Monthly Archives: December 2013

By Laura P. Valtorta

The doors of the Columbiana Grande cinema went “whoosh” as the renowned movie critic, Laura P. Valtorta made her way to see the latest Ben Stiller flick – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The Bluffington Post had sent her free tickets. She made her way to the back of the theater, amongst the other important critics, some of whom spoke French. “Bonjour,” they saluted her.

“This should be good,” said her husband, Marco, gobbling popcorn and jarring Laura from her reverie. “It’s nice to continue our Christmas day movie-going tradition.”

Their son, Dante, stretched out between them, hogging both armrests and sending twitter messages on his phone.

“Put your phone away,” Laura told Dante, hoping he would switch from the artificial electronic stimulation of his cell phone to the artificial electronic stimulation of the cinema “Since we’re at the movie house now, let’s watch the movie up there.’

That was the theme of Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty – everyone needs to stop zoning out and pay more attention to what’s happening in the here and now. It was a message Laura enjoyed, especially in a world where people seem unable to sit alone at restaurant without chatting loudly with someone in another city on their phones, or staring at the screen of a laptop, lost in a distant world, far away.

We’ve lost the art of people-watching. We’ve all become Walter Mitties.

In the Ben Stiller movie, Walter eventually stops daydreaming so much. Getting fired from a job cures him. He travels to Iceland and Greenland, he climbs mountains in Afghanistan to find Sean Penn, and he learns to court the woman of his dreams. Unlike the 1947 version of the movie, starring Danny Kaye and an overbearing mother, Ben Stiller’s Walter ends up being helped by his mother (Shirley MacLaine) – not smothered. Unlike the main character in the short story by James Thurber, Ben Stiller’s Walter is not married to a harpie. He wants to get married; and women are not monsters.

During the closing credits at the Columbiana, the famous movie critic Laura Valtorta spoke in French and Italian to her cohorts and opined that Ben Stiller’s movie was superior to the 1947 version – more thoughtful, more meaningful, and less critical of the female sex.

“The Danny Kaye version was just plain silly,” Laura said. “I bet that Ben Stiller gets along well with his mother, Anne Meara, and with his wife, Christine Taylor. James Thurber was married, twice, but he probably preferred E.B. White.”

The other film critics laughed.
Dante, Marco our house 12:2013


marco red disks

Beautiful – the show about Carole King

                                                NEW YORK CITY

                                    Day Four (12/08/2013)

            Marco and I saw Beautiful this afternoon – the lively show about Carole King’s life and song-making career. We had excellent seats in the 12th row orchestra. Nobody in the rows ahead or behind us was very beautiful.

            A woman – let’s call her “Long Island” – was sitting two seats to my left with her coterie of female friends from work. “Why do they say this show is in previews?” I asked Long Island, trying to make conversation. 

            “I dunno,” she said, lemon-faced. “Who sez it’s in previews?” I gave up.

            A few seconds later, “Brooklyn,” a large woman wearing spandex, sat in front of me with her husband and friends. Brooklyn was friendly. She offered me and Marco Twizzlers. Brooklyn wanted to put her fur coat on the empty seat next to me. “I wonder where I can put my coat?” she asked, eying the seat next to me.

            “Ya hold it in your lap!” Long Island told her. Brooklyn frowned and sat down.

            Then Long Island turned to her woman friends. “Did you hear that?” she shouted, loudly enough for everyone to hear. “That woman over there wanted to put her coat here, next to me. I told her to keep it in her lap. Did you see what she’s wearing? Probably her first time in a theater! And look at that wig.”

            I thought there might be a fist fight. Luckily, Brooklyn was busy talking to her colleagues and husband, passing out more Twizzlers.           

            As usual, Marco heard very little of this and understood even less. He happily accepted the Twizzlers and ate them. 

            Beautiful, the show up on the stage, was excellent. Full of lively dance numbers, guitars, piano, some dancing, and a good story about how Carole King became famous. Being in previews, Marco found out, means that the songs can be changed along the way.

            The Carole King character, Jessie Mueller, sounded just like the real Carole. She did a fine job of acting and playing the piano. My favorite actor and singer was Jarrod Spector, who, as Barry Mann, really rocked the guitar and had some funny lines about being a hypochondriac. The best thing about this musical is that it had a real, poignant story about Carole’s first marriage to Gerry Goffen.


Laura, picasso girl looking in mirrorMOMA –
Love of Bove
Day Three (12/07/2013)

Art begets art. Nothing speaks more profoundly to a writer than a modern art exhibit. I’ve seen some Picassos before, but the selection at the Museum of Modern Art is astounding – particularly “Girl Looking in a Mirror,” and “Dream of Undie,” or something like that. Brilliant mauves and yellows. Beautiful browns.Then there are the giant Matisses “The Dance.” “The Red Studio.” Marco took lots of photos.

Carol Bove’s sculpture “Equinox,” (a display that fills an entire room), was the most captivating piece I saw. The textures of driftwood, steel, painted piping, feathers, seashell, glittery curtain, and a decomposing mattress created surprises at every turn.

Sixth Street was an ant hive of tourists. This time I had Marco as a barging partner. We ate at Pret a Manger. Sandwiches. Scarce wood benches.

We began the morning walking on the High Mile and thinking about James Barilla’s book My Backyard Jungle. There are some beautiful views of the water from that walk, as well as some astounding construction. Construction workers were hooked precariously to enormous bunches of steel “cages” where the concrete will be poured. It’s supposed to be a housing hi-rise by Spring 2014, right next to the High Mile.

Last night, the unnamed, pukey film festival featured a film by Jill McTwattlebum (not her real name) that spent a lot of time whining. “My mother punched me around, so I need to become a second rate boxer to get over it,” etcetera. Getting a job that pays money might be a better kind of therapy at 40.

What interested me was Jill’s prior career as a pole dancer. She wrote a stage play based on the gyrating dancers that got good reviews. Then she made this film about herself, PTSD and boxing. Jill did a pretty good job of extracting stories from female boxers – stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. Unfortunately they all dealt with physical abuse. Jill’s husband had the best line – “I gave up Tai Kwan Do because after getting hit in the stomach a few times, I figured, I have an MBA, so I don’t need this.” Well said, Gary. Getting beaten up is a young person’s sport.

Writing the play allowed Jill McTwaddle to do a pretty good job of editing the film. Which shows once again that art produces art.

The trip to MOMA inspired me to work on my stage play, Bermuda while Marco is shopping at the stereo store in some kind of acoustical heaven.

Tomorrow – Broadway.

Laura photo filmmaking May 2013


                                               SHADOW BOX FILM FESTIVAL

                                               Day Two (12/06/2013)

            Marco and I had a grand time watching White Rock Boxing in the 269-seat movie theater at the beautiful School of the Visual Arts in New York City. Alone.

            That’s right. We were the only ones who showed up. The flat-nosed boxing reporter who promised to show up (he was there to watch the Dutch documentary two hours earlier) decided to hang out with some boxers who attended the short films in the other theater.

            White Rock Boxing looked brilliant on the big screen. Even the music sounded good. The colors were just right. One hundred percent of the audience was delighted with the film. 

            What I learned from this experience is that television rules. When White Rock Boxing aired on South Carolina Educational Television two times (count ‘em – two) we had a potential audience of four million viewers each time.  At least I like to believe that. South Carolina ETV rocks! It’s mentioned as an excellent venue in the book the Screenwriter’s Bible.

            The venerable Cliff Springs (owner of Genesis Studios) and I are wrestling with the conundrum of distribution. How can independent films find the largest audience? Film festivals? Television? Streaming on demand? So far, television seems the best bet. We also have to try out streaming—but where? DVD sales. How? All ideas welcome.

            For people trying to find work – here’s an idea. Cook up a plan to market independent films. Because the films are all so different (length, quality, subject matter), the service has to be tailored to each film. And find a way for producers to make some money. You will be a millionaire in no time.

            The Sundance festival sucked in more than 12,000 entries. This gives some idea of how many independent films are being produced each year. My short was not chosen. But this sparks in me a desire to produce more films. I want to get better. I’m sure other writers and producers like me share the same passion.

            New York is not a total bust. Marco is here! Next on the agenda: MOMA.


Laura photo filmmaking May 2013

                                               Coen brothers film premiere

                                                SHADOW BOX FILM FESTIVAL

                                                Day One (12/05/2013)   

            On Wednesday in Harbison, SC I ate fish and chips at the Bulldog Café with Bonnie, Ginny, and Sarah as a last-meal type of thing. My flight to Newark went smoothly, Instead of dying, I ended up in New York City.

            Sixth Avenue is weird. It took me 50 minutes to walk from the 700 block to the 1300 block to see a premiere (invitation, only) of the Coen brothers film – Inside Llewyn Davis. The crowds were thick and multilingual, but I barged my way through. I missed Milanese Marco who knows how to part a crowd.

            Upon arriving at 1350 Avenue of the Americas (a tall glass building), I could not find the Dolby 88 theater. The people in the bank were snooty. They did not know. I explored the side streets. Two women carrying a printout reminded me of movie-goers. I followed them into the bowels of the bank. A guard motioned me in, past some electronic barriers.

            Two young men – hipster types with those black glasses and skinny pants — found my name on a list and I was “in.”

            The seats were plush and reclining. The room was about 120 degrees too hot. I barged into the center of the seats and plopped myself next to a bored New York couple (jeans, long hair, air of chic superiority) on one side and an older white British woman sharing M&Ms with a black British guy on my left. Neither side was up for conversation (with me, anyway) so I shut up. 

            We were all sweltering. An older New York man stood up behind me and bellowed – “Hey, turn on the air conditioning! We’re burning up in here!”

            “Thank you!” I said to him. That’s what I like about New York. People are NOT afraid to speak up. 

            Six out of ten for the Coen brothers. The movie bumps along because you feel for the musician and want him to succeed. It’s frustrating because he does not. Why cast a guy who is not Italian and call him half Italian? It doesn’t work. We can see through all that. We can look at his body, and we can interpret the names of the cast.

            I wanted Llewyn to learn something. I wanted him to sign the correct contract and earn royalties. I wanted him to join the merchant marines. He did not.

            As usual, Justin Timberlake saved the day with his acting and his hilarious song, “Mr. Kennedy, don’t send me into space.     

            Now, off to the Shadow Box Film Festival.


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