Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More Answers

Time to give a few more answers to questions posed in Ask Me Anything!. In no particular order:

You once called "The Stackhouse Filibuster" the first bad episode of the West Wing. As it happens, it's my favorite. Why do you think it's bad?

I actually outlined my reasons for disliking that episode in the post on my favorite TWW episodes, but for the sake of simplicity I'll just excerpt the relevant portion here:

Why do I seriously dislike "Stackhouse"? Well, I do like the framing device of the episode a lot: each act is told from the point-of-view of a different character, with that character narrating from a letter to a loved one. But that's about all that I like in this episode. The main story is that some health care bill that's a slam-dunk to pass is suddenly filibustered by some elderly Senator, and this sends everyone into a massive tizzy as they try to figure out what's going on. This all grinds on and on, until finally Donna raises her hand and makes a simple suggestion that turns out to be exactly what the doctor ordered, the filibuster ends, and everyone goes home happy. That sounds good, except that it's a classic example of "the idiot plot". An "idiot plot" is a story where the characters are kept precisely as dumb as they need to be, at all times, in order to keep the story moving until the right time. (For further examples of the "idiot plot" in action, watch just about any episode of Three's Company or Seventh Heaven.)

"The Stackhouse Filibuster" also sports the single most cringe-worthy scene in the show's entire run, a horrible, horrible moment in which Sam is taken to task by some lowly intern because he is singling out annual government reports for cancellation. This scene is bad on so many levels it's hard to sort them out. First, the intern is just plain snotty, and I can't believe for one second that Sam (or any White House senior staff member) would not only put up with that kind of behavior, but praise it; and worse, this was at least the third or fourth example of a meme that Aaron Sorkin wisely quashed after its completion, namely, "A plucky intelligent woman gives Sam food for thought". After his conversations with Leo's daughter, Laurie the call-girl law student, and Republican lawyer Ainsley Hayes, the idea that Sam could be rendered speechless by some intern just made my skin itch. Bad, bad scene.

So there it is. I couldn't believe that the White House staff would just sit around during a filibuster and never once wonder if maybe the guy who'd specifically met with Josh to have funding for a specific ailment added to a healthcare bill and who'd been pissed off by Josh's refusal to do anything about it just might have a personal reason for caring deeply enough about that particular ailment to filibuster the bill, I couldn't believe that nobody in the entire White House senior staff knew anything about Senate floor debate rules excepting Donna (surely Josh, having been a senior aide to Senator John Hoynes, would have known something about it), and I couldn't believe that an intern would speak to Sam in the way that Winifrid did. (Thank God that Winifrid didn't become a recurring character.)

If you could change one thing that you did in your past, what would it be? Do you think it would have made your life better or worse?

I've probably noted this in the past, but when we first moved to Buffalo from the Southern Tier in late 2000, I applied for a bunch of jobs, including my first application with The Store (another location, but same company). I also interviewed with the telesales company I've mentioned in the past, and got hired there. So when The Store called me after the telesales company had already offered me a position, I never returned their call. Eighteen months later, the telesales company showed me the door (frankly, I don't blame them, because my sales skills were such that had I been Dr. Faust, Mephistopheles would have walked away from the deal, and I would have left them a month or so later anyway when The Wife's transfer to Syracuse came through). It took until early 2004, and six more applications, before I finally got on with The Store. Persistence pays off, yes, but so does actually listening to those nagging doubts.

Would my life have been better if I'd joined The Store in January 2001 as opposed to three years later? My, yes. I wouldn't have struggled through six months of unemployment in Syracuse followed by another eight months of it back in Buffalo between June '02 and January '04, for one thing. And certain people whom I have come to love dearly would have been in my life that much earlier.

Robert Frost's poem aside, sometimes you do get to revisit old forks in the path of life. They might be a little more overgrown, a little more grassy and in want of wear, but they're the same forks. And as Mr. Berra said, when you come to fork in the road, take it!

What was the first album you ever purchased and why?

With my own money? The soundtrack album to The Empire Strikes Back. It was a double LP, with a gatefold cover. Inside was a booklet that told the tale of the film with big pictures, and there were pretty good liner notes, too. I played that album so much over the years that, when I last played it during the summer before college, the pops and scratches in the LP surface made the music nearly unrecognizable in spots. I bought that album with my own allowance money. For the first few months I owned it, I didn't even own a record player of my own (this was 1980, and I was eight years old), so I had to listen to it in my parents' bedroom where they kept their record player. I'd get my own record player later that following Christmas, and the first record I played on it was that very copy of TESB.

On many film music albums, even to this day, the music is often re-edited out of the order in which the cues are heard in the film and into kinds of "suites" designed to make for better sit-down listening, and that original release of the TESB score was no exception. One track, for example, was titled "The Heroics of Luke and Han", and began with music from Luke's escape from the Wampa creature's cave, which was followed by some action stuff that wasn't even used in the film (but was intended for portions of Luke's peril in the Hoth landscape all alone and Han's search for him), and then concluded with the final moments of music from the Battle of Hoth sequence -- "Imperial troops have entered the base!", the Millennium Falcon's escape, and finally Luke's departure from Hoth for Dagobah. This is standard procedure for many film music albums; what you hear on the disc isn't the exact same thing as what you hear in the film.

Years later, in 1993, the soundtrack albums from all three original trilogy Star Wars films appeared on a box set, which was the first time most of that music was on CD at all. (The original CD release of TESB was a travesty.) But on that CD, the music was resequenced out of the original album order into the order the tracks are heard in the film. And four years after that, the definitive version of this score was issued on a 2-disc set in conjunction with the Special Editions. For four years I listened to the 1993 box set TESB disc, and since 1997, I've listened many a time to the 2-disc SE set. And even still my ears want to fill in the music as I learned it, from the RSO double LP, over twenty-five years ago.

All for now, more to come!

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