Thursday, December 30, 2010

TRUE GRIT (2010 VERSION)


I read that the reason the Coen brothers chose to do a remake of TRUE GRIT, the only John Wanye movie he ever won an Oscar for, was because they loved the Charles Porter [woops: Porter, oy, PORTIS! there, finally got it] novel it was based on so much and wanted to be truer to it than the first movie adaptation had been.

But watching this new version, it seemed to me that with the exception of a few scenes and lines of dialogue, the new TRUE GRIT isn't that much different from the first one, except for the acting, and that, for my taste, makes it worthwhile seeing.

Matt Damon proves himself once more to be one of the most versatile movie stars of our times and gives us such a different and more comic Texas ranger from Glenn Campbell in the original, for my taste that alone is worth the price of admission.

And Jeff Bridges, despite his duplicating Wayne's "Rooster Cogburn" almost beat for beat, still surpasses the original in so many ways his performance too makes watching this flick worthwhile. But I can watch anything Bridges or Damon do, their acting is so original and so good.

Hailee Steinfeld is a revelation as the girl, but then so was Kim Darby in the 1969 version. And all the supporting actors are terrific as well, including Josh Brolin, who excels in a smaller role than his recent film success would warrant, but working with the Coen brothers I guess made it worth his while, and ours.

I'm surprised none of them garnered any Golden Globe awards for this flick and will be more surprised if none of them get any Oscar nominations (Bridges and Steinfeld were both nominated for 2011 SAG Awards for their work in this TRUE GRIT).

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

BELL ENGINE

"Bell Engine" is the band my older son, Miles, plays in up in "The 'Shire" (The Berkshires).

I've written about hearing them live and how exciting and satisfying that experience can be. But I just found out they're on My Sapce, so you can check out their music yourself.

I suggest you sample several of their songs, because their range musically is wide. There's tunes that feature  the lovely Lisa Anderson's lead vocals that are sheer beauty, and others that feature John Clarke's lead vocals and acoustic guitar work (and most of their songs are his creations) that is so uniquely his, the first time I heard them it felt like discovering buried treasure.

And their duets take the sound in yet an entirely different direction to my ear. The sound quality isn't the same as hearing them live, obviously, but you can get a taste of all of the above, as well as my son's funky bass lines and riffs, the electric guitarist Dan Karp's often subtly flaming solos, and all backed by the solid drumming of Sam Earnshaw

Check them out, and if you're anywhere near Hudson New York on January 10th, go see them live at Club Helsinki and I guarantee you'll enjoy yourself, maybe even as much as they always seem to (though the photo below obviously doesn't capture that creative joy entirely!).


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS


What a missed opportunity.

This film is based on a true story, and a pretty interesting one, about a con man who has some success impersonating people he isn't. A lesser version of the real characters played by Tony Curtis in THE GREAT IMPOSTOR and Leonardo DiCaprio in CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.

This guy didn't have as long a career or as successful a one as the con men portrayed in those movies. He ended up in jail sooner, where he fell in love, the main theme of the film's story.

The problem is the director/writers, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (who based their script on a book by Steve McVicker) decided to present this as a lighthearted comedy of errors and cast Jim Carrey in the lead. No matter how hard he tries, he can't resist going for the broad gesture when the more subtle one would make it so more real.

Ewan McGregor does his best to play the love interest, but the script makes his attempts to bring some realism to the flick seem futile. Because the writing, the directing, and Carrey and Leslie Mann, who plays his wife, keep going for the comic, turning what could have been an intriguing take on an unusual character and the absurd lengths he'll go to for "love" (it needs the quotes because despite McGregor's attempts and even Carrey's, the filmmakers present the case for slapstick sex show over any deeper connection the story seems to want us to buy) into a film so frivolous even the scenes where they all seem to be trying to pull at our heart strings read incredibly cynically and phony.

(The one exception among the actors who pulls off the difficult task of coming across as real—despite the directors/writers sabotaging of everyone else's attempts—is Rodrigo Santos as an earlier lover of Carrey's character. He ought to get an award for transcending the script's and the film's problems and creating a character we can understand, accept as real, and even have some understanding of if not sympathy for.)

Ficarra and Requa are best known for BAD SANTA and CATS AND DOGS, which may explain why they messed up what could have been a really unique and deeply effective movie about the extremes people will go to. But instead is presented as some sort of sardonic lark we're obviously not supposed to take seriously except when we are. It doesn't work, and may explain why the film was made in 2009 and hasn't been released yet, or only briefly.

What a waste of time and talent, despite the moments that work, which only reinforce the disappointment in the so many more that don't.

Monday, December 27, 2010

NO WAY TO DESCRIBE IT (AT LEAST BY ME)

Winter wonderland here in my part of New Jersey. They say it's about thirty inches of snow, but shoveling the walk (it was taking too long so I hired some passing guys to finish it) in front of the house my apartment's in, it was over three feet there. And a lot of drifting to four feet or more.

I don't own a camera and haven't for most of my life. I love the photos of others and they often capture a lot in nature and city life I dig (see EAST OF WEST L.A. or KINDSIGHT or MY EYE AND I et. al.) but I never could.

My feeling, as I was saying to my friend Jamie today when she called from Malibu to check up on the weather here and its impact, that taking a photo of the way the world turned perfectly purely white overnight and trees and cars and walls and other objects became surreal swirls of shapes blown into unique forms by the wind gusts (some of which were over fifty miles per), trying to capture that in a photo would be like getting a photo of an art installation instead of walking into the gallery or museum and being immersed in the artist's vision of a total environment and not just a single object, etc.

I'm on my way out with my older son to catch my grandson and young son snowboarding on the hill in our local park before it gets dark. I couldn't be happier. To experience these seasonal pleasures is one of the reasons I moved back to Jersey from L.A. Another thing to be grateful for.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

THE HUMANITIES CONTINUE TO SUFFER AND IT AIN'T NO COINCIDENCE

I can't remember if I wrote a post about this before. I've certainly been talking about it quite a bit with others around the country and the world. That is: the elimination of many arts and humanities programs and departments in way too many universities and colleges.

I first heard about it being language departments. How French, Italian, Russian, even Spanish and other university departments have been shut down to save money, and the excuse given is students aren't as interested in them anymore, or that they aren't "practical" etc.

 This is an extension of (I wrote a version of this in a response to a comment on a recent post) what I saw begin in the 1960s when Nixon got elected. His then vice president, Spiro Agnew, gave a speech at the University of Iowa that I went to just to see what these propagators of some of the worst attacks against anyone who questioned their mostly rightwing agenda had in mind for their next targets.

It became apparent only a few lines into his speech that it was education, as I understood it and had experienced it to that point. It was couched in the usual Nixon era rightwing resentment-based prejudices against anything connected to Ivy League and East Coast educational "elitism" etc. Which were really code words for liberal Democrats and those who would push a  humanist agenda that sought to broaden the human rights of all people, not just the so-called "Silent Majority"—or as they're known today by Palinites "Real Americans" (i.e. white people who don't argue with the takeover of our country by the wealthy and the corporations that create their wealth).

Back then the right was only interested in diminishing the stature and cache of Harvard (e. al.) educated liberals like the late JFK and his brother Bobby, and the economists and politicians and intellectuals etc. who espoused liberal ideals.

By Reagan's rightwing takeover (and makeover) the attack wasn't just on liberal institutions of higher learning and those that supported them or benefited from them in terms of education etc., but any institutions of higher learning or intellectual rigor that espsoused liberal ideals, like equal rights not just for African-Americans, but for women and gays etc.

And not just that, but even the elementary and high school level institutions that were public, because they tended to teach liberal ideals and even personify them, as they had at least since the Depression and WWII and beyond.

The whole "voucher" idea seemed intended to plant the seed of discontent about the whole idea of public elementary and high school (is it an accident that whole "voucher" argument came into prominence on the rightwing Republican scene after busing to enhance racial integration became a hot button issue for "The Silent Majority" (i.e. white people who... (see above)).

And now "teaching to the test" that came out of Bush Jr.s education policy, which emphasizes math and science and quantifiable "language arts" standards to the exclusion of the old humanities and creative arts agenda (most music classes have been eliminated, for instance, even though it has been shown that those who take music lessons do better in the hard sciences than those who don't etc.).

Which led to many students today having little or no exposure to the arts, to the classics, to languages, etc. so naturally by the time they get to the college level they don't have an interest in those areas. It is clear to me at least, that by Bush/Cheney, the right had moved toward making the case for eliminating the liberal arts and the humanities for the most part from colleges and universities with budgetary and/or so-called "real world" concerns about the future of "American education" and its "ability to compete in the world" etc.

Interesting that just as these things are being eliminated in so many schools in the USA, China is moving to incorporate them, realizing that their old system of teaching just the "practical" curriculum made for great scientists and engineers etc. who could follow orders, but not great thinkers and innovators and creative geniuses who could create new industries and solve seemingly irresolvable dilemmas.

Here's a terrific response to one instance of these changes that according to my friends in academia are occurring pretty much everywhere in our country now. Thanks to Tom Raworth's blog NOTES for the link. And please, read this article to the end to get the full impact of his argument and the potential damage he is addressing.

HOPE YOU HAD YOURSELVES A MERRY LITTLE HOLIDAY SEASON AND CONTINUE TO UNTIL WE OPEN THE DOOR ON ANOTHER NEW YEAR

Wonderful couple of days with family and friends, and more to come.

Last year I was still working on recovering from the brain surgery, and though grateful to be alive and functioning, this year feels even more full of reasons to be grateful.

Every night with my youngest, I count our blessings, or as many as I can think of before it feels right to say goodnight. One I'm thinking of tonight, that I didn't mention in our nightly ritual, is my gratitude for this space to express my thoughts and opinions, enthusiasms and objections, and all those who drop by here to  allow me to share them with more than the multitudes I contain (as Whitman said he did and I identified with immediately, even as a boy).

Thanks.

Friday, December 24, 2010

"HOLIDAY HELL"

I wrote this poem in the 1980s, and it was published in the collection CANT BE WRONG from Coffee House Press (which won the 1997 Oakland PEN Josephine Miles Award for "Excellence in Literature"!).

The Google version of that book, stops at the poem right before it, so the only way I could figure out to copy it was to scan the pages and crop them to hopefully make them big enough to read when you click on the images here. I'm sure there's an easier better way, but my brain isn't helping me on this one.



Thursday, December 23, 2010

TERENCE WINCH'S CHRISTMAS CLASSIC

On recent nights I've read my youngest Dylan Thomas's A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES and Jack Kerouac's HOME AT CHRISTMAS. Two of the best evocations of so much of what Christmas was like when I was young.

Tonight I plan on reading him Terence Winch's poem "Celebration"—which is the closest anyone else has come to my Christmas memories (the closest is my own Christmas poem "Holiday Hell" from my book CANT BE WRONG).

And "as luck would have it" Terence just posted his classic Christmas poem (from his recent book BOY DRINKERS) on the Best American Poetry blog. Here's the link to that. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

PRETTY AMAZING DAY IN DC

I have to tip my hat to my great old friend known as "Alameda Tom" in his comments on this blog. His posts on his own blog have been defending Obama's intentions and accomplishments even in those moments when most leftists, let alone even centrist Democrats, were seemingly giving up on the president.

But today, it's impossible for even the easily-manipulated-by-the-right mass media to ignore, with the passing of a bill to help the 9/11 responders (and Jon Stewart's deft exposure of rightwing Republicans' hypocrisy on this not only influenced the outcome but is ripe for more parody since the same rightwingers who opposed the bill are now claiming they supported it all along!) and the new START treaty, that Republicans said they would not support, and most importantly from the milestone perspective, the ending of the ban on openly gay and lesbian men and women serving in the military.

Watching the president's speech before signing the legislature that ended the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy I was moved to tears as I had been when Obama first came on the scene and during his campaign a few times and when he won the presidency. His passion came across as not only genuine but personally motivated. Something that had been missing too often in the past year it seemed to me.

Not only was it a great day, but it caps a pretty amazing first two years in office, where more legislation got passed that will help more people than has happened possibly since FDR and certainly since LBJ and his few years that brought us Civil Rights legislation like the Voting Rights Bill and Medicare.

There were compromises made, but in the end, a lot of good things have happened under Obama, many of them things he had promised to accomplish. So let's give credit where credit is due and acknowledge that in fact he has brought about some major and fundamental changes in two short years, and that the "hopey changey thing" is working out just fine, if you're a taxpayer, need healthcare, worked for GM, invested in the stock market, were a 9/11 first responder, are gay or lesbian and want to serve your country in the military, believe that we need to get nuclear inspectors into Russia's nuclear facilities, wanted to see U.S. military engagement mostly eliminated from Iraq and troops drawn down, and more I can think of off the top of my head but I'm sure there's lists on other sites.

All in all an amazing record and especially today. Thank you Mister President.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

ONCE IN AN AMBER MOON (AND QUOTE TO GO WITH IT)

Did anyone else get up to watch the eclipse of the moon, occurring on the winter solstice for the first time since 1638(!) and not again until 2094?

My little guy and I did, and his mother came over from her place in the freezing night to watch it together, standing on our front lawn, replacing the neighbor from the apartment upstairs who had been out there a while, other neighbors from an apartment next door—above what used to be a restaurant/catering place that moved and has been vacant for a while—looking out their window (my apartment was on the wrong side of the house it's in).

Tired this morning but worth it, like an art show for millions, a performance piece for the centuries, this mottled disc of varying shades of Autumn colors I have no vocabulary for, with radiant edges displacing each other as the progress of the earth between the sun and moon riffed on what seemed in the moment the inspiration for all art and culture and probably religions, the natural beauty of the familiar made unique.

Made me think of several lines of poetry, but I settled on the succinctness of this quote from Jim Moore's poem "In Romania":

"...the least one can do is look up
and watch as beauty treads its usual path."

("usual" in universe time...)

Monday, December 20, 2010

THE FIGHTER



You can probably tell, it's awards season for the movies, and as usual I'm receiving some DVDs in the mail for my "consideration" as a voting member of a few film guilds. Not as many as usual though, which I'm not sure is a result of the weak economy or the fact that actually fewer movies were made last year than in recent years.

I already have some favorites that came out earlier in the year, and will maybe get up enough discipline to make a list of my 2010 favorites, after I get through all the discs I've been sent.

The most recent I watched was THE FIGHTER, a film that's getting mixed responses. It's on some critics top ten lists, or runners up to the top ten, and missing from others. But most critics are at least raving about the acting. And they're right to.

As you may already know, this is based on a true story, about two boxing brothers, or half brothers I should say, from Lowell, Mass. (where Jack Kerouac came from and wrote uniquely about) before it began getting gentrified (to the extent it has).

Mark Wahlberg plays what you would assume is the title role, except that almost every character in the movie is in one way or another a "fighter"—and as almost always with Wahlberg, he gives a solid performance. Since it's the kind of background he knows firsthand, it could have been a grandstanding self-promoting performance, hitting all the "realistic" beats on the nose, but, in execution, it's one of his more restrained portrayals, which in the end makes it even more powerful.

But there are so many scene-stealing performances in this film, Wahlberg's almost gets lost. Christian Bale has been getting most of the attention, and deserves it. Watch his performance as Dickie Ekland— "The Pride of Lowell"—and then compare it to the real Ekland, who has a cameo in the end credits, or check him out on YouTube boxing, especially the clip of his famous bout with Sugar Ray Leonard.

Bale becomes the man. He lost weight for the role, not anywhere near as distracting as I found DiNiro's weight gain for RAGING BULL (a transformation seen as revolutionary at the time, and now seems commonplace for many actors). In fact, Bale so embodies Dickie Ekland's physical mannerisms and loosey-goosey boxing style and physical persona, it's almost magical.

I found some of the "crack addict" bits not as accurate as those in the know tell me it could have been, but Bale's performance is so good it's hard for me to believe that any other actor this year can beat him in the Best Supporting Actor category.

But his isn't the only best supporting role, Melissa Leo as Bale's and Wahlberg's characters' mother "Alice" is a revelation. It's hard to even recognize her in the role. Being very familiar with tough working-class ladies of her kind, she nails it. As does Amy Adams in the role of Wahberg's character's girlfriend. I don't find Adams always appealing, but there's no denying her acting chops, and they're on full display in THE FIGHTER.

There are a lot more great performances in this flick, including the familiar Jack McGee as "Alice's" husband. But the performance that struck me as closest to the kind of Irish-Americans I grew up around was an actor I didn't know, Mickey O'Keefe, because he's not an actor, but a Lowell cop who trained "Irish" Mickey Ward (Wahlberg's character) in real life.

He's older than he was when the real training was going on, and he's shorter and seemingly milder than most of the men in my clan, but his presence and the solidity of his performance reminded me of many of my relatives, and I was delighted to discover he's the real deal. There's a scene in an eatery where he asks his fellow diners "What are you all looking at?" that is played so perfectly, every actor who ever plays a cop in the future should study it. It's understated, and yet totally grounded in the real power of knowing who you are and what you can do with that.

The director, David O. Russell, deserves credit obviously since there isn't a false acting beat in the entire film, for me. Check it out when you get the chance.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

JON STEWART ( AND FOUR 9/11 FIRST RESPONDERS) NAILS REPUBLICAN HYPOCRISY

See it here (and please watch both to get the full impact).

[And check out this coda to the 9/11 first responder situation from Michael Moore.]

Saturday, December 18, 2010

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART R.I.P.

The influences are obvious from in front (see first video below) but once he got them down he made them into his own like no one else (see second video below and tons more on YouTube).


object width="375" height="306">


He was an original painter too (scroll down when you get to that link), one of those creators I'm always writing about here whose work opens up whatever form they're creating in to new possibilities and rewards. The man made it all his own.

[Here's the Rolling Stone obit.]

LIFE UNDER REPUBLICANS (IN NEW JERSEY)

So the relatively new governor of New Jersey. Chris Christie has become one of the darlings of the Republican Party and some of the Tea Party groups because he's cutting programs all over the place while refusing to raise taxes on the wealthy elite in the state.

But here's what that means on the ground in just two policy areas.

He stopped the tunnel that would connect New Jersey to New York and cut the time it takes to get from one to the other drastically by eliminating the daily delays that make our greatest city and its environs less efficient than most metropolitan areas of the world, including some in developing countries (as we know, China now has the fastest trains), a tunnel on which work had already begun—so the cost of that work will still be paid for by Jersey taxpayers, mostly by the non-wealthy as usual—despite the fact that the federal government was willing to pay for much of that tunnel's cost and New York was willing to help as well.

His answer to the problems of commuting between New Jersey and New York that will only grow worse since they rely on tunnels that date back to almost a century is to spend more on roads! In a state that is criss-crossed with so many highways it's like some random Marcel Duchamp drop-a-ton-of-strings-on-a-map-and-where-they-fall-build-a-road abstract maze. So he has made the choice for more pollution, more congestion, more taxes going to prop up the profits of oil and gas companies etc. over what's best for the future, the environment, and the non-wealthy of my home state. The wealthy will just continue to take their "cars"—as they call their chauffeur driven town cars and limos—and the new roads and road widening will help them, or they'll hop a helicopter etc.

In education, first his education department hack blew 400 million, yes, four hundred million dollars awarded by the federal government because they filled in the application incorrectly, putting in the wrong year for their budget! Hello!?! And then he just went and cut the budget for education in the state. What that means in my town and the school my thirteen-year-old goes to, is that the teachers' aides used in the classrooms who could help the students with IEPs (special ed issues) were all fired and now those positions are contracted out (great! more money for corporations!) and instead of having aides with years of experience in his school, who know the students and the teachers, who stay after and help out and volunteer their time and effort above and beyond what the job definition is, there are strangers who leave as soon as the bell rings and have no real investment in the community or the school other than a paycheck they get for just showing up.

I asked my son if the aide in the class he was having trouble in had ever helped him, and he said the aide had never even spoken to my son, let alone helped him, or anyone else as far as he could see.

There are many other areas of life in this state that have deteriorated in just the short time Christie has been governor. But that won't stop his rightwing supporters from praising him and holding him up as a beacon of their -back-to-the-future head-in-the-sand ill-informed unreasoning for why making life easier and better for the wealthiest and corporations while the rest of us suffer is somehow the way out of the morass other rightwing Republicans got us into in the first place.

[And for those who always leave comments about how the Republicans and Democrats are all the same, the fact is, under the former Democratic governor, the tunnel was going forward, money was being directed toward mass transit projects rather than more highways, education was a priority and teachers and teachers' aides were not being fired, etc.]

Friday, December 17, 2010

PS TO XMAS SHOPPING REMINDER

Just an update on my plea to help the one-woman label that put out my CD LOST ANGELS by ordering copies for holiday gifts, CD Baby instantly sold out the few copies they had (the whole edition was a pretty limited run to begin with) as did Amazon, but word is CD Baby is now back in stock.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

SOMEWHERE & BLACK SWAN

The "auteur" theory is over a half century old now, and relatively discredited at the level it was once held.

The only filmmakers who are the true "authors" of their films are the ones who write and direct them, and often produce and do other work on them as well (Charlie Chaplin the most obvious and maybe original—writing, starring, directing, producing and composing the soundtrack!).

But many directors obviously do have the main impact on a movie—of all those involved in the collaborative art—shaping performances and interpreting scripts so that it's often possible to recognize their style even when their movies hop from genre to genre and writer to writer.

Sofia Coppola is mostly the former, a writer/director, and producer, of most of her films, all of which bear her imprint indelibly. Darren Aronofsky is mostly the latter, just directing, taking other people's ideas and screenplays and turning them into his particular brand of filmmaking.

I admire them both, for different things. Like the old arguments when I was a young writer over Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald, or Beckett vs. Joyce, Coppola and Aronofsky define pretty clearly two distinct approaches to their art.

Coppola compares to Hemingway or Beckett in that the distinctiveness of their art owes a lot to their spareness, what they leave out. Whereas Aronofksy's films display the kind of saturation leave-nothing-out-or-to-the-imagination (or give that impression) of F. Scott and James J.

Not that I'm ranking anyone as equals, just talking about their approaches to making the art they create, for the most part (they all have some exceptions, like Fitzgerald's THE GREAT GATSBY in which he proved to himself and the rest of us he could beat Hemingway at his own game).

Sofia Coppola's courageous willingness to hold a shot—and often one where seemingly nothing's going on—longer than contemporary audiences are used to or seem to want, gives her films the quality of old style "foreign" films from a half century ago. She loves to linger and let the scene—the setting and the actor(s) involved—reveal deeper resonances just from being observed. It's almost Warholian.

Sometimes this works beautifully, as in her masterpiece, to my mind, LOST IN TRANSLATION. Sometimes it just leaves the audience, or at least me, wanting to shout: "I get it! I get it! Now what?!" as in many of the scenes in her latest film, SOMEWHERE, including the opening. It's daring to shoot a car driving in circles time after time, disappearing out of the frame on each side as it makes its loops, leaving only the sound of its engine revving, in a flat desert landscape that leaves little else to focus on, but it only takes a time or two to get that this is about someone going around in circles and getting nowhere (which the film had me at times thinking should have been the title: NOWHERE).



There are scenes and bits of dialogue and editing jumps and acting and cinema verite sequences that pretty well capture the life of a movie celebrity as I've witnessed it and obviously Coppola has. But Stephen Dorff doesn't have enough screen presence to make the ordeal of extended scenes of his ennui (I assume meant to read as more than that) work. Elle Fanning (Dakota's little sister) does, and she's been getting a lot of well-deserved critical attention. But in the end I'd wait and catch this one on cable.

BLACK SWAN is like an antidote to SOMEWHERE that the director packs the film with to such an exorbitant extent that it made me feel he was trying to cause a kind of mass o.d. for the audience. The extremes he makes Natalie Portman go to in the lead role, and the way she pulls that off, make me think she's got the Oscar locked. I'm not a big fan of her movies once she grew up, or of her, from what I've read in interviews. But she kills in this movie, in every way.

But the film and its story are so over the top, it makes most movies seem like cheek kisses compared to BLACK SWAN's personalized nuclear bomb. The casting is almost diabolical. [I mean particularly in having a current and a faded and a fading movie star playing a current and a faded and fading ballerinas...sort of forcing us, and them, to recognize their lost prominence and success—Ryder found the parallels "cool"!]

Barbara Hershy as the controlling stage mom remakes the archetype into something out of DAWN OF THE LIVING STAGE MOTHER DEAD. This aging actress—who resembles the Barbara Seagull some of us once had crushes on but in a way that is at times startlingly dismaying—is cast as the over-the-hill missed-her-chance harridan while Winona Ryder plays the slightly over-the-hill star ballerina Portman's character is doomed to replace, I mean trying to replace.

(Ryder's presence and talent seemed wasted in her relatively small role, and Mila Kunis as the seductress from hell outshone her in a more meaty and bigger role as Portman's character's nemesis, I think, though they're all nemesises (!) in ways that are so frustratingly confusing it took me hours to sort most of it out later in conversation with a friend I saw it with and then in my own head and there are still parts I'm not sure about.)

I noticed that all the credits, except for production design and costumer, at least the ones I stayed to watch, were all men. And I wondered if that had anything to do with there being no woman in the movie you, or at least I, could feel any real empathy for.

There is some brilliant movie making going on, and there's no denying that the movie has an impact, it's still dominating my brain over twenty-four hours since I saw it. Some of the early dance sequences with close-ups of ballerina's feet balancing on their toes as they whirl and spin and go up and down from flat on the floor to on their toes is excruciatingly beautiful, almost painful to watch.

Other scenes were just plain painful to watch, some of them meant as metaphors for the obsessive body consciousness of dancers, not just ballerinas (I went with a dancer once and hung out with some of her friends and they were all constantly distorting their bodies into odd shapes, their form of stretching, or asking you to pull their arm out etc.) and some as metaphors for much deeper troubles and for compulsive addictive self-destructive behavior of all kinds. Only BLACK SWAN seems a backhanded attempt to justify that, or maybe justify the director's obsession with the extremes of self-destruction as a path to some sort of negative glory.

At times the melodrama of BLACK SWAN was so extreme I felt like I was watching an updated version of the kind of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? histrionics of the aging Bette Davis and Joan Crawford parodying their younger selves. Only in this case, two of the main actresses, Ryder and Portman, are still young and doing the same kind of scenery munching.

But, and it's a big but, Aronofsky, like Coppola, is, at least for my taste, an incredible filmmaker (though I had caveats about THE WRESTLER as well), and there is much to admire and even be impressed by in BLACK SWAN technically, and performance and direction-wise. But it made me feel like I wanted to leave the theater before it was over or jut shoot myself when it finally did end. Not because it was so disappointing, but because it was so disturbing. And his previous most pull-out-the-stops dark adventure, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM didn't bother me at all. Phew!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

QUOTE FOR TODAY

Thanks to RZ for passing this one on:

"Things turn out best for people who make the best of how things turn out." —Art Linkletter

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

THIS SAYS IT BEST

What I've been writing about on this blog, and for decades before it in newspapers and magazines and books etc. is articulated much better in many ways in this article.

Monday, December 13, 2010

THIRTEEN MONTHS SINCE BRAIN SURGERY AND...

...I'm thinking about how my taste has changed in some things and people, how my lifelong compulsion to make lists in my head and out has not only disappeared it would seem for good but any desire to do so has too (and how that makes me feel at times like a different person, a different personality at least in my interior monologue)...

..and how I get agitated now sometimes when I am confronted with perplexing possibilities, too much stimuli too, but especially when feeling the need to make a decision or respond to something that begins to feel urgent and my mind doesn't seem to be able to do that, at times...

...and how only a year ago I was slowly rediscovering the ability to read and recognize what moves me in a painting or a story or a movie etc...rediscovering my joy in more than just thinking and eating and being alive...

...and how one of the most difficult things to readjust to and accept was and still is the inanity of so much of the public discourse and where our country, our society, our media, our conversation about reality has come to...

...as in the inability of our politicians and many voters to recognize the common sense of a national healthcare system that is guaranteed...

..not too long ago I met a couple who had been living in Germany for a few years. The husband worked for a big "American" corporation (but really international as most corporations are). He made more money than his German counterparts in his division there, but they seemed in many ways to him more fulfilled, happier, less anxious and driven. And he realized eventually that it was because they never worried about things like medical expenses and emergencies because when they needed to see a doctor they just went without worrying about cost...

...I won't get into the fact that the results of our supposed "free enterprise system" of healthcare has left us behind other so-called "developed nations" in terms of longevity and infant mortality and just general wellbeing when it comes to health...

...but I will quote an excerpt from poet Tom Raworth again, the author of the blog that generated my post before the last one about healthcare. In an e mail response to my post he informed me that:

" just for the record, I had open-heart surgery for an atrial septal defect in 1956....8 1/2 hours, heart stopped, blood through a freezer, adrenalin shots, etc. etc.  Since when I've had pneumonia, a stroke, appendicitis, various heart problems, a stent, broken bones; Val had five children, eye surgery for glaucoma. The children have had various things in their lives, from knee cartiledge repair to death from AIDS.  Never once has the thought of money been inserted between us and the necessary treatment."

...which about says it all for me concerning healthcare...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

JAMES MOODY R.I.P.

Moody was a giant hero of mine. I loved his music and I loved the fact that he was from Newark, New Jersey, which when I was a boy we thought of as our "downtown," our city, and where my mother and maternal grandparents came from and grew up and where I had lots of cousins and friends and where I went to high school and played football and dated girls and played some of my earliest music gigs and just hung out.

He also wrote a tune called "Last Train from Overbrook," which was almost like my theme song when I was young. Overbrook was a mental hospital they put James Moody into in the 1950s, a common tactic by the authorities for jazz musicians who also happened to sometimes be on illegal drugs (and also happened to be geniuses, ala Bird et. al.). I worked at Overbrook when I got out of over four years in the service. My father was part of the Essex County Democratic machine back in those days and helped get me a job as a "recreational assistant" in what was closer to the institution in the classic film SNAKE PIT than what exists now.

I felt honored (in an inexplicable way, I'm sure for those who I worked with) because I was working where Moody had once lived and where he wrote some great tunes, or right after he was released, including "Last train from Overbrook." The miracle is, he outlived all those who harassed him in his younger years for being the "black" genius he was and just died at 85.

I am grateful for all the great music he left us. I couldn't find a video of him performing "Last Train" but here are two great vidz, one of him talking about his life and music, and another of him playing with the kind of inspiration that so impressed me back when I first encountered him and his music and ever after.




Saturday, December 11, 2010

CAN I JUST SAY...

In many ways, this post on friend and poet Tom Raworth's great blog says it all.

And after starting my day with the new TIME magazine with Palin on the cover and a story that allows her to make all the accusations and soundbites and sloganeering and propagandizing she wants to (including misrepresenting the recent healthcare legislation, that the press continues to allow the right to get away with calling "Obamacare" as if Congress didn't vote for it and "American" voters didn't vote that congress into office as well as the president, democracy at work doesn't count for rightwingers) without the writer refuting any of it with facts, just citing some of her adversaries' positions vaguely.

This is the tribulation of our times, news that often ignores facts for opinions and even more often ignores any perspective for the framing of any event or argument or occasion other than the right's.

But back to Tom Raworth's post and experience, his first heart operation (was it the first heart transplant in England as I once heard?) was in a still recovering post-war Britain that had established national healthcare, and all the care he has received since that has kept him alive and able to write and travel and have a full life has come from that same national healthcare, while, as he points out in his post, so many here (did anyone hear the NPR interview with the blues singer Robin Rogers who is dying of liver cancer and for whom there was a recent giant benefit concert to raise money to pay for some of her medical expenses?) are left to their own devices and either go broke, are unable to afford proper treatment, or they and their family and friends go deeply into debt to enable them to have some healthcare that should be a right for anyone, and is in many countries...but not ours, yet, and if Palin and the right have their way: never.

Friday, December 10, 2010

CHRISTMAS SHOPPING REMINDER

Hey, not to be all self-promoting but to help out the people who were kind enough to put out my latest CD, LOST ANGELS—me reading some of my poems from the '70s, 80s and early '90s to music by my oldest son Miles and some of his bandmates and musician friends in 1996—may I remind you that there's only fifteen "shopping days" left until Christmas?

It's X-rated, as I was back then (and a lot of my writing was too) so not for the kiddies. But just so you know, you can order it from Amazon (here's the link—or just type in "lost angels michael lally"). [You can also download it from iTunes (again, type in "lost angels michael lally") or downlond separate poem/tunes.]

So, even though I think it's a kind of unique recording and gift, if you've got adult friends who like some of the "artists" I've been compared to over the years by critics, interviewers, publishers and introducers, (and not necessarily all I would agree with though I'm flattered by the comparisons)—like Francois Villon, Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Frank O'Hara, John Garfield, Frank Sinatra, John Coltrane, Mick Jagger, Charles Bukowski, Gil-Scott Heron, The Last Poets, Clint Eastwood, Sam Sheperd, and more I can't remember off the top of my head—you might consider giving them a copy of LOST ANGELS.

[Or even if you'd just like the photographic portrait done of me by the great film director Gus Van Sant around the time he was casting for DRUGSTORE COWBOY.]



[PS: Some folks have let me know that Amazon and CD Baby are already sold out of LOST ANGELS (it was a small edition) so you might try this link to the label itself, Monomania Records.]

Thursday, December 9, 2010

HERE'S A THOUGHT AND A QUOTE/POEM

The thought is, I still feel no compulsion to make lists, even though for every waking hour of my life I can remember before my brain surgery, I did.

But I found a poem (in Court Green magazine #7) about "making lists" (though a different kind from the ones I used to do) that I think is original and satisfying in some of the ways my listmaking used to be for me, so here it is:

"ON SATISFACTION

Make lists
Of things you have already done.
Pleasure exists
In crossing them off one by one."

—Suzanne Buffam from LITTLE COMMENTARIES

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

HERE'S THE PRESIDENT'S FULL STATEMENT ON THE BUSH TAX CUT "COMPROMISE"

Okay. I can see why a lot of Democrats and other progressives and liberals are angry about this compromise on the Bush tax cuts.

But I can also see that the Republicans have already voted against eliminating tax cuts for the richest among us so if Dems stand firmly unified against compromise working folks' taxes will go up, and given the record of how a lot of "Americans" don't get that the Republicans do whatever they can to protect the rich and the Dems do whatever they can to help the rest of us, I doubt that would be spun as anything other than "the Democrats raise your taxes again" which  the Republicans have managed to convince many working people of even though the opposite is the truth.

So, even though the president is doing a lousy job of making clear all he and his fellow Democrats have done for those of us who aren't wealthy (it's obvious all he and everyone else in politics have done and are doing for the richest among us) his position in this statement does seem reasoned and justified in terms of getting unemployment extended for the two million for whom it is about to expire and further tax cuts for most of us.

Here's his statement:

Monday, December 6, 2010

PS TO STOCKHOLM SYNDROME

Okay, President Obama's press statement about why he's willing to compromise on the tax cuts was pretty intelligent and reasonable and logical. So maybe I was too hasty in criticizing him on this. I'll see if I can post his statement or a video of it when it becomes available in case anyone's interested.

[I didn't see it, just heard part of it while waiting for triple A to come for a busted up tire etc. So until I can get it in a complete form and think about it, I'll hold off on the kind of judgements I'm hearing from many Democrats and liberals and progressives who seem to be up in arms and/or quite anguished about it. Understandably, because it means adding to the deficit and to the richest 2% of us who already have more than enough obviously.]

STOCKHOLM SYNDROME?

Frank Rich's column yesterday viewing President Obama as a victim of Stockholm Syndrome (where the captive victim identifies with their captor/guard/oppressor) sparked a lot of conversation among folks I know, including my oldest son, who sent me a link to it with his wife's observation that race plays a part as well.


As my son commented, he had


"been using battered wife syndrome to explain Obama's self negotiating (if I act nicer, he won't hit me next time), but Stockholm Syndrome is a better explanation.  Also, [my son's wife] thinks (and I agree) that there is likely a racial component influencing Obama's willingness to ignore his captors' abuse."


I've been using the battered wife syndrome to explain some Democrats' responses to rightwing Republicans in general over the past many years, and unfortunately Obama's recent behavior has seemed to reflect that same syndrome, or as Frank Rich and my son say more accurately Stockholm Syndrome.


His giving in to the completely illogical and ridiculous demand from the Republicans that the wealthiest among us should get continuing tax breaks while the rest of us, including the least wealthy, have to sacrifice because of the debt and deficit, is a major disappointment [and yes I know he didn't have the votes in the Senate to override the Republicans refusal to even consider letting the taxes on the wealthiest go back to what they were before Bush/Cheney started two wars without any taxes to pay for them but instead cut taxes for the rich!]. As is his freeze on wages for federal workers (excluding the military) but not on profits from corporations that pay no taxes and in fact often get tax refunds while raking in profits larger than any in the history of humankind! [See my last post of Bernie Sanders' great speech on that subject.]


The strategy of trying to placate the right has never worked in our history, but sadly, Obama and some Democratic Senators and Representatives have yet to learn that lesson.


As I wrote back to my son Miles, Obama's "negotiating [his] mixed-race background in mostly white and then mostly brown and then mostly black worlds (or at least scenes and circumstances) has diluted his core beliefs into negotiable bargains for barter [it would seem], but as [my old friend Hubert Selby Jr.] used to say whenever I got involved in a new relationship, 'There are no bargains Michael. You think you're only going to have to pay 98 cents, but it turns out to be your right leg!'"



Only in this case, it's the collective right leg (financial security) of the poor and working non-wealthy majority of us going to give even MORE to the wealthiest among us that the rightwing Republicans have always been in the service of, and too-many right-leaning or easily-manipulated-by-the-right Democrats as well. I hate to add Obama to that latter group but it's beginning to seem illogical and unreasonable not to.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

YOU HAVE TO HEAR THIS

This may be the best speech given in the Senate since Byrd gave his impassioned speech against the War in Iraq. You have to watch it all the way through to get the full impact and importance. It isn't anything a lot of us haven't already said and written, but Bernie Sanders articulates it better than most of us, at least in this speech. Check it out:

 

MORE WIKILEAKS OBVIOUSNESS

It's so unbelievably predictable that if I had written a screenplay that had this plot or even a novel or short story, the powers that be—studio head, producers, editors, publishers, etc.—would have said nobody would buy it because it was too obvious.

But nonetheless, here we are, with the media and popliticians (wow, that's an interesting typo, just coined a new term, now watch it be co-opted by someone out there who'll claim it as their own) acting as if anything revealed in the cables so far reveals anything we didn't already know, or at least those of us who get our news from anywhere other than the rightwing outlets, and even some of them.

So Yemeni leaders are pretending our drone attacks are originating with them and not our military and spy outfits, and Sunni Arab leaders would like to prevent Shiite Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and U.S. diplomats and others have negative opinions about Karzai and his corrupt government, et-endless-cetera.

And now Wikileaks is having trouble getting their stuff online because of cyber attacks against them by, hmmm, you think some of the governments whose lies or double-dealing or lack of "transparency" (the current favorite bugaboo of the media that is anything but transparent) the Wikileaks expose?

And even when I go on some of the sites I use for analyses and more rigorous reporting, if I click on a Wikileaks story—one that's about what's IN the leaks not about reactions to them—I can't access that information. Also entirely predictable, as in, I'm shocked, shocked that governments don't want their hypocrisy exposed and will use whatever means necessary to prevent it.

All of which lead me to support even more strongly what Wikileaks is doing, despite some misgivings about their spending so much time and effort on U.S. hidden info and not enough on other players, major and minor (i.e. China, Russia, India, Brazil, Israel, Nigeria, etc.).

Friday, December 3, 2010

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT


This flick has been getting a lot of attention in terms of Oscar predictions—it's already garnered the most nominations for the independent film world's Spirit Award (not like real "independents"—meaning truly low budget movies—since the Spirit Award qualification is budgets of under 20 million)—and it's easy to see why.

The subject matter is a little "alternative"—domestic troubles in a marriage between two women and their two children, one from each with the help of the same donor sperm. As you probably already know, the drama in the classic story line is fueled by the sperm donor showing up when the oldest child, the daughter, is asked by her younger brother when she turns 18 to contact their biological "father."

There are a few quibbles I could make with some of the plot points, and it's hard for this male viewer to see the male lead, Mark Ruffalo, being more attracted to Julianne Moore's character than the character played by the stunning  Yaya DaCosta (she photo below). But I never found Moore that attractive. On the other hand, I don't find Ruffalo attractive either, which made it seem all the more ludicrous that he would even be lucky enough to have the DaCosta character in his life.



But aside from the question of believability for me in a few instances, I still bought the story and its resolution because the actors, whether I'm attracted to them or not, are so incredibly good. And since everyone in the film gives a five star performance, I have to attribute it to the director and co-writer (with Stuart Blumberg) Lisa Cholodenko.

They say that directing is ninety-nine percent casting, and though I didn't buy some of the sexual attractions in the film, in terms of acting skills that is definitely the case here. And it seems to me Annete Bening is way overdue for an Oscar (as far as I can tell she's only been nominated but never won, though I thought she should have for AMERICAN BEAUTY, for instance).

She too is an actress I don't find personally attractive as so many others seem to, but I've always dug her acting chops. She's like Katherine Hepburn or Vanessa Redgrave, it seems to me, in that she never gives a weak performance, is always at the top of her game. In THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT she is equally matched by Julianne Moore's performance, which following her tour de force act in last year's A SINGLE MAN, seems to me she also deserves some kind of award, though since they share pretty much equal screen time they'd be competing in the "Best Actress" category.

And the young actress who plays the daughter "Joni" (Mia Wasikowska) deserves a supporting actress nomination herself. As well as the actor playing her younger brother, Josh Hutcherson, who pulls off an amazing, powerfully understated performance with so much nuance to it he was constantly surprising me with his actor's choices (or Cholodensko's direction, probably a mix of the two).

At any rate, I wouldn't miss this movie. No matter what you end up thinking about it, you'll experience some movie acting and directing at its best.

[PS: After thinking about this film for a day or so, it strikes me in retrospect that the male characters weren't treated so well, a bit of revenge of the women kind of subplot going on, sometimes justified sometimes not. That doesn't change anything I wrote above, just an observation I should have made.]

Thursday, December 2, 2010

PS TO LAST POST

The charges of some kind of sexual misconduct are being reported in various ways so maybe it's too soon to draw any conclusions.

And as for the mainstream media, CBS Evening News tonight (Wednesday) had a pretty accurate report on the "Bush tax cuts" and their history that incorporated a very fair accounting of how Clinton balanced the budget and produced a surplus, and how Bush/Cheney ran up the deficit and left Obama holding the bag. Quite surprising and unusual in its thoroughness for a mainstream evening news report.

THE WIKILEAKS FREAKOUT (AND THE USUAL RIGHTWING HYPOCRISY)

Although when it comes to personal "truth" and "honesty" I'll go with my late great friend Hubert Selby's admonition that "Honesty without love is attack"—when it comes to governments and the media, the more transparency the better.

Unless people's lives are truly at stake. The brouhaha over the Wikileaks US government cable disclosures has reached the level of mini-mass hysteria, with rightwingers calling for the execution or assassination of the man behind the leaks. But so far, no one has been able—as far as I have read or heard or seen—to link one death or any physical harm directly to these leaks. Even the political damage doesn't seem to have been all that serious. Unfortunately in many cases.

But the hysteria over the man behind Wikileaks and now a worldwide household name—Julian Assange (or however you spell it)—is pretty transparent as well. Rightwingers who didn't make a peep when Valerie Plame was outed by the right as a CIA agent, something that has been linked to deaths and physical harm, or else defended those who outed her, suddenly are outraged by the exposure of diplomatic and military cables that don't disclose anything the liberal and leftwing press hasn't been pointing out for years, though the mainstream media with its right-leaning owners or manipulators has of course been ignoring (so therefore now acts like these are incredible revelations, like The Saudis don't want the Iranians to get nuclear weapons—I'm shocked, schocked!) though the media has mostly ignored other cables making it clear the Saudis also funded Al Queda while pretending to be our allies and we respond by selling them our weapons etc.

(And speaking of the mainstream media and it's right-leaning bias, Nancy Pelosi pointed out in an interview in a recent New York Times magazine what I've been posting here for awhile, that John Boehner has been on the cover of Time magazine twice already, even before he officially becomes the Speaker of the House. But Pelosi, who was THE FIRST FEMALE IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES TO GAIN THAT POSITION—and under her leadership was able to not only win a huge majority for her party against a sitting president of the other party, but twice pulled off wave elections, for which Boehner and his party are now being celebrated in the media—AND YET SHE HAS NEVER BEEN ON THE COVER OF TIME!)

All the media outlets I watched last night also talked about how Interpol had announced they're looking for Assange because of "rape" charges brought against him in Sweden, but it turns out those charges have not been sustained, the actual charges are of sexual harassment, charges that came out when Assange made his first big Internet "dump" of the communiques from the U.S. government, mainly the military, about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hard to dispute his claim that the charges are meant to stop his web leak enterprise.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

GRAY DAYS, GOLDEN DAYS, AND LESLIE NIELSON

It's a cloudy, chilly, gray day today. Yesterday was colder, but the air was crisp and invigorating, the sky was bright blue with white, puffy clouds. The day before as well. Only the day before my oldest son and his wife and my grandson were all here, with their terrier (my daughter and her family still up in the Berkshires), filling my apartment with the kind of life force I grew up around and my youngest son, here too, hasn't. At least not on a daily basis.

But on all three of those days the economy was pretty much the same, as were the wars going on around the world, not just the ones our troops are fighting in. Whatever basic problems exist in our lives, the daily ongoing kind, didn't change or change much in those three days. Just the weather did, and the configuration of me and some of my progeny's whereabouts.

The better weather brought me pleasure, as did the presence of my older son and his family. The absence of others generated a feeling of nostalgia or even sadness, but that in turn left me feeling good, because to feel is to be alive and I am very very grateful to be alive, especially in order to be there for my little guy and my other children and grandchildren, and friends still around and other family...

My old friend Hubert Selby Jr. used to always say to me when I was going through my usual drama over my love life and finances, "Michael, you can't have up without down, you can't have left without right, so if you're looking for pleasure, you better be prepared for some pain, and if you want success, you have to accept the failure that comes along with it..."

He probably said it better, but you get the idea. Or more importantly, I do.

The idea here being, every day, every event, every person, every every contains the opposites that make up reality. To accept that reality is to know peace, in my experience. To embrace it and be grateful for it, no matter what, is to know happiness. (Woops, I just gave away the secret I meant to put in a book someday!).

Listening and watching the many tributes to Leslie Nielson yesterday had me cracking up in my car or in front of my TV set. As I did from the first moment he appeared in AIRPLANE! and in everything he did thereafter. What a story heh? A guy from a horrendous background, who I had grown up watching and never remembering his name but always thinking him very unappealing in the serious roles he played until AIRPLANE!

And then, by not taking himself seriously and doing it with a straight face, he became one of the funniest movie stars we've had in the sound era. Every line that he said that makes us laugh, or at least smile, to hear ("And don't call me Shirley") is because it was him saying it. What a gift! He'll be sorely missed, but then again not so much, because we can watch his funniest stuff pretty much anytime we want nowadays.

And I can relive moments with people long gone on the physical plane, reread favorite authors and poets many of whom were friends, etc. And I can see the forest despite the trees, as in: the economy fell off a cliff thanks to eight years of Bush/Cheney (with a modicum of responsibility going back to previous administrations, especially Reagan's) BUT it ain't The Great Depression.

And the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and even the Congo and Somalia et. al., are destructive and terrible but they don't even compare to the death and destruction of WWII. The Great Depression was started over eighty years ago, WWII over sixty. Things could always be worse and usually have been.

It's a gray day today, compared to yesterday's golden beauty, but I bet as I go out into it, I'll find a lot to be grateful for and even to give me great joy. Like just being alive in it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

ANOTHER FAVORITE SITE

I'm always adding and cutting and rearranging the blogs and sites I check in on every day or so. Sometimes I remember to mention them and sometimes not.

But just in case you don't notice them on the right somewhere, I'll point out that recently I added the home page for one of my alltime favorite poets Maureen Owen.

You can actually go to this site and read a copy of her totally unique early poetry book THE NO-TRAVELS JOURNAL in its the originally mimeographed typed up form (if I remember correctly, unfortunately my original copy disappeared somewhere over the years and I only have these poems in a later book that included them). If you don't know this series of poems, check them out and remember she wrote these back in the 1970s.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

MAKES SENSE

I missed this editorial a few days ago on Truthout. But it's still worth reading.

Oh, and another bit of contrary news (contrary to the right's perspective that is):

"The Congressional Budget Office this week released its latest report on the effects of the Recovery Act and found that it 'raised the GDP, lowered unemployment, and increased the number of people with jobs." —ABC News

Friday, November 26, 2010

HERE'S AN INTERESTING STATISTIC

In 2000, at the end of the Clinton administration, besides the surplus he left and all the other accomplishments, the number of terrorist attacks around the word was only 423.

In 2009, by the time Obama was facing the historic deficit and economic collapse, and more worldwide and U.S. problems Bush/Cheney left him, there were 10, 999 (including 4,584 in Iraq and Afghanistan).

So much for Bush/Cheney "winning" the "war on terror"—how about "creating" it.

[The numbers are from the latest issue of Time magazine]

Thursday, November 25, 2010

THANKS FOR...


My condolences to anyone who lost a loved one since last Thanksgiving, but aside from the sorrow of lives lost or terribly injured, I suspect we all have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.

Starting with the loved ones who are still here. My parents have been gone for many decades, and I started losing siblings before I was born—out of seven of us there is only one sister and me left. But I am blessed with three terrific children, two very grown and my thirteen-year-old still at home(s, he alternates between his mother's and here with me) and two wonderful grandchildren. Thanks for them, and for all family and friends.

Then comes health—spiritual, mental, physical and financial.

As for the latter, I know these are tough times, I'm broke for the first time in many years. And broke for me isn't like broke for a lot of friends I've known over the years. So I'm thankful for the Democratic Presidents and Congresses that made Social Security possible and protected it from attacks from the Republicans over the decades, and who have done their best to protect pension funds, both of which are at risk thanks for the even more virulent strain of rightwing Republicanism now on the march again.

And I know people are losing their houses, I've lost two and am doing just fine in my old but comfortable apartment (and when the waste tank overflowed in the basement of the old house its in a few days ago, I could call the landlords to take care of it!).

And physically, how could I be more grateful for having survived cancer and various heart conditions and now brain surgery! So many thanks to many people and developments, how lucky I am to be living now in this age of medical miracles!

Mentally, after the slow recovery of my reading and writing capabilities after the brain op, I couldn't be more grateful either.

And spiritually, let's just say surviving coming face to face with your mortality does something for the soul and leaves you, or at least left me, more certain than ever that love is all that matters in the end, and in the beginning and middle too.

I could go on for ever with a gratitude list, but let's end with an obvious one that I don't hear many people mentioning these days. And that is: thank you thank you thank you that the Bush/Cheney gang are no longer in charge, even though they are still doing all they can to thwart "the will of the people"—in this case the historic majority that elected Obama president, and thanks as well that Sarah Palin is not the vice-president or governor (or president!) of anything, and let's pray it stays that way. Amen.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

FRANK: THE VOICE (THE NEW BIOGRAPHY)


Like a lot of people, I'm sure, I've had a love/hate relationship with Frank Sinatra all my life.

I was born into a time when he was challenging Bing Crosby, my tribe's champion, for the bragging rights to most popular crooner. We all loved Bing, I grew up loving him too and grew to appreciate how revolutionary his impact was on the development not only of popular music but on jazz and swing as well (no less an authority than Loius Armstrong claimed Bing as an influence on jazz music).

Several years ago we got a great first volume of a Bing bio (Gary Giddins' POCKETFUL OF DREAMS) that hasn't seen the sequel yet but set the record straight about Bing's early years and innovating influence and did it in a way that had me wanting more.

James Kaplan has done the same with his FRANK: The Voice. Sinatra was equally popular, equally influential in the world of not just popular music but jazz and swing as well. And like Bing their impact went way beyond mere music, as through the movies they elevated our country's sense of its immigrants, first the Irish and then the Italians, as well as a lot of young men's styles (and Bing went right on influencing style 'til the end, only then it was older white golfing men).

Kaplan gets it right, though, when he characterizes Bing's persona and style and music as "cool" compared to Frank's heat. What he means has nothing to do with the slang sense of "cool" (though that too in ways most people might not get) but in the passions these men aroused.

Bing's laid back vocal mastery made an amazing musical talent seem as easy as chatting on the phone, while Frank upped the ante in several ways, including making almost every ballad he sang sound so personal he created that whole swooning screaming teenage girls things because each one felt he was singing just to her and meant it!

And as this book shows, in many ways he did, not just as a Lothario. Bing was a lot more accomplished and brilliant than his image may have let on, but whatever emotional and psychological complexity he may have had, he never showed. Frank expressed his emotional and psychological complexity in just about everything he did and said, and especially in everything he sang.

This too looks like a first volume, as it follows Frank from birth only up until he won the Oscar, his comeback move, for the role of Maggio in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. Kaplan puts the GODFATHER horse-head-in-the-bed myth to rest, or tries to, but the mob connection is delineated in other ways that make it clear "the boys" were helpful in other ways, including never giving up on him like a lot of others did when he went through the slump before the Oscar year.

The best thing about FRANK, is that Kaplan gets a lot of the artistry correct as well as the reasons why Sinatra isn't just a pop icon or once adored singer or a Hollywood history gossip mine, but actually is one of the few who have truly had an impact on not just his times but on the history of his times.

It's always difficult to explain to someone young who has grown up with the internet or texting or e mail or computers or whatever dominates the ways in which we communicate and create, what it was like when none of these things existed. It's equally difficult to explain what it was like before Sinatra, or to go back even further, before Bing.

No one is really sui generis, there's always past influences and accidents of history that bend those influences toward a new outcome, but nonetheless, not just 20th Century "America" would look different and sound different and BE different without these two men, Bing and Frank, but the 21st century as well. Kaplan's book gives you a few facts to support that argument, as well as a lot of distillation of a lot of other people's versions of the events recorded, including some scholarly and some not so much.

I couldn't put it down. And when I finally reached the end and did, I got a new feeling—I can't wait for the second volume, which I hope Kaplan is finishing up right now.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

ANOTHER HMMM...

Don't know if anyone else noticed this, but U.S. corporations made higher profits this year than ever before in history! And yet...

...rightwing media mouthpieces and the rightwing Republican politicians they represent, or in some cases dictate to, continue to push the myth that Obama is "anti-business" and a "socialist" and all the rest of their obvious lies. And I don't see anyone in the mainstream media pointing this out (Olberman noted this on his MSNBC show). As usual.

But neither do I see anyone in the administration, let alone Obama, pointing it out either (though he did point out the resurgence of GM as a result of the "bailout" that has turned out to be a wise investment on behalf of "the American people"—as the rightwingers always refer to the people who support them, only in this case the President, and I, mean all of us).

Monday, November 22, 2010

47 YEARS AGO

Some notice taken today in the main news media of the forty-seventh anniversary of that fatal day in Dallas, but not much.

One of the items in the news though, was excerpts from Sarah Palin's new book, in which she supposedly criticizes JFK for "running away from his religion" when he ran for President in 1960, and praises Mitt Romney for not running away from his religion during his run for the presidential nomination (seemed to me he avoided any mention or notice of his Mormonism).

Sounds like maybe she's positioning Romney for her vice presidential candidate, or maybe she wants to be the power behind his presidential bid, or just get his powerful financial backing and that of his fellow Mormons.

But in the meantime, she's dissing a prince of my people. And misunderstanding, once again, what this country and its "Founding Fathers" stood for—vis a vis the seperation of church and state. As well as misunderstanding who JFK was, and what he stood for. All in all a typical Palin play.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"REALITY"?

The only scenes from Sarah Palin's new reality show I've seen, seem about as "real" as Cher's strangely ageless appearance in publicity shots for her new movie. I remember running into Cher at a Hollywood Club back in the late 1980s and feeling a little weirded out by whatever she'd done to her face. Up close it seemed immobile already. I always admired her tenacity and individuality, but that whole Hollywood (and elsewhere now) clinging to youth with botox and plastic surgery thing can be pretty unnerving when it either isn't done right or is done too much.

As John Stewart pointed out in one of his reactions to clips from Palin's "reality" show, shots of her acting like an awestruck kid seeing her supposed natural habitat as though for the first time. He said it'd be like him giving people a tour of his New York and shrieking and holding his ears because car horns were honking.

All of which got me thinking about a documentary I caught part of on the Ovation channel the other night about the "Factory People"—i.e. Andy Warhol's hangers on in the pre-getting-shot-by-Valerie-Solinas (full disclosure, she lived in the commune I was sort of the head of in DC after she got out of prison and the asylum! a much longer story, for a book more than a blog post) period.



What struck me was that a lot of the early Warhol flicks were basically "reality shows" and have a lot in common with the kinds of "reality" shows my thirteen-year-old likes, like that whole "Jackass" thing that's also been turned into films, or shows with aging hotshot skateboarders or BMX X-game champs etc. doing stunts that could get them killed and often get them, or members of their entourage, hurt badly, but always getting a laugh (not from me!).

The shifting cast of people that made Andy's "Factory" their playground, and work place, most days and/or nights and appeared in his films were enocouraged by Warhol and his associates—and each other—to emphasize, and act out, their most outre (and often self-destructive) traits on film, or anywhere for that matter, and the more extreme the better, just like the Jackass and Bam and etc. shows my boy watches.

The illusion of "reality" is pretty much what any photographer or documentarian knows, as do the rest of us these days, a result of editing. All the skate videos my son watches and is awed by are zippy edits of lots of attempts to do amazingly difficult physical moves. All you have to do is get a tres ("tray") flip right once and it's immortalized on film.

Palin, it seems to me, is doing the same deal. As Cher and those who take her route, do as well. Which is—make characterizations out of either people's expectations—or their own, or both—of who they are or what they're about. Sometimes the result is amusing, sometimes, entertaining, even engaging, but a lot of the appeal is watching to see what's gonna happen next, what outrageous thing they're gonna do or say or wear or attempt or seem to pull off.

Pailn's act at the moment seems to be working for someone, as she pretends to be something she isn't, and diminishes all expectations and then surpasses the low expectations that creates. She's mastered the art of seeming victimized by almost everything and then becoming the champion of those victimized like her, by a snooty "lamestream" media that belittles her for claiming to care about her state and her country and her party but then quitting her job running that state because she sees the opportunity to make much more money and fame without having to bother with the consensus of voters and fellow government workers and the whole imposition of democracy at work, and then basically identifying anyone who isn't [woops, meant is] an American who supports her beliefs and politics as not "real" "Americans" contributing to a big portion of the divisiveness in the country she says she cares about, and the same to her party (a good number of the candidates for her party she endorsed ended up losing and keeping the Senate Democratic, etc.).

It's all show biz. It's just that the amateurs have taken over the asylum again, much as in the "Factory" days. The culture and the society go through phases like that from time to time—where craft and professionalism and the qualities necessary for creating the best of something are looked down on and a kind of faux "realism" is preferred (not the "real" realism, ala the early periods of movements that get co-opted, like a lot of The Beats or Hippies, or Punk or Grunge, early one, but the faux type exemplified by Palin's new show, or for that matter her ongoing show of "just folk" phoniness).

Some last longer than others. Let's hope this one doesn't last too long.

[PS: And this isn't to say I didn't dig Warhol's movies, or some of his super-and-not-so-super-stars. I even liked Valerie and we became pretty good friends, as much as she was capable of, especially with a man.]

Saturday, November 20, 2010

ANOTHER GREAT QUOTE

This one's a letter in the latest Time magazine:

"In 2008, Barack Obama was elected President of the United States with 69, 498, 516 votes, the most cast for any president in history. On Nov. 2, John Boehner, who has tried to block much of the current Administration's legislation, was re-elected with 139, 254 votes—30% fewer than he received just two years earlier. Yet he now proclaims that 'the American people have spoken.' This dour naysayer, who in 1995 passed out checks to politicians from tobacco lobbyists on the floor of Congress, would be wise to re-examine and check his astounding arrogance."

—Joey Green

Friday, November 19, 2010

STEVE ORLEN R.I.P.

Steve was a friend of mine back when we were students at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop in the 1960s. I liked him immensely. He was a decent, stand-up kind of guy and a decent stand-up kind of poet.

Unfortunately I hadn't been in touch with him for decades, but I knew he was out there, seeing his poems here and there over the years since we'd last seen each other or had a regular correspondence. My condolences to his family and friends and students at the University of Arizona where he taught.

Here's an emblematic poem of his I copied from the Poetry Foundation site (it's called "In The House of the Voice of Maria Callas"):

In the house of the voice of Maria Callas
We hear the baby’s cries, and the after-supper
Rattle of silverware, and three clocks ticking
To different tunes, and ripe plums
Sleeping in their chipped bowl, and traffic sounds
Dissecting the avenues outside. We hear, like water
Pouring over time itself, the pure distillate arias
Of the numerous pampered queens who have reigned,
And the working girls who have suffered
The envious knives, and the breathless brides
With their horned helmets who have fallen in love
And gone crazy or fallen in love and died
On the grand stage at their appointed moments—
Who will sing of them now? Maria Callas is dead,
Although the full lips and the slanting eyes
And flared nostrils of her voice resurrect
Dramas we are able to imagine in this parlor
On evenings like this one, adding some color,
Adding some order. Of whom it was said:
She could imagine almost anything and give voice to it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

AVA GARDNER

I didn't always get why some people back in the day thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. But I just caught much of ON THE BEACH on TCM and though she wasn't absolute perfection, as they say, in every shot, still, I've just got one thing to say:

Ava Gardner.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

GLORIOUS AUTUMN DAYS (OH, AND ABOUT GM...)

The colors are still vibrant, though some trees have lost their leaves entirely. This past weekend was glorious though, bright blue skies and the color of some trees so intense some streets in my town seemed too beautiful to be true.

Then yesterday it rained and that added to the beauty. Walking to my car over a thick carpet of bright yellow and deep wine colored leaves seemed magical. And today! The wind was blowing the leaves around like some Van Gogh landscape come to life! Clearing the air and skies so that the sunlight seemed to be coming from within everything it shone on, including the trees still holding on to their colors as well as the leaves whipping past the window or surrounding me as I walked.

And all the good news that gets lost in these times of despair and rancor and so many lies. Like GM getting back on its feet, just like their federal bailout intended. The government no longer the majority stockholder as their stock goes on the market, just as Obama made clear the bailout was intended to do. The results continue to prove him right about so much he accomplished and his policies are still accomplishing, those policies soon to be reversed or at least an attempt made by the Republicans in the House.

Do the rightwingers now have to take back their charges of "socialist" since one of their prime examples of their idea of "socialism" was the federal government's "takeover" of GM? Somehow, I don't think that's gonna happen. Anymore than Obama is gonna get credit for his doing what he said he was going to do if elected. But maybe there's an outside chance he and the Dems will learn how to actually communicate in a clear and direct way the nature of what they've already achieved and how all of it helps most of us, even if it ain't perfect. But the way they're going...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

LONG QUOTE FOR THESE DAYS

     "By the time the flames reached their height, the arsonists had slunk off, and only the firemen were left for people to take out their ire on. The result is a kind of political cognitive dissonance. Frightened by joblessness, “the American people” rewarded the party that not only opposed the stimulus but also blocked the extension of unemployment benefits. Alarmed by a ballooning national debt, they rewarded the party that not only transformed budget surpluses into budget deficits but also proposes to inflate the debt by hundreds of billions with a permanent tax cut for the least needy two per cent. Frustrated by what they see as inaction, they rewarded the party that not only fought every effort to mitigate the crisis but also forced the watering down of whatever it couldn’t block.
     Part of the Democrats’ political problem is that their defense, confusingly, depends on counterfactuals (without the actions they took in the face of fierce Republican opposition, the great slump would have metastasized into a Great Depression), deferred gratification (the health-care law’s benefits do not kick in fully until 2014), and counterintuitive propositions (the same hard times that force ordinary citizens to spend less money oblige the government—whose income, like theirs, is falling—to spend more). Another part of the problem, it must be said, is public ignorance. An illuminating Bloomberg poll, taken the week before the election, found that some two-thirds of likely voters believed that, under Obama and the Democrats, middle-class taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks under the Troubled Asset Relief Program are gone, never to be recovered. One might add to that list the public’s apparent conviction that illegal immigration is skyrocketing and that the health-care law will drive the deficit higher. Reality tells a different story. For ninety-five per cent of us, taxes are actually lower, cut by around four hundred dollars a year for individuals and twice that for families. (The stimulus provided other tax cuts for people of modest means, including a break for college tuition.) The economy has been growing, however feebly, for five straight quarters. Most of the TARP loans have been repaid and the rest soon will be, plus a modest profit for the Treasury. And the number of illegal immigrants fell by close to a million last year, thanks in part to more energetic border enforcement. The health-care law, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says, will bring the deficit down."  —Henrick Hertzberg

[Read more of this terrific analysis of the recent election in the whole New Yorker "Talk of the Town" piece from the Nov. 15th issue here.]