The Baron of Monte Cristo (and other sandwiches): A reflection on self-belief

I believe in belief.

Whatever you want, you can have it through unbridled belief in self. “The only prophecy,” you may sometimes hear me say, “is self-fulfilling.”

I had a friend in college who dreamed of being a Sesame Street puppeteer. Had a pretty focused desire for it, in fact. Any decent guidance counselor might have told her at some point, “Gosh, that’s a rather narrow career aspiration. Have you considered other jobs where you can work with your hands? Loom operator, perhaps?” Of course,  she eventually landed the job at Sesame. Which just goes to show you: Sometimes you get the puppet, sometimes the puppet gets you.

The patron saint of self-belief is probably Mark Borchardt, the filmmaking force of nature who is the subject of the documentary, “American Movie.” This is how Roger Ebert described Borchardt, the movie superfan:

If you’ve ever wanted to make a movie, see “American Movie,” a documentary about someone who wants to make a movie more than you do. Mark Borchardt may want to make a movie more than anyone else in the world. … No poet in a Paris garret has ever been more determined to succeed.

Borchardt works two jobs, writes in his car, shoots on the fly, and has seemingly no idea how impossible his odds are. What does he get for his ignorance? A screening of his movie (and the documentary about him) at Sundance, just by believing in himself more than anyone else believes in him.

But that was so 1999. Ten years later, my new poster boy for self-determination, for dreaming  a dream and never giving up, is this guy:

The car's name is Purplesaurus Rex. P-Rex for short. Seriously.

That would be Baron Ambrosia, a Bronx local-TV personality profiled today in the New York Times. He’s a self-appointed restaurant critic, scraping together spare resources to shoot a weekly public access show best described as “restaurant review meets telenovela.” The story of “Bronx Flavor” is too much fun — simply, Ambrosia (real name: Justin Fornal) saw the need for a campy, hot-blooded gastronome who does genuine reviews of eateries while spinning some absurdist theater along the way. The episode “Friend or Pho” pits the baron against both Vietnamese food and his recurring German nemesis; in “Joe Bataan Stole My Girlfriend,” his lordship battles a legendary salsa dancer while seeking the perfect roast of pork shoulder, all in the name of love.

Watch any episode at the Bronx Flavor site. I was just ingesting the “Quantum of Chimi” episode that focuses on a renowned, neon-clad chimichurri truck that serves the Bronx, and now I’m damn famished—and surprisingly well informed about concocting the perfect chimi. Times reporter Melena Ryzik writes:

Flashy production numbers aside, at bottom “Bronx Flavor” is an effort to educate and entertain without pretension. And Baron Ambrosia, a self-described “quaffer of culinary consciousness,” is like Anthony Bourdain crossed with Ali G… “He doesn’t rest, he only feasts,” goes his theme song, performed by a guy named Opera Steve. “How will he soothe the savage beast? Bronx Flavor!”

Of course that’s how his theme song goes. That’s how mine was going to go, but he took it first.

I really envy Baron Ambrosia. He found the baron-shaped hole missing from the world and he’s filling it with gusto. According to the Times, he’s winning hearts and minds across NYC — or at least amusing them. And for some people, that’s ambrosia enough.

SPECIAL FRUGALITY BONUS

Another reason I like Baron Ambrosia is his attitude about putting on a Barnum-sized circus with a Bozo-sized budget. Writes the Times:

Figuring out how to shoot each episode, he said, is “like pulling a heist.” But, he continued: “You don’t let your budget write your script. Just because I have no budget, don’t be like, ‘Oh, I can’t climb the Brooklyn Bridge, I can’t drive a car off a cliff.’ You can do anything! You just have to write it down, say ‘I’m going to do it’ and then figure out how the hell it’s going to get done.”

Great advice! His “realistic idealism” mirrors that of other filmmakers like Joss Whedon and Robert Rodriguez (no slouches in the Big, Crazy Dream department). I’ve already enthused about Rodriguez’s behind-the-scenes film school extras on his DVDs. For Whedon’s part, he provides loads of inspiration on the “Firefly” DVD commentaries. He actually seems to enjoy the limitations of smaller budgets, insisting that they force you to be more creative. His commentaries on those discs are full of tricky reveals about how he cut corners and cheated your eyes without compromising much, if anything, in terms of story or effects. Insightful and worth the time to listen.

UPDATE: Check the comments section for the most embarrassing typo I’ve ever admitted to in public. Once my friends find out about this, they may never look me in the eye again.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Baron of Monte Cristo (and other sandwiches): A reflection on self-belief

  1. Carol

    I think you mean “Joss” Whedon.

  2. jdrewscott

    Good God. Did that happen? Carol, please come take my nerd credentials now.

    This will help me from misspeaking again:
    http://crystaltips.typepad.com/wonderland/2005/08/joss_whedon_is_.html

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