Saturday, September 16, 2017

HARRY DEAN STANTON R.I.P.

Harry Dean Stanton, Eve Brandstein, & me, Cafe Largo, L.A. c. 1990

I knew Harry Dean Stanton and considered him a friend. Even though I didn't see him that often. But when I did run into him, in my Hollywood years, he always acted like he considered me a friend too.

I gotta lot of stories about him, but most of them are "you had to be there" stories. But this one, I think anyone could understand and helps explain his success and appeal.

Whether coincidentally or somehow prescient, the Dalai Lama and his people organized a weeklong series of panels and cultural events that ended on the day before he was awarded The Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. The week long conference was held at a convention center in Irvine, California, and was called Harmonium Mundi, an attempt to bring "the world" together.

During the day, there were panels that included Catholic priests, Buddhist monks, Hindu monks, Muslim imams, Protestant ministers, etc, along with psychologists and psychiatrists, focusing on one or another topic, like environmentalism, and trying to bring some sort of consensus to it. Speakers and participants stayed at a hotel/motel complex where there were also conference rooms for the panels.

At night, there were cultural presentations on a big stage in a giant auditorium used for sports events as well as conventions. The idea, as in the panels, was to mix things up, present distinctly different national arts, like one night might have a Japanese Noh orchestra performance with a Russian peasant choir, etc. And most nights included poetry juxtapositions as well, like Robert Bly reading Rumi or Allen Ginsberg reading Blake.

I was asked to be the Master of Ceremonies, and in turn was allowed to turn the last night into an evening of poetry with a selection of mostly young Hollywood actors reading poems by various mostly dead poets. I asked Harry Dean to end that evening with what was his famous parlor trick, as they used to call it, his reciting of Chief Seattle's letter to the President (it's authenticity has been since sometimes disputed).

The night of the event, the other performers and I were in the locker room being used as a green room. The building it was in was like a giant airplane hanger. When it was time to head for the stage, Harry hadn't shown up yet. There were no cell phones then, so there was no way to get in touch with him. As we left the locker room and headed down this cold cement hallway with huge metal doors at the end, I heard a faint sound that we eventually realized was someone knocking on the big metal doors.

We managed to figure out how to open one, and there was Harry Dean, who somehow missed the front door but found these backs ones, unsteady on his feet due to some overindulgence, but upright. We got him in and managed to close and lock the door and helped him into the auditorium and up the stairs to the extra high and extra large stage and onto one of the folding chairs the performers sat on.

In my oversized red sport coat and tight jeans and Beatle boots (in 1989! feeling I was representing the one faction not represented by anyone else, Jersey urban cowboy mod hipster (in the old sense of that word) etc.), I introduced each performer, and they read the poems assigned them. And then it was Harry's turn to end the evening.

I had to help him to the microphone, fearing he might not be able to do it. But as soon as he was standing in front of it, he stopped wobbling and in a deep and resonant voice recited the letter, word perfect, not missing a beat or dramatic nuance, bringing the huge audience to their feet as he finished and turned and reached out to me to help him make it back to his chair.

A total professional, a passionate activist for causes he cared about like the environment, and a compassionate friend and supporter of those he knew and worked with, as well as a very very witty and profoundly smart man. Condolences to all who loved him, knew him, knew of him, or followed his work as an actor, writer, and singer/musician. Rest In Poetry Harry.  

Friday, September 15, 2017

MOTHER!

I went to see this movie because a friend wanted to, and because Jennifer Lawrence is among the greatest movie actors of our time. And some of the early moments in the film, though tense and seemingly deliberately confusing, focused so closely on her face that it was almost preciously idolatrous for those of us who are fans.

But then Darren Aronofsky's sickeningly pretentious writing and directing led to the rest of the one-hundred-and-twenty minute movie feeling like days, even weeks, of torture. If there were a Supreme Court for movies, MOTHER! would be condemned to a lifetime of solitary confinement for its abuse of the audience, the actors, and most spectacularly of the star, Jennifer Lawrence.

I can't believe that she and her fellow actors in this film—including Michelle Pfeiffer (who, full disclosure I met a few times in my Hollywood years, and she was always gracious, unpretentious and genuine), Ed Harris, and Kristen Wiig—read this script and still agreed to do it. MOTHER! is a paen to hurting, blaming, disrespecting, defiling, torturing, and abusing a woman to satisfy a male ego.

Truly. That seems to be the point of the movie, and all who participated should have been able to see that in the script, unless Aronofsky sprung the scenes on the actors without preparation. My guess is they fell for the "genius" card and surrendered to his vision because it might mean something deep or be high art or win a bunch of Oscars.

I always stay for the credits but needed to vacate the theater as soon as they began, and I thought the voice singing over the credits as I exited was Patti Smith's. If it was her, I hope she didn't read the script before deciding to add her talent to this pile of vile.

They tell me Aronofsky (who, full disclosure, I encountered at the memorial service for Hubert Selby Jr. at Grauman's Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, where we were both among the speakers, and confronted him with the false assumption he'd made that Selby was "Irish" in an elegy he'd written in the L. A. Weekly, Selby was proud that his family went back to  Colonial times and definitely wasn't Irish) and Jennifer Lawrence are a couple.

If that is true, and this is the first project he writes and directs for her to star in, then the message he seems to be sending is I will torture and abuse you as an actress, and as the character you're playing, to show who holds all the power in this relationship (with Javier Baden playing the creative artist character stand-in for Aronofsky in the film). Ack. I can't get the bad taste out of my mouth and mind.  I'll have to re-watch WONDER WOMAN.    

Thursday, September 14, 2017

SEXTETS

me and my then living siblings, back row Robert (AKA William), Tommy (later Father Campion), Buddy (AKA Jimmy), Joan, Irene, and me, (our brother John born between me and my sisters died as an infant before I came along), South Orange NJ 1943 
my father, his Irish immigrant mother, my oldest brother Tommy in uniform, my mother's mother, and my mother, and me, 1944 
me (in my brother Tommy's arms) and the rest of my then living siblings, 1944
my down-the-street cousin Kathi, our Irish immigrant grandmother Lally, me, my grandmother Dempsey, and my next door cousins David and MaryLynn, my First Communion day, 1949
me in uniform, my mother, oldest brother, Franciscan friar Father Campion (AKA Tommy), brother Robert, father, and brother Buddy, c. 1962
me in black shirt, unknown woman sitting, and poets Terence Winch holding can, Doug Lang, and Lynn Dreyer (both sitting) and Joe ? (in glasses) at a reading at Folio Books in Washington DC c. 1977
me and my progeny, sons Miles and Flynn, grandkids Donovan and Eli, and daughter Caitlin in Great Barrington MA c. 2006
grandson Donovan, son Miles, grandchild Eli on my lap, daughter Caitlin arms around my youngest son Flynn,  at a Massachusetts butterfly & other creatures  environmental museum c. 2008?
my nieces Linda, and Cathy (r.i.p.), me, nephews-in-law Bob and Howard, with my oldest brother Campion shortly before he passed, Ringwood NJ
me in cranberry sweater, my youngest son Flynn in black, daughter Caitlin in front of me, and son Miles in beard, and grandkids Donovan in pink hat and Eli in a black one 2015
me in back between sons Miles & Flynn, grandkids Donovan in red jacket and Eli in flannel shirt and daughter Caitlin 2016
left to right, my son Miles, me, grandkids Donovan and Eli, my son-in-law Ed, and daughter Caitlin, in Connecticut 2017 (photo by Rachel E. Diken)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A YEAR BY THE SEA

Karen Allen is one of my dearest and closest and best friends going back to before she even began acting as a young woman. Best known for her role as Marion Ravenwood in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, she has been giving Oscar-worthy performances in films ever since that one, always consistent in breaking down the usual two dimensional female stereotypes in whatever role she's been given, whether leading roles (STARMAN) or cameos (SHOOT THE MOON), as she did in RAIDERS.

But in recent years, as she entered her fifties, and now sixties, the indie movies she's given her best performances in haven't gotten the kinds of exposure that might lead to a nomination. Like 2004's POSTER BOY, where she played an alcoholic, ex-beauty queen, Southern Senator's Southern trophy wife (at the screening I attended at The Tribeca Film Festival, after her first scene the audience stood up to give her screen presence a standing ovation before the film had hardly begun!), or the working-class wives and mothers in 2010's WHITE IRISH DRINKERS and 2015's BAD HURT. Oscar-worthy performances all.

Now here comes her latest, and this time the lead starring role is hers, playing the writer Joan Anderson, whose book the screenplay is based on, about a middle-aged woman leaving her marriage to discover who she might be at this stage of her life. She gives, to my taste, another Oscar-worthy performance, though it is slightly hampered by first-time director Alexander Janko's commonplace first-time-director indulgences and miscalculations [like inconsistencies in the script as shot etc.].

Janko is best known as a film score orchestrator and sometime composer (MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING for instance), and he takes on too much in A YEAR BY THE SEA as director, screenwriter, composer of the score, and one of the producers. He is obviously well-intentioned but is still a male controlling most of the creative aspects of making a film about a woman.

Though the editing could be tighter, the cast is terrific (but I would have approached the role of Karen's character's husband, played by the playwright/actor Michael Cristofer, much differently, given the chance), the lingering shots of the New England landscapes often gorgeous, and many many individual scenes could be used as examples for screen acting and writing classes.

If you want to support an "older woman" actor [i.e. a category of movie actor that usually gets ignored except for one or two famous ones like Meryl Streep], whose work has been neglected by the major awards (though she's won some festivals' "Best Actor" awards), please go see A YEAR BY THE SEA while it is still in theaters to help convince the distributors to get it out to a wider audience and give Karen a chance to get the kind of attention for her screen work that she's so long deserved.

Monday, September 11, 2017

ANOTHER YEAR

Berry Berenson was a fiend to me in my early years in Hollywood. She was married to the movie star Tony Perkins at the time and until his death in 1992. They seemed really loving to each other and I admired their relationship. And I admired her.

Though she was often noted more as Perkin's wife or as model/actress Marisa Berenson's sister, Berry was a wonderful actor in her own right (see REMEMBER MY NAME). But despite her fame-for-whatever-reason, at least around me she was always the least pretentious or self-centered person I ever met anywhere.

She came to a play I was in early on in L.A., the first L.A. run of Landford Wilson's BALM IN GILEAD, and after the performance stuck around to talk to me. One of the things she said to me that night was that she had only seen one other person in her life who had the kind of glow, I think that was the word she used, that I had, and that was Marilyn Monroe!

She was wonderful on screen and off, either in front of the camera or behind it (she was a great photographer), and I only wish, as I too often do with many friends, that I had made more of an effort to see her more often. Especially after I heard the news that she had been on one of the two planes that crashed into The World Trade Center towers on 9/11.

I vaguely knew some others who went down with the towers on that tragic day, but Berry is the one I think of most often. As I later wrote in a poem ("March 18, 2003"), she was:

"a woman who was kind to me when
she didn't need to be[...]
How many people have died
before you got the chance to tell them what you meant to?"

R.I.P. to all those we lost on that horrific day, though it was as beautifully blue sky-ed and lovely in New York City then as it is today.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

NOT TO BE MISSED

If you're anywhere near Orange, New Jersey next Sunday, this is not to be missed [click to enlarge]:

Saturday, September 9, 2017

WATCHING AND WAITING

I have many relatives from a sister to nephews and cousins and in-laws and all kinds of family, clan, extended clan, and just friends, who moved South when Jersey got too expensive, and most of them ended up in Florida.

Fortunately, over the past several days my sister and one of my cousins made it up to Georgia to stay with a niece near Atlanta, and an old and dear friend who's been living in Key West is out of there. But many others are hunkering down for whatever Irma brings.

I hope the response of the federal government is as fast and helpful as the richest country in the world should be able to make happen. But unfortunately that isn't always the case, especially since Republicans have been chipping away at the federal government's budget and capacities to respond.

So, as Blanche, in Tennessee Williams' play Streetcar Named Desire, says: "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers"—which once again may mostly be the case for all the folks in Irma's path of destruction in The Caribbean, Florida, and beyond.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

LAST OF THE QUINTETS

My late brother Buddy (AKA James) his oldest daughter, the late future Cathy Freitas, his youngest daughter the future Linda Lally Thompson, one of his three sons, Jimmy, and me in shades getting into my first car (a Morris Minor I bought used—for the radio, which broke soon after—the inside of which I plastered with Downbeat magazine photos of my favorite jazz musicians and poems I'd torn out of The Beats anthology, Belmar NJ (I was in the military stationed at Fort Monmouth near Red Bank) 1962
Rory Mckeag, my then love (with whom I would soon move to NYC) Ana Ross Gongora, me, MaryAnn LaRouche, and musician Bill Holland, at a party in DC 1974
Poet Gary Lenhart, unknown tall man behind poet Greg Masters, me, and poet Steve Levine, at Books & Co. NYC after a reading I was part of c. late 1970s?
unknown man and woman in archway, artist/actress/writer Mary Waranov sitting on floor, artist Diane Lawrence gesturing to camera and me in my then favorite vintage shirt (from the 1950s, thanks to poet friend Robert Slater who gave it to me) in my first Santa Monica home, 1982
magician/actor Albie Zelnick (in one of my vitange shirts), acrobat/juggler Nathan Stein (in my vintage jacket and belt), me (note the open switchblade), my second wife actress Penelope Milford, and the late actor/writer Winston Jones, posing for a publicity shot for my "poetry play" HOLLYWOOD MAGIC (from my book of the same name) L.A. 1983
the late guitarist and composer Sandy Bull with one of his children on his lap, my oldest son, musician Miles Lally, me (in a vintage sweater, a hand-me-down from my older brothers from the 1930s!) and the late jazz reed-man Buddy Arnold, in my Santa Monica home 1983
me, my then love Terre Bridgham with Athena Greco on her lap, my daughter Caitlin and the late composer and director Tony Greco (I'm guessing his wife Suzanne Greco took the shot) in their home in Pacific Palisades CA for Thanksgiving dinner c. 1988?
writer Joel Lipman, actor/writer Michael Harris, writer Hubert "Cubby" Selby Jr., me behind him and my then partner the multi-talented Eve Brandstein, on one of our Poetry In Motion nights at a club in L.A. c. 1990
me and a woman and man I don't remember the names of, Eve Brandstein, and another man I don't remember the name of on a Poetry In Motion night at Tommy Tang's in NYC c. 1992?
actor Jim Keefe, actor/director Karen Allen behind me, artist Ron Ronan behind the multi-talented movie-director/art designer/ etc. Christie Zea, at my 70th birthday party in artist Gabrielle Senza's studio in Great Barrington MA 2012
lawyer/writer Sue Brennan,  dancer/teacher Jeanne Donahue, me, poet/playwright Rachel E. Diken, and "philosopher" John Voight in Belmar NJ 2016

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

HILTON OBENZINGER'S TREYF PESACH

I'm one of those people who believes the arts can actually save lives, because I feel like poetry saved mine. I also believe the arts can change lives, and that as futile as writing a poem to protest politicians or governments or movements or etc. may seem, It's still worthwhile, even if it only changes one mind, or none but still bears witness to the protest.

I was fortunate to have a few poems in CAMPFIRES OF THE RESISTANCE, a poetry anthology edited by Todd Gitlin, that came out of the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960s. I don't remember Hilton Obenzinger having any poems in that collection, but he should have. (You can spy him in photos of the famous 1968 Columbia University takeover by protestors.) I included his poetry in an anthology I edited in the 1970s, NONE OF THE ABOVE.

I always liked his independent spirit and critical eye and ear, and thanks to the Internet, we're back in touch. When Hilton's latest book, TREYF PESACH, was put together, he asked me for a blurb, which I will quote here as my take on it:

"Testament and testimony, Hilton Obenzinger's Treyf Pesach embraces echoes of The Old Testament/Torah, Whitman and Dickenson, Robert Frost and Rosa Parks, incorporating all that and more into the poet's bearing witness to the travails of our times in what one poem describes (referring to Frost) as 'American plain-talk verse,' verse that refuses to be silenced, watered down, placated, compromised or ignored."

There's a little more, but that'll give you the idea of why I believe, if you want some great poetic and prose takes on how to view current events and challenges, you should check out this book. I'll leave you with one of the poem/psalms in it:

Be Here
If the soldiers come, 
If the holy ones come,
If the trees come walking through the doors,
If you unscrew the locks from the doors,
If the mountains come, stumbling through the doors,
If you unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs,
If you open doors in the middle of dreams,
If you sanction love without murder,
If the refugees come, muddy and drowned,
If you have joined their stream, ready to drown,
If the Border Patrol covers the earth with shackles,
If the Border Patrol covers the earth with lost doors,
If you make miracles of simple survival,
If you resist all icy embraces,
If the Coast Guard decides there is no coast,
If you can find no doors,
If the holy ones require a forwarding address,
If love needs a place to hide,
If the soldiers come,
You can stay here,
You can hide here,
You can stay by my side,
Be here

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

MID-AFTERNOON MINI-RANT

I propose that anyone who can't prove they are descended from someone who was living in this country when it became The United States of America, i.e. 1776—or '78 or '82 depending how you figure, but let's say 1776—should be considered an immigrant and have to prove they're making a real contribution to the country in order to stay here.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

JOHN ASHBERY R.I.P.


John Ashbery is one of the seminal figures in the literature of the USA, and the world. And there's plenty you can read about him online and in books, and if you don't know about him, you should. But as in all my posts about the passing of the famous, the infamous, and the not either, the ingredient I get to add is the personal connection.

In 1972 or '73, I was part of a reading series at The Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC that featured six "major American poets" (the organizers' words in the publicity for it) with two poets reading over three nights. I was paired with Lucille Clifton and felt I should support the other four poets—one of whom was Ashbery—by checking out the other two nights. I knew John's work from his first couple of books that friends had touted to me. But at the time I found his work almost too technically brilliant, without the humor and warmth and connection I looked for in the poetry I liked.

I went to his reading with some friends, all of us younger than Ashbery, or most of the staid audience, dressed as if for a formal occasion (we were in our best hippie garb and stoned as well). But I became immediately defensive for Ashbery when the professor who introduced him seemed to be apologizing ahead of time for how difficult John's work was, almost as if he were embarrassed to have to be introducing him.

Then John read his Popeye sestina, as I like to call it ("Farm Implements And Rutabagas In A Landscape"—look it up, really) and I started laughing so hard I had to steady myself by putting one hand on the carpet to keep from entirely falling out of my chair, while most of the audience didn't even crack a smile. But John paused, in his nasally monotone reading style at the time, and stared right at me with a little gleam in his eye, and that was that. For the rest of the reading I finally could hear not only the technical brilliance, but the humor, the passion, the curiosity, the warmth, and insight, and the profundity, whether accidental or incidental or calculatingly intended.

Afterwards he approached me, and I invited him to join me and my friends at an old warehouse in an industrial part of DC, that had been turned into a gay disco (a new phenomena at the time) called Pier Nine. We all danced and laughed and had a great time, and he invited me to visit him in New York, and I did, and we became intimate friends for a number of years. He generously introduced me to his old friends, like the poets Jimmy Schuyler and Kenneth Koch and Barbara Guest and Kenward Elmslie and Edwin Denby and more, and they all welcomed me warmly, thanks to John.

When I moved to New York in early 1975, I spent even more time with him. He was the most delightful host, and one of the most knowledgeable conversationalists I've ever known. Pretty much anything I brought up he could spew facts about, but always in a humorous way, either with an ironic or campy slant, or sometimes with the timing of a stand-up comic. I loved spending time with him and I loved him. And he taught me so much, for instance turning me on to the novels of Ronald Firbank by lending me his own copy of Firbank's novels—which had been a gift from his late friend Frank O'Hara.

I got married for the second time in 1982 (he and his partner, now husband, David Kermani were at my wedding, I have his wedding gift in my archives, an elaborate 19th-Century giant pop-up wedding card, as well as some antique advertisements that I had framed). Then I moved to L.A. later that year and saw him a few times when he visited there. Back before the Internet it was letter writing that connected us and I mostly sent what I thought were funny collages etc.

But eventually life's challenges and events left us more or less out of touch in more recent years. The last time I saw him was after I moved back to Jersey and he did a reading at Seton Hall University in the town I grew up in and now live nearby. I went to see him and David, and when he saw me in the audience he announced, "Michael Lally's here, the author of the famous South Orange Sonnets," which none of the mostly student audience seemed to know or care about, but it was, as usual, very generous of him to acknowledge me that way and remember the connection of my poems to the town he was reading in.

I don't think he ever knew how much he meant to me, but I hope he did. He had a well-rewarded poet's life and a wonderful partner in the always supportive and kind David Kermani. I offer my condolences to David and to all of John's many friends and fans. There was never a poet or a person like him and never will be again.

Here's a short poem from his book A WORDLY COUNTRY:

Anticipated Stranger,

the bruise will stop by later.
For now, the pain pauses in its round,
notes the time of day, the patient's temperature,
leaves a memo for the surrogate: What the hell
did you think you were doing? I mean...
Oh well, less said the better, they all say.
I'll post this at the desk.

God will find the pattern and break it.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

MID-DAY MINI-RANT

The good going on and going to, and coming out of, Southeast Texas after Harvey elevates us all with the truth that there's a lot of love in most humans, especially manifested in caring about others, including and most importantly, strangers.

The bad going on and going to, and coming out of, Southeast Texas, is the direct result of corporate greed and the actions of those who serve it, like the deliberate ignoring of and deregulation of safety standards in the construction of oil refineries and chemical plants and pipelines and urban planing and flood control, etc.

Human need versus corporate greed.