The Valedictorian

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The visual imagery director Mike Nichols brought to The Graduate was so strongly persuasive that for several days after I saw it he had the clearly gay, not yet out, early adolescent me convinced that I could actually be straight. The stocking leg of sleekly sexy Mrs. Robinson beckoning the scared and too internally worried young boy/man – it all worked and made me wonder, “Hmmmm, perhaps there’s a…chance?”

meeeeeowwwww

meeeeeowwwww

I’m not sure whether this was a good or bad thing. But I do know for certain it was as effective as it was unlikely. And any resentment I might have had towards Mr. Nichols for prompting that momentary confusion is forgiven not due to the fact that he died this past week but because it all worked out so gloriously for both of us in the end.

Mr. Nichols died at the age of 83 and accolades have sprung up, as they do, all over the globe for someone who has had such a prodigious career and was, incidentally, also married to one of the most famous newswomen in the world.   It’s also what will inevitably happen when one of a dozen proud earners of the EGOT – Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards – passes away. A merely talented person can get fortunate and as a fluke be awarded any one of these in their field in an off year. But all four – and in this case awarded multiple times – it seems like the overused title of “genius” is for once earned.

Make room on the mantle!

Make room on the mantle!

I have many friends who have met, hung out and worked with Mr. Nichols over the years. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to do any of the three. But I feel as if I have because their stories are endless. They alternate between his brilliance as a director, the extreme smarts he brought to everything he touched in work and in life and an unrelenting and often quite scabrous wit. Not to mention his sophistication, occasional superiority, playfulness, penchant for secrets, kindness, generosity and yes – sheer, unadulterated genius.

Ugh, not that word again. Well, as my little sister used to say when that early adolescent me also begged her to let me play with her jacks on the kitchen floor – tough.

To be a recognized genius in show business is no easy feat – mostly because the arts are in the end so utterly subjective.   Still, in Mr. Nichols’ case any rational person measuring “genius” by any rational standard could be overwhelmed by his canon in just film alone. Very few directors make one or two memorable movies in their lives, much less five, six, seven or eight over almost half a century. That might not seem as impressive as I hoped to make it sound – that is until I start listing the films.

How many directors among us, or those aspiring to do anything meaningful in the movies, are capable of making their debut with something on the caliber of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Think you can? I invite you to Netflix it or rent it or even borrow my copy and then get back to me.

That pretty much sums it  up

That pretty much sums it up

If after watching one of the best movie adaptations of one of the best plays ever written with one of the biggest movie star couples that ever lived, then watch his follow-up film – a little throwaway classic we like to call The Graduate. These two releases in two consecutive years? Are you kidding? Not only will the latter live on as a seminal work in the history of movies, it also happens to be one of the few films that captured the tumultuous themes the 1960s and manages to stay relevant today. Don’t believe me on that either? Sit in on one of my college screenwriting classes, or the film classes of any of my colleagues at pretty much any university across the country and do an informal survey of this younger generation’s view of The Graduate – something I have done on and off for more than a decade.   Not a negative word about a movie that was shot nearly five decades ago (Note: Rare in itself) – a time not long after most of their parents were born.

Where do you even begin?

Where do you even begin?

Then there were other classics like Carnal Knowledge, Working Girl, Postcards from the Edge (Note: One of the truest and funniest movies about show business that I’ve ever seen) and Primary Colors. Not to mention the brilliant and seemingly inadaptable epic play Angels in America as a multi-part HBO movie. Which begs the question of Silkwood and Heartburn – about as different as two films can get but both equally affecting and chilling in very different ways. There’s no time to get into those or any others of the above or we’ll be here all night. Better to spend your time watching or re-watching any of them instead of spending one more second reading any more of what I or anybody else chooses to write about them.

We could stop there but we haven’t gotten to the theatre. I’ll try to make this brief but what do you say about an eight time Tony Award winner who directed so many of Neil Simon’s most seminal and successful early Broadway comedies – including Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple and Plaza Suite – only to produce the megahit musical Annie a decade later, follow it up by directing the even meggier hit musical Spamalot thirty years after that, only to follow that by winning a Tony Award less than a decade later for directing the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a much-acclaimed revival of Arthur Miller’s classic American play Death of a Salesman?

And he looked so freakin' cool doing it

Right at home

Had enough yet? It might surprise young people to know that Mr. Nichols began his career as a performer. Along with his friend and frequent collaborator over the years – Elaine May – he was one half of one of the most successful comic duos of the 1950s and 60s – Nichols and May. They played clubs around the world, guested all over television and sold millions of records – earning him his first “G” in the EGOT – the Grammy award.

The dynamic duo

The dynamic duo

For those who believe to be a brilliant director or artist of any kind means that one must create a very specific and very individual style that permeates their entire output, it is particularly interesting to note that as a filmmaker, man of the theatre, and performer Mike Nichols had no such signature or even strategy. Of all the many thoughtful quotes I’ve read and heard from him since his death the one that stayed with me is probably the simplest. When asked about how he directs scenes in comedy vs. drama he noted that all he really tries to do is figure out “what’s really going on” between the people. That search for “the truth” among human beings could be why he so easily cuts across so many genres and styles. On the other hand, it could just be that he was smarter and more perceptive than the rest of us.

Of course, EGOTS – or in layman terms: little statuettes voted to you by your peers – don’t account for or even prove genius beyond a shadow of a doubt. Still, it’s one of the only measures we have for the immeasurable. But if you still don’t buy that reflect on what Mr. Nichols has left behind in the aftermath of his death. No, I’m not talking about the massive tributes throughout the world from all of the top people across the board in the entertainment industry. Consider the work.

Oh.. and he was besties with Meryl Streep.

Oh.. and plus he was besties with Meryl Streep.

One final note: Mike Nichols was an immigrant.   He was born in Berlin with the name Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky and arrived in the U.S when he was seven years old with his family in order to escape the Nazi regime. He recalled that at the time he could only speak two phrases in English. One was: I do not speak English and the other was: Please don’t kiss me.

Clearly he was a dreamer to have achieved as much as he did.  So perhaps it stands to reason we give a few others the chance to follow in his footsteps and at least attempt to begin to fill the void. I think he’d approve. Though certainly he would say it more elegantly and with a dash more humor. Which sort of proves my point.

Rear view

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I’ve been told one or twice over the years, certainly never more than two times in a 12-month period as far as I can recall, that I have a nice butt.  This is not something I advertise or, really, am particularly proud of.  I don’t do anything to maintain it, I never think about it because, quite frankly, I can’t see it, and certainly it hasn’t really gotten me much that I know of except a few compliments now and again.  The latter has always puzzled me since I would think of all the wonderful things family, friends and the general public could flatter me about this would not be one of them.

Then again, I’m not complaining because as an ex of mine used to jokingly say – though I realized after two years of his bull that this was not really a joke – I accept all free-floating compliments.

How to take a compliment

How to take a compliment

No, this is not a piece about the world’s obsession with Kim Kardashian’s butt.  Though certainly the provocative pictures of her very shiny and – since there’s no other way to say it I will – very large and very toned posterior that was designed to “Break the Internet suggest that if it were I could probably increase my readership at least twenty thousand fold.  Nevertheless, I am still choosing not to go there.  This should not be surprising since I have also opted for so many decades to not do much of anything about the sporadic compliments I have gotten about my own behind.

At the end of the day all this really proves is not only do I know little about generating (m)ass appeal but that I am probably just about the worst person alive to market my own ass(ets).

OK OK we get it...

OK OK we get it…

Still, as a writer and college professor I am a pretty good provocateur and poser of questions.  And while once again I will state this still is not a piece about KK – though she certainly has managed to dominate the proceedings so far, huh? – I can’t help but wonder out loud in print:

  • Why something or someone gets attention in our world?  OR
  • If it’s ever possible to know other than by trial and error and personal taste just what the best subjects, persons and events are to either work on, research or let your eye or mind generally wander to?  AND
  • Once these things get stuck in your craw, which ones will you, not to mention the entire world, choose to indulge in briefly, sporadically, intermittently or endlessly? OH, AND — ONE LAST QUESTION
  • Given the disposable nature of subject matter in our ever-evolving age of information, do any of these decisions or choices even matter?

This all came to mind this week because we people on Earth for the first time in, well, EVER managed to land a spacecraft on a comet.  Not the cleanser but a real live celestial object made of ice, dust and gas located 317 MILLION MILES AWAY.  This alone might not seem exciting to non-science geeks except when we’re told that the constant stream of 24/7 photos from the surface of that non-cleanser just might answer the age-old questions of: how the World began, how Earth was first formed and if humans are the only intelligent beings in the universe.

While NASA/the US is usually in the lead on these types of things it is interesting to note that the achievement of the Rosetta Spacecraft was due to 10 years of perseverance by the European Space Agency.  Not to mention those cheers and congrats of victory took place in Germany and were not in large part due to what we here in the US consider to be our greatest asset – American exceptionalism.

Oh, who cares about that and who says we’re not exceptional – we can still lay claim to Kardashian’s gluteus maximus!  And who says we’re not into science the way we once were when we’re clearly leading in um… anatomy.

You had to know this picture was coming

You had to know this picture was coming

You might dismiss me as Mr. Sarcasmo.  So many of my family and friends have over the years while still sporadically applauding me about my own tushy.  But the facts speak for themselves.  KK’s photo spread (no pun intended) on both the cover and inside the pages of a little known publication called Paper Magazine, is now close to getting 20,000,000 views.  Have there been 20 million views of the comet’s surface or the space probe Rosetta?  Well, perhaps.  But are you willing to take that bet???  No, I didn’t think so.  (Note: And for those who are willing, which of those images were you most excited to see first?  Be honest).

Nope. I won't accept it!

Nope. I won’t accept it!

Well, of course there is a time for science and a time for bottom feeding, right?  Intellectual advancement for mankind does not depend on a majority of us viewing space photos – just on a select few understanding what they mean, interpreting them and advancing knowledge that will cause others to make discoveries for the betterment of mankind.  Other discoveries made by NASA over the years are responsible for the science behind the MRI imaging tests that will likely prolong your life, the artificial limbs that allow those with disabilities to move about like never before, and the clear Invisalign braces that two years ago finally freed me from a lifetime of crooked teeth.  And most of us don’t know how the heck any of them work or why.  Or even care to understand them.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then why care about Rosetta’s photos since clearly there are others around more well-versed than ourselves to do the dirty work?  Meanwhile we get to fantasize endlessly about oiled up derriere photos of… many people – as we simultaneously benefit as a people from the scientific findings of others.

Does this help us focus?

Does this help us focus?

Well, because in the US – as well as many other places in the world – we live in a free society where everyone gets to vote (okay, mostly everyone) and decide how much money goes to science in order to explore.  We also all collectively decide by our voting of what is popular and trending just what the priorities of the world should be and how our time, money and attention will and should be allocated in the future.  Some ancient societies were built by peasants and ruled by royalty who chose to construct up and out.  Other civilizations were and are about survival and the worship of a God, Deity or Figurehead of choice with more of a focus on piety that can get you into the Afterlife rather than what benefits you in your present life.   Some have even chosen to simply revel in the decadence of the day, pleasure seeking and partying their lives away with the most desirable among them – or at least available to them – as long as possible.

Several weeks ago there was an election in the U.S. with the lowest voter turnout in 72 years – meaning only 36% of eligible voters showed up at the polls.   The age group with the lowest turnout figures was those 18-29 years old, accounting for only 21% of all total voters.  When that is broken down to simply Democratic voters, the number drops down to 13%.

Good Grief

Good Grief

This will cause a shift away from issues heavily favored by young people – such as the preservation of the environment.  The new Republican controlled Senate is touting a heavy shift towards oil drilling with a promised passage of the Keystone Pipeline.  In simple terms, that means digging deeper into the Earth than ever before up into Canada in order to excavate as much oil as is inhumanely possible.  It will also mean that the Senator who will be put in charge of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will be James Inhofe (R- Oklahoma), one of the leading climate change deniers in the country who authored the 2012 book:  The Greatest Hoax:  How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

No, I don’t think the majority of young people were spending their time mooning at the backside of KK instead of voting.  Her audience extends far beyond that, and in the case of those photos it could indeed skew a bit older and much more male.  They are also not to blame for our shift away from science to social media.  That’s Mark Zuckerberg’s fault and since he already turned 30 years old in May he’s clearly not so young anymore.

... but I still wear a hoodie everyday

… but I still wear a hoodie everyday

There instead seems to be a mass exit away from…. what shall we call it…. reality and a growing emphasis to a more short-term, pleasure driven, hedonistic – or at least egoistic culture that has ironically been fueled in part by our recent technological advancements.  These toys allow us to watch the trending showdown between the surface of a heavenly body many millions of miles away and Kim Kardashian’s buttocks.  We enjoy each together, alone and apart from the scrutiny of anyone else.

And we enjoy it at our own peril.

Chair in Space

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Almost two weeks ago I went to a screening of Interstellar at the Motion Picture Academy. About a day and a half later I had my first ever attack of sinus-related vertigo, which is a condition characterized by extreme dizziness, nausea and vomiting.   Were they related? I’m not quite sure.

Certainly, it is tempting to get on the bandwagon and blame Interstellar for all the ills of the world, including my own. Plus, I can’t for certain say that the film didn’t make me dizzy – both literally and figuratively. But what good does it do to complain about it? For as much as I am stuck with a lingering case of vertigo every time I move my head around a bit too fast, there is no escape from the cultural impact of a new film by a director as renowned and popular as Christopher Nolan.

Maybe I need to borrow his suit?

Maybe I need to borrow his suit?

The most that we all can do is deal with both illnesses – my vertigo and Nolan-mania – as best we can. Of course I, for one, have a sinus rinse, cortisone nose spray and antibiotics to counter the Big V and it’s slowly getting better.   But right now there is no known treatment for Nolan-mania or those determined to spread it around to the rest of us. Certainly, quarantine hasn’t seemed to work as a cure for other recent outbreaks, not to mention it’s mostly unpopular. And in this case, it’s counterintuitive. If we know anything Nolan, it’s that you don’t try to remedy the effects of him or his films with anything that is even vaguely unpopular.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown...

Heavy is the head that wears the crown…

Full confession upfront: there is nothing Interstellar offers to exactly hate but an absence of hate does not necessarily translate into a presence of love. It has its moments, though one would expect that in any movie with an almost three hour running time and a choice from among the best of what commercial Hollywood has the offer in terms of above and below-the-line talent. But what it has little of is sustained and coherent dramatic tension as well as a plot that is entirely discernable to those who have never studied astrophysics. Not to mention it has nothing truly original to say in the final analysis, that is unless that message was encoded and transmitted in a way that only people in another galaxy or time dimension could discern and then explain to us naysayers in simpler terms – which is certainly possible given the atmosphere Nolan-mania has us now living in and the literal lack of it we get in the film itself. And NOTE: No, these are NOT SPOILERS (not that you’d understand them if they were). NOR WILL THERE BE ANY!

Alright, Alright, Alright.... continue on

Alright, Alright, Alright…. continue on

The one indisputable piece of good news here is Interstellar is an attempt at taking chances and doing SOMETHING, even though a dizzy, cloudy-headed, middle-aged sinus sufferer like me didn’t quite get what that was or at least can’t recall it. And this is very much better than the choice to make NOT VERY MUCH NEW or NOTHING MUCH BUT MONEY that most big studio movies/filmmakers are opting for these days.   So one supposes sickies like us – meaning we who have somehow avoided the disease of Nolan-mania but are nevertheless still considered ill in the culture as we know it – should be grateful. And to answer your next question: Yes, it has truly come to that.

Yes. YES.   And – YES.

I happened to catch Interstellar with two other screenwriter friends – both of who went to film school – which I didn’t – and both of who have more major studio writing credits than myself. In my mind, this somehow means they were more likely to be bigger fans of the previous three hours but this didn’t turn out to be the case. One liked it a bit more and one a bit less than myself but we were all in the general ballpark of – huh??? Still, given what we’ve all experienced in Hollywood during the last decade we all agreed we were happy a movie that was trying something “different” – though none of us quite could verbalize what that was – was at least given the green light.

One of these things is not like the other...

One of these things is not like the other…

Given the fact that I can’t let a subject drop – as should be evident by now – I couldn’t help but then pose this imaginary scenario to my two friends:

If you had submitted this screenplay in any of your screenwriting classes, what would have happened?

One immediate answer was: “Oh please, it would’ve been ripped to shreds,” and the other was a non-verbal head shake which I translate to, “Are you kidding, even in my most neophyte writing days, this is nothing that I could ever do because I would never, ever write anything as pretentious as this.”

But more telling was the follow-up one of my Nolan-immune buddies posed:

“Suppose we each submitted this to our agents or managers?” Before I could even answer he jumped in. “I can tell you what would happen, they’d NEVER send it out. They’d throw it right back at you. But Nolan has earned the right to do whatever he wants.”

Yes, this is true. And well deserved because this is how the system we’ve all signed up for works. Yet as the Spiderman comics themselves at one time wrote, and the Spiderman movies decades later once offered:

With great power comes great responsibility.

(Note: Most sources credit Voltaire for first coining this phrase. Still, Stan Lee adapted it to modern times and who am I to argue with the one guy who has probably out-Nolan-ed Nolan?).

Ya damn right!

Ya damn right!

Another perspective on this is what that same writer friend, who also happens to be a parent, quickly added:

Sometimes it helps when there are people to tell you NO.

This speaks to the imagined nirvana for most of us doing creative work – a world where we can do whatever we want, a place where there are little if any “no”s, and a situation where we are both paid and given almost unlimited money in order to make our visions come true.

Hmm, be careful what you wish for or at least consider if you are always the best judge of what you are wanting.  Because above all else there is always one ultimate power – your audience.   No one can ever take away your artistic power to do anything what you want but a lack of audience disposes of the money and creative freedom in Hollywood as quickly as others think it seemingly came. This can be problematic once you get to a certain place if you’ve gotten used to the perks or enjoy making a sizeable living. Sure, it’s a high-class problem but then again – everything is relative. There are those back in your hometown who fantasize daily about living yours or my dingy little non-Nolan-like life – especially if it has anything to do with show business.

One of the oddities for me of Interstellar was how much its first act reminded me of… Michael Bay’s recent Transformers 4: Age of Extinction.

GASP!

GASP!

The same life-has-passed-him-by scientifically handy good ole boy Dad, the similar spunky daughter who has always been Dad’s favorite and is probably a tad too much like him, and the identical heartland Americana setting where the American flag is sacred but its citizens have somehow been betrayed by a government that has either disappointed them, betrayed them, or out and out lied to them. There are secrets, there are shadow corporate interests and there is the advancement of technology that might or might not destroy, betray or save the world.

Well, one supposes the way you make a tentpole film is to somehow tap into the mythic family and the Heartland (whether it be faux Nebraska or Texas), right? Hmmm, not necessarily. No one makes a blockbuster tentpole like James Cameron but not even Avatar or Titanic chose to delve in so obvious a territory. Not that those two films both didn’t have faults and employ archetypes but somehow it felt as if, well – they had a bit more coherence, emotion and well, dare I say it…honest humanity?

... and I just remembered they were blue

… and I just remembered they were blue

Part of Christopher Nolan’s appeal and originality is that his films are a bit colder and more brittle and that is certainly an admirable stance to take rather than to drown viewers in bathos. It’s what makes his take on the Batman films so compelling and how movies like The Prestige and even Inception – both of which have emotional characters making odd and sometimes even distancing choices – work as well as they do. It’s also part of what put him on the map to begin with in Memento – a movie that perfectly employed his high intellectuality with the very flawed and/or too perfect husbands or former lovers he likes to put at the center of his movies.

This, among many reasons, is why Interstellar is a head scratcher. It’s good that it’s not Transformers or Gravity or 2001: A Space Odyssey (a film Nolan himself admits was an inspiration here) but – exactly WHAT IS IT???

The only thing I can come up with is an overly long studio film with technical Irving the Explainer speeches that feel as if they were written by the guys or gals who want to get paid to author books like Stephen Hawking for Dummies but are not quite yet masters of the craft. But Christopher Nolan is at his best a master of film. That’s why Interstellar is so confounding for so many of us, and why we can’t drink the Kool-Aid. To do so would be like saying we enjoyed a Big Gulp that has sat out in the sun for too long and lost its fizz.

Life and Death

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Important note before reading this week’s entry:

Brittany Maynard, one of the two subjects of this blog, chose to end her life on Saturday at her home in Portland.  Little did I know that the day I was writing this entry, she was taking the very action she had fought so publicly for.  Rather than edit  what I have written to focus on her death, I think the better way to honor Brittany’s bravery is to leave the words intact and focus on the positive examples both Brittany and Nurse Kaci Hickox, still alive and well in Maine, are providing to the world – not to mention our 24/7 news cycle.

Ok – now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

No one wants to get Ebola because no one wants to die. Well, most of us that is. But on the opposite ends of the country two very different yet quite similar young women this week helped lead the way in our continuing understanding of life, death and all of the messy stuff in between.

In Maine, we have a 32-year-old nurse named Kaci Hickox and in Portland, Oregon, at least for now, there is 29-year-old newlywed Brittany Maynard. Both want to continue their lives the way they choose. It’s just that in the case of Brittany, who has advanced Stage Four brain cancer, that means having the freedom to decide when to die. And with Kaci, who recently returned from West Africa after caring for a 10-year-old girl dying alone of Ebola, it’s simply about the freedom to ride her bike in the woods rather than endure quarantine in a makeshift New Jersey medical tent sans plumbing or at an undisclosed government chosen hospital somewhere inside the Pine Tree state.

I know a good place to hide away

I know a good place to hide away

I refer to each of these young women by their first names. Which only seems fair since they have also chosen to let us get to know them in unusually intimate ways. Also, since it makes them feel more like real people rather than merely names in the news, and being I admire them both greatly, well – I figured it’s the least I could do.

Ebola, ebola, ebola, ebola, ebola. Something about the way it sounds even feels dangerous, doesn’t it? Or at the very least exotic or unknown. Which most certainly makes it scary. Well, any disease that can kill you is frightening, especially when you didn’t ask for it or even put yourself at risk for it. Not that the latter matters. Or does it? I mean, no one made Kaci go to Eboland, right? Why should the rest of us have to suffer for her nobility?

so-whats-your-point-meme_zpsa4e7e48d

Let’s get something straight about science – medical, environmental or otherwise. It is, all of it, based on facts as we know them at the time. For instance, I could have told you with all certainly that the world was flat several thousand years ago and pretty much you would have taken it for granted as true. However, all these centuries later it has been proven time and again that we live in a round world so what is true changed based on research. Is it then possible 500 years from now science will shift and prove the world is really shaped like a question mark? Well, of course anything is POSSIBLE but it hardly seems likely based on what we have learned over the last 2500 years. Although given the popularity of absolutist thinking lately, I do fear for the extinction of question marks of any kind.

The overwhelming consensus in the scientific community at the moment on Ebola is that it is a virus that is transmitted from one human to another through direct contact (broken skin/eyes, nose or mouth) with bloody or bodily fluids (urine, saliva, sweat, vomit, feces, breast milk, semen) with a person who is actively sick or through objects like syringes and needles. It is not airborne unless a current Ebola patient who is actively ill and who has a fever pries open your mouth and spits (or does worse) directly into it.

Ewwwww

Ewwwww

Many Republican conservatives have voiced the perils of those with the Ebola virus riding the subway or bus systems and randomly infecting the rest of us innocents just because they were too careless to stay home. Certainly, that is even what the scared, poor old bleeding heart liberal me at first thought until I took off my hypochondria hat and considered – when was the last time anyone threw up, bled or deposited their semen directly into my nose or mouth on the bus or subway? I suppose they could sneeze into my mouth or nose if I didn’t watch myself but they’d have to be actively sick and sweating with a high fever and I don’t tend to sit or even stand directly next to those people in public places, given the kind of weirdo I am. Plus, there is always Purell.

I really don't look good in yellow

I really don’t look good in yellow

Unfortunately, I remember this type of panic exactly three decades ago around a disease called AIDS. I also recall as if it were yesterday the now 20 plus years dead but then 13 year old boy named Ryan White who was thrown out of his school by alarmists for being HIV positive even as he lived six more years to infect no one. Not to mention Conservative icon William F. Buckley, Jr. going on TV at the time and suggesting young dying gay men and IV drug users in New York, and presumably very young boys like Ryan White elsewhere, be tattooed and quarantined – sort of the way they were in Nazi Germany 40 years before that. Lovely.

If that sounds as if I’m being unfair, I am not. Yes, of course I am biased. But in this case, I am simply reporting on the facts at that time. Just like you can’t un-infect yourself from a virus you can’t change the reality of the past three or ten decades later simply because it is embarrassing. Of course, you can cure a virus with knowledge the scientific community has uncovered. Much in the way you can re-educate yourself and change your way of thinking to something a bit more rational and factual. That is if you choose to do so.

Which brings us to Brittany Maynard.

Happier times

Happier times

Here is a vibrant young California woman who was just married and by all accounts smart, happy and active, diagnosed in the late stages of a lethal brain tumor that will end her life with a barrage of unrelenting headaches, a loss of motor skills and certain death in less than a year. Numerous doctors told her that her case is accelerating rapidly and that not only is there no cure but little respite they can promise her from an extremely painful and severely mentally debilitating decline.

After some thought and consultation with her doctors and loved ones, Brittany made the decision that was right for her and she and her husband moved to Oregon where euthanasia is legal. What that means is a doctor can legally prescribe Brittany a small lethal dose of pills and, if she choses to take them, can end her life in a manner of minutes privately and painlessly.   Now that wouldn’t seem to be all that controversial, would it?

Well, it turns out that it is and that even with a debilitating brain tumor Brittany was smart enough to be one step ahead of all the protestors. So she decided to post an online video explaining her decision at some length, which, to her and everyone else’s surprise, quickly went viral and has now received over 6 million hits. Wow. That’s a lot of interest. Makes you even think some of those people actually realize that they too, like Brittany, just might be faced with a similar end of life decision at some point in their lives where they just might want to explore a similar option.

Well, that would be quite cowardly, or at least not brave, according to a 30 year-old man with a brain tumor named Phillip Johnson. A Catholic seminarian from the Diocese of Raleigh, N.C. who six years ago was diagnosed with a similar though not entirely identical brain tumor, Phillip came out quite vehemently and quite publicly against Brittany’s own end of life choices in a widely read though not quite as viral article 10 days ago. Here are just a few excerpts:

Suffering is not worthless, and our lives are not our own to take.  As humans we are relational – we relate to one another and the actions of one person affects others.  Sadly, the concept of “redemptive suffering” – that human suffering united to the suffering of Jesus on the Cross for our salvation can benefit others – has often been ignored or lost in modern times. 

There is a card on Brittany’s website asking for signatures “to support her bravery in this very tough time.”  I agree that her time is tough, but her decision is anything but brave.  I do feel for her and understand her difficult situation, but no diagnosis warrants suicide.

I will continue to pray for Brittany as she deals with her illness, as I know exactly what she is going through.

Gee Phil, and I thought only God himself (or herself) can only really know all the true experiences of all the men, women and beasts in the world.

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I try not to write much about religion unless it has to do with fundamentalists who are determined to bring their way of thinking into the mainstream and that is only because they leave no room for any dissenting thought. Whether it’s done for selfish dogmatic reasons or in the name of a loving God whose word you are determined to spread because part of your religion, you believe, makes it your mission, it’s never proper to order others to adhere to your way of life en masse or judge them harshly as long as they are not hurting anyone else. Still, it does puzzle me why anyone would go out of their way to so publicly object to how a terminally ill patient chooses to end their life and why that anyone would do it in the name of God. As a NY Jew who for 27 years has lived with an Italian Catholic who did quite well as a boy in Catholic school, I’m here to tell you that even God wouldn’t like it. To wit: here’s the one Bible passage my former altar boy taught me that I can actually remember.

John 8:7: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

In the name of Brittany, take that, Phil. Not that she needs my help – at least not on that score.

As for me, I choose to think about it this way. I’m not going to use Kaci for a blood transfusion or a bedmate but I would be happy to hug her in thanks for the selfless way she chose to fight a deadly virus at its source. Not to mention, if she were in town I’d happily invite her over to my home for dinner and an evening of crazy 8s. I’d do the same for Brittany if she were well enough to travel or had the strength to have me over. Though perhaps I would give her a blood transfusion if she needed it. Which might not happen since because of AIDS gay men are still forbidden from donating blood to non-family members and most certainly to those we don’t know. We are all, each and every one of us gay guys, in the high-risk category despite our HIV statuses. Yup, there are some things we as a society still just don’t grow from. But perhaps one day we will. In time. How fortunate for those of us who still have that luxury, and for those who decide to fight for it.

Plastic Wrap

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As I sat staring aghast at the before and after pictures of Renee Zellweger that circulated all over social media this week I wondered – am I against plastic surgery or just bad plastic surgery? Or at least the extensive kind since bad is clearly in the eye of the beholder when it applies to things like elective medical procedures and reupholstery which, when you stop to think about it, are sort of the same thing.

For those not up to snuff, some rather shocking photos emerged of Ms. Zellweger at a red carpet event where her face was very much unlike the quite famous one we have all come to know since she emerged seemingly out of nowhere as a full blown movie star in Jerry Maguire – a film where she not only held her own against the megawatt presence of a younger Tom Cruise but matched his charisma frame for frame. Needless to say, anyone who has made following the movies their business or even hobby knows that aside from this being not an easy feat to pull off it is actually pretty near impossible to do against the handful of actors we in the public vaunt into cinema royalty in any given generation.

The making of America's sweetheart

The making of America’s sweetheart

Of course, it’s been almost 20 years since Jerry Maguire and both Ms. Zellweger, all of you and, most importantly, myself are also almost two decades older. Perhaps that is why I was so taken aback by this now unfamiliar image staring at me in the face that was identified as her face. Even though I am more than a decade older than Ms. Zellweger and on a given day absolutely as vain as any movie star I’ve ever met, I couldn’t help wonder why anyone as talented, accomplished and yes – attractive as she – would choose to alter their physical self to such a very large extent.

Honey, we can all tell you've had work

Honey, we can all tell you’ve had work

Then it hit me – if her alterations simply made her look like a younger version of herself rather than an altered version of, let’s say, her distant cousin raised in Slabovia twice removed – would I have been so troubled by it? Or even noticed? I was quick to comment that this new RZ decision was “sad” and wrote/told those within ear or eye shot on social media to “be themselves” and not adhere to the pressure to “do that to yourself.” Well, whom was I kidding? It didn’t seem to matter to me when I met Jane Fonda last year that at 73 she suddenly looked about 20 years younger. Or that somehow, clearly only through exercise and Scientology, 52 year-old Tom Cruise seems permanently frozen at 38. On the other hand, I was appalled several years ago when I saw the shiny, waxily frozen face of Sylvester Stallone to my right waiting for the valet to bring around his car or the alternately scary images of Mickey Rourke, Kim Novak, Barbara Hershey and Burt Reynolds in recent years in photographs, awards shows, on film and yes, regrettably even in person at the supermarket.

Hey Mickey!

Hey Mickey!

Age is a very, very tricky thing, let me tell you. Physically, psychologically – and in all other ways you can think of. But let’s not get into our mutual expiration dates for fear of depressing the hell out of the room and just stick with the outside wrapping. You don’t want to look like you belong in a rocking chair but at the same time you don’t want to live a pathetically striving existence of trying to compete with people 20 years your junior and then lie yourself into thinking that you appear as refreshed as those that age who are not excessively drinking or drugging up daily over the top doses of some lethal co-combinations or quantities of said substances. Stand next to any healthy individual of that age at your age and the lie becomes too obvious. That is, if you choose to live in reality.

OK, we get it, Meryl. You rule.

OK, we get it, Meryl.

Well, luckily the entertainment business has perfected the art of creating alternate realities and we have perfected incorporating what they sell into our everyday existences. With so much available, the fountain of youth is just one more item to be obtained with one, two or three clicks at the most. True – virtues like intellect, humor, love and decency are what we say we want but they can’t stare back at you in the mirror – either rear view, bathroom or vanity style.

Which brings us back to Ms. Zellweger. In answer to the outpouring of…reaction…to her new look, she issued the following series of statements:

“I’m glad folks think I look different! I’m living a different, happy, more fulfilling life, and I’m thrilled that perhaps it shows…

My friends say that I look peaceful. I am healthy. For a long time I wasn’t doing such a good job with that. I took on a schedule that is not realistically sustainable and didn’t allow for taking care of myself. Rather than stopping to recalibrate, I kept running until I was depleted and made bad choices about how to conceal the exhaustion. I was aware of the chaos and finally chose different things.”

Reaction?

Reaction?

That is a lot more than any of us want to know about her life or even have the right to know but let’s not try to pretend it answers the question which is – why does an accomplished, more than reasonably attractive person (Note: I always thought she was flirty and really pretty but lets go with the former) endure the risks of major surgery and perhaps a life-altering change in appearance in order to look…younger? More attractive? Or less or more….???????????

Certainly, Ms. Zellweger is under no obligation to say anything at all. And for those who want to advance arguments, the correct answers are not things like:

  1. She makes her living as an actress and at 45 years old this is the price that must be paid.
  2. Plastic surgery is always a gamble and she just got unlucky. Besides, she doesn’t look all that different.
  3. Why are you specifically raking her over the coals, anyway?

Actors the caliber of RZ play real characters and as they age they have the ability to adapt and become all kinds of more interesting and even older people; to say she doesn’t look all that different is like me trying to pose as a full on Divan rather than a mere Chair; and I am a huge RZ fan not only for her commercial hits like Bridget Jones, Chicago, Jerry Maguire and Cold Mountain but in lesser known films like The Whole Wide World, Nurse Betty and My One and Only. In fact, in the latter 2009 road movie she gives a charming performance as the fictionalized version of actor George Hamilton’s beautiful Southern belle mother who determinedly drives cross country with the younger George in tow as life lessons abound. Watch it on DVD or Netflix and see if you don’t agree.

... this film is from 2009 (yes, that's 5 years ago)

… this film is from 2009 (yes, that’s 5 years ago)

The truth is there is something truly insidious about what the scientific advances in beautifying medical procedures have wrought on our culture. I live in L.A. where so many are surgically enhanced. But this is not limited just to the movies or on the left coast anymore. It’s in most big cities. And smaller ones, too. Go to an upscale restaurant and you see it everywhere. And not just on women. I go to the gym and I see it in the faces of guys I used to know who now have foreheads and cheeks (not to mention other body parts, I presume) that you could bounce a quarter off of. This is the same city I came to more than thirty years ago where I spotted a still dazzling attractive man in his late seventies stumbling a bit tipsy down the streets of Beverly Hills. He was tanned and had deep bags under his eyes and lines on his forehead and cheeks but wouldn’t you know that with his thick black glasses and gray black hair Dean Martin was still devastatingly handsome. And he wasn’t even sober! Not to mention a few years ago at a private screening for eight I also found myself wildly attracted to sixty something year old Helen Mirren, sexy as hell despite wrinkles in her face after a day of filming but with a healthy, quite upright body and refreshingly blunt intellect to match.

What's your shelf life?

What’s your shelf life?

We can dismiss all this by saying these are exceptionally attractive people who have aged well but that doesn’t address the very fact that there is a way to still look great on the outside to both strangers and yourself without going under the knife and taking the risk that if she were not forewarned even your own mother might pass you by on the street. That kind of extreme alteration used to be reserved for fictional characters in soap operas and murder mysteries who had committed a crime and needed to change their identities. Getting older is not a cause for either of those.

... or 1980s stardom

… or 1980s stardom

All of this is not so say one can’t be well groomed and use beauty aids. Do NOT get cute and try to employ the where do you draw the line argument here. You’re in charge of the line and you’re the master (or mistress) of how you look.

Cher, the ultimate show business survivor and, among other things, admitted plastic surgery user, had the best answer to those who questioned her employment of cosmetic procedures to look good and, as she says, “keep the package viable.” And that is:

If I want to put my tits on my back, it’s nobody’s business but my own.

I would only add to that statement: There are lots of people who will still find you equally or even more attractive if you choose NOT to do that. Perhaps even yourself.

And that goes double for anyone else – famous, unknown or even infamous – who might be considering cutting into their face now or at some future date. This gets harder to say as you get older but it’s a lot easier to maintain as an alternative as the years go on.

Marriage… not that there’s anything wrong with that

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Gay marriage is now legal in 31 of 52 states in the U.S. This week a federal district judge in Arizona struck down the state’s ban on sex unions and its Attorney General Tom Horne said it would be “an exercise in futility” to appeal the decision given where the courts and general public now stand on the issue. After a speech announcing his decision, Horne then confessed even all four of his children disagreed with him on his own personal opposition to gay marriage “so that tells you something of where the trends are going.”

More than a 1000 miles northeast in Arkansas, former Governor Mike Huckabee followed with a radio meltdown that went viral regarding the Republican Party’s reluctance to continue fighting this nationwide trend. The one time Republican presidential primary contender was positively apoplectic at the undeniable surge towards allowing same sex couples to marry and threatened to leave his own political party if it didn’t stop continuing in a direction that would “guarantee they will lose every election in the future.” To quote him exactly:

the spew

A lot of the Republicans, particularly in the establishment and those who live on either the left coast or in the bubbles of New York and Washington, are convinced that if we don’t capitulate on the same sex marriage issue and if we don’t wave the white flag of surrender and just accept the inevitable then we’re going to be losers. I tell you…it is the exact opposite of that. And if Republicans want to lose guys like me and a whole bunch of still god fearing, Bible believing people…go ahead and just abdicate on that issue, and while you’re at it go ahead and say abortion doesn’t matter either, because at that point you lose me, I’m gone. I’ll become an independent. I’ll start finding people that have guts to stand, I’m tired of this!

Wow, you can practically hear the sputtering from here, huh? The Significant Other and I have not yet chosen to walk, skip, dance or even mince down the aisle but I’ll tell you – if anything could provide me with that final push to do so it just might be the sight of Gov. Huckabee’s head exploding live on ABC during one of his numerous early morning political pundit gigs. Yes, I realize that my marriage wouldn’t personally put him over the edge but there is something about contributing to the cumulative nudge that makes it hard for me to resist. Admittedly that’s not the best reason to get legally hitched but let’s face it, it’s certainly not the worst one we’ve all ever heard.

That would do.

That would do.

The S.O. and I will actually celebrate 27 years of non same-sex marriage status this week and from where we sit the world has changed in many ways. In 1987, the idea of marriage – gay, straight or otherwise, was not even on our radar. Because at that point if we each had to pay for one more present, airline ticket, hotel accommodation or even tank of gas to attend yet another wedding we were convinced our two brains would have actually combusted into what we can now consider to be a Huckabee-like head explosion – though clearly in a far more glittery and stylish fashion. Looking back at it now I want to believe this was subliminal anger at the fact that we knew that we could never get married and therefore have the favor returned. But if I’m totally truthful I think it was only because the ritual was annoying, costly and symbolic of the yuppie-like entitlement of the Reagan era 80s that threatened to engulf you no matter where you turned. That and the fact that truly – we just couldn’t afford it all and hated feeling as if we had to pretend like we could.

This was before we had iPhones to distract us!

This was before we had iPhones to distract us!

As the years and the decades evolved and we began attending the weddings of several couples we mutually loved (Note: Okay, not literally – not all of us gays are THAT evolved) our feelings began to evolve. The whole thing began to seem less like a waste of money and more a declaration and expression of love in front of friends and family. Sure, we still had to deal with the outfits and the gifts, but as two men there were a lot less accessories to buy. Plus, after commiserating with other straight couples also living in sin, we realized there was absolutely no chance of anyone coming up to us and asking that dreaded question:

“So, when are you two going to…you know…..Oh, we don’t to embarrass you but…Oh, come on!!!”

This is not to even mention what they would say to already married couples at the wedding who had not yet chosen to have children. Since at that time the idea of being a gay parent biologically was at the very least unlikely – and adoptively not all that much talked about generally among wedding attendees – (Note: That would come later as the gay parented kids grew) – I for one considered it a double win.

Of course, somewhere along the line all of that began to change. The escalation of AIDS to an epidemic, along with the AIDS-related deaths of tens of thousands of gay men as well as many millions of others, proceeded to usher in a great deal of sympathy and eventual acceptance. Gays all around the word began to come out en masse, our stories were not only featured on the news but on comedy series like Will and Grace, by celebrities like Ellen and on the faces of politicians who followed the now far less dangerous, trailblazing path of murdered San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk – the man who predicted the whole thing, albeit not spearheaded through the lethal force of a deadly disease.

A better kind of epidemic...

A better kind of epidemic…

On the latter note, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fantasized about the reaction of deceased, like-minded gay friends of mine to all of this. Not how the ones who longed to be like their parents would feel but by those gay guys who used to grimace and groan about the prospect of attending just one more wedding where they had to buy a gift, an outfit or…well, you already know the drill. Not to mention, what they would think about the possibility of now being questioned about why they were not….a PARENT???? Yes, I’m leaving out serving in the military because the people I’m thinking of, well, um, let’s just say like me they had asthma, clubbed feet, a congenital heart disease or – also like me – could figure out a way to get a doctor to write them a note. (Further Note: This is by no means to cast aspersions on anyone in the military – simply a statement of fact regarding those I knew and loved, who were very much like my cowardly self).

Saturday Night Live’s new Weekend Update co- anchor Michael Che, a straight guy, captured this perfectly last week in a mock editorial about all of the gay guys who have up till now been able to hide behind the injustices of the anti-gay marriage status quo. Noting his happiness for gays and lesbians who chose to tie the knot, Che nevertheless proclaimed:

I feel bad for a group of people that still get ignored in this country – and that’s gay dudes who really, really don’t want to get married and had a really good excuse not to for so long. I know there are some deadbeat gay boyfriends who are like, Yo Carl, you KNOW I want to marry you. But SOCIETY, man…wont let us. Oh well, I guess we just have to keep on boning casually till the world gets its act together.

I see what you did there

I see what you did there

Not that it’s a great thing for us homosexuals not to get married but well, if you’re going to be discriminated against you might as well use it for something productive. It reminds me of my dear friend Deb, whose parents were Holocaust survivors and whose grandparents the Nazis murdered, when she used the death of her already deceased grandmother as an excuse to not attend class in high school when she would oversleep. I challenged her on that at the time and was somewhat shocked when she reasoned to me that since she and her grandmother had never met she felt at the very least it was “one small thing she could do for me.” Though now, with the whole marriage thing – well, I think I finally do understand.

According to a recent ABC/Washington Post poll 56% of people in the country support the US Supreme Court ruling to allow gay marriage. This includes majorities in the 11 states affected by the court’s most recent decision earlier this month against the anti-gay marriage statute in Alaska. Incidentally, among those states in the lucky eleven are Arizona, Indiana, Utah, Colorado, West Virginia and North Carolina – hardly the “left coast” and certainly not anywhere near the bubbles of New York or Washington.

... and the soon to be legalization in Scotland has definitely increased my wardrobe choices.

… and the soon to be legalization in Scotland has definitely increased my wardrobe choices.

Which means that as far as the marriage between the S.O. and I are concerned – well, it’s no more excuses, at least legally. So we’ve decided to….um, well, at least recognize we are getting older and need to have some legal status. Which is not to say we will be having a surprise wedding on our anniversary on the 24th. (Note: No Gifts, please). Only that at some point we will very much look forward to contributing to a nationwide movement that will one day cause ex- Governor Mike Huckabee’s head to explode. Hopefully, that will be sooner rather than later. On at least one of the aforementioned counts.

Be Gone Girl

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Gone Girl, the hit classy movie du jour this month – was silly, overwrought, overdone and, in the end, laughable. That is – for me. Actually, let’s not sugarcoat it. Even in the film noir world it seeks to evoke and despite being under the hand of David Fincher, one of the best American directors working today, it presents two people so utterly “written” – and therefore so totally preposterous – that it’s difficult to take anything they do for an almost endless two and a half hours seriously. This includes their relationship, their marriage, their lies, their truths and certainly their acting. Oh, and also, not any murders they may or may not have been involved in. That’s right, you will find no spoilers here – that is with the exception of the movie itself.

No, I DID NOT READ THE BOOK! And stop asking me!!! I know you loved it and you think I would too, especially if I had picked the book up before the movie. (Note: Which yeah, I know, would have had the added benefit of me ALSO having liked the movie a lot more– at least you think that’s the case). (Note #2 – But it isn’t!). And finally, yes, of course I know this is a matter of opinion and I’m clearly in the minority. Do not feel the need to refer me to Rotten Tomatoes, where the film has received a 91% positive rating by audiences and an 89% thumbs up from movie critics across the country. A best picture Oscar didn’t get me to change my mind about the annoyingly retro sensibility of Forest Gump, the dulling Driving Miss Daisy or, dare I say it, the blood curdling, off tune caterwauling of Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago. In fact, I still have to plug up my ears every time I hear one of my favorite show tunes, All That Jazz, anywhere to this day for fear it will somehow be her voice wafting into the room to haunt me once again as she begins to mangle each and every one of those lovely notes. (Note: Right, yes, I realize she won the Oscar for that one, too. Blah, blah, blah).

Dear Catherine...

Dear Catherine…

You might say, in these situations, I have chosen not to adapt and get with the program. Or perhaps – I was unable to. We all do this in some ways and in various situations thought not necessarily out of stubbornness. Sometimes it’s about mere conviction – a state of mind that is truly anything but “mere.” Though occasionally it is also about::

  1. stubbornness,
  2. an inability to change (not to be confused with stubbornness), or
  3. a process of reasoning that presupposes one knows best in pretty much most situations and that the rest of the world is full of your excrement of choice.

It’s unclear why certain situations cause a particular individual to be inadaptable and therefor unable or adamantly against modifying an option and/or action in a given situation. For example, I was truly surprised by the reaction of my students to Gone Girl (why do I keep confusing it with Affleck’s directorial debut – Gone Baby Gone – an infinitely better and, to my mind, terrific film in a similar though not totally analogous genre?) – that’s how sure I was in my analysis. But as it turns out, they loved it. Well, most of them. They found it to be engrossing, superbly acted and right on in its portrayal of a marriage gone bad. Painful as the latter is, I suppose it does give me yet another reason to keep my 27 year old perfectly happy non-married relationship intact despite all the outside pressure to make it legal now that we can. So at least there is that.

Still, what particularly intrigued me about their clearly misguided reaction to the film weren’t their actual opinions but their willingness to agree with me on all the points I raised about it and yet — not change their minds! Was I losing my touch? Or generationally, are they just not as stubborn and/or intractable as we were on every issue in the universe?

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Well, I prefer to think it’s generational since I certainly would never pressure, out-argue or outwardly shame anyone into agreeing with me on any one point. At least, not consciously – well, okay, gleefully. Instead, they seem to me a more adaptable group and/or generation, which in the end might be a more admirable quality for the times they have been born into.

We baby boomers – though I’m on the tail end of it – expected so much and were not satisfied with NOT getting it. So we chose to innovate or push the envelope in other ways to get what we wanted. Or stamp our feet and whine when that didn’t work.

toon369I don’t think this generation wants any less but it feels like they’ve come to expect less. It’s not that they won’t work hard it’s that they haven’t decided they’re entitled and have to have something. They have adapted themselves to expect less – be it from movies, the economy or the government – because less has been given. I’m not sure if they have the right idea but it might not necessarily be the wrong one if they keep working just has voraciously for what they desire. In the end, it might just only be yet another way to look at the world – a canny strategy given the state of things that we have left for them.

This principle is illustrated tenfold in Adaptation – a 2002 film dreamed up by one of the few truly original voices left in the screenwriting trade – Charlie Kaufman. This is a movie I’ve had students watch and read in classes almost since it came out in order to study Mr. Kaufman’s spare writing style and daringness on the page and it’s been almost universally adored by aspiring writers I’ve taught over the last decade. Sadly, this was not the case last week. There was something about the sheer oddness of the work that left this group cold. Not that that they didn’t admire the unmitigated gall of what he did. He got some points for that. They just didn’t believe it made sense under the rules of movies they had grown up watching.

My reaction... or my students'?

My reaction… or my students’?

As the inside story goes, the real Mr. Kaufman wanted to adapt a non-fiction book about flowers called The Orchid Thief, written by famed New Yorker writer Susan Orlean, into a major feature film following the out-of-nowhere success some years earlier of his original, post-modern, hilariously affecting meta-screenplay for Being John Malkovich. Stumped beyond reason and with a deadline looming, the real Mr. Kaufman had the desperate idea to write himself into the film as the main character struggling to adapt an inadaptable book and imagined its author, Ms. Orlean, as an unattainable, ice princess intellectual snob from the Big Apple who falls in love with the subject of her novel and becomes, well – lets just say you have to see the film in order to know that. In any event, the desperate fictional version of Mr. Kaufman, helped along by his doppelganger screenwriter brother Donald –a twin who only aspires to write big commercial movies – finally takes some action to discover the truth behind not only The Orchid Thief but the seemingly unattainable Ms. Orlean -and in the end discovers both the unsavory but thrilling truth about her life as well as his own.

The agony and the ecstasy of Adaptation

The agony and the ecstasy of Adaptation

The genius of the real Mr. Kaufman’s efforts here is that in his story adaptation (and thus the movie, Adaptation) became not compromise but innovation. It was only after hitting his head countless times against the proverbial writer wall that he found the most bizarre solution imaginable, taking a ridiculous stab at doing something outlandish that had just the slightest chance of emerging as – great. Forget about how one feels about the film itself – imagine yourself being paid a hefty amount of money by Columbia Pictures to adapt a book about flowers and handing in a screenplay where you are the main character and your subject takes a back seat to your neurosis in wrestling said subject? Not to mention co-authoring your WGA registered script with another person – your brother – who is also fictionalized in the film and, as it turns out, does not exist in real life. The best part of all this for me was when Mr. Kaufman’s screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award and at the Oscar competition ceremony, the fake name of Donald Kaufman, along with the real Charlie Kaufman, was read by actress Marcia Gay Harden from the stage of the Kodak Theatre to millions of viewers worldwide. Now that’s adaptation on all levels – and in the best, most insurgent way.

This is not the case with Gone, Girl – a not particularly innovative film that by most accounts is a very faithful adaptation of a best-selling novel that purports to tell the tale of modern day marriage by employing the filmic conventions of suspense and neo-noir while ultimately cloaking it all in a sort of 2014 media world of 24/7 meta reality. For those looking for a take on the latter, I would suggest a film done almost 20 years prior – Gus Van Sant’s To Die For (1995) – which has its flaws but at the very least took a fresh and much more unusual approach to the subject. Or better yet, a brilliantly funny cable movie, The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom, starring Holly Hunter in an unforgettable, Emmy Award-winning performance. Yes, it’s a matter of taste. I know that. But to not call it as you see it when the whole world seems to be proclaiming it an entirely different way, would be to betray everything I believe in. After all, if nothing else I am still a baby boomer. On the tail end, that is.

Yes... I agree... something IS missing

Yes… I agree… something IS missing

For the record, one’s view of any movie or work of art is certainly nothing more or less than a matter of opinion. Clearly, there is no real right or wrong. But when one aspires to merely adapt rather than innovate – or more dangerously sees them as the same thing – we run the risk of losing the rarity of something truly fantastic. Standing on my crumbling soapbox of flower power I proclaim to the world that Gone Girl is not even close to being the latter. And note – this is nothing personal to the filmmakers.   I’m sure one-on-one I would likely enjoy the company of the entire cast and crew, even if they would each prefer to take me to the woodshed – or simply tune me out. But I’m used to that. After all, I have been in a relationship for 27 years where the latter simply becomes an occasional fact of life – on both sides. And unlike what’s presented in Gone Girl it doesn’t mean marital destruction – it actually ensures relationship survival.

If you’re single or perhaps simply despise marriage metaphors, let me put it another way with a brief excerpt from one of the wisest films that I know – The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A heated exchange between transvestite/resident mad scientist, Dr. Frank –N –Furter and his surly, crazy-haired maid, Magenta, finally and inevitably concludes this way:

Magenta: I ask for nothing, Master.

Frank: And you shall receive it…..IN ABUNDANCE!!

Interestingly enough, those lines came from an adapted screenplay.