Thank you again, Claire and Winona

General discussion about the nineteen episodes of "My So-Called Life". Note: Our episode guide can be found here.
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Thank you again, Claire and Winona

Post by Greybird » Dec 25th 2002, 2:41 pm

I wrote these musings for myself in late May 1995, after "MSCL" had been cancelled, and first posted them on the Net on 25 August 1995, which had become -- for those of us then in "The So-Called List" e-mail community -- the first "MSCL Day," one year after the series' original premiere.

Nothing has changed in how I feel in the years since, neither how I feel about the works of art, nor how I feel about these artists, nor about my own convictions (or, if you'll forgive me, those endured by one of the artists ~rueful smile~). It always seemed appropriate to bring it out again at Christmas.


I will be grateful for many years for the work of two artists ... for it has helped to pull me through one of the most difficult periods of my life, from December 1994 to May 1995.

I had difficulties (and still do) in starting a new small business. Many within myself. Picture the MSCL scene where Graham is "fired" by Patty from the printing company before he kills his own soul. You'll know some of what I refer to. Other parts of it came from family members who were ill ... and from a loss of direction on my own part.

I had to escape to some genuine, well-crafted artistic expression, one that didn't remind me of what I hadn't done in my life, and gave me a sense of what human beings could accomplish ... and feel passion for.

Well, I had the rare fortune to find two such expressions. And for them I want to offer public thanks to Winona Ryder and Claire Danes.

On December 28 I walked out of a movie theater with an absolutely poleaxed expression on my face. And covered with tears. I had seen a film that touched my deeper emotional planes, as films only had done at about 10-year intervals in my life. At 16 it was "The Fountainhead." At 25 it was "Yentl." And at 36 I was ripe for another one.

What "Little Women" brought out for me that other films haven't for a very long time (and very little in the '33 version) was an intelligent, self-aware character ... that of Jo March as a girl and woman not simply overrun by the power of enthusiasm, but aware of the importance of creating a life for herself.

Not that she is always successful. But the film shows how she finds within herself the keys to what she's lacking, and it's a struggle she clings to with passion. Especially potent is the superb pan shot/montage (in the garret) that symbolizes how she distills her sorrow and loneliness into an urge to create something "from life, from the depths of your soul" in her writing, as Professor Bhaer (Gabriel Byrne) had memorably urged her to do. And after that, how it brings her a reward she had never expected.

I needed to experience such a story. I hadn't known how much I needed to. And between Winona's magnificent performance, one of equal depth and touching simplicity by Claire, a perceptive score, and the best supporting cast I have seen in years ... I was overcome. I've paid to see it 9 times since in the theater, absorbed in its quality. As Jo herself says, "This is magic ..."

In this same winter of discontent I had missed a certain well-praised dramatic series on Thursday nights, except for part of one episode. But that had intrigued me enough, along with that excellent actress Winona had found to play Beth March, and the strong praise of the critics, to plunk myself down in front of MTV at the beginning of April. ... Well, you all know what held me there.

What blew me off the emotional map, though, was what deceptive depth came with Claire to the role of Angela. It isn't apparent until you've seen more than one episode. She's often outwardly emotionally flat, until provoked. But she has a furious passion for trying to understand what's around her. That's the inner tension that matches the outer tensions in the families and friends around her.

(Those outer emotional strings are carefully plucked by the other actors without the dissonant notes from raw, simplistic stereotypes. That achievement in itself was amazing to me. Especially so in A.J. Langer's astonishing chameleon of Rayanne, and in Wilson Cruz and his portrayal of a young gay man, something never so well done, in my experience.)

Such a passion for understanding is one part of the spirit of youth that we should never lose, and is hard to express to others. A few cynical friends and authors can wallop you to within an inch of your sanity with it, saying you're naive ... and expecting sense in the world that one can never find. That had happened to me. Far too often, I had done the flagellation myself.

You don't know that this is happening until the focused effort of a work of art pulls you up by the collar, shakes you, and says, "You are not alone. It's no crime to want to understand how things are." In some ways during the two decades I've been out of high school and its emotional cauldron, I hadn't yet learned that lesson. With what Winnie Holzman created, and Claire and others carried out with such understated skill, it's starting to become real to me.

As Professor Bhaer said in the film to Jo, to see this work of art, and most of all what Claire achieved, was "like opening a window into your heart." The hearts of many talented creators, certainly, and of others here and elsewhere who have responded to it. And, as Angela once said: "... Possibly even me."

So two young women showed me, in their bright crystalline work, some of the spirit one can seek to create to give life meaning ... and what one should try to understand of that spirit. And how doing both is of immense importance, despite whether or not we succeed.

My dear Winona and Claire, whatever you may choose to do ... or not do ... at least one person in the audience will thank you or forgive you, for what you've already given his own spirit. And on every Christmas Eve, this non-theist will put on John Lennon's "Happy Xmas," set aside a wind-swept corner of his own mind and, in spirit, light a candle for each of you ... as he does for other artists who have touched his life in the deepest ways.

It won't be a wasted match. It's a waste that we don't have enough damn matches to light up the world.
Greybird of Starhaven
"MSCL" crazy since March 1995

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