Saturday, August 30, 2014

END OF THIS LIST (PART FIVE)

So, the last years on this life list of which movies impacted me the most in a given year (with the help of google etc):

2003—LOST IN TRANSLATION (There is something so poignant about this film it seemed almost revolutionary, in an understated way, when I first saw it in a theater...mostly, I suspect, because of the collaboration between Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson and the writer/director Sofia Coppola, all of whom seem masters of understatement and the subtleties of emotional privacy, if that makes sense...all I can say is I was so moved by this film I almost cried at the end...the sense of loss and yet fulfillment was, to me, stunning...it's the filmmaker's masterpiece, to my mind, and one of Murray's and Johansson's best as well (which is saying a lot, since just that year alone Johansson made GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING and has continued to give impressive performances in every film she's in, as does Murray)...

2004—NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE (What a pleasant surprise this movie was with its up-to-date acceptance of diversity, not just of culture and so-called "race" but of personality and outer and inner lives...another poignant "independent" flick that reaffirmed how far we've come since the years at the beginning of this life long list...I was moved by that...)

2005—BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (Heath Ledger's performance in this film was historic, for me, as I wrestled with what I saw as its failings right up until almost the ending scene, when without expecting it the tears flowed and I realized the impact his performance ultimately had on me...talk about the changes in our society and the movies that reflect it since this list began in 1942!...)

2006—ONCE (along with that year's THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY—an historical drama capturing the realities of the fight for Ireland's independence and the civil war that followed—ONCE brought the whole fascination with Ireland that began around the time of THE COMMITMENTS and the beginnings of The Celtic Tiger to its peak, with a realism that was only matched by the end of that whole Celtic Tiger economic boom...another poignant love story (both films actually) that left me feeling more like my own romantic experiences have than the usual movie versions...)

2007—ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (maybe it's just me, but this fictional account of the period we usually call "the 'sixties" as told by the lyrics and music of The Beatles, reinterpreted by an incredibly talented cast, hit me as powerfully as having lived through it did...for my taste the most realistic take on what that time was about than any other fictional version of it...still moves me every time I catch it...)

2008—SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (The combination of Brit filmmaking with a Bollywood flare and classic Hollywood story made this movie so popular, but for me it was simply seeing smarts and sensitivity rewarded in a way I never quite had before, as the economic and war news was the worst it had been in years and my own life seemed on the decline (single again, post cancer operation, pre-brain operation, etc.) this was just the thing I needed to regenerate my natural optimism...which was abetted by two darker but no less satisfying "comedies"—IN BRUGES and BURN AFTER READING...)

2009—AMERICAN VIOLET (in some ways the antidote to that year's seemingly most impactful flick, PRECIOUS, as it too focused on the impact of "race" and racism and poverty and power etc. and too had some of the best performances of the year...only AMERICAN VIOLET disappeared seemingly without a trace despite the ways in which it impressed and impacted me....)

2010—WINTER'S BONE (along with Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lawrence has never given a performance on film I wasn't impressed with, and this was her first, for me, which blew me away, along with the story and the film's almost documentary realism...this one got into my soul...)

2011—SUPER 8 (which I saw with my oldest son who identified not just with the era the story is set in, 1979, when he was the age of the young boys in this flick, but also with the technique(s) used to make the film, paying homage to and echoing the technical tropes of that time as well, a surprisingly perfect film that also connected me to my oldest son's childhood in ways my raising him alone at that earlier time could not have...)

2012—SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (this movie unexpectedly helped me to understand a lot of things I was trying to, including the behavior of others, in ways even the filmmakers couldn't have predicted...and once again Jennifer Lawrence steals the show quite satisfactorily...and there I was, just like when I was a boy at the beginning of this list getting crushes on movie actresses...)

2013—12 YEARS A SLAVE (at last, a film to finally correct not just the blatant revisionist "history" of Hollywood Civil War classics like GONE WITH THE WIND, but almost every Western (i.e. "cowboy" movie) of my boyhood where Southern men were almost always portrayed as upholders of a just and honorable cause in which all the men were gentlemen and brave and all that revisionist post-Reconstruction jive created to soothe the wounds of the losers in a fight over nothing honorable at all, unless you're like some white Southerners continue to be, nostalgic for slavery!...12 YEARS A SLAVE isn't perfect, but it's close...and tells one true story of the days of Southern slavery that cannot be misinterpreted or denied...)

(Well, that's it, a pretty comprehensive listing of movies in each year of my life that impacted me the most that year...more will be revealed....)

Friday, August 29, 2014

AND THE LIST CONTINUES (PART FOUR)

Started this list a few days ago with the help of Google etc. to note the movies that impacted me most in each year of my life, (not "favorites" or "best" in my opinion, etc. but which had the biggest impact on me in that year)...here's the next ten:

1993—GROUNDHOG DAY (as slight as it seemed on first viewing, it still had an enormous impact on me as I'd just entered my fifties and life definitely seemed to be recycling some things, as in many ways it seemed like I was back where I started, my Hollywood "career"(s) reduced to almost nonexistent (outside of voiceovers), hadn't published a book of poems in a decade and continually had old poet friends act as if I'd sold out by moving to LA and getting involved in movies and TV, despite the fact that I'd started a weekly poetry reading series that generated publicity around the world and contributed to the resurgence of poetry readings (and not just in LA), of which there had been none in '86 when my partner, Eve Brandstein and I began the weekly venture, still going in '93, but by then often mocked by the press because of what one magazine called "The Whitman Wannabes"—"brat pack" poets like Ally Sheedy, who was actually very good etc. etc.—so the idea of waking up to the same problems every day and eventually figuring out how to use them to improve yourself and your life was actually profound, and became more so with every viewing...)

1994—THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH (John Sayles' take on an old Irish myth was exactly what I needed, the soundtrack music, the exceptional acting (including my Irish namesake Mick Lally playing the grandfather—when I visited Ireland I'd be teased by shopowners when I handed them my credit card and they'd shout to their spouse "It's the famous Mick Lally then" etc....knowing full well I wasn't the famous Irish actor since we looked so different (but one of the rewards of Ireland, especially in the West was the familiarity everyone had with my last name, which was common and on one ubiquitous bus line so it seemed like every time I looked out the car window there was my last name...) and all this when I was rediscovering my Irish roots in a new way from my visits there including taking my now grown kids to see the by then almost completely gone thatched roof "cottage" (more like "hut") my grandfather grew up in and discover they were as moved as I was when I saw it years before still intact...(and a few years later after my first operation and hospital stay as an adult, just after my youngest son was born, his mother put on the soundtrack CD to lift my spirits and it did...))

1995—TWELVE MONKEYS (this film surprisingly hit me deeply, feeling from it a sense of the possibilities of redemption I was experiencing once again in my own life....and the acting of Brad Pitt in a secondary role I found impressive, as well as Bruce Willis, an old acquaintance from NYC, and Madeleine Stowe who I'd dug since her performance a few years before in THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS with Daniel Day Lewis, another one of those movies I can watch anytime...)

1996—FLIRTING WITH DISASTER (yet another seemingly light flick, yet one that showed me how far we'd come, making fun of old '60s hippie/leftists like me but in fact illustrating how the causes we fought for had been in many ways achieved, like the depiction of two gay men in love as humanly normal, or normally human, etc...and just excellent writing and directing and acting and editing...)

1997—GROSSE POINTE BLANK (and yet another seemingly light film that I find impeccably written, acted, edited, and directed, as well as always watchable and serving the original purpose of the art form, i.e. entertainment...bringing me back to the reason I loved to go to the movies as a kid for that momentary escape from the realities of life while at the same time helping me to view life with a lighter perspective...despite all its disappointments...plus the movie's theme was once again redemption...and Jon Cusack and Mimi Driver had classic movie star chemistry in this...)

1998—BULWORTH (for everything that's wrong about this flick, and there's actually a lot, it still had an enormous impact on me as it seemed to me to be the first time an established movie star and serious industry power, in this case Warren Beatty, tried to directly address the basic problems of "American" culture and politics and inequality of power and income when especially it comes to "race" etc...crudely done, but sincerely committed...with a cameo from Amira Baraka...but even Beatty didn't seem happy with it when I was introduced to him at a party and tried to praise him for making the flick (which by then had been dumped on by the critics and abandoned by audiences) and how brave I thought it was for him to...)

1999—THREE KINGS (an interestingly prescient movie in some ways, though in most just an entertaining caper film set in Iraq during the first war we fought there, which also convinced me of the diverse talents of the always rewarding to watch George Clooney and Mark Walburg...)

2000—O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (like BLACK ORPHEUS, a very loose rendition of a Greek myth, in this case the story of the Odyssey, with Clooney proving his comic chops and the Coen brothers finally living up to their potential, to my mind, with one of the most original and entertaining and even in some ways enlightening films of the decade for my taste...and that soundtrack...made me appreciate the possibilities...)

2001—DOGTOWN AND Z-BOYS (I had an operation to remove some cancer in 2001 so didn't get to see this documentary until my oldest boy shared it with me on DVD while explaining the reasons it was so monumental and convincing me of that...it not only had shots of the street in Santa Monica where my youngest boy was born in '97 (he moved with his mother and me to the part of Jersey I grew up in, coming full circle, in '99), it documented the birth of not just a sport but an art form as it followed the lives of young Santa Monica surfers from the wrong side of town who created what became the kind of skateboarding we know today (prompted by an earlier California drought to take advantage of empty swimming pools, they used them to developed tricks like "getting air" above the poolsides etc....a fascinating film because these kids had their growing arsenal of moves and tricks documented by creative souls who admired what they were accomplishing at the time...the birth of something entirely new in the world has never been as stylistically and thoroughly recorded for posterity...and a fascinating human interest story as well...)

2002—GANGS OF NEW YORK (though there are plenty of reasons to denigrate this film, particularly the dumb casting of the leads (what, no Irish actors could be found for the starring roles?—though they were for the smaller roles, including Liam Neeson) with the exception of Daniel Day Lewis as "Butcher Bill" who gives a performance that is so powerful it almost dwarfs everyone else's, but despite its flaws when I first saw it in a theater it had a huge impact on me, the opening scenes seemingly so fantastical but adhering to actual realities of the time, as most of the movie does, even actual historical characters, evoking my Irish roots on my mother's side (my father's parents having come over long after the Civil War setting of the film, but my mother's Irish progenitors having come over before and been drafted into the Union Army during the Civil War)...I felt actually speechless after seeing it in a theater the first time, literally stunned...I've seen it since on the small screen and it's not quite as powerful (especially because the dolby sound effects and the terrific soundtrack, the camera angles and full screen vistas were such a big part of its impact...))

Thursday, August 28, 2014

ANOTHER LIST (PART THREE)

So, here's the next ten years in my continuing list of movies that impacted me most in each year of my life:

1983—A CHRISTMAS STORY (this is one of those films I can see over and over again, or stumble onto on cable at any point in the story and be charmed by once again, like GROUNDHOG DAY or GROSSE POINTE BLANK et. al....I grew up listening to Jean Shepperd in my attic room after my brothers and sisters had moved out (on an old tube radio I put together from broken ones I found in the trash) and was mesmerized by his seemingly spontaneous stories, a kind of radio show that seemed then, and still does, completely unique...as my conquering of Hollywood stuttered, this movie gave me exactly the kind of escape/relief I originally dug films for and wished I could be involved with...)

1984—STARMAN (Jeff Bridges, whose work I loved from the first time I saw him on screen, became my new acting model with this incredible performance as an alien slowly adapting to being in a human body....one of the greatest screen performances of all time, enhanced by Karen Allen at her most charming...although it was another flick,  CHOOSE ME, that felt like somehow it was about me...meanwhile I was up for leading parts in a few films that came out in '84 but didn't get the jobs, and since I was divorced again and looking for ways to support my now teenage kids from my first marriage, whose mother had been in a coma by then for several years already from a botched operation, I felt forced to ignore agents' advice and accept smaller roles in bad TV and low budget flicks and do whatever else was necessary to pay the bills...)

1985—DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN (The director, Susan Seidelman, had cast me in her first feature SMITHEREENS, but then there was a dispute with SAG and I didn't want to start out causing union problems so someone else replaced me, and now she'd made a feature that got everyone's attention, which I was happy to see as we had been close back in the city even after SMITHEREENS...the mixture of downtown NYC culture and scenesters (a first in some ways for that period), combined with non-threatening broader audience access and appeal, made this a harbinger of what women could bring to Hollywood, though it didn't change much of the gender disparities, unfortunately...)

1986—SALVADOR (Jimmy Woods' performance and Oliver Stone's direction made this film important to me, but even more so was the impact of the subject matter....when the nuns' murders are exposed I heard a wrenching sound from the audience I couldn't identify at first, before I realized it was coming from me...no other film made me do that, before or since...the film also aroused all my "revolutionary" ire, and then in an argument with my new best friend in LA, Hubert Selby Jr., he made the point that if I hated the nuns' murderers and wanted to see them dead I was just as bad as them, a theme he incorporated into a story told from the murderer's point of view...I couldn't concede that point for many more years to come...)

1987—WEEDS (I don't remember much about this film except that it really had an impact on me at the time, particularly Nick Nolte's acting, particularly his face as he experiences a woman's body for the first time after many years in prison...a unique moment in film history as far as I'm concerned, that goes along with two other unique love-making film scenes, the one between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in DON'T LOOK NOW, and the failed but still poignant love making scene between Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in THE WAY WE WERE...meanwhile another watchable-anytime move came out that year, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, which I liked so much I saw it in the theater twice, in love with Robin Wright and her performance, as well as everyone else's...and the lesson of ISHTAR impacted me as well, since I actually liked the movie and wondered why everyone was so intent on elevating it to the worst movie disaster ever...a lesson in humility, and acceptance that it's pretty much all out of our control, considering the level of talent on that project...)

1988—BEETLEJUICE (Not only was this one of the best uses of new CGI techniques, but a perfect example of the acting chops of another favorite soon-to-be-film-star and good friend Alec Baldwin, who was kind enough to stay in the house I rented while he made this flick in order to pay me rent from his per diem for the use of my daughter's room while she was away in college and I was in a slow period in terms of paying jobs, this was one of a series of roles he took in several great flicks during that time in which he played an entirely different character perfectly—like the mob doofus in MARRIED TO THE MOB, the regular working guy in WORKING GIRL, the young Jimmy Swaggart in GREAT BALLS OF FIRE and the preppy ghost in BETTLEJUICE, etc.—although a movie that impacted me more personally in '88 was TWO MOON JUNCTION, not for the movie itself but for the the epiphany I had on first seeing it, based on a screenplay for which I was cast to play the lead bad boy along with my second wife and an actress love I was seeing at the time, but the production fell through and it was postponed for several years, by which time the whole "brat pack" thing was happening and it was decided the characters—originally in their thirties (I played ten years younger then)—had to be in their early twenties, so it was retitled and recast....invited to a screening, I realized early into the flick that my dream of playing the kinds of bad boy characters I'd always thought I was, at least since early adulthood, was over, had passed, I was too old at forty-six to ever show how I thought I could more realistically play that bad boy character because I thought I had been more really him than Brando or Dean or DiNiro et. al. had really been in their actual lives...I know, very arrogant, but nonetheless my fantasy (see the prose piece "Venice CA (1980s)" in my book IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE)...

1989—LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN (I was upset that the ending was changed from the book but its author, and my friend, Hubert Selby Jr., was totally pleased with the change, thought it was brilliant and called to tell me so after he'd seen the first screening of the finished film, so who was I to judge, especially since the female lead, Jennifer Jason Leigh, had proved herself in it to be one of the greatest actors of her time and I felt lucky to have met her a few years earlier at a party and gotten to tell her I felt that way, and now she'd proven that to the world in an Oscar deserving performance....meanwhile DRUGSTORE COWBOY had a different impact on me...Gus Van Sant had asked me to write some of the voiceover narration for it (I had auditioned for the role James Remar ultimately got in the flick at which I had an inappropriate haircut and outfit, as I too often arrogantly did, expecting them to visualize my ability to transform into the character without the visual help, and at which Gus had taken a giant polaroid of me he was doing in those days (see his book of photographs 108 PORTRAITS and the cover of my CD LOST ANGELS), so I got to see the jailhouse novel it was based on, the original script, the rough cut (roughly edited version without music or special effects etc.) and recommend a cut scene be replaced and a few other things, as well as came up with a line I thought would make it easier for non prescription drug addicts to understand if not relate to the otherwise often despicable characters' behavior, something like "normal people don't know how they're going to feel from one moment to the next, but all an addict has to do is look at the label on the bottle" or close to that, and saw it quoted in major magazines and newspapers and attributed to either Matt Dillon, Gus, or his co-screenwriter etc. There was no way those reviewers could know I'd written it, but I was entering my I-don't-get-enough-credit phase so though proud to have contributed to a unique film I wished someone would have noticed my contribution...)

1990—LOVE AT LARGE (what can I say? I found and still find pretty much everything about this film delightful, including the leads, Elizabeth Perkins at her most charming and Tom Berreneger at his most Mitchum/Bogie/et.al. laconic...(I also began calling Jennifer Jason Leigh the new Brando for her incredible performance in MIAMI BLUES (in which Alec Baldwin again showed his amazing diversity) proving she could play a hooker in two movies back to back and make the characters have almost nothing in common besides their profession and physical resemblance to Jennifer Jason Leigh!)...though it probably was PUMP UP THE VOLUME that impacted me most personally, as another film director who heard me read my poetry asked to use several lines from "The Healing Poem" (see the book IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE) as the meat of the speech made by Christian Slater's character as he's riding in a jeep (as I remember it) and broadcasting simultaneously in the climactic scene...I was promised the audio of my reading of that poem would be part of the soundtrack to the film, which would have meant finally making some money on this stuff, but that fell through (it eventually made it onto the CD: WHAT YOU FIND THERE), and when asked how I wanted the credit for the poem to appear I said with the songs, which always come up last in the end credits of a film so it wasn't the smartest choice, but it felt like some kind of vindication...)

1991-THE COMMITMENTS (I saw this in a big movie theater in Santa Monica that was so packed I had to sit way down front and was astounded at the diversity of the audience as Ireland was just at the bare beginning of the whole Celtic Tiger thing and "my people" were usually misrepresented with the exception of a handful of films, but when the movie begins with the little kids running around at the wedding just like every wedding up till then had been in my clan (when did that "no kids" thing start?) I was happy to see something so familiar appreciated by an audience of young and old and all skin tones and ethnic backgrounds, and when another scene I dug would come up I'd turn to look at the audience and see all these smiling faces digging it too and think, damn, this is a turning point for an appreciation of Ireland and Irish life and culture in the world, and it was—I was in a couple of films myself that year, like WHITE FANG where I got to pick out my own costume and make "Sykes" a bit more of a dandy than planned, and THE RAPTURE where I played the US President in an apocalyptic scene they ran out of money to afford the special effects for, so I ended up with a silent cameo as "Man On TV"...)

1992—BASIC INSTINCT (I was called in for several roles in this flick and finally told the director, Paul Verhoeven, who auditioned me with a video camera on his shoulder each time, that he and I both knew I wasn't going to get the sidekick role since, even though it hadn't been officially announced I knew Michael Douglas was getting the lead role, so he asked what role I wanted and I said, of course, the starring role, so he sent me home to pick some scenes and I came back and did them while he taped me and then I was hired for a very small role, with two scenes and only a couple of lines, but because some gay activists were against the negative portrayal of a lesbian or actually "bi" character played by Sharon Stone, an old friend from NYC days, and disrupted the filming in San Francisco, they had to move the production down to an LA soundstage and rebuild the set so asked me to stay on hold for two weeks but only to be paid for two days, which my agent advised I do so as not to bug the powers behind the film, but I'd already ruined a lot of Hollywood opportunities with my blunt (and too often tactless) honesty and disregard for the schmoozing and phoniness (I'm not bragging, it wasn't a smart or humble or practical way to behave) so I said no, if you want me for two weeks you gotta pay me for two weeks, which turned out good for me as the residuals from this hit covered my medical benefits for a few years...then when I saw the film I insisted to friends that Douglas was doing a version of my style at the time, which they either laughed at or grew impatient with, rightfully so, but years later when Douglas was honored with some award and they had a montage of scenes from his films with one from BASIC INSTINCT on the beach, I got several calls from friends saying how much he reminded them of me in that scene....but the strangest thing about my BASIC INSTINCT experience is that a man who I'd known as a boy from my Jersey Catholic grammar school, who left after third grade and I never saw again, but who I admired because when a kid got stabbed with a pencil and the nuns kept us after school until someone confessed, he confessed—even though we all knew he hadn't done it—just to get the rest of us out so we could go home, and now he turned out to have a small role, bigger than mine, as a cop (I think when Douglas's character goes to look up some records in another town) in BASIC INSTINCT, and as we weren't in any scenes together I didn't realize it until many years later...how full of surprises life can be...) (Oh, and I was the voice of Kim Bassinger's character's boyfriend in COOL WORLD, a little cartoon character with a shock of white hair, a la mine, and a bebop way of talking etc. as I was making my living mostly with my voice by then...)

(to be continued...)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

ANOTHER LIST (PART TWO)

So I started a list and posted it yesterday of movies that impacted me most in each year of my life and got through the first thirty. Here's the next ten:

1973—MEAN STREETS (I was living with my wife, the poet and more, Lee Lally, and two little kids in DC in a commune that had become dominated by lesbian feminist politics when I saw this flick, which evoked all my street experiences from the past, and I was knocked out by the realistic portrayal of things I either knew about first hand or through others, like pulling a handkerchief from your pocket to lay on where you are going to sit to keep your slacks clean (the graveyard scene) and the religiosity of Keitel's character etc. [PS: also first time I saw my friend the poet/actor Harry E. Northup's great film acting chops as the soldier in the bar scene]...)

1974—HEARTS AND MINDS (This award-winning documentary about The Viet Nam War and its impact at home was blocked from regular theaters for supposed legal reasons—but it seemed obvious to me it was for political reasons—so I saw it in a screening in a DC building run by leftists (a free school? I remember my little kids being there) and was startled to see George Coker on screen, a guy who was a year behind me, and on the football team with me, in our Catholic boy's school in Newark, New Jersey, as a returning hero being feted with a parade and pro-war rally in his Jersey hometown (different than mine) (and proof that Viet Nam vets were honored and cheered despite the revisionist rightwing propaganda that they were spit on and called "baby killers" etc.) and felt overwhelmed with how far I'd evolved politically since we were in school, but also could understand where he was coming from which always felt like it differentiated me from many of my fellow anti-war activists...)

1975—SHAMPOO (another film I identified with as my marriage had dissolved and I was discovering, later than most, the "free love" aspects of "the sixties" "revolution" and had moved to New York with my Costa Rican love who was pressuring me to finalize a divorce with my first wife and marry her and have a child...which didn't happen, at least not in time to save that relationship...SHAMPOO somehow caught the exhilaration as well as confusion and challenges, and at times unacknowledged despair, of trying to have it all when it came to sexual relationships...I also remember being impressed with the acting of the teenage Carrie Fisher who less than a decade later I would be good friends with for a number of years...)

1976—THE MISSOURI BREAKS (ultimately not a successful film, partly—some would say primarily—because Brando sabotaged it with his relentless originality, imposing his unique take on the character in every scene he's in, in his attempt to personify the deceptions of the government, especially spy agencies, in his character, a hired "enforcer" in the old West, blowing the supposed challenger to Brando's crown as king of movie acting innovation, Jack Nicholson, off the screen, and still worth watching, even if just for Brando's numerous outrageous scene stealing gambits, like dressing in pioneer woman drag or squatting on a saddle in a way no one on a horse would ever do and hadn't ever done before on film etc...his performance seemed to me at the time, and since, to put a period on the end of an era, usually called "the sixties" but only over after the end of the Viet Nam war and the ensuing exhaustion of most with politics and activism and "revolution"...)

1977—FUN WITH DICK AND JANE (the beginning of the "Boomer" generation's justification for material acquisitions as some sort of rebellious act, and the first time a movie star allowed herself to be shot sitting on a toilet, among other firsts...ERASERHEAD was more innovative and startling and impacted me more than I expected, somehow evoking my childhood in ways that weren't obvious except for the North Jersey industrial landscape that was so familiar, and marked the beginning of another trend in the generation behind mine, the "Boomers" attempt to change directions after the Viet Nam era, not to mention SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER which opened with an Italian-American version of the James T. Farrell fictional character STUDS LONIGAN's getting dressed up to go out novel opening I always identified with...)

1978—COMING HOME (the first post-Viet Nam film to deal realistically with the home front challenges and results of it, in which I particularly noted an actress playing what I took for a Jersey working girl so realistically I remarked on it to my date, the woman I was living with at the time, saying something like "It's about time a Jersey working girl made it to Hollywood" only to find out a few years later when I married her that the actress was anything but...)

1979—THE WANDERERS (I hated Richard Price's novel this flick was based on for its nasty depiction of a Bronx Irish gang—"The Danny Boys"—as brutally vicious midgets, but one of my best friends and loves Karen Allen was the lead female in the movie version, and I'd been with her and Bobby Miller, the person who'd introduced us back in DC in '72, at the opening of NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE the year before and actually witnessed the birth of a star as on our way in nobody noticed any of us much at all but when the lights came up after the screening people pushed me and Bobby out of the way to get to Karen...and in THE WANDERERS she proved that wasn't a fluke by, to my mind, stealing the movie...and she encouraged me to get into movies, not knowing that in 1969 I'd co-starred in WHITEY!—the first, and for all I know only, feature-length fiction film funded by the AFI—so I decided to do just that and gave myself six months to prove I could, and did...)

1980—THE STUNT MAN (knocked me out as the most unique work out there that year and expressed the awe I felt at having first hand experiences in the craft of Hollywood filmmaking...but it was DRACULA'S LAST RITES that more or less changed my life (a not great low, low, low budget horror film set in South Jersey (Vineland and environs) in which I starred as the hero, but during which I discovered how much I really didn't know about movie "acting"...))

1981—RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (I saw it at a screening in which I think I was the only audience, maybe there was one other, in a tiny screening room in NYC and though I thought Karen Allen was super in it I didn't know what to think of the riffing on B adventure movies from my childhood, like the map with a little airplane icon making a line from one exotic location to another, until I saw it with a packed house NYC audience days later who I thought wouldn't get it because they were too young and they actually cheered at that...THE NESTING was another starring low budget hero role for me, but the night before they put the credits in I was told my name was already taken in the Screen Actors Guild, so I briefly thought of changing it to Michael Monroe or Marlon Lally, but opted for adding my real middle name, and from then on in any professional acting I did on screen I was "Michael David Lally"...and I got to do scenes with the aging John Carradine, who told me he was impressed with my work, which made me happy, especially when the director told me just before calling "Action" he wanted me to cry in one scene and I had no idea how to make that happen except to cry in frustration at my fear of not being able to!...and I also had a scene with Gloria Graham, the great Hollywood actress in what turned out to be her last film...the movie, and especially me, weren't that great, but it was a great experience...)

1982—TOOTSIE (I married the actress from COMING HOME and we moved with my two kids who I'd been raising mostly on my own in NYC to LA where there was supposedly more work for both of us but that didn't turn out to be so true...my main concern was learning how to be a better actor, and seeing Dustin Hoffman in TOOTSIE I took it as a lesson in movie acting to the nth degree, though I might have been fooling myself and misunderstanding whatever talent I might have had, trying to emulate Hoffman's acting chops instead of who might have been a better role model for my style and talent, the uncredited (in TOOTSIE) Bill Murray, (not that my style was like his I just mean it was and is always HIS) who I'd met on the set of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE when my composer love, who I lived with in late 1970s NYC, Rain Worthington, was working for that show as photographer Edie Baskin's substitute when Edie was out of town...but no matter what, TOOTSIE was the kind of movie I wanted to make, whether as actor or writer (I had begun writing screenplays for hire too) because it was so perfectly done...)

(to be continued...)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

ANOTHER LIST (IN PROGRESS)

So most of you know I had this weird alteration in the way my mind works after I had brain surgery coming up on five years ago in November. One of the main manifestations is that a compulsion (literally, like uncontrollable I now realize) to make lists—either in my mind or on paper or in conversation—disappeared instantly upon coming out of the operation.

Since then, instead of constantly making lists I can't make one if I try, unless I use outside sources and help. Which is what I did when asked for my ten top films by my old friend the great poet and actor Harry E.Northup and his blog TIMES TIMES 3 (see the list to the right).

Which contributed to my deciding to make a list for my blog consisting of one movie for each year of my life that impacted me the most in that year. (Not my "favorites" or what I thought were "best" or most deserving of awards, but which had hit me somehow so intensely I couldn't avoid their impact on me.)  I had to use google to determine the year the movie was released in some cases. So here goes:

(For the first three years of my life I doubt I was brought to the movies but then my older sisters were forced to drag me along with them until I was about seven and started going on my own.)

1942—CASABLANCA (though I obviously saw this later I always associate it with the year I was born and still get goosebumps every time true dueling patriotic songs scene occurs...)

1943—LASSIE COME HOME (this I saw probably when I was four, cause back then, before TV, they used to reshow kids movies on Saturday afternoons and remember it overwhelming me with emotions I couldn't control...)

1944—GOING MY WAY (Bing Crosby's Oscar win for his portrayal of "Father "O'Malley" in this flick felt like a win for all the Irish I grew up around, he represented for us the best of our Irish-American culture, easy going, great voice but presented with no strain or showboating as though just a natural singer like so many of my aunts and uncles were, etc. and of course "O'Malley" is pretty close to "Lally" (which derives from "O'Mulally")...

1945—THE BELLS OF SAINT MARY'S (Bing as O'Malley again!)

1946—THE BLUE DAHLIA (my first movie star crush was on Veronica Lake from this movie)

1947—OUT OF THE PAST (my first "bad girl" crush was on Jane Greer in this flick, which I still feel is the best of all film noir)

1948—RED RIVER (the beginning of a run of wanting to be a cowboy)

1949—THE THIRD MAN (this movie disturbed my seven-year-old sensibility but also fascinated me, and as I'd been playing piano by then for three years one of the parlor tricks I was always asked to perform at clan parties was to play the ubiquitous (that year) theme song from THE THIRD MAN)

1950—THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY (he had already impacted my life, and this movie just confirmed his heroism in my mind and heart (see my poem "Sports Heroes, Cops & Lace" in my book CANT BE WRONG))

1951—QUO VADIS (can't remember a thing about it, but on my first real date I took Lois Mercadante to see this for a quarter admission for each of us, something my mother commented on in a letter to one of my brothers in the Army, that I would soon be nine but was big for my age as I went on my first official date)

1952—THE QUIET MAN (the scene in the graveyard in the rain is still one of the most romantic film scenes to my mind, and despite the obvious sexism inherent in the culture and time it represented there was something exhilaratingly matched about John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara in this)

1953—SHANE (the kid played by Brian Dewilde was the focal point for the viewpoint in this flick and it was so easy to identify with that perspective, especially as the hero was Veronica Lake's old movie partner Alan Ladd)

1954—ON THE WATERFRONT (this movie changed my life forever in so many ways, starting with the impact of its being filmed in nearby Hoboken and using a non actor kid to play the gang member, like so many kids I knew, that realism altered my sense of what movies and all art could be, as well as Brando's character showing me a way to stand up to the bullying I was experiencing at the time, etc. (see my prose piece "Bada-Bing Bada-Brando" in my book IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE).)

1955—BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (more realism, including using rock'n'roll as part of a soundtrack for the first time (check out REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, the same year but I didn't buy Dean and the other actors as realistic teenagers from my experience at all and the music on his car radio was like tepid "swing" or something equally irrelevant to teens at the time), and again kids that seemed like some of the kids I knew, this had an impact on all the kids I knew who started calling grown men "daddy-o" from the day after the flick opened, or so it seemed at the time, and also the impact of Sidney Poitier playing a cool, dignified, powerful black teenager added to my anti-racist inclinations and behavior despite the times)

1956—MARTY (though it came out in '55 I remember seeing this with my then good friend Jimmy McKenna (who unfortunately many decades later became the rightwing troll on this blog I've had to block in recent times) just because it won Ernest Borgnine an Oscar and was supposed to be really adult material etc. and we discussed it later in a way I thought was really adult, making me feel like I was grown up for the first time, at least intellectually (PICNIC, another flick from '55 I didn't see until '56 also had an impact through it's theme song, which I immediately bought the 45 of, and still have, with "Moonglow" as part of it, and for the immediate crush I got on Kim Novak in it).)

1957—12 ANGRY MEN (more in my self education in tolerance and understanding, and other adult themes, and my feeling of being older than people were treating me as)

1958—KING CREOLE (although there were parts of the flick I found hokey, I identified with Elvis's character's need for money and after school jobs which I also had, and struggling with the pull of street life vs. school life etc. etc., a few years later a coed turned me on to the book this was based on telling me it reminded her of me!)

1959—BLACK ORPHEUS (not only fell in love with the main woman in this flick but with the entire cast in some ways, the first time I understood mythology, in this case Greek, as relevant to my times)

1960—SPARTACUS (another lesson in courage but also in organizing I never forgot and used later in my days of political protests etc.)

1961—WEST SIDE STORY (I already loved the music from the Broadway cast album where I thought they were actually using the "f" word, though they weren't, and so many of my jazz icons reinterpreted that music, I was playing some jazz myself by then in clubs in NYC and elsewhere, but I hadn't seen the play so the movie really got to me as I was engaged to a "black" girl and we were both too young to marry without parental permission which wasn't forthcoming from either of our fathers and there were only thirteen states in the USA where we could legally marry because of our supposedly different "races" so the whole Romeo and Juliet theme struck home for me as did the romanticism and the hopefulness in songs like "Something's Coming" etc.)

1962—DAVID AND LISA (another example of seemingly documentary realism, though fiction, on a subject I hadn't thought a lot about but now was forced to from this expose)

1963—8 1/2  (I was in the military by then and had made friends with civilians around my age who were in college and artistic and intellectual in ways I hadn't been exposed to before, who took me to see this flick with me expecting not to get it cause I didn't have a college education, but instead I felt like Fellinni was talking directly to me and my creative spirit (I had been making music and art and poetry etc. since I was able to).)

1964—A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (when I saw this with my then new wife I was bugged by the "British Invasion" which was taking jobs away from musicians even in Spokane, where I was stationed at the time, so I went into it not sure about The Beatles, but I came out of it wanting to be one)

1965—DARLING (more sophisticated European filmmaking to my 23-year-old sensibility, and Julie Christy....)

1966—THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (seemingly a documentary about the struggle for independence from France, it was actually a fiction feature that had a worldwide impact on young people who took up liberation struggles everywhere, including Iowa City where I was going to college on the G.I. Bill)

1967—BONNIE & CLYDE (the lighthearted music and comic scene with the first time seen Gene Wilder and the model pretty Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway made the seriousness even more potent, though even then I found the amateur psychology of "Clyde's" impotence a little much, but the impact of that final scene still resonates and at the time it seemed to be almost a validation of the revolutionary spirit that seemed to be growing among the young everywhere...)

1968—IF... (a confusing film that caused a confused response in many, including me, but nonetheless had an enormous impact at the time)

1969—BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (there were so many impactful flicks in '68 but almost all bugged me for one political reason or another, like I reviewed THE WILD BUNCH for a revolutionary street paper RISING UP ANGRY and pointed out that the more despicable the character the deeper the "redneck" accent, or the decadence in MIDNIGHT COWBOY, etc. so I think my love for BUTCH AND SUNDANCE came from a need for some relief from the ways "the revolution" was being attacked from without and from within, as well as a need for the heroic casting and imagery of the final futile rebellion of this incredibly attractive pair)

1970—THE BOYS IN THE BAND (as calculated and contrived as some of this was, it was also incredibly raw in its realistic depiction of some of what until then had been a very secret and seemingly unknowable life style, so it felt, at least to me and my then wife, like an enormous revelation and directly led to our both becoming more active against not just sexism and homophobia, which we already were, but against society's perspective on gender and sexual preference et.al.)

1971—THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (as I ended my twenties the nostalgia inherent in this flick got to me, as did Jeff Bridges in his first major movie role, whose character I identified with as much as I could with any of these supposed Texans, although the movie soundtrack I most loved from this year was WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY because I put my little girl and boy to bed every night to it and totally grew to appreciate how excellent it was and is)

1972—CABARET (as much as Liza Minnelli grew to be a caricature of herself (and her mother, Judy Garland) and that was evident in her role in this flick, at the time it seemed like an incredibly brave and unique performance and the story from Christopher Isherwood's BERLIN STORIES and the play made from them, I AM A CAMERA, and the anti-Nazi theme justifying the semi-decadent indulgence of much of the story, somehow seemed just on time for the changes my wife and I and others were going through from the impact of our involvement in the women's and gay rights movements which demanded some serious personal changes, much more than the Civil Rights and anti-war movements had)...

(to be continued...)

Monday, August 25, 2014

"BEFORE YOU WERE BORN"

Another poem on The Best American Poetry blog: here. I wrote it back in the 1980s and you can hear me read it back in the '90s (to music from my oldest son Miles and friends) on my CD LOST ANGELS, but it was only published in print this year in the revived great little mag december.

[PS: Please feel free to comment on the BAP blog as well as here...]

Sunday, August 24, 2014

JUST SAYIN' (PART TWO)

So, I've been busy lately leaving long comments on various Facebook friends' threads and realize I've got to be more succinct, or better yet not linger on Facebook so much. But before I do, I thought I'd post a copy of this response to a thread on my old friend, the poet (and philosopher to my mind) E. Ethelbert Miller's Facebook page and blog (see the list on the right to link to his E-notes):


Hey E, beautifully put, but as an older gent I want to remind you of how much better the world is than the world I was born into. The world has never been as violent or destructive as it was during WWII ever since. There have been wars, but nothing as bad as then. Institutional racism defended by our government and its policies has never been as bad as it was during slavery, or after that since the Jim Crow institutions of Reconstruction and post-reconstrautction times etc. Or after that, during the Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s and '60s. I was stationed in the South when legal segregation meant people designated as "Negro" (which could mean as little as "a drop" of "black" blood as they used to say in some states, so stupid that even this pink skinned descendant of Irish ancestors could convince some that I was "part black" etc. while relatives of "black" friends were passing for "white" etc.) couldn't go to the drive-in movie in their own car, let alone eat at drugstore counters etc... My parents and older siblings suffered through the Great Depression and despite economic ups and downs the world has never been as economically rocked as during that period, and despite hunger and poverty today, starvation and death due to those things is not as prevalent as it once was, so...yes, some things are worse, damage to the environment (though back in the 1950s air and river pollution were much worse in the USA and elsewhere) continuing racism in some hearts and locations, economic inequality for sure (though not as bad as when my father was a boy at the turn of the last century) etc. etc. Much work to be done, as always, but much accomplished by those who sacrificed in the past so we would have it better...