Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Lo' and behold

by way of intro'ing an entry on Caveh Zahedi's excellent documentary, "I Am a Sex Addict," i will cop to an addiction of my own: my name is Hank, and i am a Leonard Lopate addict.

when i first heard Lopate's show--during countless hours of WNYC mainlining while wrapping jewelry as part of a temp job at David Yurman from which i was eventually fired due to checking my email on a computer i was not authorized to use--i had no idea what he looked like, but i imagined a bearded, doe-eyed, avuncular face that, as it turns out, was very similar to the man's actual countenance. sometimes the face don't match the radio voice--do a Google image search for Brian Lehrer and you'll see what i mean--but in this case it was a perfect fit.

anyway, so i grew to love his casual, unpretentious manner. there's something dilettante-ish about a dude who can just sort of chat casually about ANY topic--i'd love to see how he's prepped for each show--but he does a good job of bridging the gulf between the layfolk and the smarties he has as guests. also, i love his mannerisms. he's always doing this sort of good-natured, dialectical disagreeing thing that comes off like, "hey, i'm just doing a really friendly devil's advocate thing in the name of Good Conversation"; like he'll say, "but Egyptian food is really all about the spices, isn't it?" like "i'm sorta just throwin' some esoteric knowledge out there" or whatnot.

and i'm obsessed with the way he says ""--he goes "wnyc dahhhtorg," just kinda drifts on that "dot" for a while. and when he's doing the sponsor announcements, he sounds so kind and dutiful. he's just sort of ultrapleasant in a way that few people are.

aaaaanyway, so at work--my current job, not the aforementioned temp position--we have this network thing and we can all dip into each others' iTunes folders. and this one dude Jeff, who's a designer, has--in addition to the complete Ween and Zeppelin catalogs...fuck yeah--this insane trove of Lopate links that i've been digging into of late.

for one, do not miss out on this edition, wherein LL chills with his film-critic brother, Phillip, who recently put together the well-received anthology, "American Film Critics." the two have this playful, subtly competitive banter going; near the beginning, Phil chides Lenny, as he calls him, for fretting over the distinctions between the words "movie," "film" and "cinema." Phil is smart as all get out, but sounds like he's got mashed potatoes in his mouth and speaks in this really thick NYC accent that's really fun to listen to.

moving on to the ostensible reason i'm telling you all this, yesterday i checked out an episode featuring an interview w/ Caveh Zahedi, this Iranian-American documentarian who did a film last year called "I Am a Sex Addict." i had heard about the flick and was intrigued, but Zahedi's bold, matter-of-fact and offhandedly megalomaniacal bearing on Lopate's show really got my attention. at one point he claims that "I Am..." represents the establishment of an entirely new genre, somewhere between documentary and fiction.

not sure that's the case, but it's a novel concept. the film consists of Zahedi looking into the camera and narrating the past decade or so of his life, which is basically the story of his struggle with sex addiction. he includes re-enactments of various events and relationships and, uh, encounters, in which he plays himself and actors play the other characters.

i guess the film's greatest strength to me was this simultaneous light/heavy thing. Zahedi's really charming and also--i can't think of any other way to say this--really funny looking. he kind of reminds me of Nick Zinner from Yeah Yeah Yeahs: just rail thin with this shortish but unruly black hair and really acute hipster fashion sense. he's also really effeminate, which makes for an odd juxtaposition when he's talking about his compulsive visits to prostitutes. so there's this goofiness to him.

but on the other hand, as Lopate points out in his interview, a lot of film makes you want to be like, "dammit, dude, just stop that!" in a pretty serious way. i could easily see how someone would get fed up watching as his incessant philandering--not to mention his tone-deaf honesty-at-all-costs policy--destroys relationship after relationship. but the thing is that he's really charming, which gives you an idea why so many beautiful women put up with him. admitting his flaws so openly almost has the effect of robbing you of the ability to judge him.

anyway, it's a really solipsistic style, just obsessively diaristic, in a way that reminded me of Ross McElwee, who's made some of my very, very favorite films, let alone documentaries, i.e., "Sherman's March" and its various spin-offs. "Sherman's March" is, like "I Am a Sex Addict," a self-portrait of a dude who's in some ways, a total heel, or at the very least, terminally fixated on women in a somewhat unhealthy way. but like Woody Allen and countless other schlemiel types throughout history have done, he romanticizes his neurosis, makes it cute, cuddly, even sexy.

so Zahedi is definitely in this lineage. there are some really hilarious scenes--like the re-enactment of the time his first wife gave him three blow jobs in succession--and against all odds, things get pretty poignant toward the end. Zahedi even shares an audio recording of the first time he spoke at Sex Addicts Anonymous.

you can probably tell from the description whether this would be the kind of thing you're into. if you can't tell, listen to the damn Lopate interview. Zahedi aside, it's kind of hilarious to hear Lenny talking about sex addiction in the first place.

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