Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Child Prodigies, the Arts Industry, and The Devil’s Violinist

So, as I’ve said, I’m going to watch “The Devil’s Violinist,” the movie, starring David Garrett and live-tweet it. Just to be fair, I am not the normal, typical movie-watcher, and I feel like I need to come clean before I do. I’m going to have to brag a little, but I need to present my bone fides. I find it obnoxious when partially trained reviewers go to ludicrous snark without understanding the art involved.

First of all, I’ve read reviews. Most of them are less than complimentary about several aspects of the movie. First of all, many people have mentioned that the writing is less than stellar, to be polite. Bernard Rose is listed as both the director and the writer. I loved “Immortal Beloved,” but his more recent films have devolved, which worries me.

So why do I get to judge, you ask? What skills do I have that mean I get to review this film?

Okay, I’m a pretty good writer. I hold an MFA from Iowa, which is the Juilliard for writers. The metaphor is apt for several reasons. The Iowa Writers’ Workshop tends to attract the people who are already the very best writers of the generation because The Workshop has the best reputation (self-fulfilling prophecy) and the best financial aid. Why would anyone go to USC and end up $100,000 in debt when they could go to the better-ranked Iowa (#1 according to all the grad school rankings) and emerge with no debt? Most people who went to Iowa who become major talents are compelled or convinced to come back and give seminars or teach, so the faculty and visiting faculty are stellar. Also, it’s the literary program, the classical music of writing, as opposed to Columbia University, which is more like the Berklee School of Music. Twenty-three of the twenty-five students in my class (including me) have trad-published a novel-length work of literary fiction, and I know why the other two didn’t. There were big reasons, not just oopsie-reasons. I was the Truman Capote Fellow, a very prestigious fellowship. Also, I’ve been on the USA Today bestseller list five times in the past two years. Yeah, I get to judge the writing.

Yes, David Garrett can play the violin, and I’m looking forward to see what he’s going to do with Paganini. The thing is, I also get to judge the acting. Garrett is about fourteen in this photo (right), and he had been playing the violin since he was around four. He’s marvelous. He’s an exceptional violinist.

My fourth set of headshots.
The photo of me (left) is from when I was nine. I started taking acting lessons when I was four and got my first big gig when I was five. I worked for hours every day, long hours every week, on all the triple-threat skills. I was one of those child actors who took classes and private lessons in every spare second to hone my skills. I acted and modeled until I was about sixteen, when I blew out my knee in ballet and, without ballet as the lynchpin, decided to walk away (as best I could) from the performing arts. I don’t want to discuss it much, other than to say that I did enough that I can judge the acting. I’m also not going to get into my rant here about child labor, the manufacture of child prodigies, and the arts, but no one escapes unscathed, or even mostly whole, from that machine.

(Yep. Actor/Model as a kid. Writer as an adult. There was more stuff in between and since. I’ve had an interesting life. When I do something, I do it hard. And I don’t need a lot of sleep.)

Anyway, I have some thoughts about the movie “The Devil’s Violinist” even before I begin.

From what I understand, the running time is 122 minutes, of which over 40 minutes is music.

That’s not a dramatic movie. I don’t think you can quite call it a musical, due to the genre promises that “musical” implies, but it’s more of an opera, closer akin to “Tommy,” “Quadrophenia,” or “The Wall.” It’s about a rock star, the music, and the life. Any time you cast a movie with non-actors for authenticity, it shouldn’t be judged against films that aren’t comparable. It’s a different art form. You have to come into it with different expectations, and you have to establish a different rubric to judge it.

And because I am a hell of a writer and an accomplished actor, I can figure that out.

Soon, I will set up to watch the film and live-tweet, and then we’ll see if this team pulled it off.

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