Wednesday, February 25, 2015

CITIZENFOUR

CITIZENFOUR won the Oscar Sunday night, and filmmaker, Laura Poitras, deserved the win and gave a good acceptance speech though her nervousness and self consciousness made it come out a little stiffly. As others have observed, what makes her film work is her falling into a major story (or actually being chosen by Snowden because of her previous films) by being present for and filming the most dramatic part of the story's timeline, i.e. the exposure by Edward Snowden of the massive spying on U.S. citizens being done by government agencies (here and in the U.K. as well) and then the exposure of Snowden himself as the source of the whistle blowing and the permanent altering of his life and his future as a result.

As we all know, Sowden is stuck in Russia, (ironically, since Putin's government is worse than our government in terms of repressing political activism partly through the collection of personal information on private citizens) because it is one of the only countries that would have him, just to demonstrate their independence from the USA. There's a good chance if Russia hadn't taken him in he'd have been at worst "disappeared" or at best brought back to the USA to face a trial based on a too broad almost century-old law that would have put him behind bars for the rest of his life, a sacrifice he was willing to make if necessary to let the rest of us know we were being spied on and lied to about it.

It's an almost accidentally great documentary, just as Snowden seems to be an almost accidentally heroic figure, in the right place at the right time with the right beliefs about our freedoms supposedly guaranteed by The Constitution and the courage to act on those beliefs. Snowden is a true "American hero." Any politician who doesn't get that is suspicious and should be called out whenever they speechify about the freedom we citizens of the USA supposedly have.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

NEW FAVORITE QUOTE

"Fear is the condom of life. It doesn't allow you to enjoy things."  —Alejandro G. Inarritu (director of Birdman backstage at the Oscars)

Monday, February 23, 2015

THE OSCARS SHOW

Maybe I say this every year, but tonight's (technically last night's) Oscar Award show was one of the weirdest ever it seemed to me. Neil Patrick Harris is mostly adorable no matter how old he is, even in his underwear (if you didn't see it take my word) but at times his adorableness seemed to get a little dismissive and even nasty, or maybe that's because I believe Snowden didn't commit treason, etc.

There seemed to be many moments when the presenters or Harris seemed unsettled or distracted or unsure of what was going on. I saw feathers dropping a couple of times so guessed maybe a bird got into the place and was flying around and it, or people trying to catch it, was the distraction.

But that couldn't explain Terrence Howard's weird almost breakdown when he was introducing three of the nominated films. It seemed like the teleprompter wasn't working, or something, but he could have just said that and not started to cry and seemingly be having frightening flashbacks or worse.

Most of the winners were predictable if well earned. I'm happy Patricia Arquette won for Best Supporting Actress for BOYHOOD, she earned it, and I was even happier to see how terrific she looked in her gown despite the fact she doesn't conform to the usual movie actress skinny or even just slim look. She looked healthy and sexy to me, and she gave the best acceptance speech, which for the most part weren't that memorable. But I think BOYHOOD deserved more than just that award, it's a precedent setting enormously impressive achievement and should have won best picture for my taste.

As usual the show went way over the scheduled time allotted, and the last Harris joke about his predictions could have been cut, as well as the many references to it throughout the show, especially since the payoff did not live up to the build up, and it would have made the show fifteen minutes or more shorter.

The best thing about the show was that the Academy obviously felt stung by all the criticism aimed at how white the nominees were this year (though mostly people meant the acting categories) so there were more "black" faces presenting awards this year than ever, by a lot. And the tribute by Lady Gaga to the songs from THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Unexpectedly moving and show stompingly powerful.

Common and John Legend's performance of GLORY from the film SELMA was also a powerful moment and seemed to have the greatest impact on the live audience of anything in the show, but despite Common's obvious skills his performance and speech, good as they were, seemed a bit forced to me, [I liked John Legend's part of their GLORY acceptance speech better, it felt less "canned"] whereas Gaga sang CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN with such amazing control it brought me to tears (as did GLORY for many in the Oscar show audience, but it's just not as good a song to me despite Legend's superb singing).

Life goes on and by June we'll all have a hard time remembering who was nominated or even who won, let alone who was there. But I'll still watch it next year, as always, because it's live and always on some level, pretty unexpectedly weird.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

PHYLLIS WAT'S WU GOING THERE

It seems so appropriate that the only photo I could find online of the cover of poet Phyllis Wat's latest book, WU GOING THERE, is radically reduced in size, as though it was deliberately being humble in announcing itself. Much like Wat's poems.

Though that seemingly natural humility is supported by an iron like certainty in its word selection and juxtaposition. In other words, her poems illustrate the confidence of a poet who knows the language she writes is her own, that it's her voice and the gift she has for articulating it that drives her poetry and thus it speaks for itself with no need for calling any extra attention to it.

This book has become a new favorite of mine. Pick it up and read around in it and I think it will be obvious why. Wat has the same kind of notational dailiness to her poetry as another favorite poet of mine but who I've been reading for many more decades, Joanne Kyger. But where Kyger has the intense succinctness of Emily Dickinson combined with a kind of indirect Buddhist detachment, Wat has a more architectural approach to structure, like some of Frank Gehry's early and smaller creations.

That may all be a little too opaque, so here are two poems from WU GOING THERE to illustrate:

"A Walnut Looks Like a Brain
  
I was reading about flying brains,
   possible alternate universes,
      Boltzmann's brains to be exact... he's a cosmologist.
   About half the people in the U.S. are crackpots.
      About half thinks science is nuts.
I was orderly from the get-go,
   a kind of ascetic.
I thought of mathematics
   as matter matics;
      it limited the options,
         eliminated.
My home is an Indian bedspread,
   wooden eating bowl, saki-jar flower vase,
      hand's width of book.
         Master the details."


"Sensifying

I'm an animist;
I think rocks think.
Exceedingly slowly, but deeply as well.
Brains and legs make the world more uncertain.
Satisfyingly so, to be sure."

There's longer poems and poems that spread out more on the page and resonate with space and placement, but the two above give a sense of the voice in all of them, humbly unique.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

LATE NIGHT MINI RANT

So Rudy Giuliani speaking at a dinner for wealthy Republicans talks about how "Obama doesn't love America" because he doesn't know America the way Rudy and his Republican friends do?

It's time the Dems played hardball the way the Repubs do and had their spokespersons make clear that it's obvious that Giuliani and Limbaugh and almost everyone on Fox News but especially Rupert Murdoch the power behind it and the Koch brothers and Scott Walker and Ted Cruz and the rest of the Repub line up not only don't love America but are traitors to it because their only loyalty is to their corporate masters who continue to destroy everything there is to love about this country from the environment to the equal opportunity that was once one of its highest ideals.

I heard an historian refer to the present situation in the USA as the "undeveloping" of the country and its economy, a deliberate tactic by the greediest of the 1 percent and the corporations most in need of regulation and taxation, i.e. the oil companies, big pharma, big agribusiness, et. al. and their shills, i.e. most of the leaders and spokespeople for the Republican Party.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

VERY EARLY POEM

[I started writing poetry as soon as I learned to write. But somewhere in my early teens I wrote this:]

SOMEDAY

I'll marry
the wind

and we'll
have breezes

Sunday, February 15, 2015

PHILIP LEVINE R.I.P.

Phil Levine was a nice guy and a fine poet. His early book (his first?) NOT THIS PIG had an enormous impact on me when I was a young man. He wrote about being a working class guy and about working in factories and other kinds of hard labor, as a man who'd experienced it and had found the poetry in it.

I read with him decades ago and was happy to find him as unpretentious as I'd imagined he would be. Though he was a bit aloof in his own way, but then I've had people say they felt the same way about me at times when it was just something on my mind distracting me, or in my body.

Levine was a great ambassador for the art of poetry and, fortunately, he not only devoted his long full life to that art but had great success and recognition and awards and fulfillment in it. Condolences to his family, friends and many fans.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY

Here's some Hollywood movie—and in some cases real life—couples in the 1950s. (And I know Montgomery Clift was gay, but there may have been no closer Hollywood couple who loved each other more than he and Elizabeth Taylor did (and isn't it interesting how Sinatra and Ava Gardner look more innocent than Monty and Liz...)...

Friday, February 13, 2015

Thursday, February 12, 2015

TRUE MARTYRS AT THE HANDS (WITH A GUN) OF A TRUE TERRORIST

The media has been covering the execution-style assassinations of the three Muslim students in the Carolinas, though not as extensively or as in depth as they would were it three blonde "white" "Americans." But poet Tom Clark—on his always engaging and enlightening blog "Beyond the Pale"—does, and much more powerfully and creatively than "the media" seems capable of. See for yourself: here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

THE REAL DEAL

Sixty-year-old Celtic woman shows how it's done. See below at 1 minute 51 seconds (and stick around for every second that follows if you want to feel really really good):

[sorry CBS pulled the video, feckin corporations sure know how to please people]
[My old friend Alameda Tom found another link for the video, this time it's at 2:04:]

Monday, February 9, 2015

DYLAN'S MUSICARES SPEECH

You've probably heard about this or read highlights from it, but here's the whole speech, at times enlightening and at other times just evening some scores, but always interesting (at least to me, and I've had my problems with Dylan).

Sunday, February 8, 2015

BLACK OR WHITE

The writer and director of BLACK OR WHITE, Mike Binder, is an old friend, but even if he wasn't I'd still recommend seeing this film. It's an unconventional family story with some predictability to the plot but more often full of unexpected twists. In fact, most scenes have a surprise for anyone who thinks they know where the scene is going.

There's a lot of terrific acting in it as well, especially from the three leads, Kevin Costner, who has done his best work as an actor with Binder (see THE UPSIDE OF ANGER, Binder's masterpiece) and does it again in BLACK OR WHITE, even when playing pitiful. Octavia Spencer commands the screen, as always. But the real treat is the child actor Jillian Estell, who not only charms her way into your heart but is the heart of the movie.

It's not getting as much attention as it should [actually in retrospect it has gotten attention, some of it negative for understandable reasons (i.e. it's about race but from an old white man's perspective mostly) but it's still worth seeing what the fuss is about], so if it's playing near you, go see it while you can. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

ANOTHER OLD FAVORITE QUOTE

" I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew so well."  —Henry David Thoreau (from Walden)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

CAKE

I have friends who raved about Jennifer Aniston in CAKE, so I finally watched the screener I got for the awards season and have to say this is one depressing movie. Aniston does some serious acting work, and some of it is impressive some not, and there are other fine actors in it who do some good work in spots, but the writing is weak, the direction seems arbitrary. The best thing about this movie is Adriana Barraza who plays Aniston's character's maid. That's the performance that should have been noticed and even gotten some awards nominations.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

THOSE WERE THE DAYS MY FRIEND

Looking at these photos from 1979-80 when the composer Rain Worthington and I shared a loft with my two older children in what was not yet "Tribeca" before Battery City even existed and the area was still mostly empty lofts with only a handful of pioneers breaking the law to live in some of them (we had 1800 square feet with a toilet in the hall and enough room for my kids to roller-skate around the place and for us to hang our laundry on lines we strung across some of it and for Indian Larry to store a motorcycle he was working on so would stop by most days to do that etc.). We had some great parties there. But I don't have any photos of them, just a handful inside the loft including these below:
Rain in front of her piano in the loft. I can't remember if I took this or if she did (she also worked hand coloring the photos used for the opening credits for Saturday Night Live and sometimes the substitute photographer for the show).
A shot she took of me in front of one of the loft's windows on the Duane Street side, it was the corner of the building with the windows on Greenwich Street side, all huge, looking out at a vacant lot full of debris and beyond that the broken end of the no-longer-in-use elevated Westside highway (we and others in the hood used it to sunbathe on etc.) and beyond that the river and orange sunsets over Jersey.
Another shot of Rain either by me or her used for a card sent out to announce one of her early concerts
Me again with Duane Street outside the open loft window. I have some other photos of my kids in the loft but haven't scanned them so will have to find them and post them sometime. But these just got me thinking about those days and how full of creativity and cheap living they were.