Tuesday, December 30, 2014

MUST BE MASS HYPNOSIS OR SOMETHING

Have you seen the story about the woman who was chosen to be the Rose Bowl Queen fifty years ago but when they found out she had what they called then "Negro blood" was denied the opportunity to ride on the float designated for her and now half a century later she's leading the parade?

The weirdest thing about it is when you see her photo from back then and now if you were just going by the standard perception of what "black" and "white" might mean in this society she appears to be "white" while my guess would be that many Rose Bowl queens who were designated as "white" were much darker skinned, or as I said in a comment where I first saw this posted:

"the dumbest thing about all this is that the article and most media and people use the terms 'black' and 'white' based on some arcane fantasy of non-existent 'race' supposedly based on the color of one's skin, when using terms like 'black' for a woman who looks like this woman and 'white' for the many dark skinned people designated as such is obviously a case of the emperor has no feckin' clothes on..."

Our peculiar history makes it very difficult to just drop the "black" or "white" designations because of how those perceived as "black" have suffered as a result of that fantasy (our president is a great example, his mother was "white" and he was raised by her and her parents, also "white," and thus his entire upbringing was as coming from a "white" family and obviously being "part white" and yet to his many domestic enemies he epitomizes what many of them hate about "blacks" who appear "uppitity" etc. just endless "black" vs. "white" stereotyping and demonizing.

So unfortunately we just can't dismiss these designations entirely, at least not in terms of history, but hopefully, and the younger generations seem to be demonstrating this, there is a slowly rising awareness of the absurdity of the entire set of classifications that have to do with supposed "race."

Monday, December 29, 2014

THE WIRE

So I'm finally getting around to watching (and binging) on THE WIRE, the HBO series that many of my friends strongly recommended to me from the start.  I tried to watch some episodes early on and just didn't dig it so abandoned the effort. But I saw it was available on demand and decided to try again to see what all the fuss was about (some friends, with experience in TV and film, had told me it may be the best series ever, but certainly of its period).

I still objected to what had turned me off originally, which included implausible scenarios, over-the-top writing and performances at times (the main character, as illustrated by the poster above, is a supposedly Irish-American detective who is "real police" but comes across as part stereotypical Irish-cop-alcohol-lover loner anti-hero, and part blowhard self-centered narcissist I find hard to sympathize with), the de rigour gratuitous exploitation of naked female bodies (why has every dead female been found nude it seems in the first season?) and caricatures close to stereotypes in many instances.

But, I also see why people were into the show.  It's great story-telling in terms of a plot that builds a network of subplots which demand to be resolved, and there are some incredibly memorable characters (even if they are often asked to perform improbably exaggerated scenarios) and conflicts. Plus the dialogue is often juicily quick and theatrically "street" in ways only cable can do (sometimes brilliantly poetic, like the scene where the main detective and his buddy analyze the scene of a murder doing the kind of thorough and ingenious forensic work usually reserved to TV and movie detectives, but only using the word "fuck" (though at times combined with other words like "mother") by varying the ways they inflect and pronounce and express that single term so that one time it's expressing surprise, another time resolution, another amazement and just about every way you can think of...).

Either way, I seem to be hooked and assume I'll be watching it to it's final episode.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

LATE NIGHT MINI-RANT

The police who turned their back on the mayor of New York at that policeman's funeral today (or yesterday by now) did a disservice not just to those officers whose deaths were being mourned (the funeral of only one, but both were mentioned in most of the eulogies) and to the office of the mayor, the highest democratically elected office in the city they work for, but to the uniform. Their action was a rebuke to the mayor, supposedly, as if they get to choose which mayors they'll show respect to and which they'll turn their backs on, like who the people elect means nothing to them, as if they are their own entity and follow their own rules and get to decide who they will respect, and who they will not, the latter being not just the mayor but unarmed black men who object to the way they are being treated or who decide to use the unlit stairwell in their own building.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

INTO THE WOODS

I saw this on stage when it first opened and wasn't totally impressed. At least not enough to have a passion in my memory for it. Back then I saw it because when Sondheim is good he's the best and when he's anything less than the best he's still a seminal figure in the art of musicals. His innovations changed the form and changed the course of musical theater history.

I have quotes from lyrics of his over my desk and have for decades. I don't always like everything he does, but I always appreciate his attempts to do something I haven't seen or heard before. Or if I have, as in the case of the basic fairy tale stories INTO THE WOODS uses to riff on, Sondheim manages to  reinterpret them so they seem new.

So I saw it on stage back then and wasn't that impressed and when I heard there was finally a movie in the works I had little interest in seeing it. But some friends have kids who performed in a stage version and they were going to see it with them Christmas afternoon, and another good friend was going too, so it seemed like a great way to spend an afternoon with people I love to be with.

But when the movie started, from the first beat to the last I was into it. Partly that's the actors, all first rate, partly it's the directing and editing, but mostly it's Sondheim's music and lyrics, with that mash up of cynical and romantic, funny and poignant, glib and deep. I don't know how I'd react if I'd seen it first on the small screen, but on the big one it had me laughing loudly and wiping away a tear at the end. I'm glad I saw it.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

MY NEW FAVORITE CHRISTMAS MOVIE

When I was young my favorite Christmas movie was the 1951 black-and-white version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL starring Alastair Sim, then I rediscovered IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE in my thirties and it was my fave for a few decades 'til Jean Sheperd's A CHRISTMAS STORY came along and displaced it for a few more decades. But a few years ago [actually 2003!] the Brits made a Christmas movie called LOVE, ACTUALLY and I just realized this season it's my favorite Christmas movie now. Here's a scene that might explain partially why (ignore the ending promotions but enjoy the Bill Nighy scene):

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

WHIPLASH

Friends have been telling me to catch this flick because, they have said, it has one of the greatest performances of the year in it by J. K. Simmons, an actor you might know from his playing the ironic but loving father in JUNO, or other such roles in film and on TV, but in WHIPLASH he surpasses all expectations you may have had of what his talent might produce. My friends were so right.

WHIPLASH is a coming of age story in terms of plot, a music institute student facing the challenges of competition on an extremely talented level and the machinations of his band teacher to push him to discover whether he has what it takes.

It reminded me of boot camp in the military, in terms of my own experience, but it also reminded me of people I've known who have gone to work in the top restaurants in the world or in Hollywood for top producers etc. and been overwhelmed by the level and intensity of the competition. The setting wouldn't matter at all, if it wasn't that the student (in a great performance by Miles Teller) is a drummer and drums add such a vibrant physicality to the performance and the music at the heart of the flick that that alone would have drawn me in.

But add to that the dynamic between mentor and student that builds to a level of tension that made me almost want to jump up and run out of the theater, and then brings that tension to an even higher level, in what amounts to an almost two character drama (though the other important characters to the story who have fewer scenes are all played perfectly as well), that I left the theater feeling emotional whiplash from the experience.

I brought my grandson and youngest son to see it, both drummers, and my oldest son, a bassist, and two of my youngest's friends, and they got the story and the drama and the tension and the greatness of the performances, but the one who was impacted the most, at least visibly, seemed to be me (as I wiped away tears, not of sorrow or even empathy, though some of the latter, but more of release, and I think maybe I caught my oldest son doing the same).

It's so good that despite the storyline being pretty basic and the devices pretty obvious I could go see it again tomorrow and I bet be equally blown away no matter what flaws my intellect might discern.

This is one powerful movie.

[PS: Much credit and hopefully some awards must go to the screenwriter and director Damien Chazelle as well.]

Monday, December 22, 2014

JOE COCKER R.I.P.

I never met him, but wish I had. Here's my take in this old post about how great his singing was only a few years ago. And here's what first got to me:

PS TO LAST POST (ANOTHER LATE NIGHT RESPONSE TO EVENTS)

The decision, whether ordered by a superior or spontaneous, for the cops to turn their backs on the mayor when he went to offer his and the city's condolences to the families of the officers who were shot and killed while on duty, further demonstrates why the cops's defensiveness is self defeating.

The police union chief, Lynch, and the ex-mayor Giuliani and ex Police Commissioner Ray Kelly et. al. do a disservice to good cops by making statements blaming the president and the attorney general and mayor Deblasio for the assassination of the two New York policemen in Brooklyn yesterday.

It could just as easily be claimed that the deaths of those policemen are a direct result of the bad policing by the officer who choked Eric Garner to death and was defended and justified by his fellow officers, or many of them, and certainly by the same spokesmen for the police.

It's the old trick of the right that the cops have fallen for just as the military seems to have, that because the job is dangerous at times and is purported to be one of protecting the innocent, anything done on the job is to be defended no matter what, by any means, including planting fake evidence, corroborating known lies, supporting bad cops who can't control their fear when it runs into violence, etc.

The blame for the death of those two policemen is to be laid at the feet of their obviously unbalanced assassin. If we are to blame protesters because the assassin left messages saying he would take the lives of two cops for the one life of Eric Garner that was taken by a cop, it ignores the exact supposed evidence (in the eyes of the police union leader and others in the police establishment) of his message.

He didn't say I'm going to kill two cops because protesters said I should, he said he was going to kill two cops because it was a cop who took Eric Garner's life. If we are going to speculate on what was in his mind, I would posit it was the video of Garner unarmed and saying over and over that he couldn't breathe because he was being choked to death.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

MY TWO CENTS

My grandfather was a cop. One of my brothers became a cop when I was a boy and he was still living at home. He moved away after he married the daughter of a cop.  One of my sisters married a cop. One of my cousins next door became a cop and so did his son. One of my nephews and godsons is a cop. Etc.

So, I feel deeply for the families of the two cops who were assassinated yesterday in Brooklyn. They sounded like dedicated cops, the kind that are there to help. Their killer got off too easy.

That said, I am embarrassed by the police union spokesman who immediately blamed it on the mayor and the U.S. Attorney General because they have expressed sympathy for the victims of police violence and their families and those who are protesting that scourge.

Yes police officers who aren't behind a desk generally face danger pretty regularly. But so do a lot of other people in a lot of other professions.  Do tax drivers act as if they have a more special right than anyone else to be honored and never criticized etc. because there are periods when more taxi drivers are assassinated than any other profession?

I noticed that NBC doctor/reporter who broke her quarantine because she'd been exposed to Ebola was criticized righteously especially by right-wingers, as was the nurse who Christie confined despite her showing no signs of the disease. Let's see, have any doctors and nurses and reporters died from trying to help with and expose the Ebloa epidemic? Have they acted all righteous about deserving special treatment and demand never being criticized for mistakes they make?

Rather than saying that others have "blood on their hands" and will be "held accountable" for the assassination of those two police officers, that police union spokesman and any of his fellows who threaten a work slowdown and other illegal actions to protest police behavior or procedures being criticized, should put the spotlight on himself and his fellow officers who don't work to expose and expel the few bad cops who give the rest of them a bad name.

Friday, December 19, 2014

PS TO LAST POST

In response to critics of my last post (suggesting Sony should have released the film for free on the Internet) who think the comedy film that was pulled should never be seen because it might incite someone to actually attempt to assassinate the North Korean dictator...I said in a comment that by that logic there should be no cartoons of Muhammed and we all should fight back against those who have declared war on Xmas and et.endlessly cetera...I don't like most violent flicks and I think there's way too much violence in way too many of them...and I don't think violence is the answer to almost any question...but I support the attempts to assassinate Hitler and wish they had succeeded and if someone got the idea from a movie to assassinate him I wouldn't have objected....but if we're talking media that moves people to violence there have been assassinations committed by people influenced by Fox News and other rightwing propaganda outlets, and attempts on our president's life. I don't hear any liberals calling for Fox News and Rush and others to be censored or taken off the air forever etc. [well, maybe calls for the latter]...but in the case of a dictator responsible for the torture and death of hundreds of thousands etc. we don't want to show a movie that might incite someone to assassinate him?...like I said, a dumb idea to have green lighted but I still say release it online for free so everyone can see and other evil characters won't think that all they have to do now is threaten to hack networks or bomb theaters or etc. and people will back down...not a good precedent at all...

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

ANOTHER LATE NIGHT MINI-RANT (THIS TIME ABOUT SONY'S STRATEGY)

If I were running Sony, when I learned AMC and other theater chains were refusing to carry the movie, instead of saying we'd never release it, I'd let the world know we were releasing it free for streaming on the Internet. (I know I know people would be afraid if they downloaded it they'd be hacked by the same flunkies that hacked Sony, but a lot of people would do it anyway and eventually enough would that they'd have to shut down the worldwide web to prevent people from seeing it...but as it is Sony, for now, and the theater chains, just surrendered to a third rate dictator's chump demands....)

Monday, December 15, 2014

THEN THERE WAS THIS

I didn't feel up to making it to this on Saturday, but sure would have like to have been there, and happy that many friends were.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG

I wasn't sure I wanted to watch this HBO documentary about Susan Sontag. I did a reading back in the 1990s in New York with her, David Mamet and Ian Frazier, and I didn't find her very nice to be around. But I decided to watch the beginning of REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG and see if it was a snow job or if it was an honest appraisal.

And pretty much in the opening moments, people she was close to—ex-lovers, her sister, close friends—were voicing on camera some of the criticisms I had, so I knew it wasn't going to be a whitewash and watched the whole documentary.

Sontag, in my experience, was one of those people who are always looking over their shoulders to see if someone more important or more interesting (at least to them) is around while they pretend to be talking to you. And in fact, while in conversation with me before the reading, she spied Mamet over my shoulder and just walked away with no explanation or apology to grab him and whisper conspirationally. 

Like many in the 1960s, I had a crush on her and read everything she wrote back then, and through the two decades that followed. But I often ended up disappointed. My take was that she didn't seem able to recognize intelligence unless it was packaged in fame or reputation, or she had been first to recognize it. 

Though I did appreciate her attempts in her nonfiction to clarify ideas not many were expressing at that moment in a way a general audience could comprehend, her novels were a slog. She did seem to challenge herself, and her diaries and some other writing, and much of this documentary, show that, as well as reveal her disappointment in her not achieving the kind of artistic immortality she grew up yearning for.

I actually can identify with a lot of her insecurities and self-obsession and ambitions, so I'm not being critical in a holier-than-thou attitude, just disappointed that she often buried personal honesty in language meant to be profound and impress rather than just humbly express. I know there are those who disagree (I felt and still feel the same way about Norman Mailer's writing, and several others held up as somehow intellectually or creatively superior to most even though I find them nowhere near as good as so many who have been overlooked or judged not as good as them).

In the end, except for a few attempts to find correlations to her words in film imagery that ended up being overly precious or obvious, REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG is worth watching for the cultural history so central to it and for the revelations of the struggles of a determined woman to surpass the world's expectations.

The last line of hers they quote in the movie is, for my taste, a great example of the best of Sontag's writing and capacity for profound intellectual expression, that I wish she had done more of:

"Death is the opposite of everything."   

Friday, December 12, 2014

RUDY BURCKHARDT SHOW AT TIBOR DE NAGY

If you're anywhere near Manhattan between now and January 10th, drop by Tibor de Nagy Gallery (724 Fifth Avenue, 12th floor) and see the show Rudy Burckhardt Subterranean Moments: A Centenary Celebration.  It includes some of Rudy's photographs and short films, the art he was most famous for, but also paintings and more.

"Subterranean Moments" is a perfect title for this show, as it doesn't so much emphasize his most iconic photographs or short films, but rather captures what I always felt and still feel is the most impactful aspect of Rudy's art: its unpretentiousness.

Yes, it was "underground" in the sense of "indie" or "Alternative" culture etc. but more importantly it was grounded in exposing the layers of social and cultural interactions from top to bottom, or vice versa: photos and paintings of manhole covers, film of Manhattan's streets and walking feet or building tops against the sky making abstract patterns.

His art seems to me to always be about the contrast of shapes and light and surfaces and movement: i.e. juxtapositions often seemingly banal, yet take your time to visit with an image or a few minutes of film or a painting and something more subtle and poignant begins to emerge, as in how incredibly present the images, in whatever form, become, despite their obvious datedness. Rudy always had the capacity to transmit the viewer back into the time the image was made, or discovered or commented on, through a photo or film or painting.

It's also fun to spend time with a photograph of an urban landscape or one small piece of it and then spend time with a painting Rudy did based on that image. His technique often seems almost amateurish, in the sense of snapshots vs. art photographs or raw figurative depictions vs. artistic statements etc. but that's his grace, to always be the beholder rather than the explainer or glorifier.

All Rudy's work seems to say: I was here and this is what I saw, or how I saw it. Sit and watch the few short films in a small room off the main show and you will see what seems like raw footage of Manhattan scenes from earlier eras that look like deteriorating home movies shown through a bad projector, but if you stay and watch for a while, what begins to emerge is the beauty of the shapes and silhouettes and neon at night et. al.  It's a rough beauty, a mostly urban beauty, and it is in the eye of the beholder: Rudy's. I am grateful he took the pains to find the means of sharing it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

JANE FREILICHER R.I.P.

I just heard that the artist Jane Freilicher passed yesterday at 90. First of all I had no idea she was that old, the last time I saw her was a few years ago, or so it seemed, and she looked as stunning as she always did to me. She had such a grounded aura of strength that exuded calm and confidence, to me, that I always thought of her as outside normal age.

I knew she was from the generation of my oldest siblings, who were in their teens when WWII started and I was born. But for me she was like someone out of a book. Maybe because the only women I'd ever heard of like Jane were ones I read about in books. When I first met her in the early 1970s, she was already legendary among those who were fans of "The New York School" poets (John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, James Schuyler and Kenneth Koch—Barabara Guest also, but usually overlooked in the sexist fashion of the times).

I had been taken up by some of the original New York School poets back then and in the process invited into their social scene in ways that I was overwhelmed with, because it seemed to represent everything I had a chip on my shoulder about when I was growing up and did still then. Much of their humor was arch and sophisticated in ways I'd often miss, the irony and understatement depending on what was then called a campy perspective on high and low culture.

I translated my insecurity into arrogance, a familiar formula, behaving as if it was a given that they would include me in their scene so generously, and it wasn't until I moved back to Jersey fifteen years ago, after almost two decades in L.A. and environs, that I got the chance to tell Jane how grateful I was that she had included me in for awhile among what was a small circle of gifted and special friends. And I let her know I regretted my arrogance and lack of graciousness and gratitude at the time.

She seemed slightly amused by my confession and verbal amends for behavior she might not even have remembered, but she also was gracious in accepting it and letting me know she remembered me fondly from those days. I was smitten then, as I was when I first met her, by the strength and independence and intelligence that shone from her eyes (and I believe you can see in her paintings, despite some having dismissed her art as too light or simple or "easy" etc. back in the day and sometimes since).

Here's the NY Times obit with a good take on her life and work and a photo of how she looked in recent years, and below is a photo I first saw around the time I met her though taken years before, her "star" pose, which she always was and will remain in my mind and heart:
 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

SOME MORE QUICK THOUGHTS

Watching live coverage on CNN of the protests last night I noticed an upscale looking "white" woman in a red coat carrying a shopping bag passing protesters lying in the street (I don't even know which city it was in). She stopped for a moment and then walked to where they were spread out on the pavement and got down in her pristine long red cloth coat, obviously getting it soiled and obviously not caring as she too laid down on her back for the last few minutes of that moment of protest.

I'm heartened by the diversity of the crowds taking part in the protests and by the discipline of the organizers at keeping them peaceful yet still active and committed to letting the world know there is a movement to challenge the different standards applied to crimes by different groups, i.e.—and mostly, though not exclusively—"white" and "black."

For decades every time something happened that the media noticed and involved incidents different groups saw differently—the O.J. case, George Zimmerman killing Trayvon Martin et. al.—the TV talking heads would bring up how it was time for a national "conversation about race" etc. which wasn't what happened, rather it was a national "he said she said" conversation in which one "race" was "he" and another was "she"...

...but this time actually does seem different, what with the hash tag about "criming while white" and other indications that finally it's not just one "race" that understands the racism so prevalent in policing in the USA (my "white" sons have certainly been around or involved in petty victimless crimes at some points in their lives that ended up with no or very little consequences that my "black" sons, if I had them, may very well have entered "the system" for and ended up even doing some jail or prison time for).

It is especially heartening to see so many young people, who have been accused of sitting on their butts playing with their smart phones and other devices while their world deteriorates around them, not just getting off their butts to protest injustice and demand changes but using their smart phones and other devices to coordinate their protests and give them fluidity and creative nonviolent actions for shifting locations that keep the media paying attention not just the day after a demonstration but going on several days now.

It makes me feel it's too late to put this genie back in the lantern—or this jack back in the box or whatever metaphor works for you—to indicate there's no turning back this time. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

LATISH NIGHT MINI-RANT

Others have said it better, but why arrest someone for selling loose cigarettes because the government doesn't get to collect taxes on that kind of transaction, why not just fine them the pennies the tax would add up to?

And if we're gonna go after people who do business without paying the proper tax, and go after them to the point of murdering them, then what about all those corporations that the law says are people and don't pay taxes? Can we get some lethal force applied to those mudderfrackers?

Monday, December 1, 2014

WHITE PRIVILEGE PERSONIFIED

As you probably already know, the "white" woman who worked for a Republican politician and sent a social media post criticizing our president's daughters for the way they dressed and their facial expressions at the cheesy turkey pardoning ceremony in the White House the other day, while also totally dissing their parents—the president and first lady—well, she apologized and then was fired.

But did you know that that "white" woman is seen as a teen in a photograph circulating on the web with a beer bottle in her mouth and that she was also arrested for shoplifting and running a red light as a teen? What would make a woman who works for a Republican Congressman in the capacity of a communications person (!) think she could insult the First Lady and the President and their two teenage daughters with impunity, implying that they are dressed for a "spot at the bar" rather than a corny presidential jokey ceremony, while at the same time insulting their parents as bad role models, when she herself, this very "white" woman when she was the president's daughters ages, or actually even older so she should have known better, let someone take a photo of her with a beer bottle hanging from her mouth (yeah, that's right) and was arrested for shoplifting at 17 and running a red light at 19?

White privilege that's what.

Here's the post, followed by the shot with the beer bottle that's supposed to be the "white" woman when she was younger: