Sunday, June 19, 2011

Artistic ambitions

Recently, I've re-watched two movies, both made in "mockumentary" style by Christopher Guest  et al.: For Your Consideration and Waiting for Guffman. These movies record the fictional misadventures of hopeful actors: in the former case, professional actors; in the latter case, amateurs. The aspirations and setbacks for both groups are strikingly similar, because artistic endeavors are fraught with certain unavoidable issues.

I say "artistic endeavors" because I think these issues are common not only to actors, but to musicians, and visual artists, and dancers, and writers. Anyone who creates something that is meant to be enjoyed by others has a built-in goal, and the possibility of not reaching that goal.

While the ambitions of some of the characters in these films are obviously--shall we say, beyond their reach--it's hard not to root for them, to find their stories touching underneath the laughter. Especially if you're a writer who has had those dreams, who has faced the rejection machine. I suspect there are very few writers who could not identify with the characters in For Your Consideration, whose heads are turned by Oscar buzz, by the tantalizing possibility of winning that golden honor. I suspect there are writers who fear ending up like Harry Shearer's character in the same movie, when he ends up taking just about any role and plugging just about anything because he needs the work. There must be writers who understand why Catherine O'Hara's character in that movie (winkingly named "Marilyn Hack") gets a face-lift that gives her a frozen expression, and packs herself into a dress so tight that it looks like she might burst out of it if she breathes the wrong way. There are writers who wonder if their dreams of bestsellerdom are as unlikely as the Broadway dreams of the community theater group in Waiting for Guffman.

One thing I like about these movies is that even those characters who fall on their faces don't dissolve in a puddle of despair and self-pity. The epilogues show them moving on, spending time on things they care about. Living a dream, even if it isn't the same dream they started out with.

My take-home lessons from these movies: Don't take that Oscar buzz too seriously. It's okay to laugh at yourself. And it's still okay to dream.

In fact, it's necessary.


  1. I have the opposite problem: I'm not very good at developing my own dreams and ambitions. I'm learning to, though. Thanks for the reminder that it's important to do so.

  2. Linda: It's probably better to aim too high than not high enough.