Tuesday, November 20, 2018

THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS

The Coen brothers movies often leave me frustrated. Usually because the cynicism in them is too self-indulgent, as though they confuse cynicism with superiority. THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (on Netflix and in theaters) is no exception. The acting is superb, the cinematography brilliant, the writing  clever, though sometimes a little too. But to what end? Entertaining, yes, engaging often, but when you reach the end of this series of unrelated tales (except for their all being set in the old West, with too many discredited tropes from the Western genre) how do you feel? I felt frustrated, and even swindled, like I just gave up two hours of my life (and at this end of it) to be unsatisfied, and feel frustrated and swindled.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

FYI: DEC. 1ST READING IN L.A.

Just a reminder that I'll be in L.A. for a Dec. 1st reading at 7:30PM at Beyond Baroque hosted by Eve Brandstein. It'll be my only reading in L.A. and the last time I'll be there (traveling that far has become more challenging for me)

 It's the second to last reading on my book tour for ANOTHER WAY TO PLAY: POEMS 1960-2017, and for the documentary being made about the tour and my life and my poetry by Rachel E. Diken. Both of us have reached beyond our means to make this film and this last visit to California viable, and I appreciate all the donations friends have made to this project, but if you can donate to help pay for this phase of it, here is the link to Rachel's Go Fund Me page for the film.

Friday, November 16, 2018

WILLIAM GOLDMAN R.I.P.

I never met William Goldman. But I feel like he's been an integral part of my life since I first discovered him in the late 1950s. In 1964 when I married my first wife, Lee, we had only met once, briefly, but had corresponded for years, and our first deep connection was our mutual love of Goldman's first novel, THE TEMPLE OF GOLD.

When it came out in 1957, it was initially banned from many libraries and schools for its "sexual" content though by today's standards there is none really. But it had critics and others associating him with The Beats, who were coming TO prominence then, even though it was as far from Beat as a young rebellious novelist could be back then. Despite it being to me a way too "white suburban" tale, I loved it because it was told from the perspective of a young man and made the self-conscious embarrassments of boyhood and adolescence really funny.

After we married, Lee and I would periodically read our favorite funny passages from it to make each other laugh, and it always worked. But Goldman maybe wanted to make his mark as a serious writer, because his second much slimmer novel, YOUR TURN TO CURTSY, MY TURN TO BOW (1958), was very dark. Lee loved it, and would use lines from it as shorthand for various situations, like, "Nail me to the cross Peter, nail me to the cross." I lost my copy years ago so I'm quoting that from memory and might have the name wrong, but the sentiment was the essence of the novel.

He then wrote a novel about his military experience, SOLDIER IN THE RAIN, which I read just before I entered the military and identified with a lot. But the big success of his early novels was the major bestseller BOYS AND GIRLS TOGETHER, which I read as his declaration that if you can't beat what we called in those days the "hack novelists" who gave the then mass paperback novel audience what they seemed to want, might as well join them.

He went on to become the most successful screenwriter in Hollywood in the latter half of the 20th century. Where I ended up and partly as a result of writing screenplays too (though his were often made into movies, and very successful ones—like HARPER, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, MARATHON MAN, et.al.—mine weren't). And the year I arrived in Hollywood, 1983, he published a book about Hollywood called ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE, with the opening sentence: "Nobody knows anything." That book was as much a comfort to me during that period of my life as his first novel was to my late adolescence and first marriage.

The best example for me of his skill as a story teller though, whether in novels or screenplays, is the delightfully funny and poignant THE PRINCESS BRIDE.  His like will not pass this way again.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

SO TOUCHING

I read somewhere this week is dedicated to honoring our trans bothers and sisters, and nothing I've seen has moved me more than this video, totally worth watching to the end...

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

I've read and heard criticism of BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY for it's being a typical biopic with the typical biopic tropes, and for not being authentic enough, like manipulating the facts to make for a more dramatic story arc, not giving enough time to Mercury's last big love, Jim Hutton, and too much time to Mary Austin, the woman he was engaged to and called his best friend (and left his home and most of his worldly goods to, Hutton got a big chunk of money, equal to a million dollars at present rates), etc.

But for my taste, if you see it in a theater on a big screen with big theater sound, it's a thrilling ride, despite some lulls and obvious contrivances. First of all Rami Malek as Freddy Mercury gives one of the great movie performances of the year, and the producers and director were smart enough to actually use the original recordings so it's Mercury's voice we're hearing, making the movie theater experience like attending a Queen concert with front row seats. That alone was worth the price of admission. The casting was amazing across the board, with the actors playing the rest of the band almost mirror images of the real guys.

Every quibble I had was balanced by another moment in the film that landed perfectly. Like when Freddy tells his female fiancée he thinks he's "bi-sexual" and she says "No Freddy, you're gay." I wanted to say Wait up, from what I've read he had sexual relations with several women (which the movie doesn't mention), as well as a lot more men (the opposite of my experience with mostly women but a number of men). Though I hate labels and categories (I used to call myself "pan-sexual" and to those who'd call me "bi-sexual" I'd point out that my experience is there's as many kinds of human sex as there are humans, not just two), lately I've revisited old journals and realize I was more into men than I remembered, which made me want to acknowledge and embrace what some would call my "bi-sexuality" since that category seems to be getting a lot of flack these days.

But then there's a simple scene after Mercury gets the AIDs diagnosis when on the way out of the clinic a sweet looking young man recognizes the Queen lead singer and quietly voices a two-note riff made famous by Mercury, which Mercury quietly echos, and the tears just flowed for me as every emotion connected to friends and lovers I'd had who died of AIDs—including survivor's guilt that I never even contracted it—overwhelmed me.

So, it might be how you respond personally to the emotional bits in the film, but for me, they mostly worked, as did the music.

[PS: I've been informed by Susan Anton in comments below that it's not Freddy Mercury's voice in the film, but I've read some reports that it is mostly, either way it works for me....I also want to make clear I'm not diminishing Mercury's being gay with my remarks about "bi-sexuality," just clarifying my own thoughts and feelings about that label and it's use to dismiss genuine feelings and experiences...]

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

GIOVANNA ARON R.I.P.


Willie Aron is one of the multi-talented music creators in L.A., and musicians there and elsewhere admire and respect his talent. But above and beyond that, he's just a really good guy. My oldest son, Miles, played bass in a band (originally called Spanish Kitchen, and later Mystery Pop) in which Willie played guitars and keyboards. He also played on some of the tracks for my poetry-with-music CD: Lost Angels.

He could not only instantly improvise the perfect riff I or Miles (he produced the CD) were looking for, but in any style of music we asked for! And he was always cooperative and modest. Working and playing with him was always fun for me. And hanging out with him was too, as well as with his lovely wife Giovanna.

My heart goes out to Willie over the loss to cancer of Giovanna, one of the kindest, most generous, most loving humans I've ever known. Our mutual friend Nancy Lee Nadel said it best in her post about this tragedy:

"To know her was to love her ... it was that simple. I met her when waitressing well over 20 years ago and it was love at first conversation and remained so throughout. I honestly never met a kinder more compassionate woman. Please send some love to her husband Willie and their 2 children in this sad moment of her passing. Another angel was most definitely needed in heaven. Rest in Peace Giovanna Aron you beautiful gift from god who never ever ever stopped smiling, you will forever be missed."
'
[I don't know who took either of the photos above,
but hopefully they don't mind my sharing them]