MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

The Relativity of Relationships

There’s a certain irony in a film festival held in Las Vegas — a town where the size, not the quality, of your chip stash matters and fliers offering beautiful girls sent to your hotel room are handed out on the streets — programming some interesting films that focused on emotional connections.

Based on an autobiographical article for GQ Magazine by Davy RothbartEasier with Practice follows Davy, a young writer on the road with his brother on a “book tour” for his collection of short stories, who gets into a bizarre phone sex relationship with a mysterious woman who randomly calls his motel room late one night. Davy is at first perplexed, then intrigued, and then obsessed by Nicole, his cell phone girlfriend, who refuses to give him her own phone number or meet him in person.

For a while, Davy’s obsession with Nicole takes over his life: When will she call? Why won’t she meet him? He’s emotionally invested in what’s become a relationship to him, even thinking of her as his girlfriend, although the only sex they’ve had has been phone sex, in which he doesn’t even know with any certainty if she’s actually participating.

Meanwhile in real life, the charming and lovely Samantha has an actual interest in Davy as something more than a phone sex partner, but Davy is so in over his head with Nicole that he can’t bring himself to pursue what Samantha is obviously offering him. Introverted Davy feels safer in a relationship that takes place only over the phone; so long as they never meet, Nicole will never judge him for the brand of jeans he’s wearing, or think he looks dorky in the shirt he’s picked to wear for their date. He doesn’t have to worry about whether she might think his penis is too small or oddly angled, or whether he has too much or too little chest hair, or if she might notice he has a pimple on his ass.

And of course, the anonymity of the relationship offers the same securities for Nicole, though Davy seems not to want to consider that there might be reasons Nicole is choosing to so carefully guard herself by keeping the relationship only over the phone. It’s worth noting this isn’t a case of a customer being reeled in by a sex service provider; no money’s changing hands, and Nicole’s pull on Davy is based largely on the fantasy girlfriend he’s built in his head about her.

In Etienne!, the shy and socially awkward Richard has his most meaningful relationship with Etienne, his dwarf hamster. I wrote of this film the other day in a blog dispatch that I found it overly long and problematic, in spite of the sweetness of its story idea; after sitting on it for a couple days, though, I’ve warmed up to the film overall in spite of those flaws. It’s interesting to me that director Jeff Mizushima chose to make Richard’s pet a dwarf hamster, which normally have a lifespan of maybe two or three years, as opposed to, say, a dog or a cat.

A lot of people consider hamsters to be almost like disposable lighters; if your dog that you’ve had for eight years gets a tumor, you might shell out $1000 to get it the surgery to keep it alive longer, but not a lot of folks would shell out that much for surgery on an aging hamster, no matter how attached to it they might be. Richard decides to take Etienne on a bike tour to show him a little of the world and share some quality time with his pet before he loses him forever.

Like Davy in Easier with Practice, Richard is introverted and clumsy in his relationships with people, even with girls who are sending out signals that a less socially inept guy would easily pick up on and pursue. His relationship with Etienne is easier. He builds elaborate structures for Etienne to play and move around in, takes his little pet to the park the way other people would take a dog; Richard can talk to Etienne without being judged, he can stroke his fur for comfort with fear of rejection. He gives to Etienne and Etienne, in return, gives Richard the sense of companionship and acceptance he has a harder time finding in his connections with people.

I found Harmony and Me to be one of the oddest and funniest of the fest slate, in that the relationships among the characters are relentlessly chaotic, drowning the floundering protagonist in a cacophony of negativity. Music is pivotal to this film, as is the sense of discord evoked by the dialogue and the way in which the characters interact. Harmony is seeking, well, harmony in his life. He keeps striking random notes in his interactions with those around him, hoping to find answers — or at least love and support –but instead he finds only discord and chaos that leads to an ironic, near-tragic (and yet somehow, still oddly funny) resolution.

There have been times when I’ve been, like Davy, misled by an internet relationship, or had relationships like Harmony whether the line between friend and foe gets blurred and distorted. And sometimes, I long for the simplicity of the relationship Richard has with Etienne: nurturing, uncomplicated, and fraught with few pitfalls other than the inevitability of physical demise. Are relationships in the internet age better or worse than they were before Facebook, Twitter, email and IM? I suppose, in the end, it’s all relative.

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– by Kim Voynar

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon