Saturday, September 16, 2017
Harry Dean Stanton, Eve Brandstein, & me, Cafe Largo, L.A. c. 1990
I knew Harry Dean Stanton and considered him a friend. Even though I didn't see him that often. But when I did run into him, in my Hollywood years, he always acted like he considered me a friend too.
I gotta lot of stories about him, but most of them are "you had to be there" stories. But this one, I think anyone could understand and helps explain his success and appeal.
Whether coincidentally or somehow prescient, the Dalai Lama and his people organized a weeklong series of panels and cultural events that ended on the day before he was awarded The Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. The week long conference was held at a convention center in Irvine, California, and was called Harmonium Mundi, an attempt to bring "the world" together.
During the day, there were panels that included Catholic priests, Buddhist monks, Hindu monks, Muslim imams, Protestant ministers, etc, along with psychologists and psychiatrists, focusing on one or another topic, like environmentalism, and trying to bring some sort of consensus to it. Speakers and participants stayed at a hotel/motel complex where there were also conference rooms for the panels.
At night, there were cultural presentations on a big stage in a giant auditorium used for sports events as well as conventions. The idea, as in the panels, was to mix things up, present distinctly different national arts, like one night might have a Japanese Noh orchestra performance with a Russian peasant choir, etc. And most nights included poetry juxtapositions as well, like Robert Bly reading Rumi or Allen Ginsberg reading Blake.
I was asked to be the Master of Ceremonies, and in turn was allowed to turn the last night into an evening of poetry with a selection of mostly young Hollywood actors reading poems by various mostly dead poets. I asked Harry Dean to end that evening with what was his famous parlor trick, as they used to call it, his reciting of Chief Seattle's letter to the President (it's authenticity has been since sometimes disputed).
The night of the event, the other performers and I were in the locker room being used as a green room. The building it was in was like a giant airplane hanger. When it was time to head for the stage, Harry hadn't shown up yet. There were no cell phones then, so there was no way to get in touch with him. As we left the locker room and headed down this cold cement hallway with huge metal doors at the end, I heard a faint sound that we eventually realized was someone knocking on the big metal doors.
We managed to figure out how to open one, and there was Harry Dean, who somehow missed the front door but found these backs ones, unsteady on his feet due to some overindulgence, but upright. We got him in and managed to close and lock the door and helped him into the auditorium and up the stairs to the extra high and extra large stage and onto one of the folding chairs the performers sat on.
In my oversized red sport coat and tight jeans and Beatle boots (in 1989! feeling I was representing the one faction not represented by anyone else, Jersey urban cowboy mod hipster (in the old sense of that word) etc.), I introduced each performer, and they read the poems assigned them. And then it was Harry's turn to end the evening.
I had to help him to the microphone, fearing he might not be able to do it. But as soon as he was standing in front of it, he stopped wobbling and in a deep and resonant voice recited the letter, word perfect, not missing a beat or dramatic nuance, bringing the huge audience to their feet as he finished and turned and reached out to me to help him make it back to his chair.
A total professional, a passionate activist for causes he cared about like the environment, and a compassionate friend and supporter of those he knew and worked with, as well as a very very witty and profoundly smart man. Condolences to all who loved him, knew him, knew of him, or followed his work as an actor, writer, and singer/musician. Rest In Poetry Harry.
Friday, September 15, 2017
But then Darren Aronofsky's sickeningly pretentious writing and directing led to the rest of the one-hundred-and-twenty minute movie feeling like days, even weeks, of torture. If there were a Supreme Court for movies, MOTHER! would be condemned to a lifetime of solitary confinement for its abuse of the audience, the actors, and most spectacularly of the star, Jennifer Lawrence.
I can't believe that she and her fellow actors in this film—including Michelle Pfeiffer (who, full disclosure I met a few times in my Hollywood years, and she was always gracious, unpretentious and genuine), Ed Harris, and Kristen Wiig—read this script and still agreed to do it. MOTHER! is a paen to hurting, blaming, disrespecting, defiling, torturing, and abusing a woman to satisfy a male ego.
Truly. That seems to be the point of the movie, and all who participated should have been able to see that in the script, unless Aronofsky sprung the scenes on the actors without preparation. My guess is they fell for the "genius" card and surrendered to his vision because it might mean something deep or be high art or win a bunch of Oscars.
I always stay for the credits but needed to vacate the theater as soon as they began, and I thought the voice singing over the credits as I exited was Patti Smith's. If it was her, I hope she didn't read the script before deciding to add her talent to this pile of vile.
They tell me Aronofsky (who, full disclosure, I encountered at the memorial service for Hubert Selby Jr. at Grauman's Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, where we were both among the speakers, and confronted him with the false assumption he'd made that Selby was "Irish" in an elegy he'd written in the L. A. Weekly, Selby was proud that his family went back to Colonial times and definitely wasn't Irish) and Jennifer Lawrence are a couple.
If that is true, and this is the first project he writes and directs for her to star in, then the message he seems to be sending is I will torture and abuse you as an actress, and as the character you're playing, to show who holds all the power in this relationship (with Javier Baden playing the creative artist character stand-in for Aronofsky in the film). Ack. I can't get the bad taste out of my mouth and mind. I'll have to re-watch WONDER WOMAN.
Thursday, September 14, 2017
me and my then living siblings, back row Robert (AKA William), Tommy (later Father Campion), Buddy (AKA Jimmy), Joan, Irene, and me, (our brother John born between me and my sisters died as an infant before I came along), South Orange NJ 1943
my father, his Irish immigrant mother, my oldest brother Tommy in uniform, my mother's mother, and my mother, and me, 1944
me (in my brother Tommy's arms) and the rest of my then living siblings, 1944
my down-the-street cousin Kathi, our Irish immigrant grandmother Lally, me, my grandmother Dempsey, and my next door cousins David and MaryLynn, my First Communion day, 1949
me in uniform, my mother, oldest brother, Franciscan friar Father Campion (AKA Tommy), brother Robert, father, and brother Buddy, c. 1962
me in black shirt, unknown woman sitting, and poets Terence Winch holding can, Doug Lang, and Lynn Dreyer (both sitting) and Joe ? (in glasses) at a reading at Folio Books in Washington DC c. 1977
me and my progeny, sons Miles and Flynn, grandkids Donovan and Eli, and daughter Caitlin in Great Barrington MA c. 2006
grandson Donovan, son Miles, grandchild Eli on my lap, daughter Caitlin arms around my youngest son Flynn, at a Massachusetts butterfly & other creatures environmental museum c. 2008?
my nieces Linda, and Cathy (r.i.p.), me, nephews-in-law Bob and Howard, with my oldest brother Campion shortly before he passed, Ringwood NJ
me in cranberry sweater, my youngest son Flynn in black, daughter Caitlin in front of me, and son Miles in beard, and grandkids Donovan in pink hat and Eli in a black one 2015
me in back between sons Miles & Flynn, grandkids Donovan in red jacket and Eli in flannel shirt and daughter Caitlin 2016
left to right, my son Miles, me, grandkids Donovan and Eli, my son-in-law Ed, and daughter Caitlin, in Connecticut 2017 (photo by Rachel E. Diken)
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
But in recent years, as she entered her fifties, and now sixties, the indie movies she's given her best performances in haven't gotten the kinds of exposure that might lead to a nomination. Like 2004's POSTER BOY, where she played an alcoholic, ex-beauty queen, Southern Senator's Southern trophy wife (at the screening I attended at The Tribeca Film Festival, after her first scene the audience stood up to give her screen presence a standing ovation before the film had hardly begun!), or the working-class wives and mothers in 2010's WHITE IRISH DRINKERS and 2015's BAD HURT. Oscar-worthy performances all.
Now here comes her latest, and this time the lead starring role is hers, playing the writer Joan Anderson, whose book the screenplay is based on, about a middle-aged woman leaving her marriage to discover who she might be at this stage of her life. She gives, to my taste, another Oscar-worthy performance, though it is slightly hampered by first-time director Alexander Janko's commonplace first-time-director indulgences and miscalculations [like inconsistencies in the script as shot etc.].
Janko is best known as a film score orchestrator and sometime composer (MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING for instance), and he takes on too much in A YEAR BY THE SEA as director, screenwriter, composer of the score, and one of the producers. He is obviously well-intentioned but is still a male controlling most of the creative aspects of making a film about a woman.
Though the editing could be tighter, the cast is terrific (but I would have approached the role of Karen's character's husband, played by the playwright/actor Michael Cristofer, much differently, given the chance), the lingering shots of the New England landscapes often gorgeous, and many many individual scenes could be used as examples for screen acting and writing classes.
If you want to support an "older woman" actor [i.e. a category of movie actor that usually gets ignored except for one or two famous ones like Meryl Streep], whose work has been neglected by the major awards (though she's won some festivals' "Best Actor" awards), please go see A YEAR BY THE SEA while it is still in theaters to help convince the distributors to get it out to a wider audience and give Karen a chance to get the kind of attention for her screen work that she's so long deserved.
Monday, September 11, 2017
Though she was often noted more as Perkin's wife or as model/actress Marisa Berenson's sister, Berry was a wonderful actor in her own right (see REMEMBER MY NAME). But despite her fame-for-whatever-reason, at least around me she was always the least pretentious or self-centered person I ever met anywhere.
She came to a play I was in early on in L.A., the first L.A. run of Landford Wilson's BALM IN GILEAD, and after the performance stuck around to talk to me. One of the things she said to me that night was that she had only seen one other person in her life who had the kind of glow, I think that was the word she used, that I had, and that was Marilyn Monroe!
She was wonderful on screen and off, either in front of the camera or behind it (she was a great photographer), and I only wish, as I too often do with many friends, that I had made more of an effort to see her more often. Especially after I heard the news that she had been on one of the two planes that crashed into The World Trade Center towers on 9/11.
I vaguely knew some others who went down with the towers on that tragic day, but Berry is the one I think of most often. As I later wrote in a poem ("March 18, 2003"), she was:
"a woman who was kind to me when
she didn't need to be[...]
How many people have died
before you got the chance to tell them what you meant to?"
R.I.P. to all those we lost on that horrific day, though it was as beautifully blue sky-ed and lovely in New York City then as it is today.