Rochester: We Win Some & Lose Some

A message in the playing field at Fairport High School. From the Democrat & Chronicle.

It seems like lately time has been swirling around and through the city I call home. So much has happened to remind us of our humanity and even our mortality.

Perhaps most jarring is the well-known fact that beloved actor and father of three Philip Seymour Hoffman has passed away presumably from a drug overdose. Some of you may not know this, but Hoffman was originally from a beautiful suburb of Rochester, NY called Fairport. It’s a community I visit often. In fact, it’s the community to which Josh and I are hoping to move when we start our family. Even though I never met or came close to meeting Hoffman, it seems that the physical proximity of places he would have known and loved makes his passing seem more haunting. Also, a mere matter of days ago I briefly mentioned him in my blog post about Hollywood directors and their muses, pointing to his relationship with director P.T. Anderson.

I never think about Hoffman . . . and I was talking about him just this week. It feels so strange. Too convenient or something like that.

Relevant magazine posted a wonderful article praising some of his finest roles. I’m happy to link to it here to honor the memory of great actor, but I would also like to direct readers’ thoughts and prayers to the children and ex-partner he has left behind and to the tragic drug addiction and mental illness that contributed to his death.

He will be missed by those closest to him who loved him, by aspiring actors who admired him, by film fans whom he touched, and by Rochester natives whom he made proud. His death is a loss in every sense of the word.

More Losses

Rochester has had some other rough breaks recently in terms of our celebrity denizens making the news. It’s not like anybody knows or particularly cares that Bachelor Juan Pablo Galavis went to college at my alma mater here in the Roc, but I can’t help thinking about it when he says things like his recent public comments about gay people being “more pervert.” As someone who speaks a second language, I’m sympathetic of the fact that he might not have been able to express himself well in English. I hope it was just a slip-up. Let’s face it. A homophobic statement like this during an interview doesn’t help anybody.

Then there was the more recent Bachelor scandal involving what many are calling the show’s first nationally-televised “slut-shaming.” Juan Pablo apparently made some promiscuous sexual decisions with contestant Clare and then proceeded to blame her and make her feel guilty about what he now sees to be a “wrong” action. There’s a whole other post there somewhere, but the beginning and end of the story is that JP is basically the most childish Bachelor to ever walk the earth. Go Roberts!

And such is life. No city always gets into the news for exclusively good reasons.

Just this week I learned that a mother here lost two of her sons to gun violence a mere 19 days apart.

A psychiatrist down the road from one of my husband’s coworkers was found to have a body buried in his yard.

Have you heard of the serial murders of the Alphabet Killer? Guys, that dude was from Rochester.


Of course, good things happen because of people with ties to Rochester, too.

Rochesterian Renee Fleming brought down the house with her rendition of the national anthem at the Superbowl this past Sunday. I have good friends who go to Eastman School of Music downtown who sing and play in the practice rooms where she would have studied. Perhaps I’m biased, but this matchless contributor to the beautiful Lord of the Rings soundtrack (y’all know how I feel about Lord of the Rings) delivered what I believe to be the best performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” I have ever personally witnessed. What a difference classical training can make! Not that pop covers of the song aren’t great, too. That was just incredibly powerful.

Then there are successful Olympian athletes Ryan Lochte and Jenn Suhr, Travie McCoy and Matt McGinley of Gym Class Heroes, and the incomparable Kristen Wiig.

These are people who have put us on the map for good reasons–just like Phil did. (I know being from the same area where he went to high school doesn’t mean I get to call him Phil. It just felt right.)

Moving On

Weeks like this remind me of the circle of life not just as it pertains to me, but as it pertains to one’s city or one’s sense of place.

Right now, Rochester is the city in New York state most affected by the economic recession. The devastating bankruptcy of Kodak alone is enough to imply that financially our town is not doing well.

By some standards, we are dying.

But then I talk to my friends and I browse my Facebook feed and I see people opening restaurants, teaching photography classes, publishing articles, dancing on stages, building sculptures, meeting to discuss social issues, volunteering in homeless shelters, and sledding down hills–

And I realize that we are also very much alive.


Hollywood Muses

Movie directors and their muses.

As an occasional filmmaker and full-time film appreciator, I loved this infographic. As someone who constantly chews on the concepts of muses and their power and appeal, I was left wanting more.

First of all, the image made me realize that I wasn’t crazy and that a lot of the movies by these directors start to look the same after awhile–same faces, same style of cinematography, etc. Secondly, it made me realize that there’s something to this whole business of muses, especially in the film industry. There’s something about maintaining a relationship with an artist whose work you love who you can trust to deliver the performance you envision.

I’ve been just shy of outright admitting my muses in the past for fear of sounding obsessed. People sometimes let you get away with that sort of gushing when you’re talking about celebrities, but when you’re talking people you’ve actually met, it gets awkward fast and sometimes sounds borderline stalkery. Therefore, in this list compiling the muses I am willing to admit (some of whom may not be secrets to you), I have omitted the people I know personally. For one thing, that would be very uncomfortable for them. For another, they are not famous (yet), and you would have no idea who I was talking about.

Also, I just want to throw out there that I would probably steal Frances McDormand as a muse if I didn’t think the Cohens would take issue with that.

Evangeline Lilly

I could completely take or leave Lost, and don’t even get me started on her completely made up non-canon elf character in The Desolation of Smaug. All I know is that Evangeline intrigues the crap out of me. The girl is so freaking diverse! The Hurt Locker? Lord of the RingsEt Après? I kind of want her to be in, like, everything and see how she does . . .

Just for starters, I’d like to cast her as a witch, a professional athlete, a single mom, a writer with a club hand, a frigid wife of a Roman senator, a charming and multilingual spy with zero combat training, a tactless spy with the world’s best combat training, a socially awkward woman who helps the disadvantaged because she feels inferior in the “real world,” a stripper, a girl-next-door whose boyfirend is tragically murdered . . . I could go on.

She’s also freaking beautiful.

Troy Baker

I don’ know how long this director-actor relationship would last. I mean, Troy is technically a voice actor, heading up dozens of really solid anime and video game roles, The Last of Us most notably. He impresses me a lot because he’s a skinny blonde guy in his mid-thirties who makes the character of Joel sound (and look! He did the mo-cap for Joel, too) like a super-jaded guy in his fifties.

I can’t help wanting to get him in front of the camera and see him in some gritty roles–drug addiction, messy and/or violent divorce, employment of questionable legality. I guess I’m not thinking of anything too far in tone from what he did in The Last of Us–but more age-appropriate and, you know, with his own face visible instead of some grizzly middle-aged dude.

No offense, Joel. Please, don’t kill me with a baseball bat with scissors stuck in it.


Guillermo Navarro (cinematographer)

Even though I think he (along with one of my all-time favorite directors, Guillermo del Toro, who may fight with me for his muse status) has sold out a bit with movies like Pacific Rim, Hellboy, and (gack!) the Twilight movies, I adore this man’s visual style. Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone are stunning–so eerily beautiful.

I will also admit that I absolutely love the feel of Night at the Museum. It just feels fun and carefree and mysterious and dangerous all at once–something which I attribute at least in part to his skills as director of photography.

Emma Thompson

Is there anything this woman doesn’t make beautiful? I haven’t been able to get over the tragically lovely complexity of her character in Saving Mr. Banks.

She is my favorite free spirit and my favorite tortured soul all at the same time. I could work with her for the rest of my life.

Kenneth Branagh

Yes, I know that Emma and Kenneth were married for a while. It’s a total coincidence. What can I say. They were perfect together.

I can’t quite explain why, but I am very eager to see Kenneth in the role of a mentally disturbed character–schizophrenia perhaps, or multiple personality disorder. Ooh oooh! I would cast him in Jekyll and Hyde! Why didn’t I think of this before?

Too bad I’m pretty sure he is already his own muse . . .

Tom Hiddleston

Oh, what fun I would have with Tom as a muse. I meant that way less sketchy than it sounded.

He would automatically land the role of every misunderstood antihero without auditioning. I mean, look at his track record–Thor, Deep Blue Sea, his current National Theatre smash Coriolanus–he is the master of brooding complexity. Of course, I would also have to experiment with throwing him into roles where he was completely good-natured, pure, innocent–naive, even (sort of a la War Horse). You know, just to  keep people in theaters on the edge of their seats, waiting for him to show his dark side but enjoying every beautiful minute that he didn’t.

Also, basically any adaptation of classic literature I ever did would star Tom and Kenneth. If the story requires a female lead, I’m screwed.

How about a Pickwick Papers movie? Or a Lord of the Rings prequel about neglected Tom Bombadil? I could totally make this work!

Are you into filmmaking? Do you ever fantasize about being a major Hollywood director? Who would some of your muses be?