Saturday, August 31, 2013

MARIAN MACPARTLAND R.I.P.

[Mrian MacPartland and I think Mary Lou Williams and Thelonious Monk in a cut out from the famous "A Great Day in Harlem" group shot of many of the living legends of jazz in 1958]

I know some important cultural figures have passed lately, like the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney and the great stage and screen actor Julie Harris (She was sometimes too precious for me, but I saw her do THE BELLE OF AMHERST on the Broadway stage and despite that play's misunderstanding of Emily Dickinson and its interpretation of her personality and character, Harris was still mesmerizing to watch, holding the stage alone and amazing)...

...but the passing of the two of them is getting a lot of attention in the media and among my Facebook friends and such, but I haven't seen anything marking the passing last week of Marian MacPartland who was one of my alltime favorite cultural figures.

The English born piano player was a giant of jazz, and as someone who played jazz piano as a young man and has some experience with the technical challenges I can honestly say she was one of the most talented pianists ever. But even more meaningful to me than her playing was her public radio show where she did duets with brilliant musicians and shared insights into their talent and matched them with her own.

Her show with Ray Charles was one of the most revealing ones I ever heard, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt why Charles was called "The Genius" as he talked about and displayed his vast knowledge of piano technique way more varied than his usual stuff. I looked forward to hearing her show every week for many many years and they were all done when she was already a very old woman!

She lived a long full life and gave the world so much more than most of us will ever be able to, I hope we never forget her legacy and her music and that those shows live on not just in musical history but for anyone who appreciates musical genius to learn from.


[And here's a nice little summary of her career:]


[...and of her talent:}


Friday, August 30, 2013

ANA KARENINA

Missed this last year when it came out. Had a lot of friends, including movie actors you'd know, who thought it should have won a ton of Oscars. I finally caught it on cable tonight and wish I could have seen it on the big screen. It might have been literally too theatrical for some (so much so I thought it must have been made by Baz Lurhman, but it was directed by Joe Wright who did ATONEMENT, another great film I thought, and adapted by Tom Stoppard) but it was brilliantly so.

And it starred Keira Knightley, enough to make me want to see it, and she did not disappoint, as always. A brilliant performance, especially given the challenging balancing act of realism in the context of theatricality. The rest of the cast was terrific too, except, for my taste, Aaron Taylor-Johnson. I liked him in SAVAGES, but it wasn't as demanding a role.

As Vronksy in ANA KARENINA he just wasn't able to match the same power and balancing act as Knightley and Jude Law and others in the cast. And though probably most women would disagree with me, I didn't buy him as someone Knightley's Ana could fall so helplessly and hopelessly in love with. Their love making scenes were subtle though theatrical and Knightley made her part work in ways few movie sex scenes ever capture, but she was doing all the work and Taylor-Johnson seemed out of his comfort zone.

But everything else about the film was refreshingly original—except the story of course—and well worth watching for any movie lover. Including for the surprise of another actor to watch, the Swedish born Alicia Vikander who showed a glimpse of the possibility for the kind of range Knightley has developed. Check it out if you haven't.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON/THEN AND NOW

I saw it on TV at a military base in New Jersey I had just been transferred to. I didn't do marches back then. I was engaged to a beautiful woman who for most of our childhood and teen years would have been called "colored." We couldn't marry in most states because it was against the law.

I had been stationed in South Carolina, deliberately sent there because of the woman I was engaged to in an attempt to make me come to my senses. South Carolina was not only one of the states where we couldn't marry, it was so thoroughly segregated at the time that black folks couldn't go to the drive-in movie theater in their own car!

I had been run out of the town where the base was, Greenville S.C., because I refused to obey the stupid racial laws. I didn't realize by not doing it I was putting my black friends there in danger. I was thrown off the first bus I got on because I sat in the last seat so I could check people out as they got on and off but that was against the law.

Most of my friends at the time of the first march fifty years ago today were what we now call African-Americans but back then called Negro or spades on the street. And they didn't march either. They thought, and influenced me to think at the time, that marching was for squares and people who liked to join things. My friends back North preferred to just live their lives the way they felt and not let anyone mess with them even to the point of taking the risk of being beaten or jailed. In my town nobody messed with my black friends.

But we watched Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech and were moved. It felt to me like a vindication of everything I'd been living and feeling my entire life about race relations. Even if circumstances—including racism and personalities and ambitions and differences—ended my engagement not long after that speech, by the time I got to college on the G.I. Bill a few years later I was ready to march and more.

But the main thing about that march and King's speech (which included bits and pieces of many earlier speeches and articles of his, as you can find in A TESTAMENT OF HOPE The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King Jr., edited by James M. Washington that came out in 1986 and was a gift from my oldest son Miles) is that when it occurred I believed that any child of mine and that young woman I was engaged to would be okay, despite even the best intentioned friends' belief that no mixed race child would have a chance in the USA of 1963.

But the main speaker at today's march (well, yesterday by the time I finish typing this) proved who saw the future and who didn't back then. No matter what we might complain about that hasn't improved enough, we can't deny that amazing change.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

PRIORITIES

I didn't see the MTV video awards, or whatever it's called, that seems to have a lot of folks in a tizzy over Miley Cyrus's set. I did catch a few clips from it on the web and found it pretty lame. It was an obvious attempt to be outrageous in some sort of sexual way but for my taste it bombed.

So I expected people to criticize the performance. Which some do. But a lot of what I'm seeing on Facebook and elsewhere is outrage at the sexual explicitness of her performance. Some even saying their children were upset by it. But in my memory, there have been a lot of outrageous and kid inappropriate stuff on the MTV awards shows for decades now.

I mean haven't Madonna and Britney Spears and Lady Gaga made their own attempts to be sexually outrageous in performances at these awards over the years, some of which were more scary than sexy (intentionally, whereas Cyrus's seems to have been unintentionally scary while trying to be "sexy")?

And don't many male rappers, let alone bands and etc., have lyrics that are way more offensive than what Cyrus was pretending to be doing on stage. Have these parents and others who seem so upset about the sexual aspect of her performance not noticed their performances (including the guy Cyrus was acting out with on stage in the performance many are upset with her for).

Some have expressed their outrage as concern for another child star losing their way as an adult and ending up like Lindsay Lohan or Amanda Bynes. That certainly may be a legitimate concern, but again it seems to hinge on her attempt to be outrageous in some sexual way.

For my entire life, "American" culture has seemed to accept violence, and its becoming more and more graphic, while often seeming to be upset with any expression of sexuality whether vulgar or romantic, also becoming more and more graphic over my lifetime.

I find most sex scenes in movies and on TV not interesting and often embarrassing, mostly because they don't resemble any sex I've experienced except in some aspects but not the experience. When Forest Whitaker transitions from one emotion to another in THE BUTLER I know what he's feeling, I identify with it, I've felt it and I'm probably feeling it along with him as I watch it. That's great performing.

But very few flicks and TV shows I've seen capture the fun or depth of connection or sense of discovery or deep gratitude etc. I've experienced and suspect most have in sexual encounters. There was a scene in DON'T LOOK NOW, with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie I remember identifying with at the time, and a few others over the years, but most of the time: boring.

The same goes for violence. I've experienced some over the years but have only very occasionally seen anything I could identify with my own experience in flicks and TV etc. Especially the more graphic it has become, often to the point of total absurdity. But though I had no interest in watching the MTV awards show that caused all the stir (and we know her manager is happy about it since as I understand it she is now managed by the guy who made Britney Spears' much more limited talent a profit machine by creating controversy etc.) what I have been paying attention to, and I'm sure you too...

...are the terrible photos and video of the children and others convulsing or already passed from chemical weapons in Syria.  It seems absurd for politicians and others to get so upset over the deaths of women and children and other innocent victims of chemical weapons that can be counted in the hundreds when the total death toll is estimated to be over a hundred thousand caused by other weapons.

But there is something especially fear fostering about chemical weapons, an historical psychological trauma consciousness like societal PTSD from what happened in World War One where so many young men died from mustard gas, and from the horror of the gassing of millions in Hitler's death camps. But for whatever reason, it looks like the USA will finally make some military gesture toward Syria in an official and open way (we already have operatives in there according to many sources, but they're the usual secret forces or secretly deployed forces our government has been using for decades now without officially letting us know about it).

There is so much uninformed and ill-informed commentary going on around the web and so-called "social media" about this that it serves as another reminder, as if we needed it, of how dark these ages are despite the access to so much information. People comparing it to Bush Junior's invasion of Iraq, and even some commenting on sites I've seen saying this proves "Bush was right" because these commenters think that Assad got his chemical weapons from Saddam and that these are actually the WMD the Bushies were looking for and couldn't find but now have been, in Syria!

Of course an attack by our missiles or whatever ensues on a few key military and possibly Syrian government targets as a warning, based on the evidence of these chemical attacks is not the same as invading a country on speculation they have chemical weapons and might use them because they did many years before. Hey, I'm anti-war, any war, but as I argued with Howard Zinn one time on a stage we were sharing, I still think sometimes, i.e. Hitler, they're necessary. This may be the case here, no matter our inability to control the outcome unlike WWII in the end.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

ANOTHER QUOTE

Many quotes on the Internet aren't sourced except for a name and often are misquotes or outright fabrications (usually obvious, at least to a lot of us). This one doesn't say where this quote occurred, but it sounds like Tutu, and it certainly is true in my book:

Sunday, August 25, 2013

THE BUTLER

THE BUTLER (or as the director sees it: LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER—but I'm getting tired of the whole "auteur" thing unless it's someone like Woody Allen who writers and directs and etc....) is an obvious tour de force. And calculated to be so.

Forest Whitaker deserves an Oscar for the lead role that covers the course of a man's life over several decades, and despite his looking a little old for the earlier years pulling it off physically, emotionally and artistically. I didn't doubt his character for a second.

And Vanessa Redgrave (who for me is the greatest screen actor of all time) does her usual brilliant work, as does Clarence Williams III. But then there's a lot of trick casting, which, once you get past the trick actually in some cases works. Liev Schriber as LBJ for instance. I wouldn't have believed it but he pulls it off. And ditto for John Cusack as Richard Nixon. Not so much in his first scene as Nixon as VP, but as president, especially at the end, he does some beautiful work.

And James Marsden as JFK is totally believable, again once you get over the discrepancy in physical presence and looks. Jane Fonda also, who brings Nancy Reagan to life, despite seeming to get much of what her physical presence was actually like wrong. Fonda still captures the essence of Nancy Reagan's minor key regality.

But Robin Williams as Eisenhower? And Alan Rickman as Reagan? I never thought I'd see him do a bad acting job, but he misses Reagan by miles and miles, as does the script really. Danny Strong's writing is obvious and obviously aiming for symbolic gestures and deep meanings and character types standing in for political and social score keeping. And makes the usual oversimplification mistake when dealing with the complexity of 1960s racial and civil rights politics and realities (why are The Black Panthers always portrayed as cold and bloodthirsty? The ones I knew were the exact opposite! Though it's worth it to see Yaya Alafia in an afro, as well as the rest of her looks in another terrific performance).

And then there's Oprah as Whitaker's butler's wife. Oprah pulls some of her scenes off well, but she's still Oprah, and buying her as someone Terence Howard's roguish character (played brilliantly as usual) would cheat on his wife and Forest Whitaker to get a taste of more than once just didn't fly for me. There's more, like Lenny Kravitz in a very solid portrayal of one of Whitaker's character's fellow butlers and Cuba Gooding Jr's similarly solid portrayal as another of them and Mariah Carey's cameo as the main character's mother (she continually surprises as an actor).

I didn't even get to the actors who play Whitaker's character at younger ages or his sons at different ages, all good, and other actors who play characters' wives or maids who work with the butlers, etc. A lot of great work among them all.

But in the end, despite its obvious flaws and obvious obviousness almost every step of the way, it still pushed my buttons, brought tears to my eyes and led me to applaud along with everyone else when the film was over in the theater where I saw it in up in The Berkshires with my youngest and grandson and his cousin. Because it did tell some truths about our racial history, and it did honor many who suffered long and hard under our racial divisions and policies, and it did offer some solace and consolation for at least some of that suffering that has become in many cases truly history.

But, I'd like to see the movie of Rosa Parks' life, or Bayard Rustin's or the untold number of "Negro" heroes who put their lives on the line to make this country, and the world, a little bit better for their "race" and thereby for all of us.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

PS TO LAST POST

Another beautiful day in The Berkshires with the return of Summer Fest to Great Barrington, which meant lots of live music on three different outdoor stages all day as well as sidewalk vendors, including it seemed a lot of variations on the sausage theme.

The best thing though may have been the capper. When I went out to move my car to a space that won't get ticketed for parking overnight, I was greeted with the sound of a drum circle, serious Brazilian drumming from a circle of maybe a dozen drummers echoing down the street.

They had played earlier in the day in front of the town hall to a constantly growing crowd drawn by their spectacular rhythms, and were finishing a gig at The Gypsy Joynt when, according to one of the many family members who run the Joynt, they decided it had become too hot inside so moved outside.

There was a growing crowd of people encircling the drummers and dancing, some with wild abandon, others, like me, slightly more contained but still moving to the beat. The air was cooling down (59 degrees according to my phone) but the drummers and the crowd weren't, at least not music wise.

Nice way to say goodnight to the world at the end of another day to be grateful for.

ANOHER BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE BERKSHIRES

I suck at photography, even with the user friendly easy access of an iPhone. My youngest took a perfect picture of the sun on Lake Mansfield in Great Barrington, Mass., earlier today (I guess technically yesterday, since it's past midnight) so maybe I'll get him to post it somehow to this tomorrow to give you an idea.

I always felt photographs were like recordings of live shows, whether music or plays or whatever, they never live up to the experience of being in the room when the show or event actually happened. But you know what a perfect summer day looks and feels like. That was today. Perfect.

It was just warm enough, but not so much to make you feel hot. The sky was just blue enough, but not so much to overwhelm the puffy white clouds drifting overhead. The people were friendly enough, but not so much it seemed fake. Like the nice man I met at SoCo, the local homemade ice cream shop I love, who had just moved up to The Berkshires with his wife and little kids from a town near ours in Jersey, having given up the rat race of commuting to Manhattan etc.. And best of all, my sons and grandson were all happy and healthy enough, but not so much it seemed impossible to maintain (and I assumed my daughter and granddaughter were as well though they were on Cap Cod).

Then tonight I stopped in The Gypsy Joynt to see a show by a band from New Paltz, New York, called THE BIG TAKEOVER, with a Jamaican-born singer and a reggae/dubstep vibe that got me swaying and dancing just enough but not so much that I embarrassed myself, or anyone else. They played over two hours straight and I ended up staying and swaying through the whole long set and grateful I did.

Life is good. For some of us. My heart goes out to those facing days that aren't so beautiful, like those poor children in Syria who suffered the chemical weapons attack and their families. I recognize my good fortune every day and will continue to attempt to do what I can to help those less fortunate despite the lack of will sometimes shown by those with the power to do so much more.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

ANOTHER FAVORITE QUOTE

"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-tzu (from TAO TE CHING as translated by Stephen Mitchell)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

NEW KID ON THE MEDIA BLOCK

I have a friend who used to work for Frontline and is now working for Al Jazeera America, so I checked in last night on a few of the evening news shows and again tonight. A lot of it is the same old stuff, including many of the faces, unfortunately. But there were a few things I noticed that seemed a little more unique to this new news network, including more thorough coverage of foreign stories like the weather and floods in China etc..

And like how in a story on the president coming back from his one week vacation with his family, they used that as a springboard to comment on how few working people in the USA get actual paid vacations, and threw up a graph to show how we compared to some European and Asian countries where paid vacations are legally mandatory. We came out last of course, because we have none (they wound the story up with the fact that members of Congress get much longer vacations than anything Obama has taken, but didn't add especially compared to our last president, Bush Junior).

There were definitely more Middle-Eastern-American faces and focus on the news impacting them, which was different, and the segment at 7:30, I think it's called Streaming, includes contributors on Skype and in the studio and online etc. for a half hour focused on one topic, last night's being the divisions in Egypt (explained by people who live there or have relatives who have died in the recent violence etc.) and tonight's being women in comedy with Kathy Griffin as the main guest. The other Skyped in guests were all female comedians representing cities and ethnicities you don't see on the other news shows much if at all.

All in all, so far, there's been the usual top stories and political perspectives for a lot of them, but also here and there a different perspective and a different, and at times more thorough, presentation. Hope they take more chances and do what they claim they will do: give us stories the other news shows don't.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

ALBERT MURRAY & ELMORE LEONARD R.I.P.

These guys were crucial elements in our culture for many decades, and though they both lived long and prospered, they will be missed. I never met either except in the words they wrote in their very different ways, but that was enough to feel I knew at least something about how they saw the world and who they were and what they were contributing to the ongoing evolution of who we are and might be as a country and society.

If you've never read them, you have a treat in store for you.

Monday, August 19, 2013

HEROS OF COMEDY

When I saw this, I just had to repost it. These guys kept me laughing as a kid and as an adult. I feel lucky to have lived in an era when they were working their comedy chops.
[If you don't recognize them, the shorter one is Mel Brooks and the big guy is the inimitable Sid Caesar.]

Sunday, August 18, 2013

DOUG LANG'S DERANGE

I wanted to write this post last night but got too tired after wasting an enormous amount of time trying to get my scanner to work so I could have an image of the cover of this book to open with, because the only one available on line is cropped to the extent that it misrepresents the book's look. And I couldn't get my scanner to work, I think, because I got a new WiFi airport and they're not connecting, and I can't seem to get them to connect (and yes I tried reinstalling the printer installation disc but it's incompatible with my upgraded Office operating system etc. etc. etc.)...

So, I've put a self portrait by Doug Lang above instead. I also can't figure out how to get the accents on the "e"s in the title of Doug's new book, which is also in all lower case. Oy. It's a shame too because the book design is beautiful (by Susan F. Campbell), but you'll have to take my word for it. The shape is square, almost 8x8 inches, necessary because the poems in derange (accents on the "e"s and the actual title not italicized) are wide, despite being sonnets.

The sonnet form is totally reinvented in the most extraordinarily innovative way in Lang's derange (accent on the "e"s etc.). So much so that it is high on my list of the most unique books in my library. Lang has been one of those poets and writers who publish extremely sparingly, and except for his first book, the novel FREAKS, published in 1973 by a commercial paperback publisher (New English Library) his work has come out from relatively obscure small presses. Including this latest book (Primary Writing in Washington DC).

But among aficionados of alternative poetry (or whatever term we use now for poetry that is not what the general public thinks of when they think of poetry) Lang has always been a deeply admired but too well-kept secret favorite. Full disclosure, I've known and admired and been a friend of Doug's for decades now (as I am with the people who were able to get him to put this collection together and help publish it, but also as I happen to be with thousands of poets and writers so it'd be pretty difficult to avoid writing about folks I know personally), but I have plenty of creative friends whose work I am not afraid to criticize harshly.  If I didn't know Doug Lang I'd still love and admire his work, especially this latest book.

The gift Lang gives his readers in derange (accents etc.) is not just his reinvention of the sonnet form, but using every approach to reinventing how the content of these sonnets could be created, from found writing and sampling to acquisition and excerpting to original content with parody, homage, scholarship, tips-of-the-hat(s) and more, often fragmentary, never seen before in sonnet form and all structured by juxtaposing these techniques and many others with often seemingly arbitrary frames determined by what also often seems like chance or arbitrary determinants.

Ah, there's hardly a language for what the variety of techniques seem to be, at least not for me. I can't reproduce the look of many of these sonnets here because most of the lines are too long for this computer format unless I were to reduce the type to unreadable (for me). But I'll try to give you just a few examples of some of the various approaches Lang uses for these sonnets (and where the lines are very short you can assume they are part of the line before).

For instance in one he just inserts "yo"s into Shelly's "Ozymandias" sonnet to get lines like these:

"Yo, yo, I met a traveler from an antique land, yo,
Who said: Yo, Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert, yo. Near them, on the sand, yo,
Half sunk, yo, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,"

etc. bringing it to life in an entirely new way with an engagingly provocative and ultimately profound new emphasis and meaning while remaining true to Shelly's original intent. And making the technique seem deceptively simple and obvious, despite it's never having been done by anyone else before (to my knowledge).

Or in a similar tactic in his "Paradise Dude Sonnet":

Of man's First Disobedience, dude, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, dude, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, dude, OMG, and all our woe,"

etc. But the amazing thing about this collection is it is not a one-trick or two-trick but an every-poem-a-new-trick pony. Too much to possibly convey in this short post. But here's a few more examples of some lines that hopefully give an impression of the variety of approaches:

Doctor Uyemura says I have OCD NPR BFF & OMG
Like a Coen Brothers movie
A craze is different from a crack in that it can continue to support a load


 or:

netanyahu tectonic barbecue has had his own stumbles veterans were angry boats of
asylum-seekers ozawa fickle regions hijack defects maoist livestock guangdong
punishable by death venue stone-pelter insurgency 60% stooges more than anywhere
else in the world. Whole Foods Market, P Street NW, January 8 2005 10:38 a.m.:

or:

It isn't that I don't understand why people talk
about what is a poem and what isn't a poem, or,
whether a poem is good or bad, or,
whether a poem has meaning or...

whatever. Sometimes these concerns seem to me to be
kind of like class prejudice or even race prejudice.
By which I mean that if you don't like my work, you are
a fucking racist.


There's so much more, anyone interested in what's new in poetry or writing in general should check out Doug Lang's derange (accents etc.), or anyone who just digs unique books.

[PS: Thanks to Tom Raworth, another creator of unique poetry, for scanning and emailing me the cover after the above was first posted:]

Friday, August 16, 2013

BLUE JASMINE

I've never seen a Woody Allen movie I didn't get something out of, even if it was just an hour or two of escape. Certain artists I dig I try to keep up with their work and always find it interesting on some level. And Allen has proven he's a master of comedy, and romance, and romantic comedy and satire and parody and mystery and even serious subjects like death and murder and betrayal and more.

But except for references to his New York Jewish differences with "middle class" WASPs etc. he has never really examined class issues very seriously. In BLUE JASMINE he does. And understandably he gets a lot wrong. As usual in his flicks there's not much racial variety, or even presence, even though it's set in New York and San Francisco. And the SF characters sound more like Brooklyn than North Beach (I mean Andrew Dice Clay and Bobby Cannavale with heavy New York accents, maybe I don't remember what San Francisco Italian-Americans sound like).

But those caveats aside, man is BLUE JASMINE powerfully serious and seriously powerful. As always in an Allen flick the acting is outstanding, which I usually attribute to Allen's directing, but as my friend Bill Lannigan, who I saw it with today, pointed out, it's the writing that makes the acting work, and he's right. There's some masterful script writing in this flick, especially for the main character, Jasmine, played by Cate Blanchett in a performance I hope everyone remembers come Oscar nomination time. As well as her sister played by the always wonderful Sally Hawkins.

Despite the usual criticisms of Allen, he's written some great roles for women over the years and filled them with great actors, including those two. But Jasmine is his most intensely focused examination of a complex and conflicted woman character ever for Allen, or any other director in a movie in years. It's as though Allen has finally captured what made some of his favorite Russian authors so good at plumbing the depths of women characters like Anna Karenina et. al.

It's also a timely movie. As some critics point out it's a kind of comeuppance for the 1% in a way and a protest on behalf of the rest of us 99%. But it's so much more than that. While Blanchett plays a woman whose anxiety is always a paper thin facade away from exploding, and Alec Baldwin plays her seemingly anxiety free scamming husband, the ease with which the wealthy privileged acquire and ascend until the rare reckoning is examined by Allen like a jeweler with his eyepiece exploring gems for flaws.

Allen has made movies with tension inherent in the plots, like the relatively recent mystery mini-masterpiece MATCH POINT (a much slighter examination of the impact of class on the ambitious), but most of his movies didn't have me on the edge of my seat. BLUE JASMINE did, or at least had me clenching my fists from the adrenaline rush of going down with the plot. It's an intense flick and at times wouldn't be easy to watch if it wasn't for Allen's and Blanchett's artistry. As Bill and I discussed later, just the changes in her eyes from scene to scene reflected masterful transformations.

Everyone in the cast has their moments, including Louis C. K., and Andrew Dice Clay is a revelation after all these years, but it's Blanchett's brave and revealing performance that I'm not sure too many other actors could make work, if any, that makes this movie worth seeing.

THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT

I thought I had read the Sloan Wilson's bestselling 1955 novel THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT and had seen the 1956 movie that was made of it. But either the brain operation wiped out all memory of either, or I was mistaken, because watching it tonight (or officially by now last night) on TCM not one scene was familiar.

I also had put it in a category with all the overwrought melodramatic movies in the 1950s that contributed, at least for me, to that decade's movies seeming to reflect something gravely flawed about that era's take on life, making the "serious" adult films of that time seem terribly depressing to me as a boy and teenager.

But when I look at the credits for the film of THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT there's so many movie artists I love I couldn't resist checking it out again (or what turned out to be I think the first time) and I wasn't disappointed. It certainly had its moments of melodrama, but the thread of reality running through it ended up overwhelming me with the integrity of the entire project.

A lot of that I think is because Gregory Peck stars as THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT, a term that back in the '50s evoked nothing but blandness and depressing conformity to my young mind, as I think it was intended to when used by many then. But Peck's inherent decency that made him such an icon years later in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and sometimes made him seem a bit stiff in minor films, comes through in his character in THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT so beautifully, the artistry in his performance was so precise and focused, that in the end it actually cut through all the stuff I mention above that bothered me in the so-called "serious" movies of that decade.

A lot too can be attributed to Nunally Johnson's screen adaptation and his direction and casting, with Frederic March, Jennifer Jones and Lee J. Cobb (playing against type for him in those years) kicking their usual movie acting ass. Marisa Pavan gave the war time flashbacks a romantic patina that enriched the film as well (I was always confusing her back then with Pier Angeli).

The most surprising and satisfying aspect of the movie was how relevant it seemed to our own times. Something unusual for those 1950s melodramas when they were usually addressing situations and relationships that are out in the open now and we pretty much take for granted, but back then were hidden and forbidden and obviously frightening to many (like abortion or homosexuality or extra-marital affairs, or pregnancies before marriage or out of wedlock as they said).

But this was addressing some issues we still face, like the trauma of war, even if not as "realistically" as movies might today, the dominance and addictiveness of TV and the media, the challenge of affording a family, making a marriage work, and a lot more. Anyway, for me, it was much better than I expected it to be and it ranks up there with some of the other classic films these artists were involved in, especially Peck, Jennifer Jones and Frederic March.

I highly recommend you catch it if you haven't, but make sure it's in the letterbox format so you can see the way the widescreen shots are framed and photographed.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

WE ALL NEED (TO DO) MORE OF THIS

People can be so magnificent sometimes it warms the heart and moistens the eyes, at least mine, and I suspect yours too if you watch this all the way through (keeping in mind that this is an unemployment office in Spain where the unemployment rate is much higher than ours, especially among the young):

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

ANOTHER FAVORITE QUOTE

"...remember a man's real work is what he is going to do, not what is behind him."  —Ezra Pound (from a letter to William Carlos Williams)

Monday, August 12, 2013

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF CORPORATE AMERICA

Not an entire day and I won't give you the whole story because it's too tedious and too long. It started at 10:30 after I'd been having trouble getting an Internet connection. On the advice from Comcast (and a lot of robo messages and dropped connections and holding forever) I went to a Comcast store with my modem to exchange it for another to see if that might be the cause. They said otherwise I'd have to make an appointment for a repair guy to come out and it'd be a few days and I'd have to hang around all day etc. etc.

I couldn't find the store and when I called information and got a number for the Comcast Store on Prospect Avenue in Went Orange New Jersey I got a man's voice telling me I'd reached Comcast new Jersey and the options for reaching people if I knew their extensions or their names or etc. or I could press zero for the operator. So I did.

Then I got the same recording over again. And every time I pressed zero the same thing. Finally I spotted a cop car and asked him if he knew where it was and he did. It was in a mall about a mile away from where the Comcast person I'd spoken to on the phone before I left to go there had told me it was, but he warned me it was hard to find even though it was in a mall because it was down in back, way in back. And he was right.

It was a tiny little space behind what I thought at first was behind the mall, in other words not at the back side of the mall but down below it further back in a tiny spot that you couldn't see until you drove around and down, so obscure I was surprised to find other people even there. The three Comcast people were behind several layers of thick plastic windows with openings to put my modem through while theirs were still closed and then vice versa when they gave me the new one, so no one could slip a gun through and rob them I guess (there was a big sign saying they didn't keep cash etc.).

When I got home and called Comcast, as I was told to do, for the instructions in connecting the new one correctly I got a taped message leading me through it, but the final steps were to open my computer and connect to my search engine and the last steps, but the computer wouldn't connect to the modem! When I called Comcast I got put on hold, sent to taped messages that told me which numbers to push but always ended up with me being disconnected or another taped message that didn't help or sent to someone who said they were in Malaysia, a man, or Southeast Asia, a woman, etc. who didn't seem to get what my problem was though they said they did and told me they would connect me to the tech people who could help me but I was sent back to the original Comcast hold the line static-y music while waiting forever and then given to a Comcast "customer service executive"(!) who couldn't find any record of my account from my phone number despite the fact that one of the taped messages earlier had used the last four digits of that number to verify it was me, and insisted the account number I was reading to him off my bill, which I'd read to the other live contacts I'd had so far and had worked fine was the wrong number because there weren't enough digits in it. He had a tone that seemed to me to imply I was an idiot and couldn't read my account number correctly. When I started to ask for his supervisor he cut me off and sent me back to the same old original robo recording etc.

I had been told if the new modem didn't work try replacing the wifi connection, so I took my Apple airport to the Apple store in yet another Jersey town further away and when I asked if someone could check it they said I'd have to make an appointment. By then it was afternoon, so I said just show me where I can buy a new one. I was sent to a woman leaning against the shelves with the Airports. There were two different new ones, one bigger than the other, but when I asked the woman salesclerk what the difference in capacity was for each, she didn't know and I couldn't find it on the box so she sent me to another woman back at the front of the store.

When I told her what the woman said she explained pretty thoroughly and then a man joined us and added that the best way to install it was to download Airport Utility onto my phone and follow the directions I got there rather than the ones on the computer because they were easier. So I did that and went home to discover that the directions wouldn't even start until I was connected to the Internet but I couldn't connect to the Internet until the modem was connected and it wouldn't connect without the airport etc.

When I called Comcast again I went through the usual crap, including a woman this time telling me my account number didn't call up my account and when she tried using my phone number that didn't exist in their records either, so I remembered my old land line number I haven't used in years and that connected me so she said I hadn't given them my new number. When I told her I know I had and besides I'd been using it all morning with Comcast people without a problem and had been doing it in the years since I changed it she too treated me like I was an imbecile but said she changed it so that would never be a problem again when I called Comcast and then she sent me to a technician who turned out to be a woman in India who was very gentle and good natured despite my obvious frustration and even though my telephone number didn't work with her either but she managed to get my records through my name and the last four digits of my social security number even though all morning everyone kept telling me they needed my social security number but it couldn't be used to call up my records ay-yi-yi-yi-yi....

She got the connection to the computer worked out but then when I tried the downloaded Airport Utility the Apple guy told me to get, it couldn't find the modem so the instructions wouldn't start. I finally called Applecare where a man told me I'd have to buy Applecare because my six month new computer warranty was up. I tried not to go crazy explaining that I had paid for Applecare for three effin' years etc. I finally was given someone there who took me through the steps and I got connected and by then it was 4:30.

And I left out many of the most frustrating stuff. This is Corporate America. We no longer make much that demands skilled and therefore highly paid (or let's say sufficiently paid to be able to make a living) workers but are now mainly a "service" economy, that say, but that "service" is actually out sourced as much as possible or left to unskilled or untrained workers not making enough money who have to face the frustration—and I'm sure sometimes verbal abuse—of people just trying to get help with their "service" but getting the runaround instead because the "customer service" people and even the "technical help" are often clueless or unavailable because they are overworked and underpaid so that some greedheads can own even bigger private jets etc.

Time to ring the bell on this madness.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

AMISH STYLE

Took my youngest to skateboard camp today over in PA in Amish country and saw a slew of teenage Amish boys on bicycles riding the sides of the roads. And my youngest said they dress like Brooklyn (or Portland) hipsters. Everything old is new again, or what comes around goes around, or there's nothing new under the sun, etc.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

UNTIL AND UNLESS

There needs to be a worldwide "Arab Spring" style uprising against corporate power with the worst offenders of the abuse of that power on a top ten list that the population of the world can organize to destroy.

The old "Wobblies" from the early 20th Century had the brilliant idea of organizing all the industrial workers of the world into one big union (it was called The Industrial Workers of the World, "Wobblies" was their nickname) and when they had all the industrial workers in the world finally united in one big union they would call a worldwide strike to force the "owners" to capitulate and give workers the just reward for their labor.

It was a pipe dream in the eyes of many, who were too factionalized to stick together, but as a result were easier to divide and conquer, ala competing unions, racial and ethnic and religious divisions, etc. There was a period in the 1930s when more and more workers were realizing the importance of organizing and unifying to defeat the greedy owners who refused to pay a living wage with benefits and for a while the unionization of the country progressed until a working man could afford to buy a house and own a car and put his kids through college.

That was the 1950s. But then the divide and conquer tactic began to pay off, first with the "silent majority" that Nixon's propagandists used to successfully imply that it wasn't the greedy corporate rulers who were keeping the working class down it was "urban crime" which was a euphemism for "black" people and "The Eastern elite" which was a straw man set up to assuage the anger working folk felt at those who seemed to be running the show (for Nixon it was also a way to take his revenge on the Kennedys) and acting like they were better than.

Then Reagan's propagandists kicked it up a notch with "welfare queens" and "union thugs" and the same old "Eastern elite" now represented as "Washington" so that even when he was president he got to pretend he was not part of any "Washington elite" etc.  He's the one who really began selling off "America" (i.e. the USA) to the highest corporate bidder and then blaming the "welfare queen" who picked up her government checks in a Cadillac, just as much of a lie as his memories of serving in WWII though he spent those years in Hollywood, and much of the press let him get away with it because they too were fighting unions to create greater profits etc.

So here we are, the corporate takeover of "America" (i.e. the USA, though much of the rest of the world as well) almost complete, and the rightwing propagandists not just successful but triumphant despite the reality that a majority of the country agrees more with liberal programs and policies when they are presented without the "trigger" words the right has created to tar any liberal idea with the same brush. Unless there's a massive movement that focuses on the top corporate abusers of power, starting with the oil and gas corporations and Monsanto and other chemical corporations and financial corporations etc. and frightens enough politicians into ending the gerrymandering that allows a minority of Tea Party rightwing Republicans to hold this Congress hostage and block any attempt to help working people diminish the gap of economic inequality that has grown to Victorian Gilded Age dimensions, it will only get worse.

Greed knows no limits. Enough is never enough. The Koch brothers could found their own country and their descendants could rule it for generations and generations on the money they've already accrued and yet it isn't enough. The same for the Walton family and so many others. The Democrats are too timid or too tied to their own self interest, most of them anyway it seems, to call out these corporations and often the families that control and profit from them, but it is necessary that any future progressive organizing movement focus on them and create so much awareness of their misdeeds and contempt for the very people the Republicans pretend to be concerned about (convincingly obviously in too many cases) that only a small minority will still believe the lies.

It's late so this is probably coming off as a slightly wacky rant but it's just frustration with the pace of protest in our country despite all the proof of the rapid road to hell these rightwingers continue to seem to be able to keep us on.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

20 FEET FROM STARDOM

Been hearing great things about this documentary and all I can say is they didn't praise it enough! It's joyful, poignant, heartbreaking, inspiring, and a lot of other superlatives. But the main thing is the singing. Mmm mmm mmm. Too good to be true but the good news is it is.

Plus, it's some of the best editing I've seen in a documentary. Loved the pacing and cuts and overlaps and all the rest. As you probably know it's the story of the back up singer sound that came out of the '50s and '60s and dominates most of our favorite riffs and hooks in the music of that era and the decades that followed.

There's the singers you might know or have heard of like Darla Love, Claudia Lennear et. al. and many you probably haven't. Interviews with the stars they backed and more. It's like a lifetime of music in the length of a feature film. Too good to miss. I especially recommend seeing it on the big screen with a great sound system if it's playing anywhere near you.

That's the way me and a good friend saw it tonight and it was total immersion in the incredible voices showcased here. I'm only sorry I didn't see it with my teenage son. But I love it so much I'm gonna do my best to get him to go see it with me tomorrow so I can lose myself in those voices once again.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

THE SESSIONS

Finally caught THE SESSIONS tonight on cable TV. I missed it last year but now understand why there were so many nominations and accolades for Helent Hunt and John Hawke, the stars of the flick playing the polio afflicted real life poet Mark O'Brian and his sex surrogate. Incredibly brave performances by Hunt and Hawke both, though her especially.

The entire cast was excellent, including William H. Macy and Moon Bloodgood. Which obviously reflects the excellent direction by Ben Lewin. I'm happy Jennifer Lawrence won the Oscar, but if Hunt had won it, and I had seen this flick at the time, I would have been happy with that result as well. If you haven't seen it yet, it's well worth it.

PRIVATIZE THIS!

I had to go to court today (I guess it's officially yesterday now). Well, I didn't have to, I chose to, to get a speeding ticket reduced. I saw it as an exercise in patience and an opportunity to test my practice of trying to make whoever I encounter in stores and offices etc. feel better than when I encountered them.

In the process of doing the latter I befriended a guard who was manning, actually womanning, the metal detector you had to pass through at the entrance. She and her fellow security guard telling us where to line up etc. had guns but they also had patches on that seemed to indicate they weren't police and the courthouse is in the police station in my town.

I asked her if she worked for a private security firm and she said indeed she did. I asked if she got medical coverage and she said she did. We both laughed at the absurdity of private security guards guarding a police station. But when I thought about it, it wasn't really funny. I assume they make less than the cops and that's why the town hires them instead of hiring more cops. And they probably aren't unionized and don't get pensions or very good ones.

[As I've written before, I had a lot of cops in my extended family growing up (still do have a few) and back then they could afford to own a house in our town and put their kids through college. Now, of course, the cops can't afford to live in the same town and their spouses have to work and some of them have to work extra jobs, so you know these security guards the town hired to help out are doing even less well...]

The man was Hispanic and spoke with a heavy accent so I assumed he was an immigrant. The woman guard was African-American. I wondered how much training they got and what the limits of their duties were but didn't get a chance to find out. I liked them both, tough but friendly, at least to me, the only person there who spoke to them as far as I saw. The people there for court reflected them, heavily accented immigrants and African Americans, for the most part. I wondered where all the "white" people were since the town has a lot of them.

But mostly I thought about privatization and how it is destroying the country. Because the corporations that get the contracts that used to be government run, cut wages (but exponentially increase CEO salaries) and cut pensions and benefits and do less training and eliminate jobs that actually help people live better lives etc. In fact my guess is the security company they worked for probably subcontract all that out anyway and the security guards probably make even less as a result.

Then I read an article that sums up the whole problem with privatization pretty neatly. You can read it here.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

PHOEBE MACADAMS' TOUCHING STONE

I've got the usual piles of books I'm reading, most by people I know and almost all sent to me by friends or publishers etc. As always I read a little in several when I get the chance, mostly at night in bed. Some take longer than others, either because they are simply bigger books or because the writing demands so much from my old brain I can only take in so much at a time, or just because I want to savor the experience and stretch it out.

There are also some that are slim enough and succinct and direct enough, that even while savoring them they are soon finished. Phoebe MacAdams' TOUCHING STONE is one of those. Published by Cahuenga Press in L.A., a collective publishing venture by a group of poets including MacAdams, the press that published a book high on my alltime favorites list—Harry E. Northup's REUNIONS—MacAdams's latest book is a slim volume of mostly very short poems divided into four sections.

As MacAdams explains in her introduction the poems in the book were mostly inspired or impacted by the deaths of her mother, sister and step father all within a five year period. These people so close to her and so meaningful in her life were no longer physically present but their meanings to her were still in her heart and their voices in her head and their presence invading her dreams.

But unlike other poets who might milk the maudlin aspects of losing loved ones, or who almost always bore me when they write of their dreams, something about MacAdams' prudent use of an accessible and focused language as well the trim economy of each poem, creates the sense of not only personal connection to the "story" in each poem but highlights the nuanced implications of them so that I ended up feeling a part of her experience, as if it were mine as well (and that identification is not just because I've known her since we first met in the late 1960s, having heard of her as the great beauty of the poetry world, a beauty her poems still reflect).

There are too many gems to share among the less than fifty poems in this selection, but I'll leave you with one untitled poem from the last section (or perhaps it's meant to be read as part of a serial poem like the third section) that might at first seem slight, but if you savor it and appreciate the craft in it (for instance the clarity and definitiveness of the singular "nail" etc.) I hope you will see what I see in this single gem among many in TOUCHING STONE, that ends up being more than it seems and telling a story greater and more complex than its simple form implies:

angels in the doorway

carry the weight:

light of candle

light of lantern

streetlamps

metro lights

light reflecting off fingernail

tip of pen

wedding ring

Christmas bow

everywhere

light

Saturday, August 3, 2013

ANOTHER FAVORITE QUOTE

"To refine, to clarify, to intensify that eternal moment in which we alone live there is but a single force—the imagination."   —William Carlos Williams (from SPRING & ALL)

Friday, August 2, 2013

THE BIG SLEEP

Watched THE BIG SLEEP tonight (I guess last night by now) not only because it's one of my favorite films but because besides Bogie and Bacall it has one of my alltime favorite Hollywood actresses in it: Martha Vickers. She plays Lauren Bacall's character's little sister who spends most of her screen time "high" in a way only an old Hollywood movie could portray, more sex kitten then junkie. It's a tour de force performance, eternally memorable.

And this movie also showcases the Bacall I fell in loved with as a kid (not the older one I met decades later) and the Bogie, and it also includes a terrific scene between Bogie and Dorothy Malone. And a couple of inimitable scenes with the great Elijah Cook. Co-written with William Faulkner from a Raymond Chandler story, I think it may be Faulkner's only actual screen credit, though he contributed to other films I believe.

Just watching the first fifteen minutes of the flick the dialogue was so quick and witty and perceptive and intelligent I was thinking it may be the best first fifteen minutes of any film, but then I thought of several others. It's still up there near the top. The old complaint is that the screenplay, with three writers getting credit and even more supposedly contributing, was so confusing Bogie and director Howard Hawks argued over what the plot actually was.

But besides seeming like a few movies in one (two extra scenes were added post production between Bogie and Bacall because they were hot and the studio wanted more steam between them (one office scene and one restaurant/bar scene that do seem a bit gratuitous but well worth it)) I always found it not that difficult to follow. But maybe that's because I've seen it now so many times it's more like an old favorite song you listen to repeatedly than  movie event. If you get the chance check or re-check it out.