I am invited to a screening of The Social Network at the Writer’s Guild. My first reaction is that driving cross town to Beverly Hills on a week night is unthinkable. Before marrying it was almost unthinkable not to see a movie on just about any night. In lieu of a relationship, I probably saw about three hundred films a year back in the revival house era. I’ve only seen two films in a theatre this year and maybe one was actually last year. But, Himself is teaching a night class and the sprats are getting themselves, in the seventeen year old’s finally registered car, to rehearsal. Four loads of laundry are done the night before and so only a cup of yogurt and the remote await me at home. The price is right but still, it feels reckless and decadent when I accept the invite. The crowd to get into the WGA lot gridlocks the intersection of Wilshire and Doheny. Tempers flare. A cherry 50’s Mercedes convertible cuts me off. Many guild members lay on the horn, anxious about missing the free movie. Note to self: Get batteries for remote.
The Social Network, for any cave dwellers who read here, chronicles the creation of Facebook by fellow landsman, Mark Zuckerberg, who’s portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg. The theatre is jammed and there are even half a dozen people who beg to stand behind the last row. Perhaps it is a testament to the bad economy and the particularly hard hit entertainment industry that people will stand for over two hours rather than pay $10 to see something that’s opening wide in two days.
The film launches immediately into Zuckerberg getting dumped by his girlfriend. The dialogue is cunning and the sparks fly, ala Preston Sturges or Billy Wilder. There is something about Zuckerberg, from what I’ve read and via Eisenberg’s performance that reminds me of Himself. The intellectual wheels spin a zillion times faster than do a mere mortal’s, the likes of which are left to eat conversational dust. The set of Eisenberg’s mouth, bewildered, smug and vulnerable in a weirdly puffy half smile, is transfixing. I could watch his mouth forever.
The strapping Aryan Winklevoss twins are established early on as nemeses of the scruffy Jewish nerd. This is where the otherwise restrained film slips into broadness. It’s funny but more facile and the material with the twins represents the least subtle of the humor in a very humorous film. The crew champions Winklevi, as Zuckerberg calls them plurally, are cartoon evil. The actors are not brothers but their bodies are very similar and one actor’s face is digitized over the other's so they really are clones. I don’t know if this is necessarily creep in a cool way. The brothers are members of the elite WASP Porcelain club which ships in girls by the busload for their parties. The coeds drink and cavort and engage in lesbian high jinks for the titillation of the crème de la crème. This is counterpointed by a brief scene of a Caribbean themed party sponsored by the Jewish fraternity and attended mainly by Asian women which is almost torturously underplayed and hilarious.
The twins commission Zuckerberg to design a social network site and he keeps blowing them off in order to thwart competition and buy time as he readies Facebook to go live. The twins discover they’ve been had and cry foul to Daddy who arranges a high powered legal team to bulldog Zuckerberg. The Winklevosses really though are evil incarnate only by virtue of being blond, handsome, rich, powerful and athletic in a movie with a nerdulant Jewish protagonist. The twin’s comeuppance is the loss of an English crew regatta by a hair. Further humiliation comes immediately after their shocking upset, as a veddy British gent just happens to tell them that his daughter at Cambridge has just heard about the race by a phenomena that is just reaching Europe, something called… ah…er….Facebook...
Eduardo Saverin’s transition from affable best friend to bitter enemy is much more interesting than the dust up with the dastardly twins but the early connection of the two is so satisfying that the depiction of its rupture is wanting for a few beats. It is intimated that the seeds of Zuckerberg’s treachery are planted by Sean Parker, the flamboyant creator of Napster. Parker comes on strong but open faced Justin Timberlake brings dimension to his character, part visionary, part Svengali. You’re never sure whether Parker and Zuckerman are more driven to better the world or to be remembered by history for having bettered it.
The Social Network is being touted as the film of the year which may be premature as the fall season is just getting underway. Nevertheless, it is an easily likeable film. The pace is crisp and the performances do justice to, and at times transcend, Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay. The very complicated story has been plugged into a conventional format. In movie shorthand, the biggest social innovation in the history of the world is inspired by lost love. There’s way more to the real story but it’s a nice fable that Facebook was invented to impress a girl.
The Social Network has spurned a lot of fact checking and many speculations about the real Zuckerberg. . His donation of 100 million dollars to the Newark Public Schools a week before the release of The Social Network suggest that perhaps he is concerned himself. However, none of the film’s nitpickers and Zuckerberg detractors deny the importance of Facebook. I rail a lot myself about the banality of communal life there but I am also enriched by the camaraderie and exchange of ideas of which I partake.
Spuds turns fifteen this week. After a double digit number of visits to the DMV this year, he reminds me that he will be eligible to take the exam for a learner’s permit in March. He will be transported by his dad. Spuds is taking advantage of Pater’s weekend trip to Boise and is hosting teenage soiree at the house in his own honor. On the actual day of his birth he is carted out by the ‘rents to celebrate at Freres Taix, pretty much unchanged since my childhood and whose name I am still uncertain how to pronounce.
Spuds, after nearly a year of vegetarianism, goes carnivore and orders a steak. Feigning a trip to the ladies, I pull the server aside and ask if there are plate covers they could use to surprise Spuds with our gift to him, a freakishly tiny IPod. No such covers are available but the server promises to devise something. Before the table is cleared four excited waiters present Spuds with a huge mound of chocolate mousse and sing perhaps the most rousing version of Happy Birthday I have ever heard. They hover excitedly while Spuds digs into the dessert. I am worried that the mousse will seep through the tiny plastic box but they have thoughtfully encased the thing in about seven layers of aluminum foil. The gift is a huge hit although when he first discovers the tiny box Spuds is concerned that we are proposing marriage.
Spuds avoids Facebook all birthday day. He says he wants to log on at the end of the evening and drink in, in a giant gulp, all of the assembled birthday greetings. There are a lot although his father embarrasses him by calling him “little man” and a black friend refers to him as “niggah.” Spuds thanks all of his friends, individually making for perhaps a hundred little conversations. He notes how Facebook enhances the pleasure he takes in the occasion.
In addition to his Facebook greetings, Spuds also gets elaborate handcrafted cards, even a Dodger themed one, stamped from three different state prisons. The mailroom has been advised not to apply the red state prison stamp to pieces of artwork but this edict is usually ignored.. There is something weird happening though at California prisons. All three of my correspondents indicate that they haven’t received any mail from me in nearly two months. My thick letters are covered with commemorative stamps and full of articles and puzzles and letters addressing their concerns and trivialities of my life. Their missives are pleading and worried and sad. I see online some mention of mailroom hours being cut but the news is from back in March when letters were usually received in three or four days. I have no way of reaching them and I pray for word indicating that finally some of my correspondence has broken through. But the letters just grow more and more dejected. I like that they like me and I like each of them too but it is frightening to be so important and so powerless.
My notion of history, based on a childhood of film watching, was that it took place in black and white. Maybe my soft spot for the incarcerated is inspired by the bleak portrayals of prisons in the two gorgeously shot black and white films, I Was a Fugitive From a Chain Gang and Sullivan’s Travels. Black and white, while often disturbing, creates a distance from reality, almost a surreality, What I remember mostly about Bonnie and Clyde and later kindred spirit Chinatown, is how the color lays waste to the dreamlike and sucks you in and reminds you that the world has always been in color.
Director Arthur Penn died this week. My dad took me to see his Bonnie and Clyde when it came out in 1967. I had to promise not to tell my mom. The film was released a few months after The Graduate and both demonstrated that the counter culture had infiltrated the mainstream movie. Both films were among the last “studio” films and harbingers of the death of the factory system of filmmaking. The Graduate seems to be regarded as the symbol of the tectonic shift but I think Bonnie and Clyde is ultimately the more enduring film. I’ve seen it maybe half a dozen times since my dad first took me to the Wiltern when I was ten and it is remarkable how vivid the film still is to me, back from when I very first encountered it.
I watch some home movies of myself at about age four, playing with my two favorite toys, a red Texaco truck from a station promo and a bride doll with a net veil that my dad traded some films for. I spent every Saturday in the back of his office with a projector and access to thousands of films. Because he never represented MGM or RKO I made quick work of the Columbia musicals and AIP stuff like Beach Blanket Bingo. From there I went full throttle into Warner Brother’s crime and noir, throwing in occasionally war and western films.
After his half Saturday at the office, we’d eat next door to Paramount at the Nickodell, Then we’d usually go to the Wiltern or a theatre on Hollywood Blvd. where he’d tell me about anyone whose Walk of Fame star I didn’t recognize. He patiently endured Gidget and My Fair Lady and several screenings of the Monkee’s movie Head. Dad was married to women not much interested in movies so I afforded the opportunity to partake of some the more manly offerings, and it is these films, that a little girl shouldn’t like, which actually have the most lingering impact.
The film racks at my office are filled with features in fiberboard shipping cases and short films in cans. I’ve seen many of them on a flickering projector or propelled by my hand on rewinds through a tiny illuminated viewer. I walk the aisles, my sea of celluloid. The labels, black ink for black and white, red for color, are written in my father’s steady hand and fading. The faint scent of the vinegar rot syndrome reminds me of our losing battle to stave off film’s dogged impermanence. Stricken films disintegrate into reeking gobs of unctuous jelly. Many of my childhood favorites survive though and I always mean to show them for the kids but never get around to dragging home a projector. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a film in my collection for pleasure and I almost start to blubber from childhood nostalgia watching some shorts and cartoons projected at an outdoor party in Tarzana on one of the valley’s last big ranchos.
Facebook may be the prototype for something that will endure long after films and books and letters. In the penultimate scene of The Social Network Mark Zuckerberg is referred to as the requisite devil in the creation myth.. If Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populated in the world. It seems inevitable that eventually most of the world’s population will be connected to the same social network. Zuckerberg’s motives may never be clear but he set out to help people connect with other people, Imperfect in it’s nascent state I believe that ultimately some form of social network will help conquer ills that have been accepted since the beginning of time as inevitable.