Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
National Geographic’s ‘Genius’

National Geographic’s ‘Genius’

'Genius' title card on movie screen
Sitting in the theater waiting for ‘Genius’ to start.

Even though I don’t have kids at home anymore, I still keep my hand in at GeekDad, mostly because I can double-dip. Their high profile gets me invitations to screenings and press events, and then I can write a second post here about whatever I got to do for them. Case in point: A couple of weeks ago I spent a Monday evening at the world premiere screening of the National Geographic Channel’s first scripted series, Genius, followed by a pretty elaborate cocktail party at which I almost met Ron Howard, Geoffrey Rush and Vincent Kartheiser. But we’ll get to that. First the show.

Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein in National Geographic's 'Genius'.
Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein in National Geographic’s ‘Genius’.

Genius, based on the biography by Walter Isaacson, tells the story of Albert Einstein’s life, following him from his days as a young physics student chafing under rigid professors to being the world’s preeminent theoretical physicist and soon-to-be political refugee. The scenes of ever-more-blatant and extreme displays of bigotry and anti-intellectualism are all too familiar of late, but Genius wisely focuses more on the personal than the political; leaping back and forth between 1895 and 1932, we follow young Albert Einstein as he navigates the twin challenges of university life and romantic entanglements. You can read more of my thoughts on Genius at GeekDad. On to the party.

After the screening, we all headed out of the historic Fox Theater (which is actually named the Regency Village Theater these days) in Westwood Village, adjacent to UCLA (hence the Fox Bruin Theater across the street) and made our way up the street a block. There, the studio had blocked off Westwood Blvd and assembled a huge tent. Inside, circus performers in steampunk costumes bobbed above the crowd on swaying poles while a band comprised of electric violin and a mechanical drum arrangement produced throbbing and thundering background music that pretty much negated any opportunity for conversation unless one was inclined to enjoy shouting at strangers, which I prefer to only do on the internet. I was naturally reticent to do so in public.

woman on sway pole at party
I’m not sure what she has to do with Albert Einstein either.

Now, the first thing to understand here is that this is not a criticism of the event, it’s me being reminded that I’m still sometimes awkward and nerdy and pathetic. Because of that, these things are never fun to go to alone. But my bride had another engagement and it was too late to round up a sidekick, so I made the best of it. There were a number of food stations, starting with SoCal mainstay In-N-Out Burger at one end, along with a pizza outlet and a place serving “E=MChicken” (a paper cup full of fried chicken lumps, basically “popcorn chicken”), along with various desserts and a candy station at which almost everything was “National Geographic Yellow” – yellow gummy bears, yellow M&Ms, Lemonheads, etc At the bar, there were three Einstein-themed cocktails to be had: the Theory (vodka, elderflower liquor, cucumber juice, lime juice, aloe water, lemon peel garnish); the E=MC2 (tequila, pomegranate liquor, pineapple juice, lemon juice, agave nectar, jalapeno garnish) and THE Einstein (tequila with orange peel garnish). I had a Theory. It was green, which made me think of “The Trouble with Tribbles”; I said “it’s green, Captain!” in my best Scotty voice to nobody, and nobody responded, so I wandered over to where a large machine was creating chalk illustrations of Twitter followers; submitted photos were rendered in mathematical formulae intended to imitate Einstein’s handwriting on a chalkboard. I submitted my photo with the Twitter hashtag, but it didn’t get to mine before I left for the night.

Robot arm draws chalk portraits of Twitter followers using mathematical equations.
Robot arm draws chalk portraits of Twitter followers using mathematical equations.

I wandered around inside the massive tent, assuming I’d run into at least one blogger that I knew; the first time around, I found myself standing about two feet from Ron Howard, but he was busy having a shouted conversation with somebody else. I milled around for a moment trying to think of a classy way to scream a photo request into his face, but since I didn’t have anyone to take the photo anyway, I decided to move on and leave him alone. Further on in my sweep around the room, my path crossed that of Vincent Kartheiser (Pete on Mad Men, officious embassy guy in Genius). I could probably have stopped him and said something, but since he was with a few others, I just gave a nod of recognition and left him alone. If his wife (Gilmore Girl Alexis Bledel) had been there, the twofer might have justified bothering them. A few feet further along, Geoffrey Rush was standing at the edge of the VIP area. A few people stepped up to ask for photos, and he was gracious about it, but as I approached he retreated back to a sofa, behind several large fellows whose presence was intended to dissuade intrusion. Not being a total jerk, I decided not to shoot pictures from a distance like some sort of vulgar paparazzo.

Electric violin and steampunk-style robot drums.
Electric violin and steampunk-style robot drums. Just like Einstein played.

At that point, I decided that the best thing to do was simply eat as much of the free grub as I was willing to wait in line for and then head home. It was quite the swanky event, no doubt a lot of fun for people who were there with friends or acquaintances, but there wasn’t much point in hanging around.

A couple days later I rewatched the first episode of Genius. It was still good. You can catch up on the series at the National Geographic Channel.

Back next week with something random.

One comment

  1. fit2print

    I suspect I’m not alone when I admit I’m also the kind of person who, in the same situation, would say “It’s green, Captain!” in my best Scotty voice to nobody in particular. I’d also say it if I had an audience. Either way, the reaction would be the same: *crickets*. Alas… geeks!

    In all seriousness, I applaud your restraint while in proximity to these celebs. If even just a fraction of pop culture fandom chose to behave with as much class in such situations, the world would be a slightly better place… wishful thinking

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