Friday, February 27, 2009

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

I've seen this before, and not so sure the stats are all verifiable. But it's still an interesting presentation. Check it out. (And thanks to my oldest friend Bob Helmar for turning me on to it again.)

OBSCURE QUOTE FOR THE DAY

"Our guilt has its uses. It justifies much in the lives of others."
—Max Frisch from MONTAUK (traslated by Geoffrey Skelton)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

TINA DARRAGH

One of the great gifts of the internet is to be able to link so many connections that it's almost like an instant replica of the thought processes that occur at least in my mind pretty much constantly.

Like this morning I checked poet Ron Silliman's blog where today's post was one of his regular lists of links to all (or at least a lot of) things related to poetry on the web, and there was a link to some recent (or at least I hadn't seen it yet) work by Tina Darragh, one of my favorite writers as well as an old friend (she cites me in her authors note as being one of her college teachers as well, which is where we met, but I always felt like she was a friend and creative original from our first encounter).

So now I can pass that link to her work on to anyone reading this and you can discover a very interesting and unique writer, and in this particular case (or place in internet space) a few works of hers that prove her originality instantly. And everything of hers on this site is worth reading. And I'll bet you learn some things you didn't know (and useful things too, especially in arguments, even with yourself) and in a way that's not only pleasant but challenging, as well as satisfying.

MOVIE & TV EXPERIENCE

I write about stuff on this blog that I have some experience with. I started it thinking it might be interesting to some of my friends—and anyone else who wanted to listen in—if I shared some of my opinions and observations (of which I have many, obviously) about things I know something about.

When I don’t know so much, I include a link to someone with more expertise. But I do have experience in politics—radical and more conventional, local and national, including running for office—and music (studied it, played a few instruments, made part of my living at it when I was young), theater (wrote plays, directed them, acted in them, house managed them, etc.), poetry (published in hundreds of magazines, many anthologies, dozens of books, won awards, read all over the U.S. and Europe), and other kinds of writing (including published fiction, nonfiction, plays, reviews (for The Washington Post, The Village Voice, etc.) articles, interviews, etc.[plus worked as publisher, editor, teacher, etc. of all kinds of writing]), and acting in films (and writing them or parts of them [many of which have yet to be made so aren't included here]) and on TV, and the rest of the topics I cover on this blog.

So in response to some folks asking what the experience is that I base some of my comments on I came up with a list that may seem self-serving, or self-important, but at this stage of the game definitely isn't. I just thought it might be interesting since the Oscars and last years movies were the focus of several recent posts—and even though it’s just a TV show to me too since I’m far from Hollywood or whatever careers I had there (or were connected to the idea of Hollywood I had as a kid), still, when I watch the the Golden Globes or the Oscars I’m not just watching celebs and movie producers etc. but people I’ve worked with or for, or hung out with or more.

So when the garbage men woke me up at 4AM, to help me fall back asleep last night, I made as much of an alphabet list as I could of movies or TV shows I either acted on or contributed some (or a lot of) writing to. There’s actually a bunch more (including many I’m deliberately omitting that I worked on one way or another but never got paid or credit for and many short films I acted in, I only included three of them here because they got some exposure and/or meant something, at least to me), but I can’t remember them all (like the name of a TV show Ice-T had for a while on which I had a small role, but it was such a bad experience I asked for my credits to be removed).

A?
BODY DOUBLE, BERRENGERS, BASIC INSTINCT, BAYWATCH, BROOKLYN SOUTH, BIG APPLE
CAGNEY & LACEY, CAUGHT IN THE ACT, COOL WORLD (Ralph Bakshi’s)
DRACULA’S LAST RITES (originally just LAST RITES), DRUGSTORE COWBOY, DIAGNOSIS MURDER, THE DISCOVERY OF HEAVEN, DEADWOOD, DO NOT DISTURB
ED
FATHER DOWLING MYSTERIES, FOGBOUND
GREENPOINT TAVERN
HOLLYWOOD MAGIC (video of my stage version of some of my poetry, with characters etc. released in England but never here), HARDCASTLE & MCCORMICK, HUMAN CONDITION (award winning short)
IT/LL BE BETTER TOMORROW (a documentary on Hubert Selby Jr. in which I appear very briefly)
JAG
K?
L. A. LAW, THE LAUREATE (short film), LAW & ORDER
MY MOTHER’S SECRET LIFE, THE MILKMAN (short film)
NESTING, THE (originally PHOBIA), NYPD BLUE, NOT AGAIN
O?
PUMP UP THE VOLUME
Q?
RAMONA!, THE RAPTURE (played the president, but it got cut out except for one image at the end as “Man on TV”)
SOMETHING SHORT OF PARADISE, STAR TIME, SOMEBODY IS WAITING
TEXAS (a shortlived NYC based soap opera c. 1980 if I remember correctly), THE TECHNICAL WRITER
U?
V?
WHITEY! (the first AFI funded feature film c. 1968-‘69), WHITE FANG
X?
Y?
Z?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

OBAMA’S FIRST SPEECH TO CONGRESS

How refreshing to have such an erudite and honest assessment of the true state of the union, even if it wasn’t called that since Obama has only been president of the union for a little over a month.

I’ve been watching these addresses since I was a kid, and I don’t remember any other one where almost all the applause and standing ovations were bipartisan. There was only once when the Republicans pretty much unanimously sat out an ovation and two other times by my count when a majority of them did.

That’s because Obama put his plans and vision in terms that both parties could accept, even if they have different methods for accomplishing them. But once again he’s proven that he can rise above the usual politics of Washington.

In the rebuttal from Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, he was only speaking to and for the wealthy, because he talked about Obama raising taxes even after Obama made clear that his stimulus package and his budget do not raise taxes on over 95% of us (in fact we get a tax cut, one of the things rightwing Republicans always clamor for, but can’t seem to get behind now, maybe because Obama’s cuts are for working people, not corporations and the wealthy).

Obama made it clear again and again that only if you make over a quarter million dollars a year will you see any increase in taxes, and then only to what they were before Junior’s last bone to the rich.

I have plenty of friends who make more than that, some a whole lot more. The Republicans among them don’t want any tax hike. The Democrats are split between those who don’t want a hike but know it’s necessary to cut the deficit and pay for two wars (that Junior and the Republicans began) and get the economy moving again (that tanked under Junior and the Republicans after creating the largest deficit in our history) so are willing to accept it, and those who actually want a hike because they know they are not paying their fair share.

I only made that much once in my life and ended up paying a lot of it back in taxes because I was single and didn’t own a home. Some rich people I knew tried to make me feel foolish for not finding a good accountant to get me out of paying all the taxes I did.

But I thought about the decades of driving on interstate highways, or the over four years I spent in the service with other guys who didn’t come from money, willing to sacrifice our lives for our country and the benefits I received afterwards, like going to college on the G. I. Bill, something I wouldn’t have been able to do without it, and so much more that the federal government has provided for me over my lifetime, and concluded that all the money I paid in taxes that time I was rich for a short period, was just me paying my dues for all the benefits this country has given me.

So when Jindal said Obama and the Democrats were going to raise our taxes, he obviously was talking about the less than five percent of our fellow citizens who make over 250,000 a year, and was dismissing the rest of us.

But he had already made that clear when he took what his fellow Republicans are calling a courageous stand against the stimulus bill by saying he will refuse money from it that will extend unemployment benefits for workers in his state. But he’ll take everything else. Which means he’ll be taking a little over 3.7 billion dollars from the stimulus package instead of the 3.8 the government marked for Louisiana. How brave.

And as for the media bias and the influence of Obama on the market, I woke up this morning to NPR news, supposedly “liberal” public radio, which offered one phrase from Obama’s speech about emerging stronger from these trying times and then countered with a much longer section of Jindal’s speech about how Democrats in Washington are raising our taxes and after him other rightwing Republican objections to Obama’s plans were cited!

Out of a three minute segment I’d say Obama got thirty seconds and the Republicans got two and a half minutes. And that’s the way it’s been since he took office. Once the hoopla of the inauguration was over, the media has been bending over backward to give every rightwing Republican extra time to criticize Obama’s policies and then blame him for the falling stock market.

What I want to know is how come nobody is blaming the rightwing Republicans for the falling stock market which began it’s descent under them as a result of their deregulation policies and since then has fallen every time they get negative about Obama’s economic recovery plans (when they voted against the original bank bailout, one of the steepest declines yet occurred that day, and since they voted against the stimulus package and have spent every day since dissing it).

I notice that yesterday when Obama’s budget was leaked and Bernake had some positive predictions before Congress the market rose, but I also notice that none of the rightwing Republicans were given much play in the news yesterday because they hadn’t come up with their talking points against Obama’s speech yet, since it hadn’t been fully leaked.

Obama won the election, Obama’s stimulus package passed and is law. Many Republican governors backed it and accept it, and most Republican mayors do too, because they are dealing with real world on the ground problems. The rightwing ideologues in Congress can afford to act only as obstacles to Obama’s policies because they gerrymandered districts when they were in power so that they could be insured of a “conservative” Republican voter base for their reelection. Maybe it’s time to find a fairer way to map the boundaries of Congressional districts, so that the majority of the people can have a government that fully represents them, which according to all polls shows that they reject the Republicans in Congress and back Obama and the Democrats three to one or more.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

SNOOKS EAGLIN R.I.P.

Thanks to Bob Berner for hipping me to his passing and to this video.

SECOND ANNUAL LALLY’S ALLEY MOVIE AWARDS (2009)

“BEST” MOVIE (i.e. “best” means what I dug most): SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

“BEST” DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle (SLUMDOG)

“BEST” LEAD MALE ACTOR: Phillip Seymor Hoffman for DOUBT

“BEST” FEMALE LEAD ACTOR: Sally Hawkins for HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

“BEST” MALE SUPPORTING ACTOR(S): All the child actors who played the two boys in the earlier stages of their lives in SLUMDOG

“BEST” FEMALE SUPPORTING ACTRESS(ES): Hiam Abbass for THE VISITOR and Misty Upham for FROZEN RIVER

“BEST” ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY(S): Courtney Hunt for FROZEN RIVER and Thomas McCarthy for THE VISITOR

“BEST” ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Simon Beufoy for SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

“BEST” ENSEMBLE CAST: THE VISITOR

BIGGEST MOVIE SURPRISE OF 2008: Sally Hawkins’ amazing performance in HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF 2008: Too many depressing movies this year and not enough really great movies.

Monday, February 23, 2009

THE 2008 OSCAR SHOW

That was weird.

The redesign of the Kodak theater architecturally kind of worked. The seating higher (or the stage lower, whichever) made the audience of celebs seem closer and more involved. And the pathways through the seating, breaking the audience into groups which seemed to correspond at least in some cases to those there for specific films made it more clubby and chummy like the Golden Globes.

And the crystal curtain with however many—thousands? millions? trillions?—of different size and shape crystals capturing the light. It must have been incredible in person because even on the small screen it reflected in ways that were spectacular (though I can see how in a few years looking back it may seem overdone and tacky).

But the weird blue tinted and mostly dimmed lighting made it difficult at times to see what was going on completely. Those there said it was the best Oscars to be live at, but on the TV it looked like some of the lights blew and they were making due.

Hugh Jackman certainly gave it his all and I found him charming and highly musically talented. And in fact the dance and music numbers were pretty well done, but the camera work mostly was terrible.

I had heard that the new producers wanted to make the show more like theater and less like film and they succeeded. Only they seemed to have forgotten that the thing about TV is that it usually affords you the best seat in the house, because in this case it often seemed like the worst.

Especially when they were doing filmed bits. The way the camera zoomed around the theater catching the big screens of various shapes and sizes on stage from different angles, it was impossible to tell at times whoever was being commemorated or what film was being honored.

And the lapses stuck out and were sorely missed. Did I miss something in all the swirling camera work or did they leave Heath Ledger off the montage of shots of those who had died in the last year (or did he die the year before and was commemorated last Oscars?)

As it was, there was almost no film from FROZEN RIVER or THE VISITOR, the least known of the movies being honored with nominations and therefore the ones most likely to benefit from some sustained scenes on film in a way the TV audience could watch without squinting or feeling we had to move our heads around or get closer to figure out what we were watching.

I notice they didn’t do that with the most successful bit of the evening, the Judd Apatow short film with Seth Rogan and James Franco. That worked pretty well both as comedy and Oscar nominations montage. But it was done full front and full screen so that it was actually like watching a short film, whereas the other montages of nominated or commemorated film clips and etc. were all shot as though from some hectic audience member running around the theater to see how many crazy angles he could view the screens from (like arriving late to an almost sold out movie and having to watch it from a seat in the front row or at the extreme edges of the theater etc.).

[I forgot to mention how great Tina Fey and Steve Martin were as presenters, as my friend Terence pointed out. And as he said some writer in DC mentioned, Fey would make a great host for the Oscars. That I'd love to see. Maybe next year.]

A for the winners. Mostly deserved given who was nominated.

I'm glad Penn won over Rourke, it was a better, or at least more fully realized performance. And I'm very happy to see Penelope Cruz recognized for her terrific acting in VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA (but did anyone besides me notice they never mentioned the film and when she thanked Woody Allen and paused expecting the usual applause for the director there was only silence, even though she correctly pointed out that he has created more great roles for women than possibly any other director, he obviously loves them, but obviously loved the wrong one for this crowd which to me came across as either a little self-righteous and hypocritical or just lazy).

As for SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE I think it deserved every honor it received. I believe it will hold up as one of those few Oscar “best pictures” that is still compellingly watchable in years and decades to come. It’s like the best of the old classic Hollywood films, especially in terms of story and epic scope, but it also contains elements of the best of contemporary indie productions.

All in all though, there were no exceptional speeches (the most movingly personal and political was from the screenwriter of MILK Dustin Lance Black) or totally embarrassing moments (except maybe for Ben Stiller's distracting and unfunny bearded bit when co-presenting with Natalie Portman, it fell flat and completely upstaged the nominations they were supposedly honoring and undermined the winner's acceptance). And the inclusion of old film stars added some glamour and star power. But in the end, it wasn’t that great a show, though I doubt anyone there felt that way.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

THE READER AND (VS?) THE GREAT DEBATERS

Okay, so I went to see THE READER in the theater (having stopped watching it on the disc I got for the awards season which skipped) because friends told me they liked it.

The best thing about seeing the entire film was the discovery that Bruno Ganz, a German actor who I consider to be one of the greatest film actors ever, has a small role later in the film (he plays the law professor) and just seeing him on screen made me smile (despite the subject matter), let alone watching him work (impeccable as always).

But my reaction was still the same. There is some terrific acting by everybody in some scenes which was so emotionally accurate it brought tears to my eyes, but there’s also some overwrought melodramatic clich├ęd acting (and writing) in other scenes by almost everyone (Ganz is the exception, and it’s almost a lesson in acting to watch what he does compared to everyone else—they often look like they’re “acting” while Ganz looks like he’s “being” as acting teachers say).

No question Winslett does an amazingly committed job, the consistency of her physicality (the traits she uses to convey her character’s inner life as well as her resistance to any reality other than hers etc.) alone is impressive. It’s a very brave performance in the ways her performances always are. But I still found it manipulative and in that way disappointing, as I did the whole movie.

But I also watched over the weekend, on cable, a movie that should have been nominated last year for best picture but wasn’t—THE GREAT DEBATERS. It too deals with a sensitive and difficult subject, but from the perspective of an actually true story.

If you haven’t seen it, it’s so much more than any summary of its plot or characters could ever convey. Yes it’s the story of the debating team at a small “Negro” college in Texas in the depths of the Depression and the height of segregation, legal and de facto, and how they went on to win national recognition as one of the greatest college debating teams of all times.

But, it is also the story of some extraordinary African-Americans, who were more representative of the strivings and accomplishments of a generation, in fact generations, of “black” Americans than all the “gangsta” movies ever made combined.

It’s the story too of Melvin B. Tolson, a poet whose work I’ve been familiar with since I was a kid and first became interested in any writing that came from or spoke to the racial history and problems of this country.

And it’s the story of a young boy and the relationship with his father as well as his teacher and fellow students and coming of age.

The acting is all amazingly without flaw, which means Denzel Washington, who stars in it but also directed it, should have been nominated as best director. It’s emotionally challenging and rewarding, as well as intellectually engaging and visually delicious (the 1930s never looked so good on screen, not phony Hollywood good, but richly realistically varied good).

I didn’t give this movie as much credit as I should have last year, or it would have won half the awards I decided to make up myself. But seeing it the same day I saw THE READER, which has gotten so much attention, it almost feels like there’s maybe something a little racist in THE GREAT DEBATERS not having gotten as much respect and attention and awards as it should have. Not on the audience’s part—most of us just weren’t that aware of it I bet—but on the media and awards panels and etc. part.

There should be a special Oscar category for movies and performances etc. that were inadvertently or deliberately overlooked or underrated in previous years, some kind of SECOND CHANCE OSCAR for movies that should have been awarded but were somehow overlooked. Mine goes to THE GREAT DEBATERS.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

NEKO CASE

She's a singer/songwriter/musician I should have had on my favorite female singers list a few posts back but I hadn't heard her yet.

The NY Times magazine last Sunday had an article on her that's very interesting. But even without her compelling backstory and charismatic presence that comes through just in the photos and the quotes, she'd still have made my list if I'd just stumbled on some of her songs earlier (I was aware of her it turns out as the singer for The New Pornographers, but it's her own more recent work that makes her so original).

You can go to her label Anti-'s site here and download PEOPLE GOT A LOTTA NERVE and check it out, one of the more obvious and simpler of her compositions, kind of new wavy to my mind, but the subject matter is pretty punk/protest. Nothing entirely new, but a great voice and writing chops and a new interpretation and combination of retro sounds.

Friday, February 20, 2009

MY OSCAR GUESSES (UH…RUMINATIONS)

BEST PICTURE

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE of course. Deservingly so. If it DOESN’T win it’ll be a crime.

BEST ACTOR

This one’s a little trickier. Penn and Rourke could cancel each other out, splitting the majority of voters allowing Langella to get it for his depiction of Nixon. I’m not crazy about Langella’s acting, including his Nixon. If he deserved a nomination for anything it was last year for STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING. A much braver and truer performance I thought.

Not enough people I’m guessing saw Richard Jenkins in THE VISITOR for him to squeak through, though that’s an amazingly worthy choice.

And Pitt in BENJAMIN BUTTON is too controversial because of other actors being the bodies in some scenes and so much of the performance requiring computerized tricks. Even though to my mind that made it all the more impressive. Movie acting is difficult enough because it’s sliced and diced into tiny segments shot out of order, to add on top of that difficulty using only facial expressions to then be mounted on someone else’s movements seems like a pretty daunting challenge that Pitt successfully pulled off.

The money’s on Rourke after his Golden Globe, but I’m guessing enough people had bad experiences working with him that Penn’ll eke out a victory. Hopefully.

BEST ACTRESS

This is a tough one to my mind. It looks like it’s Kate Winslett, from the cover of this week’s TIME to almost all the odds makers. And it’s a typical Oscar move, since she really deserved an Oscar more for much of her past work but didn’t get one, so making up for it now would be pretty predictably Oscarish (like Sean Penn getting it for MYSTIC RIVER in which he was good but uneven and his performance wasn’t anywhere near as great as his best work in previous years, or this year for that matter).

But Winslett’s role in THE READER got some flack for seemingly making Nazis seem sympathetic, or somehow justifying some of their behavior in the eyes of some viewers. Usually the holocaust is a surefire Oscar winner, but since this softens the ones who caused it, I’m thinking there may be a bit of a backlash…

…in which case Meryl Streep seems like the default winner because she’s the baby boomer’s Katherine Hepburn and deserves the record for Oscars etc.

But if Winslett and Streep split the majority vote, then someone else can slip in.

I doubt many Academy voters actually saw FROZEN RIVER, but Melissa Leo is known to a lot of them from past work, so she could be the one in that scenario.

On the other hand, Anne Hathaway represents the future of Hollywood female leads and her versatility puts her in a very rarified group, from musicals to comedy to drama she has proven she has amazing acting chops, and her character in RACHEL GETTING MARRIED would resonate with Academy voters I’m thinking.

As for Angelina Jolie, she deserves an Oscar for past work or the accumulation of her own clear diversity (though mostly between drama and action), but this ain’t the one.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Heath Ledger of course (though everyone in this category is equally deserving, even if Philip Seymour Hoffman should have been up for leading actor not supporting for his role in DOUBT).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

They say this is the toughest one to call this year (as it often is), though there’s a lot of sympathy for Viola Davis in DOUBT, which would be delightful if only because her role was smaller than most supporting actor nominations are for, and she’s even less well known than most in this category.

But Amy Adams is an up-and-coming star in this category and may get the usual Oscar boost from people who now wish they had rewarded her for previous (and to my mind better) work.

And Taraji P. Henson was the least boring thing about BENJAMIN BUTTON, an otherwise pretty boring flick, and so she jumped off the screen, even if for my taste what she was doing was predictable though unrealistic for the time and place etc.

I’d give it to Penelope Cruz for her character in VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA. She’s an amazing actress and should have won awards for past work as well (like VOLVER last year) and is way underrated to my mind. Her performance in VICKY was nothing short of brilliant for me. But I don’t think Academy voters want to reward anything connected with Woody Allen any more. Unfortunately, because he’s as good as ever in this flick. (And again, to my mind, Cruz was a lead actress in the movie, not supporting, if we must have these categories.)

Marisa Tomei is one of my all time favorite actresses, so I wouldn’t mind seeing her win for THE WRESTLER, which would finally put to rest the old rumor that she won the Oscar for MY COUSIN VINNY because Jack Palance couldn’t read the card inside the envelope without his reading glasses so looked to the prompter and read her name as it was first on the list but not the true winner and the Academy was too embarrassed to correct the “mistake”—something I never believed because that was a brilliant performance too.

BEST DIRECTOR

Danny Boyle should win for SLUMDOG. Because, to my mind, the movie was an amazing directoral coup. Not just filming in the actual slums of Mumbai, and using non-professional slum kids playing the leads when they were kids, but because it is an old fashioned big Hollywood style movie BUT shot on location in India!—not out in David Lean country but in 21st-Century teeming slums, etc. An amazing achievement.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

SLUMDOG should win this too. Hands down the best adaptation, because Simon Beaufoy took a book (by Vikus Swarup) about a very limited subject (a quiz show scenario) and not only turned it into an epic film, but an epically filmable story.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

This is another tough category. The movies the nominated screenplays are for were all pretty good in extremely different ways: FROZEN RIVER; HAPPY-GO-LUCKY; IN BRUGES (which I still haven’t seen and need to but friends who recommend it say the ending kind of doesn’t work); MILK; and WALL-E.

Most of the above are relatively obscure and probably weren’t all seen by the Academy (let alone read—the studios send out bound scripts now, or sometimes the little devices you stick in your computer, whadda they call’em? flash thingees, but only a few writers are actually gonna take the time to read a script).

So it’s between MILK and WALL-E.

The odds are on WALL-E because many thought it was so original and brilliant there’s a belief it should have been up for best movie, not just best animated movie.

But if there’s a sympathy vote for Penn (if Rourke or someone else wins best actor) and for Van Sant (if SLUMDOG does pick up the major awards) then MILK will win this one.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

SLUMDOG’s got this one too. The only competition is BENJAMIN BUTTON, which may get a sympathy vote if it’s shut out of all the other awards.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

WALL-E for the obvious reasons.

These are the categories that most get my attention (and I suspect the audiences) so...there you have it.

I think in the end, the most interesting (and possibly most disappointing thing) about the Oscars this year will be seeing how Hugh Jackman (I almost wrote Jude Law) pulls off hosting without being a comedian. If they really are going to rely on more show numbers and less film clips as I’ve heard, I think we’re in for a longer than usual and more boring than usual show. I hope I’m wrong. But in the end, who really ultimately cares? It’s only a TV show.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

THE RIGHT'S HYPOCRISY

One of the best responses to the rightwing's hypocrisy can be found here. Check it out.

QUOTE FOR THE DAY

"Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity."

Lao-tsu from the Tao te Ching (the Stephen Mitchell translation)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

SECOND ANNUAL LALLY’S ALLEY MOVIE AWARDS (NOMINEES)

Last year, in my first annual movie awards, I decided to list 10 nominees in each category I chose, because there was a lot of great work I wanted to note. This year in a few categories, I had trouble coming up with 10. For my taste, it hasn’t been the best year for movies (with the caveat that obviously I didn't see every movie that came out in '08). But that said, here’s my nominees:

“BEST” MOVIE (i.e. “best” means ones I dug most)

1. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
2. VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA
3. HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
4. FROZEN RIVER
5. THE VISITOR
6. WALL-E
7. BURN AFTER READING
8. MILK
9. DOUBT
10. STOP-LOSS

“BEST” DIRECTOR

1. Danny Boyle (SLUMDOG)
2. Woody Allen (VICKY CHRISTINA)
3. Andrew Stanton (WALL-E)
4. Coen Brothers (BURN AFTER)
5. Mile Leigh (HAPPY-GO-LUCKY)
6. Gus Van Sant (MILK)
7. Courtney Hunt (FROZEN)
8. Thomas McCarthy (THE VISITOR)
9. John Patrick Shanley (DOUBT)
10. Ben Stiller (TROPIC THUNDER)

“BEST” LEAD MALE ACTOR

1. Phillip Seymor Hoffman for DOUBT
2. Dev Patel for SLUMDOG
3. Richard Jenkins for THE VISITOR
4. George Clooney for BURN AFTER READING
5. Sean Penn for MILK
6. Brad Pitt for BENJAMIN BUTTON (I know a lot of this was computerized, but given that challenge, I think he pulled it off beautifully, despite the movie’s flaws)
7. Ryan Phillipe for STOP-LOSS
8. Javier Bardem for VICKY CHIRSTINA
9. Channing Tatum for STOP-LOSS
10. Heath Ledger for DARK KNIGHT (let’s face it, he was the lead and the reason most of us saw it—and as I said last year, I don’t really distinguish between “lead” and “supporting” in every day viewing and acting, every role has its burdens and set of challenges etc.)

“BEST” FEMALE LEAD ACTOR

1. Sally Hawkins for HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
2. Angelina Jolie for THE CHANGELING
3. Tilda Swinton for BURN AFTER READING
4. Frances McDormand for BURN AFTER READING
5. Melissa Leo for FROZEN RIVER
6. Karen Allen for INDIANA JONES AND…CRYSTAL SKULL
7. Penelope Cruz for VICKY CHRISTINA
8. Abbie Cornish for STOP-LOSS
9. Frieda Pinto for SLUMDOG
10. Scarlett Johanson for VICKY CHRISTINA

“BEST” MALE SUPPORTING ACTOR

1. Haaz Sleiman for THE VISITOR
2. Michael O’Keefe for FROZEN RIVER
3. Robert Downey Jr. for TROPIC THUNDER
4. Brad Pitt for BURN AFTER READING
5. J. R. Horne for BURN AFTER READING
6. James Franco for MILK
7. Timothy Olyphant for STOP-LOSS
8. Ciaran Hinds for STOP-LOSS
9 & 10. All the child actors who played the two boys in the earlier stages of their lives in SLUMDOG (there should be some kind of collective award)

“BEST” FEMALE SUPPORTING ACTRESS

1. Hiam Abbass for THE VISITOR
2. Misty Upham for FROZEN RIVER
3. Rebecca Hall for VICKY CHIRSTINA
4. Patricia Clarkson for VICKY CHIRSTINA
5. Linda Emond for STOP-LOSS
6. Marisa Tomei for THE WRESTLER
7. Alexis Zegerman for HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
8. Viola Davis for DOUBT
9. Zoe Kazan for REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (the secretary)
10. Kathy Bates for REVOLUTIONARY RD

“BEST” ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

1. Andrew Stanton for WALL-E
2. Coen brothers for BURN AFTER READING
3. Woody Allen for VICKY CHRISTINA
4. Mike Liegh for HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
5. Courtney Hunt for FROZEN RIVER
6. Mark Richard & Kimberly Pierce for STOP-LOSS
7. Thomas McCarthy for THE VISITOR
8. Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, Etan Cohen for TROPIC THUNDER

“BEST” ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

1. John Patrick Shanley for DOUBT
2. Simon Beufoy for SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

“BEST” ENSEMBLE CAST

1. BURN AFTER READING
2. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
3. DOUBT
4. THE VISITOR
5. TROPIC THUNDER
6. VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA
7. HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
8. MILK
9. INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL


BIGGEST MOVIE SURPRISES OF 2008

1. The existence and success of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (hopefully it’s a harbinger of more internationally relevant combos of old fashioned story telling with contemporary relevance).
2. The “foreign” actors in THE VISITOR, all terrific
3. Misty Upham’s riveting (for me) performance in FROZEN RIVER
4. Sally Hawkins’ amazing performance in HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
5. The return of Karen Allen in the role of Marion Ravenwood in the latest INDIANA JONES flick
6. The rise (well deserved) of Robert Downey Jr. to commercially viable movie star in a comedy (TROPIC THUNDER) and comic book action flick (IRON MAN)
7. Rebecca Hall’s breakthrough performance in VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA
8. The nominations for THE VISITOR and FROZEN RIVER in whatever categories, amazing for such out-of-the-mainstream truly “small” indies
9. Channing Tatum in STOP-LOSS an actor who should be used more, and more wisely to my mind
10. Zoe Kazan in REOLUTIONARY ROAD—everyone’s talking about the supporting actor Michael Shannon, but to my mind (and experience) it’s easier to play a flashy supportive role like that than it is to play the unflashy even unflattering role Kazan pulls of as the “nobody” working girl DiCaprio’s character uses for a fast fling

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS OF 2008

1. The attention and praise Micky Rourke’s getting for a performance that was gutsy in that he exposed his messed up facial surgery or whatever caused the way he looks but otherwise it was a plum acting role and he made the best of it which was not to my mind extraordinary or even better than what any working actor I can think of could’ve done for it. So give him an award for the way he looked in it maybe, but for the acting, it was fun at times but nothing to deserve any best actor awards for the year, though I understand the nominations.
2. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, a depressing book made into a depressing movie that could have worked better to my mind with different casting. Brad Pitt as the trophy husband with Kate Winslett would have worked better for instance, or an actress as visually immature as Di Caprio’s character seemed in comparison with Winslet’s.
3. Too many depressing movies this year.
4. Not enough really great movies this year to my mind.
5. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BRITTON, from the miscasting of Cate Blanchett opposite Pitt, not juicy enough, to the waste of so much technological mastery and great cinematography on what could have been an interesting fable really well suited to movie making but instead was a mix of brilliance and almost offensively misdone and boring.
6. STOP-LOSS’s failure to get an audience and the director/co-writer Kimberly Pierce’s few mistakes that lessened the movie’s impact and possible greatness.
7. DARK KNIGHT’S negative message seemingly justifying the tactics of Bush Junior’s administration.
8. BURN AFTER READING not being appreciated for what I took as the best dark comedy in years
9. HAPPY-GO-LUCKY not gaining a wider audience
10. The women in THE VISITOR not getting nominated for any acting awards.

INSIDE THE MELTDOWN

My friend Sue turned me on to a PBS Frontline documentary last night that delved into how we got into the financial crisis we're in. It's well worth watching. You can go here to download the hour long show. Just click on INSIDE THE MELTDOWN on the right to see it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

AMAZING

He's one of our youngest presidents.

He's been in office less than a month.

He inherited the worst economic crisis since FDR became president over three-quarters of a century ago.

But FDR did not inherit with that economic crisis a war. Obama inherited two wars along with the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression.

His opposition is virulent and disciplined and obviously out to see him fail (their spokesman Rush even saying that out loud on his angry radio show).

And yet,

and yet,

he signs into law today one of the largest and most ambitious pieces of legislation ever, intended to at least stop or slow down the bleeding of an economy in ruins from the policies of the previous administration (with the help of Phil Gramm in the Clinton administration's Republican controlled Congress).

Amazing.

Monday, February 16, 2009

FEMALE SINGERS LIST

The recent passing of Blossom Dearie and my post on that, coupled with people pointing out to me how a lot of my taste in music, according to lists I make, seems dominated by males, with the few females having made their mark many decades ago…

…got me thinking, so, for last night’s help-me-fall-back-to-sleep list I was inspired to list as much of an alphabet of current or recent (relatively) women singers I dig as I could call to mind:

Allen, Lily and Chirstina Aslguiara
Badu, Erykah
Crowe, Sheryl
Donahue, Patty (I loved The Waitresses)
E?
Feist and Nelly Furtado
G? [Green, Naomi—I forgot but was just reminded of my friend artist Leslie Green's daughter Naomi, a wonderful young Paris-based French/American singer/musician/songwriter who we all will be hearing more from in the coming years I can guarantee]
Hill, Lauryn and Caitlin Hotaling
Ivarsson, Maya
Jones, Norah
Keyes, Alicia
Lohan, Sinead (don’t like the over production on what I’ve heard of her recordings but…)
McKay, Nellie (the new Blossom Dearie in many ways)
Nash, Leigh
O’Connor, Sinead
Phair, Liz and Phranc
Quin, Tegan and Sara
Robin, Janet
Schutz, Rachel and Jill Scott
Tedeschi, Susan
Utter, Sarah
Vega, Suzzane
Williams, Lucinda
X?
Yasuda, Toko
Z?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

POETRY STATE FOREST; THE ROMANTIC DOGS; COMPLETE LINEUPS

Speaking of poetry, here’s three books of poems I’ve read recently that are worth noting. Two I received as Christmas gifts (thank you TPW) and one from the publisher.

In the 1970s and early ‘80s I was a book reviewer for The Washington Post and The Village Voice. I still often see quotes from reviews I wrote used as blurbs on the backs of books, most often just crediting the paper not my byline (an old custom that seems to imply that a newspaper can actually write by itself).

I always read the back cover of a book first (and the inside flaps if it’s a hardcover) before I begin reading from the first page to the last (compulsively, even reading the copyright page etc.). So I noticed immediately that Bernadette Mayer’s New Directions book, POETRY STATE FOREST, quoted me by name from a review written almost thirty years ago for the Washington Post: “One of the most original writers of her generation.”

I still believe that. And this latest collection only confirms that belief.



POETRY STATE FOREST is a mix of Mayer’s usual variety of approaches to making a poem, but is dominated by her original variations on the classical sonnet forms, written over the last decade, many in the waning years of the Bush Junior presidency and the growing despondency over the calamities his administration brought to the world that impacted most of our daily lives in ways large and small.

Mayer tracks the connection between that larger outer world and her daily life in ways that combines the youthfulness of her earliest experimental approaches to “the problem of the poem” and the wisdom of decades of attempting to resolve that problem, along with the limitations of health problems and other conditions of aging.

Not every poem is memorable or likely to impress everyone, but every poem is definitely original in a way only Mayer could make it. Here’s an example of one of the ways she recreates the sonnet form for her own purposes (notice the way each stanza introduces a different perspective and even different approach to what the poem seems to be going for and then it’s all resolved in a seemingly non sequitur ending couplet).

A SONNET THAT NEEDS A WEIGHT

6 blue jays 4 cardinals some chickadees
1 pileated woodpecker one lapsed catholic
In East Nassau on a Sunday

It’s snowed a heap
but not as much as in Shady
or even New York City

I’m wearing 4 silk shirts
& 1 cotton one, they made the sun
be nearer, the moon is fuller

We’re getting a helium balloon
for Max’s birthday but everything’s
either real or an illusion, what about

The Sunday paper?
Why is it so scary?

[Those last two lines are indented in the poem but that's just one more thing I can't seem to do on the template for these posts.]




Robert Bolano’s THE ROMANTIC DOGS (also from New Directions) is a collection of his poems that reads like his novels. The translator is Laura Healy, not Natasha Wimmer, who translated SAVAGE DETECTIVES and the more recent worldwide posthumous phenomenon, 2666. But the voice is still unmistakably Bolano’s.

Here is one of the shorter poems in the book that echoes concerns in both those novels, which were his most famous and successful books and have at their hearts a deep knowledge and love of poetry as well as the problems that love of poetry addresses and/or creates.

THE LOST DETECTIVES

Detectives lost in the dark city.
I heard their moans.
I heard their footsteps in the Teen Theater.
A voice coming on like an arrow.
Shadows of cafes and parks,
Adolescent hangouts.
Detectives who stare at
Their open palms,
Destiny stained by their own blood.
And you can’t even recall
Where the wound was,
The faces you once loved,
The woman who saved your life.




Back in 1972, poet Charles North published LINEUPS, his first book. I remember it distinctly, because it was distinct. Nothing like it had ever been done, as far as I knew.

Poets love lists. I believe it was the first form in poetry. The litany, the list of items or incantations or attributes, etc. Charles North had the bright and original idea of taking the batting line up on a baseball team, a ready made list, and substituting for the usual names of baseball players, other names taken from various categories of naming.

For instance in the first one, instead of the names of baseball players he substitutes the names of cities, so that San Francisco leads off in first place with the designation “ss” after it, indicating on defense it’s playing short stop (New York is last in the line up as “p” for pitcher).

The form immediately gets the reader thinking of how he might see a certain category as a baseball team batting line up, as in North’s second one from that first book: colors, where “Purple” bats fourth, or clean up, and plays center field (“cf”)—or body parts where “Breasts” bats third and plays first base (“1b”) and naturally “Head” pitches and bats ninth.

You don’t have to like baseball, or even know a lot about it to appreciate these “lineups” simply as poems, as litanies of various categories of a poet’s interest. There are lineups made of movie titles, or the titles of Wordsworth poems, or the names of classical composers or mystery writers, or one made up of small to extensive quotes from obscure to well known writers.

COMPLETE LINEUPS (Hanging Loose Press) contains the entire first book from 1972—and the line drawings that went with it by his wife the artist Paula North—as well as several follow ups written since then and up to the present, and with more art by Paula.

It’s one of those pocket size almost square books that is worth the purchase just for the uniqueness of it—let alone the art by Paula North, the introduction by William Corbett, the afterword by the poet himself.

I’ll leave you with his movie title lineup (I would have chosen mostly other titles and had On the Waterfront batting clean up):

A Day at the Races rf
The Maltese Falcon lf
Rules of the Game 3b
Children of Paradise cf
On the Waterfront 1b
The Lady Vanishes ss
The Bakers Wife 2b
Odd Man Out c
Masculine Feminine p

[I couldn't get the italics to work either, so just picture the movie titles in italics.]

Saturday, February 14, 2009

MAUREEN OWEN

Writing my personal obit for Blossom Dearie recently reminded me that I hadn't written a post in a while about someone whose work I find underrated and/or overlooked, which led me to think of others still alive who I wish were more widely appreciated, like the poet Maureen Owens.

I host a poetry workshop in the living room of my apartment a few times a year, and in the last session I turned the group onto her, one of my favorite poets, and one of my favorite books of hers—THE NO-TRAVELS JOURNAL.

It came out in the 1970s and reflects the sensibilities and circumstances of what we call "the ‘sixties" but was really the late 1960s and early ‘70s, but also transcends the specifics of that time and place through the exuberance of her responses to life’s challenges and rewards, and the strength and uniqueness of her voice and perspective.

That all sounds way too heavy for the way her work comes across. Which may have something to do with why she isn’t as well known or as officially honored in the poetry world(s), (any of the poetry worlds—academia, alternative, spoken word, etc.) as her work deserves.

She just may come across as too resilient and hopeful and full of life (as well as smart, realistic and technically terrific) for most critics and academics to take as seriously as her work deserves. Because it’s full of humor and humility and plainspoken brilliance in ways that don’t telegraph intellectual self-importance or structural “cleverness” or shout “I’m so deep, even I don’t know what I’m saying!” as a lot of contemporary poetry seems to (or else “I’m so precise in my observation of the boring details of the minutiae of life I can make it even more boring…” or “I’m so street (or ethnic or gender or sexually or etc. victimized) you have to take me seriously” etc.)

Her work simply presents the reality of an especially alert consciousness responding to the daily heartache and joy that makes up most lives. Here are two poems in the order they appear in THE NO-TRAVELS JOURNAL (a few pages apart) that will give you a feel for why I love this book. A young mother, a bohemian, poet—I would add “hippie” but the term has become too generic and pejorative to adequately summarize the original lifestyle, attempting to be as free of material constraints and social limitations as many of us were experimenting with back then—caught by the responsibilities of parenthood and limited by financial constraints writing a series of poetic entries in an imaginary travel journal about mostly imaginary travel [unfortunately I can't make these posts correspond to the architecture of many of the poems I write about in this blog, something that I bet is having an impact on how poets place words on the page these days as opposed to how it had been done for decades using typewriters, after that device changed how it had been done for centuries using pen and ink, so I will scan the poems and reproduce them before each poem so you can see how they break up, which effects the way you read them]:


Today is Saturday I get up & put on the earrings I made
from the ivory plating off the piano keys you gave me
on the coast the orange & grey diagonally striped neck
scarf K gave me the powerful sun & moon medallion from
Peru & the opaque sky-blue beads I strung into a headband
I look at myself in the mirror a long time then get dressed.
I wear the torn black velvet gown covering the tears with
the tiny silver bells from India that L bought me in
Oklahoma & the yellow tights. I wear M’s battered and
softened old brown boots Do I really embody all the faults
you keep telling me I have? I go to the park with the children
we run through the weak grass the bare brown mounds.
Is it expanded household life that causes me to long for
Europe, for the Caspian Sea?
O continent of Asia, I am sitting here
in the park on these sparkling boulders & only the economy
of the nation is keeping us apart!




even now in the provinces the truck drivers
are keeping their eyes out for me.
I could never make a mistake in Spain or Portugal
they would lean from their cabs right through town
there must be a road we could take together
along the Rio Guadiana The Olives! The
Iron the thousands of sheep bumping in our
dusty sunlight peace comes to me at such times
& Europe will never be complete without me anyway
I could run into you on a street in Malaga
and not make a fool of myself I’m sure of it!
How can the classic pose of centuries fail?
Everyone knows— even now as the demonstration
passes between the barricades construction workers
point at me That girl they say
That girl she should be in Spain!

Friday, February 13, 2009

SENATOR JUDD GREGG BACKS OUT

The lesson of Republican senator Gregg changing his mind about being Obama's Commerce Secretary is pretty clear to my mind. He knew what Obama's intentions were, what Obama's pragmatic policies would be, where Obama was coming from. Yet he still agreed to take the job.

Yesterday he changed his mind. At first he said it was because there were irreconcilable differences between Obama and him in terms of policy. But after it became known that he obviously knew all along what Obama's policy ideas were and had agreed that he could work with them, he came back with a different excuse, that he just didn't feel comfortable leaving the Senate (where his vote is crucial given the small margin the Democrats have which makes it possible for the Republicans to virtually block any bill they are united against).

I think what happened is, it became crystal clear that his fellow "conservative" (i.e. rightwing) Republicans weren't going to go for any "bipartisan" overtures, but instead were going to play the old Gingrich obstructivist game with Obama, no matter how far he bent over backwards to accommodate them and their demands (i.e. making tax cuts way too big a part of the stimulus bill and spending on the poor and education etc. way too small, and making those tax cuts a little less beneficial to working people and a little more so for corporations and the wealthy).

Gregg decided to do what they did: add to Obama's challenges. Maybe he doesn't wish the Obama administration ill, as others of his fellow Republicans have made clear they do (Rush's famous public statement that he wants Obama to fail, which means he wants the country and our democracy to fail since Obama was elected by us to carry out the policies he presented in the campaign and because the dire economic situation Bush Junior led us and the rest of the world into impacts the future of our country). But Gregg obviously also doesn't want the possibility of being replaced by a more moderate Republican (by the Democratic governor of his state) who might side with the only three Republicans who were willing to make a bipartisan compromise on the stimulus package.

The lesson for Obama seems clear to me. Don't try to play nice with rightwing Republicans (which currently means almost all Republicans in the House and Senate), because they don't play nice, and never have. They are out for power for themselves and the destruction of anyone or anything that would keep them from it. Hopefully their tactics are transparent enough to voters that in the midterm elections they'll lose even more seats and finally be the miniscule minority they deserve to be after what they've done to this country (i.e. during their turn in power that created most of the problems Obama faces).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVE

I don't trade stocks. I don't have any to trade, and it always seemed like gambling to me, something my father turned me off of when I was a boy (you'll have to read my next memoir to find out how, which is still in the works).

But I pay attention to "the market" (as the movie and TV business refers to itself egocentrically—maybe even egomaniacally—as "the business" as if there is no other, the brokers and economists and rightwing Republicans refer to the stock market as "the market" as if there is no other kind), and read what economists and politicians and CEOs and all the rest have to say about it (which is why I have no "economics" category for my posts, I put them under "politics" because that seems to be the basis for most economic news anyway).

And I have to admit, a good friend of mine who started a blog about daily stock trading—a woman with a law degree and experience in financial and stock trading businesses, but from a working-class background who had to learn all this on her own while working various kinds of blue collar as well as white collar jobs—has created a spot where I can get economic news and analysis that not only makes sense, but is plain spoken, practical, and clear. Maybe she should be the new treasury secretary.

Check here for a sample.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

ANOTHER LIST

After I wrote that last list of favorite short story writers, I realized I’d left off one of my most favorite, Dale Herd, who is also an old friend (I dug his writing before we met).

I usually don’t include living writers in my lists because of just that, the fear that I’ll leave off someone dear to me whose work I love but I just don’t think of at that moment.

But having gone ahead and done that, when I was trying to fall back asleep last night after some noise from the caterers across the alley coming back from a late job woke me (they seem to need to shout to one another louder the later it gets) I thought I might as well create another list (this time triplets, each with some things in common) of the actual short story collections I love the most, including a few written by people I know.

So here ‘tis (and I know I forgot some, so if you’re one, don’t think it was intentional):

James Joyce’s DUBLINERS
Sherwood Anderson’s WINESBURG, OHIO
Jean Toomer’s CANE

Jean Rhys’ THE COLLECTED SHORT STORIES
William Carlos Williams’ THE FARMERS’ DAUGHTERS
William Saroyan’s THE DARING YOUNG MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE

Samuel Beckett’s THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES
LeRoi Jones’ TALES
Hubert Selby Jr.’s SONG OF THE SILENT SNOW AND OTHER STORIES

Dale Herd’s EARLY MORNING WIND
Merill Gilfillan’s GRASSHOPPER FALLS
Andrea Lee’s INTERESTING WOMEN
[I couldn't remember the next morning what the third book for this last triplet was, which is why I usually do alphabet lists because they're easier to remember, and then my friend Ray reminded me of Terence Winch's CONTENDERS which I had on the recent short story writers list, and I remembered that was it. It would have come between EARLY MORNING WIND and GRASSHOPPER FALLS if I had remembered.]

[I noticed after I made this that the stories in these collections cover a time span from the turn of the 20th Century to nearly the present, so that in its own way this list would make a terrific syllabus for a history class, history as told from the perspective of all kinds of people in ordinary and extraordinary circumstances, but all outside the centers and positions of political and economic power. In other words, the kind of history you rarely get in actual history classes, the kind of true history that maybe only works of art can truly capture and express, and in ways that make the history not only more real, but a personal experience for those who read them, so that I feel like I was present for the stories told in these books, as they occurred, even if long before I was born, or far from where I ever lived.]

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

THE BEST AND BRIGHTEST

President Obama’s primetime press conference last night was the most impressive I’ve seen since JFK, and maybe more impressive even than his.

The contrast between Obama and his predecessor was obvious, but no less impressive was the contrast between him and all his predecessors in my lifetime.

Not only did he answer each question thoughtfully, fully, and with more detail than Bill Clinton’s impressive but wonky intellect led him to express, but he remembered the various aspects of the questions, the nuances and implications and addressed them as well.

And just to point out the obvious media bias, the response on NBC, the mainstream TV news that, at least under Peter Jennings became the most balanced from my perspective, was immediately critical.

They couldn’t criticize Obama’s intellect or impressive rhetorical skills, or equally impressive memory and energy (after all, he’d flown to Indiana earlier in the day, given a major speech there and taken questions, and that after security and economic briefings and meetings with staff and cabinet members, etc. etc. etc.), so they said it was great but “a week too late”—meaning the damage done by the rightwing Republicans in controlling the media message about the stimulus package had been growing in the past week and Obama’s strong defense of it and explanation of why it’s necessary and why their criticisms are wrong, should have been out there for a week.

Hello!? They have been out there, Obama has been saying these things, and so have others in his administration and Democrats in general, but the media have mostly ignored or dismissed them to give the spotlight to rightwing Republican critics.

The point seems to be that unless Obama addresses the media himself, and directly, and in primetime on national TV, they can’t hear him (although when he tried that by giving interviews—last week by the way—to the major TV news anchors, emphasizing exactly the same points he did last night, the media focused on only one response to one question, the one about Tom Daschle’s tax issue, to which Obama admitted he’d “screwed up” and that became the headline and the sound bite and the focus of the TV news stories about the interviews).

Notice how when Bush Junior, the biggest screw up in USA presidential history held a rare news conference, the media not only didn’t immediately criticize his obvious lack of the kind of intelligence that can speak clearly or coherently, or remember two questions asked of him only minutes or seconds before (“What was that other question you asked?”) let alone his avoidance of reality, denying facts and ignoring basic human truths (gee, he can’t think of any mistake he might have ever made, etc.). Nope, they’d talk about what he said, not how he was saying it too late, or incorrectly, or was false or etc.

So Obama not only has the challenge of inheriting from Bush Junior the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, two wars, the largest deficit in USA history, and the myriad problems that Junior created in his eight years, but he has to contend with a weak minded weak willed and easily misled media. Thank God he’s up to the task.

[and for the rightwing critics on this blog and elsewhere, here's a good post on rj eskow's blog to check out]

Monday, February 9, 2009

ANOTHER GREAT WEEKEND

…up in the Berkshires. A little reunion of sorts on Friday night and Saturday morning. Three friends I’ve had for, in the case of two of them, over half my life, and the third almost half—an actress known mostly for her movies, who has always been involved in lots of creative endeavors including writing; a photographer, who has become known also for his poetry; and an actor (also know for his movies) who's written a novel and has a small book of poems due out soon.

We hadn’t all been together in decades. It was such a restorative experience, catching up and sharing with people whose histories we not only know but share, and whose struggles, some shared some not, and lifetimes of dreams and disappointments and private achievements, and creative goals and continuing commitment to them we each know so well and understand deeply and accept completely.

It was a gas, as they used to say.

Then Saturday night my oldest child, my daughter, sang in a little cabaret venue (set up in a beautiful old building) in the small country town where she lives. Two of my old friends joined me along with my youngest son and grandson for that (the third old friend had to return home to read through a novel manuscript one last time before the deadline for submission).

I’ve heard my daughter sing in recent years with the Berkshire Bach society’s chorus, or in her church choir, but she hasn’t sung outside those situations, in a club setting, in half her lifetime.

It was an almost last minute guest shot as a back up singer on several songs for a popular local band that specializes in reinterpreting obscure and well known rock and folk and blue grass numbers, as well as originals written by members of the band.

The first time they invited her to the stage to join them on back ups, her high, pure, perfectly pitched voice transformed the band’s music in an instant into something much richer, much fuller, and much more beautiful.

And then, for the last song of the evening, she soloed on “May the Circle be Unbroken.” Right from the start, when the lyric makes clear the singer is singing about their mother’s death—my daughter’s mother’s death was clearly on her mind, as it was mine and anyone who knew her I’m sure.

It was so perfectly realized—the emotion, the simplicity and clarity of her voice projecting it in such crystal like tones—that I was moved to tears.

But more than that, watching her throughout the evening, so comfortable on stage, singing and swaying to the music, smiling like a child who has found their joy in life, glowing with the satisfaction of doing something you are good at and love to do, it filled my heart to overflowing.

And to top it off, my grandson and youngest son, who are only eight months apart in age, and who earlier at dinner with my old friends had finished before us, asked to be excused, and then gone to sit by the roaring fire in the restaurant’s fireplace to take out two small journals I bought them earlier in the local art store (at their request) and each wrote a poem to the fire and read them to me in the car on the way to see their aunt and big sister sing.

And afterwards, they were so inspired they insisted we go back to my older boy’s and daughter-in-law’s home and set up the drums and amps and guitars and electric piano so that the three of us could jam for a while. Which we did. Me playing for the first time Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” since it was in my mind from the gig where the band had done their version.

My version was much jazzier, and the boys trading off on guitar and drums added a punk element. It was so fulfilling, I thought my heart would burst with overflowing gratitude for having lived to experience it, the whole weekend in fact.

And as we all know from personal experience, a heart overflowing with gratitude is a very happy heart.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

BLOSSOM DEARIE R.I.P.

With her cartoon name, little girl voice—even in middle age, even in old age—doll-like size and porcelain white skin, and taste for songs with humorous lyrics, Blossom Dearie was too often dismissed or overlooked or merely appreciated, but not nearly as much as her amazing talent deserved.

She was known as a cabaret artist by many, one of the tribe whose most successful representative for decades was Bobby Short, another piano playing singer of old style songs with well written lyrics. But for my taste, Short wasn't all that great. He was famous, at least to many, partly because of his tenure at Manhattan's Carlyle where Woody Allen often saw him and used him in his movies (his music and even an on camera performance).

But as a piano player I thought he was just okay, and not very original at all. As a singer, I just didn't dig his voice or the one dimensional way he interpreted the songs he chose.

But Blossom Dearie. I'm only sorry I didn't go see her every time she was playing anywhere near where I was. Her piano playing was often overlooked or underrated, even by people who should have known better. It was sometimes described as "jazz-tinged"—no, it was jazz piano, period, just extremely subtle in the ways her enormous technical virtuosity was displayed. It was there to compliment the voice and the voice was there to interpret the lyrics.

Yes she often chose songs that made her audiences laugh out loud at the stories the songs told, but more often it was her interpretations that were always so insightful and clever that you got even more meaning than the lyricist might even have intended. (Listen to her live version of "Always True to You Darling in My Fashion").

Back when I was actually making part of my living playing a little jazz piano (very little, rim shot), I knew many musicians who dismissed her talent as not that great at best and too cartoonish at worst. But as someone referred to it more recently (Jonathan Schwartz?) it was "deliciously eccentric"—which is exactly correct. She was an original. And I suspect had she not been white, or female, or diminutive, or had a deeper voice, or a more serious handle, she'd have been recognized as a premier jazz innovator, or at least a pioneer female jazz interpreter.

I think I'll try and see if I can find any video of a live performance on youTube. If I do, try to surrender the prejudices her appearance and style might initially create and listen to the keyboard phrasing as well as the vocal phrasing and interpretation and see if you don't think to yourself, this woman is a unique treasure in the history of "American" music—in particular "jazz"—and more people should have known about her.

Maybe they will.

[I couldn't find the few that I was looking for, like the one mentioned above, but here's a tune she was closely identified with: "I'm Hip" (but remember she's playing the piano as well as singing, and it's from the mid'60s (the version I first heard mentioned Sammy Davis not Bobby Darren) and it's not the best example of her suggestive interpretive skills since it's such an obvious lyric, but even so, listen closely and you'll be rewarded on several phrases, more than the lyrics might suggest)]

JUST SO WE'RE CLEAR

So let me get this straight. Over the past eight years, if the Democrats didn't go along with legislation that Bush Junior and his administration and Republican rightwing allies were pushing with no room for or willingness to make any compromises, the Dems were not only "playing politics as usual" and obstructing a "bipartisan effort" but actually nothing less than "traitors."

And that was the response even when a good portion of Democrats in Congress went along with much of the Bush Junior legislation, for fear of being tarred with the "traitor" brush.

Now, President Obama and his administration and Democratic Party allies (not the left though, who wanted more than Obama has pushed for) actually make a whole heap of compromises (like cutting the Hollywood spending which would have actually not only kept but created jobs in the industry that right now is the biggest exporter of "American" goods in the country, the entertainment biz) that most in the Democratic Party think went too far, bending over backwards to accommodate Republican objections.

But despite Obama's and the Democratic Party's compromises, the Republicans almost to a person refuse to take part in any bipartisan effort and instead vote against it en masse in the Congress and almost totally in the Senate (which if they hadn't lost a couple of members to the bill they could have blocked from ever getting passed) and instead of them now being the ones "playing politics" and actually, unlike the Bush Junior bills, jeopardizing the welfare and security of our country by voting against measures that could help save it from economic catastrophe the size and scope of which we've never seen before, they, the Repubs, want to call the Dems for not being "bipartisan"!

The "logic" the righwing uses in this country is a direct rip off of the "Big Brother" logic of the old Soviet system first perfected by the Nazis. What you just saw and experienced with your own eyes and the rest of your senses is nothing but lies and what we (the rightwing) tell you is the truth even if it contradicts reality is the only truth.

Just so we're clear.

Friday, February 6, 2009

LAST YEAR'S NOBEL ECONOMIST SAYS:

I know that rightwing Republicans and their supporters have got the media genuflecting again to anything they make the message of the day, and too many of our fellow citizens are falling for it (just read the comments on this obscure little blog for how widespread this is).

But what does the economic expert who won the Nobel prize in Economics last year think about what's going on?

Read this and see.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

NOW THEY'RE RIGHTEOUS

The way the Republicans are reacting to the stimulus bill and Obama and the Democratic Party's election success, is like a man who kidnaps a woman, sexually and physically abuses her, spies on her relatives and tortures those he suspects of wanting to steal her from him to abuse her themselves, and then when someone finally comes along to rescue her (by now you get that "she" is the USA) and takes her from him (the Republicans) and lays out a plan to get her the care she needs to get better, including rehabilitating her health—physical, mental and emotional—getting her an education so she can be independent, getting her off the drugs the man had her on to keep her subdued and willing to accept his abuse, etc. etc. that's when the man who did all the abuse (Republicans) criticizes the rescuer for including in his plan some new clothes and shoes and a couple of pieces of jewelry for the poor abused victim.

Or another less harsh version of this perspective can be found here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

BIG LOVE

I'm glad it's back.

I'm still hooked.

Some of the best acting on TV.

(Full disclosure, I knew some of the actors in my years in Hollywood. But even if I didn't—still some of the best acting on television, or anywhere else for that matter. And the writing isn't bad either.)

HELLO?

If you've been following the thread on my post about Obama's cabinet resignations over tax problems,check out this and this on today's Huffington Post.

ANOTHER LIST

I started thinking about Updike and how I said in my recent post it’s his short stories that work best for me, when I was trying to get back to sleep last night after something woke me up. That started me thinking about writers whose short stories I have loved (in a few cases, like Updike’s, more than their other writing, e.g. Hemingway). I had trouble with some letters, maybe you can prod my memory:

ANDERSON, SHERWOOD
BECKETT, SAMUEL, JORGE LUIS BORGES and DONALD BARTHELME
CHEKHOV, ANTON and KATE CHOPIN
D?
E?
FITZGERALD, F. SCOTT
GELLHORN, MARTHA, WILLIAM H. GASS, RICHARD GRAYSON and MERRILL GILFILLAN (see GRASSHOPPER FALLS)
HAWTHRONE, NATHANIEL and ERNEST HEMINGWAY [can't believe I left off DALE HERD, one of my all time most favorite short story writers!]
I?
JAMES, HENRY, JAMES JOYCE, SARAH ORNE JEWETT and LEROI JONES (his TALES, written before he changed his name to AMIRA BARAKA, was one of my favorite books back in the ‘60s and still is, more like prose poems than stories)
KAFKA, FRANZ and JACK KEROUAC
LEE, ANDREA (see INTERESTING WOMEN)
MAUPASSANT, GUY DE
NABOKOV, VLADMIR
O’CONNOR, FRANK and FLANNERY O’CONNOR
POWERS, MAGDALEN
Q?
RILKE, RAINER MARIA (his STORIES OF GOD) and JEAN RHYS
SAROYAN, WILLIAM and HUBERT SELBY JR.
TURGENEV, IVAN and JEAN TOOMER
UPDIKE, JOHN
VONNEGUT, KURT
WILLIAMS, WILLIAM CARLOS and TERENCE WINCH (check out CONTENDERS)
X?
Y?
Z?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

THREE STRIKES YOU'RE OUT

Okay, so an Obama appointee has had to withdraw after she too had tax problems (she didn't pay employee taxes for a cleaning woman I think it was). Same thing that occurred in the early days of the Clinton administration.

It's the old double standard we have in this country for Democrats and Republicans. The press didn't seem to bother too much with the vetting of Bush Junior's appointees, which is why his administration had more members who had arrest records than any in the history of the country. But you know that "liberal" press, always picking on the rightwing Republicans (as in how many can we get onto our news shows to repeat the rightwing talking point of the day). So, hiring felons, A-okay if it's Bush Junior doing the hiring (or basing your hiring on whether you are a fundementalist Christian etc.). But hiring someone who messed up on their taxes (have you ever done that? hired someone to clean your house and not filed income taxes on them, or missed including a freebie you got from someone you work for, or had someone else do your taxes and they messed up?), if it's a Democrat doing the hiring: uh-oh.

But a lot of this is on the Obama team for not handling their own press better. I'm not sure about this guy Gibbs, and Emmanuel so far isn't as slick as Rove was with the party discipline on the daily party line, though that may be impossible given that the Democratic Party actually allows for differing opinions in its ranks (I know Jim, the Republican Party does too, as long as you genuflect to Rush and repeat the daily line verbatim etc.).

[I wrote the above before Daschle withdrew. And now a man who was beautifully qualified to really make some difference on the whole issue of health care has been forced out by Republican opposition and the media play-along with his rightwing critics. Even Trent Lott just now on MSNBC (a conservative Republican who was forced to fall on his sword for the Bush Junior gang), a very partisan player in his Senate years, said it's gotten to the point where it's no longer about defeating your opponent or even opposing them, but destroying them, he called Daschle's withdrawal "another pelt to hang on the pole" of rightwing Republican vindictiveness. As for the party line Jim, I don't even have to consult the news anymore to find out what it is, I just read your comments, which, like today's, ironically gave the party line while saying you didn't even know what it is!]

Monday, February 2, 2009

SIGNS OF THE TIMES

Back from a funeral and gathering afterward where I saw many old friends and wish I’d had more time to talk to each and every one. Lots of poets and artists and a few generations of them. And lots of extended family of the deceased, some I had met before but most newly met, warm and gracious folks all.

Most memorable line of the day (besides the elegies—Emil reading four lines of Ted Berrigan’s poem THINGS TO DO AROUND PROVIDENCE written decades ago:

“The heart stops briefly when someone dies,
a quick pain as you hear the news, & someone passes
from your outside life to inside. Slowly the heart adjusts
to its new weight, & slowly everything continues, sanely.”

and Ron Padgett reading riffs he wrote taking off on a couple of Dante’s sonnets, which were about as beautiful in many ways as a poem can get, but I don’t have them to quote so you’ll have to take my word for it, and George’s nephew spontaneously sharing about George’s hands and how they made things and how his, the nephew’s hands reminded him of his father’s and George’s hands and the things they have made—again, I can’t remember exactly but heartfelt and necessary) but, after that, the most memorable line was the ending of the sermon from the new pastor of the German immigrant built CHURCH OF THE HOLY REDEEMER on the lower Eastside (a church built in 1850, so, as Bob Holman pointed out, could be the one Whitman refers to downtown, since it would have dominated the area back then when most buildings were no more than two stories), Father MacDonald, after talking about the reading from the Gospel on the parable about the day of judgement when the righteous are rewarded because, as Jesus says, they fed him when he was hungry and clothed him when he was naked etc. and when they protest that they never encountered Jesus in their lives, he tells them that “what you did for the least of these, you did for me” etc. and Father MacDonald says it’s all about being kind, which is, he says, “why we’re here, apparently!”

The way he ended the sermon with that “apparently" in a real New York accent, simple and to the point and almost thrown away, was almost stunning.

After the reception, in the taxi I had to grab to make it to my train back to Jersey on time, the cabbie told me he has to work two extra hours every day to make what he used to make and pointed out all the empty cabs around us as we raced up Sixth Avenue in late afternoon when, he said, people would usually be fighting for taxis. Now, he says, it’s the cabbies fighting for customers.

Most artists and poets I know have lived a lot of their lives either in poverty or close to it, so these hard economic times are no surprise to most of us. But for others, it's getting rough out there. In my little community, there are numerous people I know who are facing immediate foreclosure on homes worth much less than their mortgages.

There are rumors of attempted suicides and marriages heading for separations and divorce over financial stress, people who thought they had solid investments for their kids and for their own old age, now forced to face moves to an unknown future much less economically secure, if at all.

I see it in Penn Station where the homeless have increased in just the past few weeks, in the empty stores in our little town, and the lowering real estate prices even in many Manhattan neighborhoods.

But life still goes on. Many great things came out of the Depression, not just art and writing and movies and music and plays and musicals, but individuals finding strength they didn’t know they had and families forging bonds much stronger than in good times.

Even the 1970s, when New York was broke and broken in many ways, so much vital creative energy and production was generated by that hard decade in the city. I was happy and am still grateful to have been a part of it.

From all the signs, things look like they will get tougher before they get better, so what better time to show signs of what that solid simple man of the cloth reminded those at the service today life is all about, “being kind, apparently.”