1. Most of them were shorts. Like Starfuckers, CLOSE TIES TO HOME COUNTRY was Written and Directed by its young star, Akanksha Cruczynski. Based on her real life. Oh my god. Akanksha hasn’t seen her sister in nine years. In trying to fill out a form to Homeland Security on her sister’s Moral Character she writes, “My sister is a badass.”  I’d fill one out for my sister verbatim. I loved her face, her sense of humor, her deep vulnerability. This film about people trying to go to and from India really took me on a journey. #RIPBisou

You never know who you’re going to meet when you pop into a bubble in the virtual Film Party of Sundance. I was testing out my video capabilities on a different computer, and entered a bubble with three guys who turned out to be directors of short films at the festival. Joey Izzo is premiering YOU’VE NEVER BEEN COMPLETELY HONEST. William David Caballero’s CHILLY AND MILLY is an animated autobiographical documentary. One of them said the third guy, Harris Doran, had the movie with the best name of the Fest. “What’s it called?” I asked.

F^¢K ’€M R!GHT B@¢K. It is a great name! And a great film! I’d seen it and got to gush over how much I loved his lead character, a queer Black aspiring Baltimore rapper played by DDm (Dapper Dan midas) who must outwit his vengeful day-job boss in order to avoid getting fired after accidentally eating an edible. DDm wins for best nails and dimples at Sundance, manicured hands down. He’s a real rapper who had never before acted, but Harris says he wants to do more now and I’m in favor of that decision. He gave a fantastically fun performance, and Kara Young as his coworker sidekick is who I’d want by my side.

A special section of shorts from years past were brought back in celebration of Sundance’s 40th Anniversary. One I was dying to see was the short film, Short Term 12. I was at the Premier of the feature length version in 2013 at South by Southwest, starring a young cast that would go on to win multiple Oscars among them. The only actor to be in both the short and the feature… and go on to an Oscar nomination of his own… was LaKeith Stanfield. In the short he’s only about 16-years-old and already a powerhouse talent.

Now, some shorts could really stand to be shorter, and my brother had watched a couple slower-paced ones in a row with me, so I was stoked to see SPIDER (2008) by Nash Edgerton was on the Anniversary Shorts list. I first saw it at Sundance, but not the year it premiered. One of my fellow critics couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it and showed it to me on their laptop between writing reviews from the kitchen of their shared lodge. Hadn’t seen it in a decade, but it held up. Nash plays Jack, a guy who causes all kinds of trouble when he tries to scare his girlfriend with a rubber spider. A sequel, BEAR, premiered at Cannes in 2011. Now, 11 years later, he’s rounded out the trilogy of short films with SHARK, where his new girlfriend is played by Rose Byrne. They’re silly, but make me laugh out loud.

I was walking back from yoga one day with a cup of tea, checking something on my phone when some kid threw a plastic snake on me, and then was like, “Oh, shit, look out!” and my brain just processed SNAKE and my hot tea spilled all over me as I dropped it and my phone, fell back onto the curb, bruising my tailbone. There was a group of young guys filming their antics on a cell phone. Not cool.

So when the first Indie Episodic I watched, CULTURE BEAT, took place a couple blocks away from where I went down across the street from my yoga studio, I just thought, “Dude. that’s my neighborhood.” This guy is acting deranged and volatile with a camera recording from across the street. This prankster is riding a recumbent bike into sidewalk diners and messing with traffic on a Segway, going in circles while dropping a laptop into the road. Fuck this guy. I lived in England when Ali G was a correspondent on The 11 O’Clock Show. I loved Ali G. It’s about punching up, right? Not fucking with people’s drives and dinners. It’s Hollywood. There are constantly folks doing way more crazy shit there. No need. Not. Cool. Go home.

On a lighthearted and upbeat note of people from my neighborhood, TRAINING WHEELS features a socially inept woman who rents a man to prepare to date another. Written, Directed by, and staring Alison Rich, a regular performer at the UCB Theater in Hollywood. When I first saw Alison perform, I was pulled on stage from the audience to participate in this hodgepodge comedy show, and she was in character as an old man with short gray wig on. The bit she improvised was that in everything he said, he found a way to hit on me. It was funny as fuck and even though it was fake, I was flattered. She’s a tiny, pretty girl who will get ugly for a laugh, and who you can’t help but be charmed by. Cameos by other hilarious UCB cuties, like Zeke Nicholson and Drew Tarver.

Rounding out the rest of my 21 films in one day of Sundancing we have:

RECKLESS, from Sweden, sucked me right into this world, visually, with special effects and a woman singing an eerie cover of a Strokes song. Haven’t seen a liquid this menacing since blood pouring forth from the elevators in The Shining.

PRECIOUS HAIR & BEAUTY A warm and inviting atmosphere of a beauty shop in the UK. Rich, delicious accents with sadly no subtitles to catch all the dialogue, which sucks, cause I liked these ladies. Divine little comedy.

LONG LINE OF LADIES Celebrates a young girl’s journey into womanhood by her whole community. The tradition was gone for decades because of sexual assault that accompanied the Gold Rush. It’s back. Amazing to watch the women lift each other up and the fathers support their daughters.

PRIMAVERA (an anniversary short) and THE RIGHT WORDS are foreign language films that deal with the complicated sibling dynamics of young teens. Made me think about how growing up is never easy, but I’m so glad there was no social media when I rode the bus.

CHIQUI Short for the lead character Chiquita, is an indie episodic pilot episode set in the late 80’s with all the MTV influenced hair, makeup, music and clothing you could ask for. It’s 1987. Pregnant Chiqui and her husband emigrate from Colombia to the U.S. to find a better life.

STRANGER THAN ROTTERDAM WITH SARA DRIVER The Rolling Stones were the second band I ever saw in concert, but I didn’t know anything about Cocksucker Blues. Then again, I was only 11. Fun little caper of a true story.

RENDANG OF DEATH Gross-out comedy with some real WTF moments.

YOU GO GIRL! In stand-up comedy as in life, it’s a real uphill battle.

BUMP. Stupid. Like in the way my Improv coach would say, “Stupid,” when we made him laugh. And just 3 mins long. Tops.

DADDY’S GIRL Girl. You are a mess.