Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Sweet. The senate has suddenly discovered global warming.

Heck, even some Republicans.

McCain said today there’s no denying it any more.

Even W. mentioned it, sort of, in his State of the Union fakery.

By golly. I guess that son of a gun Gore was right all along.

Who would have thought a guy who actually helped make the internet what it is now, volunteered for Viet Nam even though as the son of a Senator he could have gotten out of it like some other “fortunate ones” did, and ended up winning the presidency and then bowing out gracefully when it was clear his opponents meant to tear the country apart if they didn’t get their way, and who had written a book about global warming and other ecological damage needing to be stopped and when possible reversed, would be the honest one in all this?

And the DUI achieving, momma’s boy Yalie cheerleading wartime no-show national Guard pilot lied about everything from the get go son of a gun who stole two elections would turn out to be full of shit?

I’m shocked. Shocked!

But gee, it sure is sweet to see how on time all these Senators were today, finally noticing that half the scientists working for the government were coerced by oil company lobbyists into changing wording in their reports so as to never use the term “global warming.”

Who knew they’d been doing that for years?

Besides me and any anybody else paying any fucking attention at all.

And the media plays right along with it. OOOhhh, look what’s news today: global warming!

No kidding, schmucks.

Monday, January 29, 2007


“Just don’t get too complicated, Eddie. When a guy gets too complicated he’s unhappy. And when he’s unhappy—his luck runs out…”
—Raymond Chandler from

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Guess who’s the main speaker at the White House Correspondents’ dinner this year? Last year Stephen Colbert roasted W. so badly, the audience of correspondents and celebrities—as well as W. and Laura and “honored guests”—forgot to laugh.

Rich Little.

He said in a New Yorker interview: “…believe me, you won’t hear the word ‘Iraq’ out of my mouth the whole evening. They know I’m a safe bet over there at the White House.”

The White House Correspondents’ Association said the White House put no pressure on them, which I believe, because they didn’t have to.

The correspondents themselves were embarrassed by Colbert’s performance after it became one of the most popular YouTube videos.

Because, after initially laughing at Colbert’s barbs at W. and Dick and their gang, they began to laugh less and less. Some in the audience continued to get, and obviously enjoy, the direct hits on W.’s hypocrisy and narcissism, but most quieted down, either not getting the joke or not wanting to embarrass junior any more.

The choice of Rich Little is just another sign of their bending over for this administration’s lethal media manipulation.

But it is also a sign of something else I’ve ranted about before, that the whole Hollywood-Liberal connection is a smokescreen used to manipulate voters who feel envy or resentment toward celebrities and their seeming power.

The reality of my almost twenty years experience working in “Hollywood” is: there are as many, or more, conservative Republicans in “show business” as there are liberal Democrats. Especially among comedians.

Little says he’s a Republican. Drew Carey did too. Colin Quinn is blatantly anti-Liberal, pro-Conservative as his supposedly topical comedy show on TV in recent years made clear, giving a platform to rightwing perspectives sold as reality and all else as elitism.

That’s the perspective Nixon’s dirty trick team came up with in his bid to win over “the silent majority”—a rightwing invention to begin with. The idea was to redirect working peoples’ anger over the circumstances of their lives, getting worse every year under the growing power of corporations.

To divert attention from the true source of the growing disparity in incomes and power in this country, the Nixon political machine successfully redirected voters’ resentment toward the Kennedys and what they represented—East Coast, Harvard-educated, ethnic/immigrant up from poverty recently rich (as opposed to the WASP Walkers and Bushes W. descends from who’ve been wealthy and powerful for centuries) and their Hollywood friends.

Of course they also redirected that resentment toward blacks and the poor, which strategy was later perfected by Reagan and his minions, using so-called “welfare queens” as the symbol of what was wrong with the country, rather than the newly minted “homeless” families that hadn’t existed since the depths of the Depression until Reagan took power.

W. and his cronies have extended this mis-information of whose to blame for the troubles of ordinary folks by blaming homosexuals, feminists non-Christians (or rather non-their-kind-of-“Christians”) etc., and most obviously, Hollywood.

But that’s just as much a myth as “the welfare queen’ was. Most Hollywood producers I’ve worked with are Republicans, and at least half or more of the directors and writers and comedians I’ve known are Republicans, as well as many of the stars.

Yes, the “liberals” seem more represented in the monologues of comedians at awards events, or in the acceptance speeches of some of the recipients. But that too is an illusion. When Clinton was president, or Gore running for office, comedians, even ones allegedly “liberal Democrats” skewered them just as readily, and were easily manipulated into doing it on the basis of the misinformation propagated by the right-wingers.

Like Gore’s alleged claim of starting the internet, which he never said, only taking credit for his part in making it what it became, which is fact not fiction, and so on.

The rightwing Republicans are as good at manipulating the myth that Hollywood is somehow more liberal than the real people out there in the middle of the country, despite the evidence of so many, including comedians from Bob Hope to Rich Little to Drew Carey to Dennis Miller to Colin Quinn et. al.

And “the media” goes right along with it, as it continues to do with everything else, taking the administration’s word on Iran’s supposed interference in Iraq with infiltrators and bombs etc., setting up familiarly false rationalizations for military action against Iranians, first in Iraq and soon in Iran itself, repeating meaningless body counts (today it was “250 insurgents killed” in a battle no news person was witness too, so why exactly are they repeating that figure as fact?) et-fucking-cetera.

Rich Little. It’s come to that.

Friday, January 26, 2007


“Five Iranians were detained by U.S.-led forces earlier this month after a raid on an Iranian government liaison office in northern Iraq. The move further frayed relations between the two countries, already tense because of U.S.-led efforts to force Tehran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program.

The administration said at the time that U.S. forces entered an Iranian building in Kurdish-controlled Irbil because information linked it to Revolutionary Guards and other Iranian elements engaging in violent activities in Iraq.

But Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, contended the Iranians were working in a liaison office that had government approval and that the office was in the process of being approved as a consulate. In Iran, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the U.S. raid constituted an intervention in Iranian-Iraqi affairs.”

Think Bush has changed? Only the language, from “I am the decider” to today’s “I am the decision maker.”

He wants to leave a legacy of toughness, to make up for being a cheerleader at Yale, a no show as a National Guard pilot during war time, a failure as an oilman (as well as at any other business venture without the bailouts of his father’s friends), and a failure as a president (without another bailout from his father’s friends).

In his ongoing failed competition with his father—who wasn’t much better in terms of policies and politics, but even only a little better means many thousands of lives spared—others have to pay for his failures.

In the time he has left, how many more will be sacrificed on the altar of his faltering ego? Too fucking many.


Brad Pitt in THELMA & LOUISE (1991) First time I noticed him and was impressed
Everyone in THELONIOUS MONK: STRAIGHT NO CHASER (1988) First time I saw, off the bandstand, the interaction between Monk and other musicians—a master class in jazz with a genius of the art
War-torn Vienna in THE THIRD MAN (1949) When I first saw this film at seven, I knew it was unique, it has only become more so with time
Robert Donat in THE 39 STEPS (1935) Another early Hitchcock lesson in how to balance humor and suspense
Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942) First pairing of these two, my favorite movie stars as a kid, and still are in this, and THE BLUE DAHLIA (is that on dvd yet?)
Everyone in THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984) Still the best “mockumentary”
Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway in THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975) First movie to expose the dirty dealings of secret government organizations as the impetus for a great boy-meets-girl story, with much help from their odd chemistry
Raquel Welch in THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1974) First time she impressed me, in a fun flick full of terrific performances
The Fords in THUNDER ROAD (1958) First movie to feature car(s) as stars, at least to teenagers at the time, and Robert Mitchum was pretty cool too
William Saroyan’s writing in THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE (1948) James Cagney’s honorable attempt to capture the magic of Saroyan’s play intact—unlike the Hollywood adaptation of Saroyan’s novel THE HUMAN COMEDY—but a failed attempt alas
“The people” in TO DIE IN MADRID (1965) Solid documentary about the Spanish Civil War includes crowds giving the Loyalist fist salute early on and giving Franco and his followers the Facist salute at the end
Lauren Bacall in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944) Her inimitable debut
Albert Finney in TOM JONES (1963) Still a pretty face, but a consummate actor already, in what seemed a metaphor for the sudden sexual liberation “the pill” ignited
Dustin Hoffman in TOOTSIE (1982) His half-in-drag performance was a revelation in one of the best-written boy-meets-girl screenplays ever
TOP HAT (1935) May be Astaire/Rogers best—my introduction to the comedy of mistaken identities as a kid
Matthew Broderick in TORCH SONG TRILOGY (1988) Broderick was in the play, only fifteen or so, when I first saw it downtown around ’81, before it became a smash, I was thoroughly impressed by his understated style, already a very fine actor
Robert Blake and Bogart in TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948) Didn’t understand the power of Bogart’s performance when I saw this as a kid, it was the first time I saw him play scary demented, but I recognized the kid actor Robert Blake as the Mexican boy in the opening
James Dunn in A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (1945) Though a little overdone, okay sometimes a lot, still, as a kid, this take on Irish drunks and immigrants hit home, especially Dunn as the alcoholic father
Brian Deacon in TRIPLE ECHO (1973) Overlooked and underrated movie, amazing in its originality and performances, especially from Deacon, who transforms himself like no one else had through the arc of the story, has to be seen to be believed, one of Oliver Reed’s and Glenda Jackson’s best as well
Rebecca De Mornay in TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL (1985) Proved the breadth of her talent, as well as beauty, after making her mark as the hooker in RISKY BUSINESS, another unfortunately undervalued actor
Half the cast of 12 ANGRY MEN (1957) I felt very sophisticated getting the power of this drama when I was fifteen, and impressed by the acting from half a cast I’d never seen or noticed before
Carole Lombard in TWENTIETH CENTURY (1934) I grew up near the tracks and always loved trains, and movies that take place on them—this was the first I remember seeing Carole Lombard in, and getting how terrific she was
Everyone in 28 UP (1985) The first one I caught in the ongoing series of true-life stories unfolding over seven-year periods, under the direction of Michael Apted, they’re all riveting
Richard Tyson in TWO-MOON JUNCTION (1988) You’ll have to wait for me memoirs for the whole story, [or see VENICE CA (1980S) in IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE] —the short version is: originally to be filmed years earlier with a different title and me in the role Tyson did, with an older cast playing characters in their thirties and older, but just before filming started the financing pulled out, then it was revived after Hollywood discovered the “youth demographic” and movies were rewritten for casts in their teens and twenties. There’s a lot more to it, but like I said…
Everyone in THE WANDERERS (1979) I objected to the treatment of the Irish in the novel and the movie adaptation, but the cast was terrific, almost all of whom I never saw before, except for Karen Allen, beautiful and memorable, as always
Redford and Streisand in THE WAY WE WERE (1973) Who would have thought of them together? Maybe you still don’t, but their competing styles of acting—and being—worked perfectly for their characters, the scene where he passes out on top of her and she’s lying there staring at the ceiling I can’t imagine anyone doing better
Nick Nolte in WEEDS (1987) I knew he was a powerful screen presence, but this is the movie where I got he was a great actor, the love scene after his character gets out of prison is worth the whole movie, I’ve rarely seen anything as brilliantly realistic as his reactions in that scene
George Chakiris et. al. in WEST SIDE STORY (1961) One of my favorite musicals, miscast on the white gang side and Natalie Wood as a Puerto Rican, though they all give it their best shot and ultimately I think it works, since you have to suspend so much sense of reality for musicals anyway, but Chakiris and his gang, as well as Rita Moreno and the Latinas, brought something new and vibrant and stylish to the screen for that time, and it was needed, still is
Hayley Mills and Alan Bates in WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND (1961) No, this is the first time I saw him, but both were a revelation in this beautiful parable, another overlooked and underrated perfect film
The animation-human mix in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988) After leaving the theater in Hollywood and driving home down Sunset Boulevard, I couldn’t keep the cars and lights from morphing into cartoons, keeping me jittery all the way home
Burton and Taylor in WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966) Scary the way they seemed to not be acting, it made you wonder if this was what their relationship was really like, first show-biz, glamour couple to seem so exposed in their work
Ernest Borgnine in THE WILD BUNCH (1969) More than a decade after he first impressed me in MARTY, and seemingly having sold out to TV and shlock, he is the best thing in this movie full of powerful performances, especially from the aging movie stars William Holden and Robert Ryan, but Borgnine makes it all real
Lee Marvin in THE WILD ONE (1954) First time I remember seeing him, holding his own in the face of Brando’s revolutionary acting style
Gene Wilder in WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971) An unexpected portrayal that only gets more interesting with time
Bruno Ganz and Peter Falk in WINGS OF DESIRE (1988) Inspired by Rilke, co- authored by Peter Handke, directed by Wim Wenders and starring one of my favorite film actors, Bruno Ganz—plus Falk breaks out of the straight jacket of his mannerisms to become real in a way I never saw before—what a wonderfully original movie
Ray Bolger and Burt Lahr in THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) An incredible performance by a child actor of any time, Judy Garland makes the movie, but Bolger and Lahr impressed me most as a kid, their commitment to their two-dimensional storybook roles shows, though Lahr later regretted always being associated with the Cowardly Lion, in my book, he should be grateful
Gena Rowlands in WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1974) One of the most original and strangest performances on film, the first time I realized how much she towered over other actors
Norma Shearer in THE WOMEN (1939) First time I got her leading a cast of great performances—but every time I see it I’m surprised again that there are no men, their presence is felt in the dialogue so powerfully, it’s hard to recognize their actual physical absence
Everyone in WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN (1988) First Almodovar film I saw and was giddy with delight for days after
Lisa Eichorn in Yanks (1979) A mixed bag, but she was moving and beautiful and I was sorry she didn’t go on to become a big star
Streisand in YENTL (1983) First and only time I saw a woman pushing middle age play a young boy, which maybe didn’t work so well, but what other “artist” would have the moxie to try it—if it was a performance piece on the downtown Manhattan scene she would have been cheered for breaking taboos and female stereotypes and taking risks etc.
The housemates in YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938) First movie I saw that reflected some of the variety in my own household and neighborhood as a kid

Phew, that was a little too much of a compulsive thing, but at least now I can throw that 1995 movie guide out, and replace it with a current one, hmmmmm…

Thursday, January 25, 2007


I’ve gotten some e mails and comments on this seemingly never ending list I compulsively began compiling when I started browsing through that old 1995 movie guide. It seems we all have our memories of movie moments when we first noticed someone or something on film. So here’s the latest installment of mine (I’ve given up the asterisks which were pretty distracting and eventually meaningless in context):

Maureen O’Hara in THE QUIET MAN (1952) Not the first time I saw her in a film, but the first time I saw her romantically, despite the sexism of the story—still one of my favorite films
Joe Pesci in RAGING BULL (1980) De Niro was impressive, but I couldn’t help being distracted by his famous weight gain in the role, it looked odd and unnatural to me, but Pesci’s performance knocked me out
Karen Allen in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) Obviously not the first time I saw her in a film, but first time I got the power she could bring to the screen, in her role as a hard drinking, hard fighting, match for Ford’s Indiana Jones—the only female match, I thought, in the entire series
Most of the cast of A RAISIN IN THE SUN (1961) Pretty stilted in some scenes, but powerful in others, and a first on many levels in terms of “race”
Leila Schenna in RAMPARTS OF CLAY (1971) Incredible
Me in THE RAPTURE (1991) Not the first film I was in, but the first one I was cut close to entirely out of, in the role of the President of the U.S., ending up as a silent face on a TV screen
Jim Backus in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) First time I noticed the man behind the voice of the animated Mister Magoo, in a role that impressed me as a kid because I knew no fathers like that in my neighborhood, nor kids like Sal Mineo or even the one Dean played—to my just-turned-teenaged eyes he looked way too old to be playing a high school kid, but I fell in love with the way Natalie Wood took the cigarette from his lips in the driveway scene before he accidentally lit the filter end, I wanted me a woman who would do that, instead of let me light it and die laughing
Montgomery Clift in RED RIVER (1948) First time I saw Clift when I was a kid, in this seminal Western with a classic Hollywood cast led by John Wayne, who later admitted the only time he was nervous on a movie was the first scene he acted in with Clift, who rattled Wayne with his intensity
Berry Berenson in REMEMBER MY NAME (1978) Anthony Perkins’ wife in a highly underrated and overlooked film, one of my favorites that year, Berry was Marisa’s sister, both from a famous family, Marisa a successful model who began her acting career in the film CABARET, which I forgot to mention as another first, I dug Marisa from afar, but got to know Berry who was extremely down to earth and treated me with great warmth and respect—I know I wasn’t the only one devastated by her death in one of those planes that hit the towers on 9/11
Catherine Deneuve in REPULSION (1965) Roman Polanksi’s first international success, in which Deneuve mesmerized a lot of us
Half the cast of RESERVOIR DOGS (1992) Once I got over my envy of them getting roles in this movie I’d heard about but couldn’t get seen for
Married couple bed scene in RESURRECTION (1980) with Ellen Burstyn, always excellent, as the wife—the first time I saw a truly realistic end-of-the-day-in-bed conversation between a married couple
Nathalie Baye in THE RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE (1982) First time I noticed her, in one of the best movies I know of, and one of Gerard Depardieu’s best too
Richard Pryor in RICHARD PRYOR—LIVE IN CONCERT (1979) I’d seen him on TV in his earlier tamer days and dug him even then, but this was his peak, the best comedy concert film ever
Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers in ROCK, ROCK, ROCK! (1956) And everyone else except for Teddy Randazzo, the lead in many early rock’n’roll flicks who Alan Freed kept trying to turn into a star, but we teenagers weren’t buying—Lymon, around my age at the time, stole the movie for me, along with Chuck Berry and LaVern Baker, I didn’t even notice Tuesday Weld, yet
Olivia Hussey in ROMEO AND JULIET (1968) The best film version
Helena Bonham in A ROOM WITH A VIEW (1985) First time I dug her, and only the second or third time I’d seen Daniel Day-Lewis, and I didn’t recognize him, so deeply into the role he was of the less than leading man
Dexter Gordon in ROUND MIDNIGHT (1986) First time I saw him act, and very well, a man I’d hung around a little, when I was a young wannabe jazz musician
Shafiq Syed in SALAAM BOMBAY! (1988) Not unlike PIXOTE only in India
Me in the audience at SALVADOR (1986) When they uncover the bodies of the nuns I heard someone in the audience make a sound of anguish so wrenching I felt sorry for them, and then realized it was me, also one of James Woods best performances in what was the first film I saw to really capture the vileness of the repression our government supported in many so-called “Third World” countries
Richard Jaeckel in THE SANDS OF IOWA JIMA (1949) Saw it at seven and identified most with the baby-faced Jaeckel, who I later watched work out at a gym I belonged to in Venice Beach when he was an “old man” but still had that same baby face
Everyone in SAPPHIRE (1959) In love with a “black girl” and “black” culture as a teenager at the time, I knew that “Sapphire” was black street slang then for a black woman so went to see this British flick that indeed was about a “colored” girl passing for white who is murdered—somewhat “square” but interesting take on mixed-race culture of the time
Miyoshi Umeki in SAYONARA (1957) I saw this in Florida when segregation was still the law throughout the South, including Miami where the movie theater was—the white teenagers who I was on a double date with, while my father was at the track, didn’t get the connection, or dig the film, though I did
Steven Bauer in SCARFACE (1983) Probably not his film debut, but first time I dug him, one of the nicest actors I ever met, and an underrated one, whose performance as Pacino’s partner in this flick helped give balance to what otherwise seemed to me an almost campy over-the-top performance by Pacino
John Wayne in THE SEARCHERS (1956) When I saw it again at a revival in the Carnegie Hall Movie theater in the 1970s, I began to let go of my anger at Wayne’s politics and remember why he moved me as a kid, and recognized his acting skill
Toshiro Mifune in THE SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) Always near the top of my all time favorite flicks, with great performances throughout, but Mifune excels among them
Carrie Fisher in SHAMPOO (1975) A hot but cynical teenager, she stole the scene she was in, but everyone in this flick was terrific
Brandon de Wilde in SHANE (1953) First time I saw him, a boy almost my age who became a movie star and was dead in a car accident before he was out of his teens
Spike Lee in SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT (1986) The most auspicious film debut of a director/actor in my life maybe, couldn’t stop laughing at the character’s insistent raps
Chloe Webb in SID AND NANCY (1986) Gary Oldman is great too, but I don’t think this is the first time I dug him
Donald O’Conner in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952) Maybe not the first time I saw him, but the first I remember, and for me one of the funniest scenes ever in a film is his “Make’em Laugh” number
Susan Berman in SMITHEREENS (1982) Susan Seidelman’s directing debut, in which I was cast and dropped out, to my regret, because of a conflict with the Screen Actors Guild that I had just become a member of—Berman was terrific in it
Marilyn Monroe in SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) I already dug her, as well as Lemmon and Curtis, but this was the first film she was in where I got the magnitude of her accomplishment as an actor, not just as an incredibly beautiful and sexy woman
Michael York in SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE (1970) I first noticed him in CABARET but this film is the first in which his almost Brechtian detached acting style worked perfectly for me, one of my favorite overlooked movies, totally worth seeing
James Baskett in SONG OF THE SOUTH (1946) Now thought of as “racist” but as a boy it broke racial barriers for me with Baskett’s performance as “Uncle Remus” a screen presence that came as close to what the nuns were teaching me saints were supposed to be like than anything else I’d ever seen (still not available on dvd in the U.S.)
Everyone in THE SORROW AND THE PITY (1970) The best documentary, about WWII as told by survivors, some exposing their experiences for the first time, worth every minute of its over four-hour length
France Nuyen in SOUTH PACIFIC (1958) I fell in love with her in this
Charles Laughton and Peter Ustinov in SPARTACUS (1960) It’s almost a series of vignettes the way it’s filmed, but what vignettes!—each scene is a master class in acting by the assembled great, starting with Kirk Douglas and including Tony Curtis’ Brooklyn accent, what else would the Roman plebes have sounded like? Uppercrust Brits?
Eve Arden in STAGE DOOR (1937) Arden was a TV star by the time I saw this in the 1950s, she played a sarcastic high school teacher in a weekly black-and-white show, but had been in many movies I didn’t notice until I saw her in this as part of a great cast of Hollywood comediennes, including the young Lucille Ball, in a movie full of great performances by women, especially Katherine Hepburn, as always
William Holden in STALAG 17 (1953) I’d seen him before, but this is the film that made me sit up and notice him, in a movie that hit home back then
Sharon Stone in STARDUST MEMORIES (1980) In a silent cameo, her first movie role, as the stunning blonde in the train Woody’s not on, her beauty was instantly imprinted on my heart
Some scenes in STARTIME (1991) I wrote after a rough cut was completed, to help with the story, I hope
Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher in STAR WARS (1977) First time either of these guys starred in a movie, as I remember it, and a memorable pairing it was
Robin Wright in STATE OF GRACE (1990) A lot in this flick I found unbelievable, having some knowledge of the setting and characters the story is based on, but Wright was impeccably realistic in it, one of the best performances in any film that year, and a great surprise to me after having fallen in love with her in THE PRINCESS BRIDE in a much lighter role
Robert Shaw and Charles Durning in THE STING (1973) Led by one of the all-time greatest screen pairings, Redford and Newman, Shaw did his usual fantastic turn as the bad guy, and Durning, who I’d never seen before, brought what became his usual dose of real guy presence
Robert Walker in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) One of my favorite actors in one of my favorite Hitchcock movies
John Lurie and Richard Edson in STRANGER THAN PARADISE (1984) Lurie I’d seen around the downtown scene, but he and Edson both brought a contemporary reality to this sometimes brilliant, sometimes a little too indulgent flick
Morgan Freeman in STREET SMART (1987) First time I saw him not on a kids TV show, playing a pimp and the best thing in a not great movie
Everyone in STRICTLY BALLROOM (1992) First time I recognized Baz Luhrmann’s film chops, is this his directorial debut?
Steve Railsback in THE STUNT MAN (1980) One of my all time favorites, with a great cast headed by Peter O’Toole and lots of terrific performances including Barabra Hershey’s, but it’s Railsback’s movie, his best.
Gerry Mulligan in THE SUBTERRANEANS (1960) First time I saw jazz great Mulligan on screen in a horrible adaptation of Kerouac’s novel about an inter racial romance, only Hollywood changed the black woman in the novel into a white French woman (!) played by Leslie Caron, while George Peppard changed Kerouac’s alter ego into his usual whitebread blandness—how did Peppard end up playing the pseudo-Beat writers in this and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, when he was so fucking boring as an actor and screen presence, to make the studios feel safe from moral charges?
Goldie Hawn in THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974) First time I saw her not doing a straight out comedy, although there’s comic moments in this first feature directed by Speilberg, and unlike anything else he did after it, a pleasant surprise
Veronica Lake in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (1941) My first movie star crush, though I saw her in film noirs (films noir?) before I saw this, it was the first comedy I saw her in and loved her even more
Gloria Swanson in SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) First time I realized who she was, in one of my favorite films
Chico Hamilton in SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957) he added a touch of jazz reality to the street-and-huckster reality of black-and-white 1950s Manhattan in a great film pitting Tony Curtis and Burt Lancastar against each other’s acting styles—a draw!
Fred Astaire and Giner Rogers in SWING TIME (1936) First movie I saw them in where they were shot in that full body, full sequence, flowing kind of dance cinematography that Astaire helped create

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Don’t know about you, but I was impressed with Webb’s response to Bush’s State of the Union address last night.

There have been other Democratic responses to other State of the Union speeches by Bush since he took office that maybe made as much sense, and were maybe as simple and direct, but none spoken with so much authority (and not just his referencing of his father’s service during the Cold War, and his own in Viet Nam, and his son’s right now in Iraq, though that sure added to his obvious confidence in dressing down the “president”).

The guy seemed more ‘presidential” than anyone has in many years, on either side of the aisle. I hope he lives up to the promise of that rebuttal. He may even be a last minute viable candidate in ’08, if the others fizzle out or cancel each other out.

Not that they’re not competent. Charles Gibson on ABC tried to paint Hilary into a corner last night in an interview with her after Bush’s speech and Webb’s rebuttal, but she not only didn’t let him, she counterattacked with an incredible command of the facts, without sounding completely wonky, in fact, she impressed me more than she ever has. Maybe that’s what she needs, confrontation from twits like Gibson, who never seem to confront Bush and Bushies like that (does anyone else miss Peter Jennings as much as I do?).

And Obama on CNN with Anderson appeared equally informed and articulate, but not quite as natural at it. He seemed to be second guessing his own answers in the split second before he answered or in the pauses and grammatical glitches between answers. He came across as serious and smart and with his heart in the right place, but a little too conscious of his words and image, like Kerry often did, that constant calculating of effect that comes across as just that.

Whereas Hilary, at least on ABC, came across as not giving a damn about anyone’s spin on the past six years of Bush Republican rule, she had the facts to disprove all that, and did satisfactorily, for me.

But Webb, in the end, was the most impressive. We’ll see where he goes from here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


That THE DEPARTED was nominated for “Best” picture, and Scorcese for “Best” director, and DREAMGIRLS wasn’t (let alone NOTES ON A SCANDAL, LITTLE CHILDREN, and a handful of other more deserving films and directors) is just the same old lame attempt to make up for not giving Scorcese and his films awards in the past when they truly were the “best.”

As good as THE QUEEN is, it too does not stand above NOTES ON A SCANDAL or LITTLE CHILDREN or FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, or for that matter WORLD TRADE CENTER, which, despite the sometimes faulty New York and Jersey accents the actors often push over the top, is a powerful and memorable movie memorial to the heroism brought out by the events surrounding 9/11.

More so, in my opinion, than UNITED 93, whose director got a nomination, but Oliver Stone didn’t, for the most focused directorial job he’s done since his masterpiece (again, in my opinion) SALVADOR.

In fact, how did they nominate Paul Greengrass for directing UNITED 93 and Stephen Frears for THE QUEEN, two competent and not bad movies, but nowhere near as impressive a directing achievement as was evidenced in twenty or more movies whose directors didn’t get nominated.

BABEL deserves best film and best director, simply for the magnitude of the achievement alone, not even considering the pitch perfect acting and the screenplay’s capacity for complexity without losing the audience or the point(s).

As for "Best" actor, Forest Whitaker seems to have it sewed up, deservingly so, the guy has always been one of the best, but Peter O'Toole has never won for a performance, and this one actually deserves it too, according to all my actor friends, though I haven't seen VENUS yet.

DiCaprio has had a good year as well, doing some of his best work in a while in BLOOD DIAMOND and THE DEPARTED, and I hear Ryan Gosling is great in HALF NELSON, but haven't seen that yet either. As for Will Smith, there's way too many better acting jobs by men in leading roles this year to give it to him. Greg Kinnear, in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, an often overlooked terrific actor, for one, and Ken Watanabe in LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA for two.

Judi Dench is still my choice for best actress, but in truth, the other four nominees deserve it just as much: Helen Mirren, Penelope Cruz, Meryl Streep, and Kate Winslett.

Another tough choice is in the “Best” supporting actress category, Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi in BABEL deserve it as much or more than Jennifer Hudson for DREAMGIRLS, though Hudson will probably be the favorite.

And Cate Blanchett gave two amazing and diametrically opposed performances in BABEL and NOTES ON A SCANDAL, so she may be most deserving just for that. Then again, Abigail Breslin as the star of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE kicks ass among a cast of accomplished adult actors, and may be a sentimental favorite just because she’s so cute while doing it.

Eddie Murphy is probably the favorite for DREAMGIRLS, in which he did demonstrate he can hold his own in dramatic scenes, as well as musical and humorous ones. But Jackie Earle Haley in LITTLE CHILDREN managed to surprise me in every scene he was in, with his unique acting choices and ways of putting them over. His performance was the most impressive to me, despite Murphy’s and Djmon Houson’s and Mark Wahlberg’s equally impressive performances in DREAMGIRLS, BLOOD DIAMOND and THE DEPARTED.

But Alan Arkin is another sentimental favorite for past work. Yes, he’s terrific in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, but there’s nothing new in his performance in terms of what we’ve seen him do before. I love Arkin and his acting, but he has been doing pretty much the same character all his life, so it’s not exactly fresh, except maybe for the circumstances of his character.

Think of all the supporting actors in all the films made in 2006 and I’m sure you can, as I can, come up with several more original performances that had an equal or even greater impact than Arkin’s, like, say, Adam Beach in FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS as Ira Hayes, the American-native soldier who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima and was ruined by the public adulation and sense of guilt, despite his obvious heroism

That performance deserves an Oscar, period. And there’s plenty more, like Michael Pena in WORLD TRADE CENTER—or Jamie Foxx in DREAMGIRLS for that matter, seemed like I hadn’t quite seen some of those moves from him before.

At least NOTES ON A SCANDAL and LITTLE CHILDREN got nominated for “Best” adapted screenplay, but THE DEPARTED did too. A screenplay that may have been coherent when it was first presented to the actors, but after Nicholson got his hands on it and started changing things around, it became more and more confusing and full of scenes that led nowhere.

What was that montage about where Nicholson is seen with a beautiful black woman who otherwise has no role in the film or the story? When you see a montage like that, you can bet you’re being distracted from the fact that the previous scene does not lead to the next and something is missing from the end product because of a technical or creative glich.

As for “best” original screenplay, again THE QUEEN is nominated, for a not bad speculation on what might have been going on behind closed doors, but is it really better than BLOOD DIAMOND, BOBBY, BREAKING AND ENTERING, THE DEAD GIRL, HALF NELSON, KINKY BOOTS, SHERRYBABY, STRANGER THAN FICTION, UNITED 93, VENUS, and WORLD TRADE CENTER?


Ah well, it’ll all be forgotten two days after the Oscars are given out. But in the meantime, it’s fun to pick apart the Academy’s (in quotes) choices. Aint’ it?

Sunday, January 21, 2007


When you have the time, read this: Charlie


Don’t know about you, but I’m pretty pleased to be alive when a woman and an African-American can make a viable run for the presidency, and a mostly Mexican-American an almost viable run, if it wasn’t for the former two.

It’s pretty impressive when white males, like Senator Bayh, give up their bid for the presidency after only a few weeks, because the competition from a woman, a black man and an Hispanic man is too formidable!

Think what you want of the candidates, there’s no denying this is great progress, and signals the end of a too long era. Now, if only they don’t destroy each other before the primaries are over and coalesce after them to help one of them win the general election.

PS: Richardson, the Hispanic with the WASP name, would make a smart Vice-Presidential candidate on any Democratic ticket. Obama’s too charismatic to play second lead, and Clinton too smart and experienced to. She’s the wild card in all this.


Ronee Blakley in NASHVILLE (1975)* Fantastic performance, among a cast full
Karen Allen in NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE (1978)* Went into the premiere with an old friend in her first big feature film, came out with that friend a genuine movie star, and deserving it
Elizabeth Taylor in NATIONAL VELVET (1944) Not the first film I saw her in I’m sure, but the first time I fell for her
Randy Newman’s score for THE NATURAL (1984) One of the greatest sports films, for my taste, first time I noticed Randy Newman did the score for a flick, Redford perfectly “natural” as always, not an easy feat for an actor in my book
Dayle Haddon in NORTH DALLAS FORTY (1979)* One of the other greatest sports films, thanks in large part to Nick Nolte, but I remember Haddon as lovely
Everyone in NOTHING BUT A MAN (1964)* Many in the cast wouldn’t make their mark for decades, and some never, but the African-Americans in this film, including jazz singer Abbey Lincoln, bring an intensity and power not seen before on screen
The Rat Pack in OCEAN’S ELEVEN (1960) Not the first time I saw most of them, but first film with all of them in it together, playing their swinging selves
Half the cast of ODD MAN OUT (1947)* and all worth watching
Half the cast of OKALAHOMA! (1955) Especially Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, and Rod Steiger, none of whom I remember seeing, or noticing, before—later Jones became a symbol of corniness, but in this she glowed, and what other musical star was more 1950s masculine than MacRae? Plus the dancing is terrific and well shot, to say nothing of Gloria Grahame in yet another memorable role (her last, and least memorable, was in a horrible horror movie with yours truly)
James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart in THE OKLAHOMA KID (1939) Not the first film I saw them in, but the first (and only?) time I saw them playing cowboys, and never forgot Cagney exiting the saloon, putting a hand in the air and rubbing his fingers together, and when someone asks him what he’s doing he says, in his usual New York gangster accent, “Feelin’ the air kid, feelin’ the air”—or at least that’s what I remember
Alan Price in O LUCKY MAN! (1973)* I loved parts of this flick, especially any scene with Price, the keyboardist for The Animals, looking older, tougher, and more substantial than he ever had in the ‘60s, may be my first glimpse of Helen Mirren as well
Everyone in ONE FALSE MOVE (1992)* First time I saw, or noticed, all of them, and all of them were great, especially Billy Bob Thornton and Bill Paxton
Half the cast of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUKCOO’S NEST (1975)* Like Danny De Vito and Brad Dourif, the latter almost stealing the film from Nicholson
Betty Comden-Adolph Green-Leonard Bernstein lyrics and music for ON THE TOWN (1949)* First time I noticed, at seven-years-old, the people who made a musical musical
(the first songwriter I dug at an even younger age was Johnny Mercer, but this movie was when I got the whole musical team idea) and loved every note in it
Eva Marie Saint in ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)* One of my top favorite movies, in which Brando and Karl Malden excel, but so does Saint in her film debut
Everyone in OPEN CITY (1945)* Especially Anna Magnani
Elizabeth McGovern in ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980)* Her film debut, but everyone in it was impressive, though for my taste, the performance that deserved the Oscar was Donald Sutherland’s, one of his most subtle and finely calibrated
Jane Greer in OUT OF THE PAST (1947)* I saw this at age five, and it never left me. Greer is the most appealing “bad girl” ever, and Mitchum and her create one of my all time favorite screen pairings, may be my favorite film noir
Sinatra in PAL JOEY (1957) First time I remember him playing the “swinging Frank”—with Kim Novak and Rita Hayworth among other “broads” to react to, and great Rogers & Hart songs to sing
Claudette Colbert in THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942) Not the first time I noticed her, she seemed to be in half the movies I saw as a kid, but it was in this one, I saw as an adult, that I finally got her appeal
Elizabeth Daily in PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (1985)* We were in an acting class together (with Nick Cage when he was Nicholas Coppola, and Crispin Glover and other future stars) and I was not only happy for her landing this role, but impressed with how she handled it, she helped make the movie work, and it does work
Christopher Walken in PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (1981) First time I saw him dance, and well, in a very brave movie and brave performance by the star of it, Steve Martin
Mick Jagger in PERFORMANCE (1970)* First time I saw him act, a very trippy movie that I saw stoned and thought was one of the hippest flicks I had ever seen at the time
Humphrey Bogart in THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936) Not the first time I saw him, I didn’t see this until the 1960s, but as I understand it, he played mostly forgettable rich guys in films previous to this one and had returned to the stage to play Duke Mantee, escaped gangster, in the play this film was adapted from, and when British actor, and big star at the time, Leslie Howard, was hired to do the film with Bette Davis, he said he wouldn’t do it unless Bogart recreated his stage role as Mantee, and then Bogart stole the movie
James Stewart in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) The film that revived Katherine Hepburn’s career, after she did it as a play and bought the rights to it, and one of the all time great ones, but seeing it later on TV as a kid I got Stewart’s acting chops, I already dug Hepburn’s and Cary Grant’s, which this film only confirmed
Kim Novak in PICNIC (1955)* Not her first film, I guess, but first one I noticed her in and fell in love with her, though Rosalind Russell almost steals the movie as an older, hypocritical, desperately needy woman
Everyone in PIXOTE (1981)* Incredible Brazilian flick, as is everyone in it, especially the kid who plays the lead, a little too graphic for some I tried to turn on to it
Shelley Winters in A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951)* First time I remember seeing her, or noticing her, in what I suspect is her first role as the whiney, nagging, needy woman she would end up doing more than once, but perfectly every time, and probably the film in which Elizabeth Taylor’s beauty seems most stunning
John Malkovich and Danny Glover in PLACES IN THE HEART (1984)* First time I noticed either of them and was knocked out by both their performances
Tom Berenger in PLATOON (1986)* I think Berenger won an Oscar, or at least was nominated for this, though there were several knock out performances in it, including DeFoe’s, but this film made most of us take notice of Berenger as more than a pretty boy, and though I don’t think this was his best, I pretty much have seen everything he’s done since, no matter how bad the film, because I think the guy is one of our finest screen actors
Robin Wright in THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987)* Not only beautiful, but a great actor, and in a film full of terrific performances—Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes and Christopher Guest and everyone in it—great fun film
William Hickey in PRIZZI’S HONOR (1985) Everyone in it was great, and it wasn’t the first time I saw Hickey, who was an acting teacher in New York when I started acting professionally late in life (39), but this was the first time I noticed him and what he brought to his role as the old white-haired don asking Angelica Huston if she wanted a cookie as though he were narrating an episode of THE MUPPETS but making it work!
My poetry in PUMP UP THE VOLUME (1990) Not the first time I heard my words in a film, but the first time lines from a poem of mine were used, as part of the climactic speech Christian Slater’s character makes from the back of the jeep, and in a film I like

Another break in another compulsive list

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Giving Scorsese the globe for “best directing” for THE DEPARTED, is like when they gave Pacino the Oscar for that blind “Hoohaw” character, or Paul Newman for the aging “Fast Eddie” in THE COLOR OF MONEY.

It’s meant to make up for not giving it to them for earlier roles that deserved it more. Same with Scorcese.

How can anyone who knows anything about films not see that the director of BABEL deserves all the directing awards this year? It was filmed on 3 continents, in 5 different languages, with an enormous cast not only speaking different languages, but coming from different acting traditions, and everyone was great in it.

Doing another “mob” movie with an Irish slant tops that? I dig almost every movie Scorcese has ever made, but no way he did the “best” directing job this time out.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


“On the surface there is something not only quixotic but paradoxical about ‘the part of fortune.’ One always likes to think he earned his good fortune, or that he made the most of the breaks which chance presented. Myself, I have come to believe that through being receptive, keeping one’s mind and heart open—showing faith and trust, in other words—one’s desires, or prayers, are realized. By prayer I do not mean asking, hoping, begging or bartering for that which one desires but, without formulating it, living the thought—‘Thy will be done!’ In short, acknowledging whole heartedly to ourselves that, whatever the situation we find ourselves in, we are to regard it as an opportunity and a privilege as well as a challenge.”


All movies all the time! Seems like lately.

VOLVER is a return to the Almodovar of WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN, the first film of his I fell in love with. Everyone in the cast of both films—and some are in both—gives great performance.

Penelope Cruz seems too glamorous for the role at first, even with the extra padding—which to my taste makes her much more appealing—but she does such a great job she ends up owning the role and convincing me completely.

Great story, great cast, great directing, great fun. Don’t miss it. And on the big screen, to see Almodovar’s usual unique use of color and sets and the edges of the screen.

DREAMGIRLS is also excellently acted.

Jennifer Hudson is certainly the Hollywood story of the year, going from being kicked off American Idol, as I understand it, two years ago for being too fat, to playing a character in this movie who suffers the same fate, but survives it in spades, so to speak, and triumphs, much as she did the other night accepting a Golden Globe for acting only two years after what could have been the end of anyone else’s career.

It’s a must see on the big screen though, because the production numbers, especially her showstopper, are too over-the-top-live-stage-or-church-Gospel-choir BIG for any TV screen.

Jamie Foxx is also terrific in this, as is the third member of the DREAMGIRLS—Anika Noni Rose—who I understand, from my friend Jamie Rose, won a Tony for a Broadway role not long ago, but is almost overshadowed in this by all the high powered movie stars and super star Beyonce—to be singled out for what is a perfect rendition of the arc of her character’s life, from scatter-brained teenage girl to self-reliant grown woman.

And Eddie Murphy’s performance displays not only his usual versatility, which here includes singing, and in different styles, but also has his most realistic acting moment, in a simple reaction shot of his face as he responds to entreaties for his character to not start “slamming”—as we used to call it.

Both these movies are totally worth seeing, and on the big screen.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

MORE FILM FIRSTS (pre-1995, see earlier post: L-M)

Barbara Stanwyck in THE LADY EVE (1941) The first time I saw this on TV as a kid I got Stanwyck’s appeal at last. I knew her from the movies of the time (late1940s, early ‘50s) but didn’t “get” her until I saw this, despite the lousy British accent. I felt what Henry Fonda’s character was feeling when I watched it, a fool for love
Everyone in THE LADY VANISHES (1938)* First pre-Hollywood Hitchcock film I saw
Most of the cast of THE LAST DETAIL (1973)* First time I dug Nancy Allen, Carol Kane, Michael Moriarity and Randy Quaid, and one of my favorite Nicholson roles, where his surly resentment works for the character—I hadn’t thought about my over-four-years in the service and the consequences of my rebellion against the petty rules and oppression there, until I saw this flick and left it with a headache from the memories
Stephen Lang in LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN (1989)* I was overwhelmed by the power of his performance in this, as well as Jennifer Jason Leigh’s
Dyan Cannon and Ian McShane in THE LAST OF SHELIA (1973)* One of my all time favorite whodunits, written by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim (!) this was the first time I got Cannon’s appeal and talent or noticed McShane amid a terrific cast
Madeleine Stowe in THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992)* I was awed by her beauty in this, the first time I remember seeing her, and by Daniel Day-Lewis’s as always exemplary performance, as well as by Michael Mann’s direction and the soundtrack
Jeff Bridges et. al. in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971)* Despite a slew of incredible performances in this movie, Bridges impressed me the most, because I felt like I knew his character best—this was the first in a lifetime of impeccable performances by him, one of our greatest and most underrated actors
Giulietta Masina in LA STRADA (1954)* The first Fellini film I saw, and the first time I saw his wife, Giulietta
Me in LAST RITES (1980)* Later known as DRACULA’S LAST RITES, my first movie as a professional film actor, though not in the union yet so billed as “Michael Lally” and often confused with an older actor who owned that name for movies
Maria Schneider in LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1973)* This movie was a first in so many ways, e.g. the first time a movie star—Brando—mooned the camera, in one of his most powerful and memorable roles, full of improvisations that actually revealed more about his own youth and inner life than any role he ever played, but also the first time I saw Schneider, and, of course, fell instantly in love with her screen persona
Ingrid Boulting in THE LAST TYCOON (1976)* The movie had all kinds of problems, but an amazing cast, including Robert Mitchum, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson and Jeanne Moreau, but Ingrid, in a mostly silent role, radiated such calm beauty she almost stole the film
Gene Tierney in LAURA (1944)* First time I saw her in a film and was smitten
Rita Tushingham in THE LEATHER BOYS (1963)* First time I saw this great young British actress, a fixture in the early ‘60s flicks that began the English film resurgence
Edward G. Robinson in LITTLE CAESAR (1930) First time I got Robinson’s genius as an actor, being familiar with him as a kid playing old bad guys, nothing as dynamic and original as this role that made him a star
Gena Rowlands in LONELY ARE THE BRAVE (1962)* First time I saw her, a great actress from the start, in this Kirk Douglas black and white independent film written by Dalton Trumbo from a novel by Edward Abbey, and a great movie
Most of the cast of THE LORDS OF FLATBUSH (1974)* If you’d have predicted who would become a star out of this one, it probably would have been Perry King, though Sylvester Stallone almost steals the show and Henry Winkler went on to great success
Everyone in LOS OLVIDADOS (1950) First Luis Bunuel film I saw, and dug, and even identified with somewhat as it’s about juvenile delinquents not many years before I was one—my favorite, if atypical, Bunuel movie
Elizabeth Perkins in LOVE AT LARGE (1990)* Don’t know if it was the first time I saw her, but first time I dug her and her talent, among a terrific cast in a great movie dismissed by critics and audiences alike, but one of my favorites, starring another great underrated movie actor (in everything since PLATOON) Tom Berenger, in one of his most appealing roles, and the first movie, maybe only one, in which Neil Young acts
Elisha Cook Jr. in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941)* First time I dug most of this cast, but especially Cook who became a fixture in the movies of my childhood—though this was made before I was born it still stands in my memory as the first time I noticed him
Mariel Hemingway in MANHATTAN (1979)* First time I saw her and first time Woody Allen played a character closer to his own reality, not the nerd who never gets the girl or has any success, but the successful nerd who gets to choose between Hemingway and Diane Keaton
Everyone in MAN OF ARAN (1934)* Robert Flaherty’s documentary about survival off the coast of Ireland was the first non-fiction film to make me see that form as art and gave me my first real take on aspects of my immigrant Irish grandparents’ reality
Loretta Young in MAN’S CASTLE (1933) First film I saw her in that I got her appeal, as I remember it she even swims nude in it, and one of Spencer Tracy’s great early roles
Sean Connery and Michael Caine in THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975) I’d seen them both in films before, but not together—as a team they rival any screen pairing in history, and in a great film
Glenda Jackson in MARAT/SADE (THE PERSECUTION AND ASSASSINATION OF JEAN-PAUL MARAT AS PERFORMED BY THE INMATES OF THE ASYLUM OF CHARENTON UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE MARQUIS DE SADE)* First time I saw most of this cast in this incredibly powerful film that had a huge influence on the politics of the 1960s, an instant classic by Peter Brook
Betsy Blair in MARTY (1955)* One of my favorite films, with Ernest Borgnine’s greatest performance as well as Betsy Blair’s, and maybe Paddy Chayefksy’s best script
Julie Andrews in MARY POPPINS (1964)* One of those film debuts it’s hard to appreciate now, because of her image in later years, but it was a sweet revenge for Hollywood rejecting her for the lead in MY FAIR LADY, a character she basically created for the stage and I saw in the only Broadway musical I went to as a teenager, decades before I went to another Broadway play, and was knocked out by her in both
Half the cast of MASH (1970) and Altman’s first commercial hit, plus when reissued in ’73, according to the guide I’m taking all this from, the soundtrack was redone with music by Ahmad Jamal, the jazz great who influenced my own piano style
Everyone in MEAN STREETS (1973)* Scorcese’s first masterpiece, and the first time most of us saw De Niro and Harvey Keitel, as well as the Carradine brothers, Robert and David, and the actor/poet Harry E. Northup
Margaret O’Brien in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944)* First film I saw her in and first child movie actor I had a crush on, since by the time I saw the movies she starred in I was almost her age, plus she was obviously “black Irish” like me and had those sparkly Irish eyes I loved
Marlon Brando in THE MEN (1950) First film he was in and I saw him in, and was already taken with his acting power, also another great Teresa Wright performance, a local girl from my Jersey hometown
Almost everyone in MENACE II SOCIETY (1993)* First film I ever saw to capture what it really looked and felt like at some of the parties I went to in all black neighborhoods in East Orange and Newark when I was a wannabe black teenager back in the ‘50s
Klaus Maria Brandauer in MEPHISTO (1981)* First film I saw him in, terrific
Everyone in METROPLOITAN (1990)* First Whit Stillman movie I saw and I dug it and everyone in it
Most of the cast of MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969)* Including some downtown scenesters I knew a little, but mostly John Voight’s incredible performance and impact as a new force in film acting
Natalie Wood in MIRACLE ON 34th STREET (1947)* Saw it at age five and loved it and her, though not in the way I fell for Margaret O’Brien—there was always something too coolly professional about Wood, no matter how old or what role she was playing
Patty Duke in THE MIRACLE WORKER (1962)* Incredible performance for a child actor, and even more incredible one by Anne Bancroft who I’d seen before but didn’t realize until this flick how great an actor she was, even if her Irish accent was often off
Everyone in THE MISFITS (1961) Not because I hadn’t seen them all before, but as Kevin said in his comment on the first of this series of film firsts, this was the “last” time for many here to act in a film—Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable in particular—and the first time a cast of this stature and longevity made up an ensemble in a serious, very serious, sometimes too serious, story written by none other than Arthur Miller and directed by John Huston
Ken Ogata in MISHIMA (1985)* Paul Schrader’s greatest achievement, though a commercial flop, captures the life and creativity of a writer better than any movie on the subject, using three different type film stock, one in black-and-white, one in washed out colors and one in vivid colors, to tell three different aspects of Mishima’s story, documenting the day he died, filling in his history, and illustrating aspects of his novels
Frederic Forrest in THE MISSOURI BREAKS (1976)* First time I noticed him in a flop of a film mostly dismissed by critics but the first and only time Brando and Nicholson got together, and Brando kicked ass in what some see as an over-the-top performance that ruined the film but I see as an acting lesson that could have saved the film if the director let everyone else cut loose too in an otherwise too static and too serious Western
Most of the cast of MONA LISA (1986)* Especially Bob Hoskins, who I hadn’t noticed before, Robbie Coltrane and Cathy Tyson
Almost everyone in MOTEREY POP (1969)* Best documentary on the 1960s music scene, shot at Monterey Pop festival in 1967, captures the unfolding of “The Summer of Love”
David Warner in MORGAN! (1966)* I love this movie and him in it, as well as one of the first films I saw the incomparable Vanessa Redgrave in
Katherine Hepburn in MORNING GLORY (1933) Earliest film I saw her in as a kid on TV, having known her as an older star then, and her first Oscar-winning performance—Hepburn is, with Vanessa Redgrave and Gena Rowlands, the three great divas of film acting from their first appearances on screen as young actors
Dick Powell in MURDER MY SWEET (1944) First time Powell played a tough guy, and though initially I had trouble buying it, he won me over in one of the great film noirs (or is that films noir?)
Everyone in MURMER OF THE HEART (1971)* First film of Louis Malle’s I saw and dug enormously and still do
Daniel Day-Lewis in MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE (1985)* First film I saw him in, maybe the greatest actor of his, or any, generation
Marisa Tomei in MY COUSIN VINNY (1992)* The rumors at the time that the Oscar was mistakenly given to her was a disservice to her pitch perfect performance
Henry Fonda in MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946)* First film I saw Fonda in as a little boy, and one of my all time favorites ever since
MY FAIR LADY (1964) First Lerner and Loewe musical I saw and completely dug
Brenda Fricker in MY LEFT FOOT (1989)* I took my grown children to see this because she reminded me so much of my own mother, God rest her soul

I’ll stop here for now. Is this all just too self-indulgent? Ah, ain’t that what makes this whole blog/My Space/You Tube/internet/world-wide-web thing so much fun? Hey, I’m diggin’ it—what an outlet for compulsive list makers like me. How about you?

Monday, January 15, 2007

FILM FIRSTS (Part the Second: F-K)

Lee Remick in A FACE IN THE CROWD (1957)* and first (only?) great dramatic performance by Andy Griffith
Everyone in FAT CITY (1972)* the first time I saw most of them in a flick
Richard Harris in THE FIELD (1990) first time I saw someone capture so accurately the stubborn hardness I saw in my Irish immigrant grandfather and other Irish peasant immigrant men as Harris did in what I consider his greatest performance, and another perfect performance by John Hurt
Amy Madigan in FIELD OF DREAMS (1989) she’s always good but this was her most endearing performance for me and the first time I recognized how great her talent is
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in FLYING DOWN TO RIO (1933)* first film they did and I saw on TV as a kid and never forgot, because of the nearly naked women dancing on the wings of those old biplanes that my mother had a photograph of herself riding in when she was a young woman!
Rainer Werner Fassbinder in FOX AND HIS FRIENDS (1975)* first time I saw Fassbinder in one of his own films
Boris Karloff in FRANKENSTEIN (1931)* I hated horror movies as a kid and still, but Karloff was so good he won me over amid the mostly overblown melodramatic acting in the film
Everyone in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953) the first film to make me really think about film acting as an art, maybe because Jersey homeboy Sinatra was pretty familiarly realistic in it, but Borgnine’s porcine bully was equally real to me as a kid. I already loved Lancaster as the epitome of contemporary tough guys, and Clift made me see another way to be a tough guy, little did I know
Half the cast of THE GODFATHER (1972)* first time I saw, or noticed, James Caan, John Cazale and Robert Duvall, as well as first serious role I saw Diane Keaton play, and well
Everyone in THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW (1966)* entirely amateur cast in this literal adaptation of the Gospel by Marxist director Pasolini
John Carradine in GRAPES OF WRATH (1940)* First film I noticed him in, and may be Henry Fonda’s and Jane Darwell’s best performances
Michael O’Keefe in THE GREAT SANTINI (1979)* his first film and I think an Oscar-nominated performance
The Beatles in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964)* I went in to see this flick pissed off at them—for sparking a trend that turned jazz clubs into rock’n’roll venues and had English musicians taking work from R&B and R&R musician friends, as well as me—and came out wanting to be them
All the children actors in A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA (1965)* especially the girl
Katherine Hepburn in HOLIDAY (1938)* First flick I saw her in as a kid on TV and immediately realized how unique and amazing her acting was, and first time I got Cary Grant’s charm and humor
James Edwards in HOME OF THE BRAVE (1949)* saw this as a seven-year-old and the anti-racism message hit home so powerfully, mostly from Edwards’ performance, a pioneer among black screen stars who never really got his due
Jack Benny in THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT (1945) First movie I saw him in and though it was an enormous flop, the combination of Benny’s classic comic chops, a story about an angel sent to destroy the earth, with the undertones of the age of the atomic bomb which began that year and dominated my boyhood, plus some semi-surreal sets, made this in many ways my first introduction to the “infinite possibilities” of movies and all art, I loved it then, and may still, though I haven’t seen it in over half a century
Half the cast of HOWARD’S END (1992)* I already knew and recognized the Olympian talent of Vanessa Redgrave and Anthony Hopkins, but a lot of the rest of the cast were unknown to me, and all were perfect, especially the guy who plays Hopkins’ character’s tragically flawed “upper crust” English gentleman-without-a-clue son
Jackie Gleason and Piper Laurie in THE HUSTLER (1961)* Gleason I had been a fan of since his first variety show on TV, but I’d never seen him in a serious dramatic role in a flick before, and Laurie I didn’t know—her performance impressed me so much I can still see the expression on her face when her character tells Paul Newman’s he’s “too hungry”
Malcolm McDowell in IF… (1968)* actually the title was lower case: if…
Victor McLaglen in THE INFORMER (1935) I knew him from John Wayne movies on TV, always playing the hard-drinking, hard-fighting Mick, and later from THE QUIET MAN in a similar role, but this, which won him an Oscar, was the first film I saw that made me realize what an artist he was, how much more he was than the stereotype he played, even though in many ways this film is the origin of that long string of later roles
Theresa Russell in INSIGNIFICANCE (1985)* Playing a Marilyn Monroe type actress in this movie set in 1954, she made me forget who she was supposed to be resembling or reflecting and made the role her own so powerfully I thought she should have won an Oscar for it, one of my favorite underrated and underexposed films
Pete Postlethwaite in IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER (1993)* First time I noticed him, he plays Daniel Day-Lewis’ character’s father, Lewis great as always
Most of the cast of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)* First time I saw a lot of these actors as a kid, or first time I got how great they all were
Everyone in JESUS OF MONTREAL (1989)*
Maximilian Schell in JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG (1961)* A film that had a profound effect on me, I saw it as a defense of the beliefs I had formulated that were getting me into so much trouble in the Air Force and with my family and friends, my rebellion against their prejudices and acceptance of the racially unjust status quo
Burt Lancastar and Ava Gardner in THE KILLERS (1946)* First time I saw either of them, and this was his debut, I was overwhelmed by their screen charisma
Elvis Presley in KING CREOLE (1958)* First movie I went to see him in, because it was the first that teenage boys, or at least this one, could identify with (as opposed to LOVE ME TENDER which seemed, at the time, more a movie for girls)
Alan Bates in KING OF HEARTS (1966)* The perspective of this flick seemed revolutionary at the time, or at least liberating
Bruno Ganz in KNIFE IN THE HEAD (1978) Confirmed his greatness as an actor after having already seen him in AN AMERICAN FRIEND—his performance in this film was for me, and still may be if I see it again, the greatest single film performance of any actor
John Derek in KNOCK ON ANY DOOR (1949)* Maybe miscast—I saw it after the book became my first real “literary” discovery as a boy, and though the film didn’t live up to the book’s greatness for me, Derek still impressed me in many of his scenes as he struggled to be good while being bad still seemed more rewarding

‘nuff for now

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Okay, too many heavy political posts lately from me. Despite the urgency of the situation, with Dick and W.—Dumb and Dumber—or really Selfishly Short-sighted and More Selfishly-shortsighted—getting ready to take on Iran through other peoples bodies and lives and sacrifices, I thought I’d relieve the darkness with a few posts of more of those personal lists that I hope others can riff on with their own versions.

I was about to throw out an old movie guide from ‘95, when my compulsive list-making side said let’s look through it for outstanding performances that were also “firsts,” including debuts—or at least the first time I encountered these actors—which the * indicates; all of course just a matter of my taste and experience:

Judy Holliday in ADAM’S RIB (1949)*
Uma Thurman in THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1989)* a sight to behold
Michael Caine in ALPHIE (1966)*
Bruno Ganz in THE AMERICAN FRIEND (1977)* one of my all time favorite actors
Tim McIntire in AMERICAN HOT WAX (1978)* looked and sounded nothing like Alan Freed, who he was playing—the 1950s disc jockey most responsible for the naming and popularizing of “rock’n’roll”—yet he captured the man and the period perfectly
Julie Andrews and James Coburn in THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (1964)* both terrific in it and James Garner too, who I knew from TV Westerns, but this was his first real movie star performance for me (a terrific flick, as I remember it)
Kerry Fox in AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE (1990)* stunning performance
Marilyn Monroe in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950)* first time I saw her
Harvey Keitel in BAD LIUTENANT (1992) not his first but his bravest
Willy Nelson in BARBAROSA (1982)* and the best performance of Gary Busey’s, whose acting I’m usually not crazy about, though Willie still steals the show
Melvyn Douglas in BEING THERE (1979) not his first, his last and maybe best, his performance, for me, is what holds the film together and made me really notice him for the first time, after a lifetime of unconsciously appreciating him in tons of movies
Harold Russel in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)* an amateur, it only makes his performance as a vet who lost his hands more poignant
Martha Vickers in THE BIG SLEEP (1946)* the sexy doped-up little sister
Sidney Poitier in BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955)* first time I saw him, and even in a supporting role his screen presence almost overwhelmed everyone else’s
Everyone in BLACK ORPHEUS (1959)*
Daryl Hanna, Rutger Hauer, Edward James Olmos, William Sanderson, Sean Young in BLADE RUNNER (1982)* first time I saw or noticed all of them, it’s Hanna’s bravest performance, Olmos’ oddest, Hauer’s and Young’s most poignant, and Sanderson almost steals the film as the “toymaker” like he almost stole DEADWOOD as the smarmy, twitchy mayor
Marlene Dietrich in the BLUE ANGEL (1930)* why she became an instant legend
Yaphet Kotto in BLUE COLLAR (1978)* everyone was great in this Paul Schrader movie that was the first flick I remember seeing that nailed working-class life and interracial reality, and Richard Pryor’s best dramatic role
William Bendix in THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946) first time I saw him play a heavy
Dean Stockwell in BLUE VELVET (1986) his bravest, first time I saw him really stretch
Mickey Rourke in Body Heat (1981)* downhill from here, as far as I’m concerned
Michael J. Pollard in BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967)*
Clint Eastwood in BRONCO BILLY (1980) first time I saw him make fun of his image
Joe Morton in BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET (1984)* simply amazing
Everyone but Brando in BURN (1969)* one of Brando’s tour de forces as well
Everyone in CAREFUL, HE MIGHT HEAR YOU (1983)* another overlooked favorite
Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart in CASABLANCA (1942)* the first time I saw them as a kid in my memory, though it came out the year I was born so must have seen it in a Saturday matinee revival or on the first neighborhood TV
Genevieve Bujold, Rae Dawn Chong, and John Larroquette in CHOOSE ME (1984)* also Keith Carradine’s best performance, for my taste
Alastair Sim in A CHRSITMAS CAROL (1951)* he will always be the only Scrooge for me
Phillipe Noiret in CINEMA PARADISO (1988)* the first time I noticed him
Penelope Milford in COMING HOME (1978)* I was sure she was a Jersey girl, or at least a working-class girl, but she was just a really fine actress
Everyone in THE COMMITMENTS (1991)* most were amateurs and never acted again!
Dominique Sanda in THE CONFORMIST (1971)*
(Everyone in Shirley Clark’s COOL WORLD (1960?) This is in parenthesis, because it wasn’t in the guide, since it never came out on tape or dvd, so far, but I couldn’t leave it out since it has been one of my top ten films, top five, top three! from when it first came out, adapted from a novel by Warren Miller, Clark—a woman, which was almost unheard of back then—in this film about a Harlem gang of black kids in their early teens, acted by mostly amateurs—with Clarence Williams Jr. in his first film role as their tragic leader—almost single-handedly creates a viable artistic alternative to not only Hollywood films but the French “New Wave” and the precious but self-involved avant-garde films of the time, shot with handheld cameras in natural light, even at night, and in black and white, it is visually one of the most stunning films ever made, and musically as well with a soundtrack by Dizzy Gillespie and other jazz greats)
My voice in Ralph Bakshi’s COOL WORLD (1992)* As “Sparks” the cartoon jazz-scatting white haired hipster boyfriend of Kim Bassinger’s cartoon character “Holly Wood”—first, and so far only, time I voiced a cartoon
Jaye Davidson, Stephen Rea, Miranda Richardson, Forest Whitaker in THE CRYING GAME (1992)* all terrific
Keir Dullea and Janet Margolin in DAVID AND LISA (1962)* hauntingly realistic performances in what was one of the first truly “independent” “hits”
The Dead End Kids in DEAD END (1937)* their first and best—also first film I saw with Bogart in one of his pre-Casablanca, bad-guy, supporting roles
Madonna in DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN (1985)* as far as film acting goes, all downhill from here
Walter Huston in THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER (1941)* first movie I saw the father of John and grandfather of Angelica in—his best comic performance, as the devil
Jean Harlow in DINNER AT EIGHT (1933)* first flick I saw Harlow in and thanks to Marie Dressler it’s the best comic performances for both.
Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in DON’T LOOK NOW (1973) first lovemaking scene I ever saw that really captures the exhilaration and pure joy of it
Phoebe Cates in DROP DEAD FRED (1991)* she’s wonderful in this
Peter Sellers in DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964) first time I got Seller’s genius, and I saw it while confined to an Air Force Strategic Air Command base, like the one in the film, because I had my pass taken away as punishment for some petty rebellion I no longer remember
Lili Taylor in DOGFIGHT (1991)* first movie I ever saw that captured the early 1960s accurately, and her talent was already obvious
Almost everyone in DRUGSTORE COWBOY (1989) I knew Matt Dillon and James Remar from previous films, though this is one of Dillon’s best, but it was the first time I saw or noticed all the rest who were terrific, especially Kelly Lynch
The Marx brothers in DUCK SOUP (1933) the first time I got their humor
John Cassavetes in EDGE OF THE CITY (1957)* and another memorable Poitier performance
Everyone in EL NORTE (1983)*
Everyone in ERASERHEAD (1978)*
Roberts Blossom and Jack Thibeau in ESCAPE FROM ALACATRAZ (1979)* two poets acting—and well—in a film, for their day job, reaffirmed my own recent decision, at the time, to do the same (I hadn’t yet heard of Harry E. Northup)

Okay, I’ll stop—for now.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


I’m not the only one who is having Viet Nam War era flashbacks these days.

The “body count” the administration has started using gives me the shivers.

It’s what the politicians and generals came up with as Viet Nam became un-winnable, and the public knew it, but the politicians didn’t want to admit it and take the blame.

They started issuing “body counts” at press conferences to try and hide the failure of their policy with numbers. When we lost a hundred troops in battle, we also seemed to kill a thousand of theirs. An exaggeration, but not by much.

The generals hoped the “American public” would be hoodwinked by the numbers—“we’re winning because we’re killing more of them than they’re killing of us.”

Now here it comes again.

In the first days and months, and even years, of the Iraq invasion and attempt at occupation, the military mostly avoided enemy body counts, maybe because they knew they couldn’t tell among the damage who was an enemy combatant and who were “innocent bystanders” as they used to call “collateral damage.”

But more probably, because they didn’t want to draw comparisons to the Viet Nam debacle.

As I said in my post about that, what did we gain from all the lives lost there? Viet Nam is still Communist, we actually have a good relationship with their government, and they didn’t take over the world, or us, or anything much more than parts of Cambodia for a while to protect it from an even worse fate under Pol Pot, whose rise was partly a result of our meddling in Viet Nam and Cambodia in the first place.

But I digress.

The point is, the politicians and/or generals in Iraq didn’t want to be compared to those who “lost” Viet Nam, so they didn’t do “body counts”—until recently, when suddenly, they do. “50 insurgents killed” etc., to balance out the five more “Americans” killed.

There’s no way to know, of course, if an unarmed man shot near an armed man is an insurgent or not. Or even if the one with the gun is, since most Iraqis are armed, because Rummy and Dick and Junior—the comic trio that out pratfalls the Three Stooges—didn’t think it was necessary, or more likely were told it would be impossible with the number of troops the Stooges decided to send, in opposition to their top general military advisor who became the sacrificial lamb when the Stooges retired him early for advising they’d need another hundred thousand troops, at least, to control the country after the invasion.

Not to turn this into a rant—though what’s a blog for—but to make the point, the sudden appearance of “body counts” not too long ago, signaled the generals admission that yes, this is like Viet Nam, what was then called a “quagmire,” and is over.

How many more troops who die there will be dying for a lost cause? To paraphrase what the young John Kerry said—a Viet Nam hero I admired back then, no matter how many swift boat lies have been spread by people who were not there when he took the action that earned him his heroism—“Who should we send to be the last man, or woman, to die for a lost cause?”

PS: And now the two Stooges left want to bring their same failed military intervention policy into Iran!

Friday, January 12, 2007


JUMAH AL-DOSSARI is a 33-year-old citizen of Bahrain. This article was excerpted from letters he wrote to his attorneys. Its contents have been deemed unclassified by the Department of Defense.

Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2007

Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba — I AM WRITING from the darkness of the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo in the hope that I can make our voices heard by the world. My hand quivers as I hold the pen.

In January 2002, I was picked up in Pakistan, blindfolded, shackled, drugged and loaded onto a plane flown to Cuba. When we got off the plane in Guantanamo, we did not know where we were. They took us to Camp X-Ray and locked us in cages with two buckets — one empty and one filled with water. We were to urinate in one and wash in the other.

At Guantanamo, soldiers have assaulted me, placed me in solitary confinement, threatened to kill me, threatened to kill my daughter and told me I will stay in Cuba for the rest of my life. They have deprived me of sleep, forced me to listen to extremely loud music and shined intense lights in my face. They have placed me in cold rooms for hours without food, drink or the ability to go to the bathroom or wash for prayers. They have wrapped me in the Israeli flag and told me there is a holy war between the Cross and the Star of David on one hand and the Crescent on the other. They have beaten me unconscious.

What I write here is not what my imagination fancies or my insanity dictates. These are verifiable facts witnessed by other detainees, representatives of the Red Cross, interrogators and translators.

During the first few years at Guantanamo, I was interrogated many times. My interrogators told me that they wanted me to admit that I am from Al Qaeda and that I was involved in the terrorist attacks on the United States. I told them that I have no connection to what they described. I am not a member of Al Qaeda. I did not encourage anyone to go fight for Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden have done nothing but kill and denigrate a religion. I never fought, and I never carried a weapon. I like the United States, and I am not an enemy. I have lived in the United States, and I wanted to become a citizen.

I know that the soldiers who did bad things to me represent themselves, not the United States. And I have to say that not all American soldiers stationed in Cuba tortured us or mistreated us. There were soldiers who treated us very humanely. Some even cried when they witnessed our dire conditions. Once, in Camp Delta, a soldier apologized to me and offered me hot chocolate and cookies. When I thanked him, he said, "I do not need you to thank me." I include this because I do not want readers to think that I fault all Americans.

But, why, after five years, is there no conclusion to the situation at Guantanamo? For how long will fathers, mothers, wives, siblings and children cry for their imprisoned loved ones? For how long will my daughter have to ask about my return? The answers can only be found with the fair-minded people of America.

I would rather die than stay here forever, and I have tried to commit suicide many times. The purpose of Guantanamo is to destroy people, and I have been destroyed. I am hopeless because our voices are not heard from the depths of the detention center.

If I die, please remember that there was a human being named Jumah at Guantanamo whose beliefs, dignity and humanity were abused. Please remember that there are hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo suffering the same misfortune. They have not been charged with any crimes. They have not been accused of taking any action against the United States.

Show the world the letters I gave you. Let the world read them. Let the world know the agony of the detainees in Cuba.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


A lot of people have been responding to my posts with e mails to me personally (I guess you can get it at my web site, set up by a good friend and run by her, which you can connect to on the profile page here). I thought this response was so perceptive and even poetic at times that I wanted to share it with whoever checks this blog out:

read your post on babel. did not read the pursuit of happyness part, haven't seen it yet.
my thoughts on babel:
Did the white people really end up okay? One of the themes of Babel is loss. The white family and the Japanese family suffered their losses prior to the start of the movie. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett had lost a child to SIDS, and the Japanese young woman's mother had committed suicide. None of them seemed emotionally okay to me by the end of the film. And the physical suffering that each member of the white family went through during the movie wouldn't be easy for them to forget: the wife/mother is shot, the husband/father must struggle to get her care, and the children almost die in the dessert.

I liked the heaviness of it. It seemed to me that one of the messages was, "This is life. One minute you might be doing your everyday thing, you might be joyous, you might be optimistic, you might just feel average. Things might go incredibly wrong. Unexpected tragedies might occur. You may feel as though your life has been turned upside down, like you've lost everything, like your life has been taken from you, that you have no control over the events that befall you. But, life will go on. What will you do next? How will you survive and function? The butterfly effect of actions may alter your life irrevocably. You are not being punished or rewarded. This is just the way life is, the way energy is, the way that force moves through the world. Find your way to deal with it. You cannot undo the past."

The Japanese actress blew me away. I felt everything she was feeling with her. Every actor in that movie was amazing.

I like movies filled with honest pain, b/c I think there is a special beauty in emotional pain. I am reminded of physical pain. Of the splash of boiling water on my skin that feels cold and clear for a moment. The burning sensation of brutal cold. The richness of fresh blood. Genuine pain seems to combine heartache, clarity, and release. I don't know how to express the images in my mind right now. I guess what I found beautiful about the pain in that movie was that it was pure and harsh and undeniable. It was honest.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


1. THE BEATLES The Biography, by Bob Spitz, came out in ’05, but I picked up my copy in ‘06. Despite some inaccuracies, both subtle and blatant, including musically incorrect comments, he somehow creates suspenseful drama in a story already known, partly by including tons of details rarely if ever seen before.

2. THE COLLECTED POEMS OF TED BERRIGAN, also published in ’05, but I’ve been reading and rereading them since I got it, and they’re almost all poems I already knew. Ted was unique in the poetry world—not easy to do. Not only his innovative poetic strategies and voice come through in every poem, but his generous and entertaining personality shines through as well. (FYI my birthday as listed in the endnotes makes me a few years younger, not an entirely bad thing, but I like the truth, as elusive as it is.)

3. CROSSING THREE WILDERNESSES A Memoir by U Sam Oeur, with Ken McCullough, another ’05 book I finished in ’06. Sam is a Cambodian poet I knew at the U. of Iowa Writers Workshop back in the late 1960s—there’s a photo in the book I took of him in my apartment there. His remarkable life spans the end of the French colonial influence in Cambodia through the surge for democracy and the Khmer Rouge response and beyond. It’s dramatic history on a personal level, as well as the story of a poet’s development and passion for his art, even while in the custody of Pol Pot’s minions—“The Killing Fields” as experienced by a Buddhist William Carlos Williams.

4. POETS ON THE PEAKS Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen & Jack Kerouac in the North Cascades, text and photographs by John Suiter, from 2002—one of the remaindered books I picked up last year at Coliseum Books in Manhattan, which unfortunately bit the dust this year, another independent bookseller gone. This is a great take on what it was like for these guys starting out on their careers as poets, before the whole Beat-a-mania thing ignited—full of terrific new details and insights into their lives and work.

5. REDEMPTION the Life of Henry Roth by Steven G. Kellman, another ’05 book I waited until ’06 to pick up. Roth, known for his early novel CALL IT SLEEP became one of my all time favorites when late in life—trying to cash in on the unexpected popularity of that early novel when it was reprinted in paperback over thirty years after its initial, commercially-unsuccessful run, and became an instant classic—he wrote several sequels to the events described in SLEEP, novelistic renderings of his life as the son of Jewish immigrants struggling in the mostly Irish section of Harlem at the dawn of the 20th century, and his going on to become a part of the incredible Greenwich Village scene of the 1920s. Though Roth was brutally honest in those novels, exposing aspects of his life kept hidden for decades, it is the approach he took to telling that story that knocks me out. An elderly, ailing, widower living in a trailer in the Southwest, transferring the manuscript of the novels onto an early computer, he began addressing the computer as if it were his muse, and himself in his earlier drafts of the story he’s trying to tell, as well as his deceased wife, so that it is layered with the kind of dialogue-thinking I’m doing all the time and maybe you aren’t and therefore might not dig as much as I do, in which case this biography might work as an intro to why you might want to try catching up on that later series of novels Roth gathered under the general title MERCY OF A RUDE STREAM.

6. AFTER THIS by Alice McDermott. Her previous novels were all terrific, especially her last, CHILD OF MY HEART, about a young girl’s relationship to an older abstract artist in the Hamptons of a 1950s’ summer. AFTER THIS is a return to her usual Irish-Catholic-family stories, as in CHARMING BILLY and AT WEDDINGS AND WAKES. But her mastery of her craft has become even more refined and exquisite. If we had a USA equivalent of the Booker Prize, she should be its recipient. From the first few lines of the novel, I am in the world of her characters, completely, and by the first few pages I don’t want to leave. Coming from a similar background to a lot of her characters, maybe I’m prejudiced in favor of her subject matter, but I am also more attuned to any falseness or missteps in the setting and the telling, and there are none. She brings it all to life, to lives, that seem as much a part of my history as their own.

7. SELECTED LETTERS OF MARTHA GELLHORN edited by Caroline Moorehead, already mentioned in an earlier post, but worth mentioning again. These letters are honest, smart, insightful, and a great way to understand the issues of the times they span—from the 1930s to the ‘80s—and what it meant to be an independent woman in those times.

8. HUMAN LANDSCAPES FROM MY COUNTRY An Epic Novel in Verse by Nazim Hikmet, translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk. Hikmet is sometimes called the “Walt Whitman of Turkey” because he is the father of modern Turkish poetry. But this, his masterpiece, is unlike any other “novel” or “poetry” you’ve ever read—an achievement in itself.

9. LEE MILLER A Life by Carolyn Burke. I wrote about Miller in an earlier post. This is a pretty good take on her life, though at times Burke’s interpretation of events, or of Miller’s actions and personality, I find presumptuous and not how I see it. Still, a good introduction to who Miller is, and what she accomplished.

10. SUITE FRANCAISE A Novel by Irene Nemirovsky, translated by Sandra Smith. The two parts that make up most of this extraordinary text, were drafts, written during wartime in occupied France by a woman who wouldn’t live to complete the three additional sections meant to tell the story of WWII from the perspective of those suffering through it. I can’t praise it enough. Maybe I’m just hung up on WWII because I was born at the start of it and my two oldest brothers were in the service toward the end of it and it resonated in so many films and books and photographs and newsreels and neighborhood stories when I was a boy. But this novel is so compelling, I think anyone will find it as poignant and engaging as I do.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007


What’s with all these depressing movies lately? Is it a reflection of the past six years of depressing right-wing control of almost everything? And the way they messed things up?

Will we be seeing more happy films, now that that’s beginning to crumble?

Whatever it is, BABEL is a bummer. An incredibly well directed, beautifully shot, and terrifically acted bummer. And in terms of acting, it’s full of revelatory performances by actors I’d never seen before, especially in the Middle Eastern scenes.

The writing wasn’t bad either, but how come the white people always end up okay, even when the writer/director is “Hispanic”? Or is that the point?

Sometimes non-“white” (whatever that means in any given situation) writers and filmmakers seem to think that being “white” means no problems, or problems overcome.

Some truth in that as a general comparison, but individually, we all know life is often a struggle and everyone faces the same basic problems, even if under certain circumstances—like being born in the wrong place in Nigeria, or in Sudan, or the wrong gender etc.—non-”whites” usually have it worse.

(I know, I know, being non-”white” in the USA is still sometimes problematic, but it is a disservice to all those—“black” and “white”—who gave their lives, figuratively and literally, in the Civil Rights struggles to bring about a better and fairer society to deny the incredible progress made.)

The point is, BABEL is a really well-made movie, but way too heavy on my heart, to almost bear.

On the other hand, THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS is a rare, for this moment at least, not depressing film. Though it evoked similarly dramatic, if less hopeless, struggles I faced when raising children on my own, back when no man I encountered was doing it.

The predictable ending—because it’s “inspired” by a “true” story—still brought tears to my eyes, tears of empathy and elation.

But even though it’s not a depressing experience in terms of story line, the idea that somehow “happyness” is dependent on material rewards, ultimately—when my tears had dried—left me less than “happy.”

The movie seems to contradict itself on this point, but the perspective of the hero—as voiced by Will Smith, portraying the real life multimillionaire stockbroker its based on—is that making a lot of money equals happiness, and that’s what “the pursuit of happiness” meant to Thomas Jefferson and the Founding fathers who endorsed the concept.

Which may not be far off, since the way I heard it, the original phrase was “life, liberty and the pursuit of property.” But, the latter was changed to “happiness,” thankfully, since back in that day, slaves were included under “property.”

Still, seeing it with my little boy was another great experience of father-son connection and love. He didn’t respond with the same teary eyes I did, but he did smile at me or laugh with me at scenes that reminded us of us.

But as with Smith’s portrayal of another real life character—in ALI—it ain’t the Oscar worthy performance some seem to think it is. As always, he does a good job, a likable job, a job you can admire, and his performance is even moving at times, but as an actor, he’s still more a showman than an artist, for my taste.

Monday, January 8, 2007


Bush’s leaked plan to increase the number of “American”—

(I’ve always hated the US-centric notion that the US is “America” when there are many countries in North and Central and South “America” besides us)

—troops in Iraq by twenty thousand or so has nothing to do with “victory” as they claim it does.

And they know it, since their own generals and advisors have made it clear that there is no way to win in Iraq without at least a hundred thousand more troops and a commitment of being in that country for at least another ten years.

And even those figures are only a guess, and would be impossible to fulfill or maintain and most likely end up “losing” Iraq anyway.

The “surge” idea has nothing to do with military “victory”—but a political one.

It’s the neo-conservatives response to the James-Baker-led commission report, which indirectly but obviously blamed the neo-cons for making a mistake with their “pre-emptive war” idea, and in their execution of that preemptive war and its aftermath.

And it’s the usual replay of the battles of the so-called “1960s”—

(what is usually meant by summoning up that decade is: the late 1960s and early 1970s, i.e. the time of the amping up of the Viet Nam war and the anti-war movement, ending with the eventual withdrawal of “American” troops)

—in which the rightwing Republicans, and later the neoconservatives, have always accused “liberal” Democrats of “losing” Viet Nam because they didn’t increase the troop strength and use even more bombing as well as so-called “tactical” “battlefield” nukes.

(It’s not a coincidence that the Bush administration is authorizing the building of a new version of “tactical” nuclear weapons, with supposedly “limited” fall-out etc.)

This way, if the newly-Democratically-controlled Congress refuses to support the “surge,” Republican right-wingers, led by the neo-cons, will be able to accuse “liberal Democrats” of “losing” Iraq by refusing to send in more troops.

And then, for the first time, these same right-wingers will acknowledge the incredible loss of life in Iraq among civilians, as well as the loss of so many Iraqi refugees fleeing the country, but will rewrite reality to make it appear that this was a result of “liberal” resistance to their brilliant planning and intentions.

(If the Democrats and more moderate Republicans succeed in thwarting the “surge” don’t be surprised if the administration suddenly reverses course on its limited allowance of how many Iraqis it will let into the US and makes it a lot easier for a lot more Iraqi refugees to get in, something they’ve been blocking so as not to give credence to the reality of the failure there, which the refugee problem makes obvious as anyone with any professional skills, or Christian or secular beliefs and practices, as well as ordinary Sunnis and Shites, flee from the violence and chaos.)

Whereas, if the “surge” is approved, highly unlikely as that is, and Iraq is still “lost,” highly likely, the neoconservatives can say they had the right plan but it was executed incorrectly, or it was sabotaged by “the liberal media” or by “liberal” Democrats whose criticism gave hope to “the enemy.”

An “enemy”—at least as far as Iraq is concerned—that didn’t even exist before the neo-cons got their hands on that country. “Surge” indeed.