Labor of Love

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There’s something so damn ingratiating and infectious about people who love the work that they do and excel at it.

For instance, did you ever go to a restaurant where the waiter treats you like a guest at their home and through sheer force of will and great food manages to make you feel happier than you have all day? How about a classroom where the teacher is so animated you are suddenly fascinated by a subject that you previously would have walked twelve long miles to avoid? Sometimes it’s even a film, TV show or performer putting you under such a spell that you actually forget to check your email, texts or any other form of social media messages for more than two whole hours.

Well, I’m here to tell you singer-songwriter Jason Mraz is exactly that infectious, excellent and just so damned ingratiating whenever he’s performing onstage.

The Chair's attempt at concert photography (call is the Blue period)

The Chair’s attempt at concert photography (call it the Blue period)

Don’t think I’m going all corny on you in either the messaging or the Mraz-ing. Yeah, even Mr. Mraz knows the cynical wrap about him always being Mr. Hippie Positivity and one of the first things he does in his shows is confess that he has more than his share of dark, depressing thoughts daily. But his work, as he sees it, is to take exactly what he’s feeling and make it into something artistic that maybe he, and in turn you and I, can feel good about.

Now, if that’s not a Labor Day weekend message, what is?

I had originally planned to write about the challenges of being part of a minority group this weekend, touching on the uprising of the Black community in Ferguson, MO over the police shooting of an unarmed 17-year-old boy. This would then be tied into the negative blowback Modern Family actress Sofia Vergara received from so many women (and the men who love them) across America for her willingness to flaunt her shimmying body on a 360-degree revolving platform at the Emmy awards. Which would lead into the chastisement I got from certain quarters for supporting her “subversion” of the Latina stereotype in a blog post here last week. This would all then culminate in how whether your minority is Black, Latin or gay like me (Note: I was even going to try to get the Middle East, Israel, Iraq and Isis in there) – the prejudice and marginalization are all various iterations of the same exact issue that, until recognized, will prevent us all from ever truly moving forward as a race, a culture or a planet.

Wow... that's a lot.

Wow… that’s a lot.

I’ll bet now you’re happy that 1. all we’re doing is talking about Jason Mraz and 2. I happened to see him at a two-hour plus concert in Hollywood this weekend.

Except, it’s not quite as simple as that.

Mr. Mraz is one of the few of us lucky enough to have figured out how to merge his job with his passion. It may be difficult to think of him as a worker on Labor Day because he is so wealthy, famous and talented at the relatively young age of 37. Not only is he not in the 47% along with most of the rest of us, he’s in the very elite subset of the upper, upper 1%. The .001% Or the .00001%? I haven’t seen his bank account but two Grammy awards, a 5 and a half acre organic avocado farm near San Diego, a joint ownership in the hugely successful Gratitude Cafe restaurants, one of the most enduring hit singles to ever stay on Billboard’s top 100 chart (76 weeks) and a never-ending concert tour schedule of venues all over the world indicate he’s doing more than okay. Not to mention, his goal to be #RetiredAt40 and spend most of the rest of his time farming – or at least slowing down from the star musician’s life he has carved out for himself over the last decade.

Farmlife with Mr. Mraz

Farmlife with Mr. Mraz

And yet – at essence he’s really just a worker. The fact that he’s treated as something more than that lies at our doorstep– not his. #ThinkAboutIt.

As a writer and a performer on the concert stage whose work has also been seen on television and in the movies, Mr. Mraz is at the very least a member of several or more show business labor unions. But even if he weren’t there is no denying he is an American worker and laborer – that is to say someone who contributes goods and/or services to society and whose efforts should be celebrated. Especially when it’s done exceedingly well.

So, how does one rise to the level of elite worker, which is not the same as asking – how do I become rich and famous? The latter is a byproduct of the profession one chooses to work at, one’s talents and a lot of timing and luck. (Note: And don’t let anyone else tell you any differently).

Well, since he’s obviously on my mind, let’s use Mr. Mraz as an example and have his actions tell us.

ATTITUDE

Well... which one is it?

Well… which one is it?

You’d think hard work would be the number one value here but the ability to work hard really begins with your attitude. One of the lessons students get from me when they arrive in L.A. for a semester to do internships in the entertainment industry is that the people you work with will innately know whether you enjoy working there or not. This does not mean that every working moment of your day is a joy or a pleasure or even easy. What it does mean is that somewhere inside you want to dig in and get the job done or you wouldn’t be there in the first place. And whether you’re tired or in a bad mood, once you get going a certain pride in doing what you like takes over and you get caught up in the moment of putting time into a job to the best of your abilities in the given moments you have chosen to put in that day.

Mr. Mraz has mastered this. There’s a joy in his eyes when he performs. When he screws up the lyrics or a technical element of his show doesn’t work, he laughs it off or makes fun of himself. He’s planned out his program but he’s willing to improvise and engage his fellow musicians and his audience even if it means extending the length of his show. Instead of phoning in his performance or duplicating his recordings in front of you, there’s an easiness that assures you that you are in good hands and are about to see something unique because he never does any one song in exactly the same way. In other words, he doesn’t make you feel like he’s doing you a big, fat favor by being there because he wants to be there.

There are only a handful of performers out of the many that I’ve seen live that have the ability to do this. Bruce Springsteen is one. Perhaps surprisingly, the Grateful Dead were another. Bette Midler in her early days was a third. They make you feel as if there is nowhere they’d rather be than doing their work for you when they’re doing that thing they do so well. There’s a spring in their step. And it’s infectious.

WORK ETHIC

Noted writer and social scientist Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his best seller, Outliers, it takes approximately 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to become an expert in your field. Since there are about 8,765 hours in a year and most people put in approximately 2,080 hours at a full time job, this means it takes in the neighborhood of 5-10 years to become any kind of expert in your field.   Other researches have expressed these thoughts though none of them guarantee that expertise will equal financial success or worldwide recognition.

How many hours are you up to?

How many hours have you put in?

It may not be surprising then that for every album released, Mr. Mraz has an estimated 70 leftover songs. This certainly wouldn’t come as a shocker to any writer or observer of pop culture or even dedicated worker of any kind. In fact, Bruce Springsteen himself, flaunting a thick dog-eared songwriting notebook on 60 Minutes some years ago, expressed similar thoughts. The problem is that an expert worker who does what they do well is revealing their final product to you in its most polished form. And when it’s that clear and well done it’s hard to believe it could’ve taken so many other discarded efforts to get to that place.

In Mr. Mraz’s case, this is quite reassuring to me since his seemingly infinite abilities at unforced rhyming and clever world play appear so natural that one assumes they had to be tossed off in numerous fits of immediate, savant-like inspiration. #HeMustBeLackingInOtherAreas.

A LIFE

After all, you gotta share the guacamole with someone!

After all, you gotta share the guacamole with someone!

I once had the false notion that to be that good at what you do took a single-mindedness that precluded anything else in the universe. Meaning that if you were an artist you locked yourself up in a dank room where someone put a tray of gruel outside your door (or you simply found some in a filthy refrigerator) and you were let out only to eat and shower for half an hour spurts each day before being shoved back in and locked up again. A personal life? Travelling? Leisure time connection with family and friends? Are you kidding? Oh no, there’s plenty of time for that later. Maybe. Once all this important stuff is done and I have the chance.

Great workers know this is completely wrong. They might be dedicated and they likely work long hours. But most have some engagement with the world or they could never rise to the levels that they do. In order to be a master inventor or executor of any craft you have to engage with the task and the world it inhabits. And since nothing in the universe exists in a vacuum this means – yeah, you have to participate and get out from behind the locked door.

I don’t know Mr. Mraz and certainly don’t expect any kind of kickback from his manager. Nor do I think every single song or task he takes on is perfection. What I have noticed though is that he has a life. He shows video from his tour to Antarctica, his farm in Bonsall (near San Diego – and it’s not “glamorous”) and frequently appears at benefits for underprivileged youths and the environment. He’s an avid vegan and yoga enthusiast but admits to loving weed and formerly adoring Mimosas and cigarettes. Plus, he’s had lots of girlfriends and more than a few long-term relationships (Note: I had to throw this in because, well…I had to).

Hiss and boo the sixties hippie mentality all you want. But they were THE SIXTIES for a reason.

GENEROSITY

Two is better than one

Two is better than one

No, we did not cover this under the previous Life section. At this weekend’s concert Mr. Mraz spent a huge chunk of his time promoting and sharing the stage with a group of four talented female musicians called Raining Jane, who co-wrote all of the songs on his just released current CD, Yes. I highly recommend the CD. It’s clever, smart and uplifting. It will make you happy, especially in moments when you don’t want to be. You will not want to give in to it but if you keep listening you will. Really good work does this. It wins you over.

Here are some of the song titles: Love Someone, Back to the Earth and Shine. Tell me you don’t want to loathe what you perceive to be sugary and saccharine in our quite ironic world. And…how is that working for you?

I might have had similar feelings, though perhaps not quite as strong, before I took a listen and then attended the show. Not surprisingly JM and Raining Jane took seven years to finish the CD, many of whose songs are performed live on the current 35-city tour. The results of the time and care taken to put it all together show and they just might surprise you.

Of course, that’s what great work and workers do. Every time.

Once again, Mr. Mraz and company are not paying me for what I’m saying. Nor should any of you feel obligated to.

It’s all part of the job I do here.

As the Emmy Turns

Occasionally the Chair must break from his weekly posts to address up-to-the-minute breaking news… and sometimes he just has an opinion and he can’t shut up about it. Enjoy this mid-week visit with the Chair as he spins his truth on this year’s biggest Emmy moment.

Sophia-Vergara-Emmys-Sexist

The takeaway from the Emmy Awards on Monday night is not about Breaking Bad deservedly sweeping in almost all of its major categories. Nor is it the fact that Emmy stalwarts such as Modern Family, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss (Veep), Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory), Allison Janney (Mom, Masters of Sex and previously West Wing) continue to dominate in all of theirs.

It’s not even that the presumed-to-be sure-fire dramatic TV-movie winner of the year – The Normal Heart – was snubbed in all of its categories until the very end.

Oh Matt, we're trying!

Oh Matt, we’re trying!

And no – it certainly is not that the usually smart, glib and poised in just-the-right-way host Seth Meyers delivered an unusually static set of jokes that made him and the entire show seem a bit off its game.

What it is all about are three minutes and one half minutes of special material that fell flat. And…

Sofia Vergara.

Who knew that the funny and beautiful actress from Colombia who became a gigantic American television star by playing a beautiful and funny woman from Colombia on the Television Academy’s favorite situation comedy of the last five years (see above) would be so heavily chastised, shamed and otherwise criticized for participating in a comedy bit where she played a beautiful and funny woman from Colombia on television?

Life is strange.

Clearly, many people do not feel comfortable with or understand that Ms. Vergara’s success is based on the idea that publicly she ALWAYS plays the part of a beautiful and funny woman from Colombia. And that despite what the writers name her in whatever venue she presents herself, that persona is ultimately always named Sofia Vergara and has as much or as little to do with the real her as… well… only she knows for sure.

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

But here’s what we should all know: that is what actors do.

For those unfamiliar with the segment, Ms. Vergara strutted out clad in her usual body-hugging garment and speaking in her exaggeratedly extreme Latin accent (Note: As thick as Fran Drescher’s but evoking Colombia rather than Flushing, Queens – the latter being my home town). After explaining to the audience that she came to America with the same big dreams of many young women her age– to be on a stage as big as the one she was standing on at the Emmys – she then disappointedly noted that this also relegated her to the duty of only being able to introduce from that very stage Television Academy president Bruce Rosenblum.

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Quickly making his entrance and taking away center stage was Mr. Rosenblum, who if nothing else is Central Casting’s version of what most everyone around the world imagines television executives to be. Which is to generously say that he is not at all a performer or else he’d hire himself and his colleagues instead of paying actors like Ms. Vergara millions and millions and millions of more millions of dollars each year.

This also appeared evident as Mr. Rosenblum took the reigns of what now promised to be on ongoing routine and asked Ms. Vergara to stand on a rotating podium center stage – not unlike that of a real-life version of an actual Emmy – and demonstrate for the audience the meaningful impact American television has around the world.

As Mr. Rosenblum blathered on about something to do with charitable foundations, diverse audiences and more devices and platforms than ever before, the spotlight was on the 360-degree view of Ms. Vergara as she slowly rotated and milked every single moment of the routine with all the skills of the multi-Emmy nominated comic actress that she is. Let us just say Ms. Vergara held nothing back in terms of “body language” and this made the routine far more or less amusing depending on who you were or what your point of view was or is. Especially when Mr. Rosenblum concluded television’s success is always about great storytelling and giving viewers something compelling to watch.

I will admit to being amused by Ms. Vergara and how willing she was to poke fun at her sexpot image and pose as some living statue of – something – while a boring man – who stood in for all of the many boring men I pictured watching at home – talked on obliviously about stuff no one really wanted to listen to despite his determination to continue boring them. I mean, isn’t this something that most guys, including myself (and maybe even at this moment) routinely do?

That is not the way many of the women close to me, or the tens of thousands of other people on Twitter and various alternative platforms and devices, viewed it, however. Charges of TV Academy sexism quickly abounded, celebs like Katie Couric voiced their disapproval, and pundits much more powerful and wider read than myself posted think pieces and visual aids about feminist representation. Most also mentioned the irony that some moments after Ms. Vergara exited, Julianna Marguiles accepted a best actress Emmy in a speech that boasted how we are currently living in a “golden age of television ” in terms of roles for women.

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It’s difficult to know what to think of all of this and clearly impossible to prove those thoughts since this is all about a matter that is subjective – or more rightly – objective-ication.   In fact, one of my female friends argued that if a gay guy were presented center stage in the stereotypical throwback way that Ms. Vergara had to endure, I’d completely change my tune. Not true, I protested. If they put Neil Patrick Harris in a speedo on that podium – the most famous and attractive out TV gay I could think of – and twirled him around as he cleverly camped on his own terms (the key word being clever) – I’d think it was funny. But not if some random gay reality TV show guy who was not as funny or quick as Mr. Harris (Note: Take your pick) tried it. There’s a difference.

Unless it's this reality show gay, in which case, MORE BILLY PLEASE

Unless it’s this reality show gay, in which case, MORE BILLY PLEASE

Well, that didn’t work. They didn’t believe me. And really, how do I absolutely know for sure? All I was probably thinking about was seeing Neil Patrick Harris in a speedo on a podium. Which, in a strangely symbolic way, is how all of this began.

I guess it’s all about choice and history and perspective. And who or what you find funny. Though what do I know: for my money, Amy Poehler and Lena Dunham are the best comic actresses on TV – not Julia-Louis Dreyfuss. Not to mention Louis C. K. and Andre Braugher make me laugh a hell of a lot more than Jim Parsons or Ty Burrell.

This is a very long way of saying – what’s funny to me may not be funny to you. And, vice-versa. And it may very well be offensive to somebody. Hopefully.

 

Manic Emmy Monday

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The Emmy Awards broadcast has been moved to Monday instead of Sunday night this year so as not to have to compete with football???   Great. We’re already pissed off. And admit it, so are you. With that being the case let’s get back at the people who invited you to predict the winners for their damned Emmy pool begin with. Let’s win this thing.

The pitfalls: For some reason, the Emmys are the trickiest of all the awards shows to predict. Is it the blue ribbon panels? Or just because in this much lauded new golden decade of television there are a wealth of riches? Neither. It’s just ALWAYS been a minefield. Individual episodes, scenes and clips are watched by various groups to many varied effects. And there are sooo many categories!!! (Note: To be said with a whine). Soooooo. Mannnnny. Categor-iiieeeeeeeeeesssss. Boy, are these #FirstWorldProblems.

Still, none of this prevents us from handing out our free predictions or getting on the inevitably indignant soapbox if even one of our perceived deserving recipients does not emerge victorious. Yes, it’s on. Consider yourself served, Emmy-ly. You unpredictably elusive hag, you.

Preach Tina!

Preach Tina!

Feel free to consult any of these below for the requisite awards pool you might be pressured to participate in on Monday night that we have already decided you will win with our help. But remember – just as William Goldman once said about the film industry – Nobody knows anything – the same pretty much goes here. Though, well – we do have our favorites and we have noticed a few (non-test) Patterns.

Outstanding Lead Actor, Drama

All hail Heisenberg

All hail Heisenberg

The Nominees: Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Woody Harrelson (True Detective), Matthew McConaughey (True Detective), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)

Winner:  Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)

The last awards run for Walter White’s alter ego. He IS the danger.

Loser: Matthew McConaughey (True Detective)

All right, all right, all right, he’s on awards fire. But do enough Emmy voters want to see him do another speech after he compared himself to Jesus at the Oscars? We think not. That said we here at NFAC are true MM fans and were amazed at the depth and intensity he brought to True Detective. But this is about who will be voted the winner. Both he and fellow cast mate Woody Harrelson will split what might have been one winning entry.

As for the rest in the field, they are all potential winners in another year but not this time out. Yes, we’re talking to you, Hammboat.

DId someone say Jon Hamm boat?

Did someone say Jon Hamm boat?

Outstanding Lead Actress, Drama

I solemnly sweat to take this Emmy home

I solemnly sweat to take this Emmy home

The Nominees: Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex), Claire Danes (Homeland), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife), Kerry Washington (Scandal), Robin Wright (House of Cards)

Winner:  Claire Danes (Homeland)

You try playing a bipolar CIA double trouble agent convincingly and then get back to us. This past season was perhaps not as stellar but Danes’ Carrie was in as great a form as ever.

Loser: Robin Wright (House of Cards)

Who knew years after winning America’s heart as the love of Forrest Gump’s life that RW could play such a fascinating, duplicitous….and we’re not revealing any more. She’s won the reviews but will likely not get the pointy statuette. Some think Kerry Washington will for the network water cooler show of the year – Scandal. But we’re not one of them.

Outstanding Supporting Actor, Drama

One last chance at glory

One last chance at glory

The Nominees: Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Jim Carter (Downton Abbey), Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Josh Charles (The Good Wife), Mandy Patinkin (Homeland), Jon Voight (Ray Donovan)

Winner:  Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)

This is our final chance to say it: He’s gotta win — BITCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Loser: Jon Voight (Ray Donovan)

We admit that it is probably more likely that Mr. Voight will walk away with the Emmy this year for his in your face, annoying portrait of the crazed former/present mobster from hell father. But he made us quit Ray Donovan after the first season because we couldn’t take watching that character one moment longer. So he will not be voted onstage in our survey. Bitch. The rest of the guys will get another chance, except for Josh Charles. But he wasn’t going to win, anyway. Bitch.  #bitchbitchbitchbitchbitch.

Outstanding Supporting Actress, Drama

Bringing us to our knees

Bringing us to our knees

The Nominees: Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad), Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey), Lena Headey (Game of Thrones), Christine Baranski (The Good Wife), Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey)

Winner: Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad)

After suffering through the trials and tribulations of Walter White for what must have felt like twelve eternities, Ms. Gunn’s Skyler deserves the Emmy for her final hurrah. And her last season was probably her best. She wins for the second year in a row – in a walk.

Loser:  No one really comes in a close second. Except – uh, no. No one.

Outstanding Lead Actor, Comedy

You can't help but love this guy

You can’t help but love this guy

The Nominees: Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), Ricky Gervais (Derek), Matt LeBlanc (Episodes), Don Cheadle (House of Lies), Louis C.K. (Louie), William H. Macy (Shameless)

Winner:  Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory)

Surprised? Don’t be. He’s won three times and last year he was denied by Jon Cryer in Two and a Half Men. They love to award commercial success in this category but only if the actor is really great in the role. The rest of the guys all shine but all do various versions of comedy/drama.

Loser: William H. Macy (Shameless) is now competing in the comedy category in this role for the first time. He might be a spoiler. But don’t bank on it.

Outstanding Lead Actress, Comedy

There's hope for Knope

There’s hope for Knope

The Nominees: Lena Dunham (Girls), Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep), Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly), Amy Poehler (Parks & Recreation), Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black)

Winner: Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)

Who doesn’t want to see her win for the first time and give a kick ass speech? Plus, does Julia Louis-Dreyfuss even want to get up there again and figure out a way to be humble for the umpteenth time?

Loser:  We at NFAC think Lena Dunham is giving the most original, gutsy, unvarnished performance in all of TV land. She deserves the Emmy but, well, life isn’t always fair – as she and Hannah Horvath would likely agree.

Outstanding Supporting Actor, Comedy

He's good... and he knows it.

He’s good… and he knows it.

The Nominees: Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine Nine), Adam Driver (Girls), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Ty Burrell (Modern Family), Fred Armisen (Portlandia), Tony Hale (Veep)

Winner: Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine Nine)

He’s really funny and anchors every episode in whatever believability it has. Watch the show and try to disagree.

Loser: Everyone else. And for all the Adam Driver fans – us included – yeah, he deserves it but his career is gonna be so stratospheric you’ll look at this minor glitch in the road one day and laugh that you even cared.

Outstanding Supporting Actress, Comedy

Emmy royalty

Emmy royalty

The Nominees: Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory), Julie Bowen (Modern Family), Allison Janney (Mom), Kate Mulgrew (Orange is the New Black), Kate McKinnon (SNL), Anna Chlumsky (Veep)

Winner: Allison Janney (Mom)

How many Emmy’s has she been awarded? Well, already one this year for her guest spot on Masters of Sex. And approximately 17 more for West Wing. This will be another.   It’s tough to make an alcoholic mom believable in the half hour format – very tough. She pulls stuff like this off – which is why she gives so many speeches on TV in the first place.

Loser: Everyone else in terms of this Emmy. Though we do wish that SNL’s Kate McKinnon could pull an upset. That poor Russian lady she does on Weekend Update was one of the show’s highlights this year.

In my country, you can trade Emmy for many goats

In my country, you can trade Emmy for many goats

Outstanding Writing, Drama

The Nominees: Breaking Bad “Ozymandias” (AMC), Breaking Bad “Felina” (AMC), Game of Thrones “The Children” (HBO), House of Cards “Chapter 14” (Netflix), True Detective “The Secret Fate of All Life” (HBO)

Winner: Breaking Bad “Felina”

We can’t help feel that one of the best series finale in recent memory (or ever) has to win best writing. Doesn’t it?

Farewell you crazy bastard

Farewell you crazy bastard

Loser: All of the others. But they were still excellent. Well, what else do you expect a writer who respects good writing to say?

Outstanding Writing, Comedy

The Nominees: Episodes “Episode 305” (HBO), Louie “So Did The Fat Lady” (FX), Orange is the New Black “I Wasn’t Ready (Pilot)” (Netflix), Silicon Valley “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency (HBO), Veep “Special Relationship” (HBO)

Winner:  Orange is the New Black (Pilot)

It’s got the buzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Also, it feels as if this is the sure thing category to award what has become one of the new cultural TV touchstones of the moment – from Netflix. Or do we exaggerate?

Memories of binges past

Memories of binges past

Loser: No writers who get screen credit on series television are losers, fool. #Residuals.

 Outstanding Miniseries

Dontchaknow

Dontchaknow

The Nominees: American Horror Story: Coven (FX), Bonnie and Clyde (Lifetime), Fargo (FX), Luther (BBC America), Treme (HBO), The White Queen (Starz)

Winner:  Fargo (FX)

We have to admit we have barely watched but our spies tell us it’s a shoe-in. Plus, everyone loves a Billy Bob villain.

Loser: American Horror Story. It will have to be satisfied with the fact that it is THE most consistently entertaining show on TV.   #KathyBatesAngelaBassettJessicaLange?

Outstanding Television Movie

Emmy darling

Emmy darling

The Nominees: Killing Kennedy (National Geographic), Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight (HBO), The Normal Heart (HBO), Sherlock: His Last Vow (PBS), The Trip to the Bountiful (Lifetime)

Winner: The Normal Heart (HBO)

Every gay man in America will bitch out the Emmys if this does not happen. And no one in the television academy wants to have to deal with that.

Loser: They all lose because this is THE LOCK of the evening.

Outstanding Variety Series

Does he really need to take over for Dave?

Does he really need to take over for Dave?

The Nominees: The Colbert Report (Comedy Central), The Daily Show (Comedy Central), Jimmy Kimmel Live (ABC), Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO), Saturday Night Live (NBC), The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (NBC)

Winner:  The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)

He makes what’s so tough seem soooo easy. Plus, it’s Stephen’s last time before he goes from the small to the big stage? Or is it the other way around?

Loser: Can we or thee really call any of those other guys and shows losers? Think about it a minute or two more.

Outstanding Comedy

Girlz Rule

Girlz Rule

The Nominees: The Big Bang Theory (CBS), Louie (FX), Modern Family (ABC), Orange is the New Black (Netflix), Silicon Valley (HBO), Veep (HBO)

Winner: Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)

It’s really not the best comedy on television but it’s got that thing going for it. You know that thing — the spotlight. Now it is possible voters might want to go for a true comedy, as they sometimes do here. In that case, your guess is as good as ours.

Loser: Louie (FX).

He’s an original and there are so few. As for Big Bang Theory – it has never won the best comedy series Emmy award because as some wise industry wag once told me decades ago: You don’t get to have money AND great reviews. They just won’t give you both anymore. (NOTE: I never did get out of this person just who the “they” was).

Outstanding Drama

No time to look back

No time to look back

The Nominees: Breaking Bad (AMC), Downton Abbey (PBS), Game of Thrones (HBO), House of Cards (Netflix), Mad Men (AMC), True Detective (HBO)

Winner: Breaking Bad (AMC)

Do you really want a reason? Or an argument?

Loser: True Detective (HBO).

Despite the lulls in some of the episode, it was truly something different – an existential, philosophy-driven cop show told by varying symbolic imagery in shifting time periods. Only one other show can beat that. And will.

Depression ≠ Creativity

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I wasn’t going to write about Robin Williams’ death. I mean, do we need one more person weighing in about the actions of someone we were convinced we knew but had never met? But then I thought rather than exploitation this could be an opportunity.

Here’s the dirty little secret about creativity and depression:

It is not true that most artists are depressed nor is it true that one has to suffer to be an artist of any kind. This is a bill of goods we’re usually sold in countless books, plays and movies.

However, what I’ve found through decades of doing creative work is that many depressed people use creativity as an outlet and that many of these people seek to make their living in the entertainment industry. Therefore, it is more than likely that one would come across more individuals battling depression who are in the biz than say – plumbers or dentists or garage mechanics. Not that these professions don’t have their share of people who have battled all kinds of illnesses, including depression.

I am someone who has battled depression on and off for most of my life and only came to fully realize the full extent of that ongoing battle less than a decade ago. Prior to that I just considered myself to be a person who was overly sensitive and prone to sadness. A lot. And usually in private. Not that I didn’t have the capacity to be happy. I did – do. But when the “sadness” kicked in, there was no telling how long it would last, in what way it would manifest itself or the amount of time it would take for me to “choose” to snap out of it.

Living in the shadows

Living in the shadows

Depression is an insidious illness… condition… or whatever you want to call it. And is quite different from mere sadness. In an explanation that is as good as any that I’ve read, a writer friend of mine who went back to school to become a therapist – and is clearly a good one – posted this in the aftermath of Mr. Williams’ death:

Depression is not sadness. Sadness is a rich, deep emotion that is full of life and heart and feeling. Depression is a bleak, numb, overwhelming sense of emptiness and nothingness. It is psychologically painful and can be physically painful. It can be enormously debilitating and can cause one to lose hope.

Certainly, there’s more. My therapist friend followed this explanation by urging people not to lose hope or hurt themselves but instead reach out to the many people and places in the world ready and willing to help.

Of course, many depressed people have done this and have not seen immediate results. Or have gotten better only to relapse. Yet that is the case for numerous conditions and illnesses – from metastatic cancer to the aggravated sciatica nerve you pull out in your back or side. (Note: Yes, I am currently the “you” in the latter category).   So why do so many of us, including quite often the actual person who is clinically depressed, eventually tire and want to just shake a depressive endlessly until they finally agree to cheer up and thus snap out of it?!

Not going to work.. no matter how hard Cher slaps!

Not going to work.. no matter how hard Cher slaps!

Well, that’s one of the challenges here. Almost everybody, including the patient involved, finally tires of this condition and reacts to it in his or her own individual ways. Among these is withdrawing from the hideously debilitated person – or this hideously debilitating condition – entirely. Which, as we all know, can sometimes yield the worst of outcomes.

I am not writing this to capitalize on Mr. Williams’ death nor to in any way promote myself or my issues. There are better ways to do both as anyone who surfs the web, watches television, or exposes oneself to any news source at all – including this blog – has seen. Rather it’s to reiterate it to all to myself once again. Because dealing with depression is an ongoing education that someone who has it can easily forget to reinforce since it’s so tempting to chalk it all up to just being blue, down or having a bad day.

In the process if even a line of any of this hits home, I’m happy. Well, only as happy as someone like me can be.

….C’mon, I’m only joking!   Well, sort of.

Myths and Truisms in the Arts re: Depression

1. You don’t have to suffer to do great work in either comedy or drama.

... and certainly not to paint a Starry Night

… and certainly not to paint a Starry Night

There’s a way to get in touch with your emotions and not get sucked down with them. You can’t truly, as a writer, present a situation in a thoroughly depressed state anyway. In fact Mr. Williams himself recalled, according to his L.A. Times obit, an acting teacher who years ago once scolded him for being “too vulnerable” in his emotional scene work in class.

Dear boy, said Mr. Williams imitating the teacher in a thick British accent, that was a lovely scene. And your emotions — there was so much of them! But it’s a bit like urinating in brown corduroy pants. You feel wonderful, but we see nothing.

This is not to say that great writers, actors, singers and many other creative people do not tap into deep personal feelings in what they do and remain unaffected. But they also need a bit of distance in order to see the entire reality of what they’re creating. This is a near impossible feat for a person in the throes of clinical depression. And for those few superhuman souls who can surmount the odds and continue to function, it becomes a dangerously slippery slope of existence that can eventually lead to far more troubling results.

2. The brains of clinically depressed people, or those who over a period of time become clinically depressed, are different than those who are non-depressed and often lead to unclear or just plain bad decision-making.

It goes beyond left vs. right

It goes beyond left vs. right

This one really got to me when I first started to do reading on the subject. You mean to say when you’re depressed your brain is literally offor rewired from what it once was if this condition develops over a period of time??? How can that be? Well, rather than me explaining it, take it from the experts we’ve imbedded here.

Expert 1

Expert 2

Expert 3

Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand it when someone else tells me to do something I don’t want to do – or deal with an issue I know is wise to avoid. ESPECIALLY, when they tell me it’s for my own good, and MOST ESPECIALLY when they’re right. So finding out that what you 100% think or know you feel deep inside your brain or even soul might not always be the result of clear thinking is, well…let’s say it’s particularly daunting.   Yet in retrospect I realize that my past attitude and behavior towards my own foibles in this area were not unlike the extremely drunk/stoned friend or family member who is utterly convinced they are well enough to drive themselves and you home from their ex-fiancée’s wedding.   Certainly, I would not get in the car with that person. But what happens if you are that person? You can’t stubbornly pretend you don’t have the problem and you certainly can’t always depend on being saved by the actions of someone else you will most certainly choose to ignore if you want a favorable outcome.

3. Art can be great therapy for your mental woes but the entertainment industry does not have a ton to do with art.

It gets hot under those lights...

It gets hot under those lights…

Yes there are elements of it but, on the whole, there is quite a bit more to the biz than that. This makes it quite challenging for artists prone to depression who, we’ve established in #2, certainly don’t want to be told how to live their lives or even what to do by others.

This being the case there are certain questions it helps to ask oneself. Is all your self-esteem entirely tied up with the results of what you do in art and/or the biz? Do you think you’re nothing without a certain kind of attention or success? Are others able to roll with the punches while all you want to do is punch yourself – and repeatedly – when things don’t go exactly your way? A yes answer does not necessarily mean you are clinically depressed but it is also not a sign that you are in a healthy mental state. Consider what active, healthy steps you can take right now to begin to change your mental state. (Note: The correct answer is not always getting a deal, the role or the sale).

and believe me... this doesn't help either.

and believe me… this doesn’t help either.

By the way, it is particularly worth noting that everyone’s artistic career eventually ebbs and flows in popularity, financial success and output. Do an imdb or Wikipedia search of any great “star.” You’ll see many more ups and downs that you imagined. This is particularly true the longer you’re in the game. What is also true is that given advances in medical science there are any number of individuals in their seventies and eighties still doing great work. But with many more failures in their pasts than successes you have in your present. It’s all about how you and your brain decide to look at it.

4. Just because a depressed person is momentarily cheered up by material stuff, or love (in whatever form) or even– dare I say it – faith – does not mean they are cured. Or even okay. What the outside world sees of an individual is not necessarily the inside reality.

What's on the outside doesn't always show you what's underneath

What’s on the outside doesn’t always show you what’s underneath

This truism seems particularly confusing in the case of Mr. Williams. How does someone so jovial, so loved, so successful and recognized, and so wealthy, succumb to….that? It’s complicated. And deceptive. And notoriously elusive in understanding. I hate homilies like don’t judge a book by it’s cover but one of the great ironies of life is that there is more than a grain of truth to even the most overused cliché. If you don’t believe me, go over this list and see how many you really disagree with.

5. Medical care for a mood disorder does not blunt one’s creativity. Nor is it cheating or taking the easy way out. If administered properly it makes the person even more of who they are destined to be. Plus, it can significantly change the course of a drowning person’s life by, in many instances, saving that life.

Remember this is what they are made for!

Remember this is what they are made for!

No one really wants to slow down or admit they have problems of any kind – especially publicly – whether it’s to your friends and family or on the national stage. Not to mention that there are strange moments of really intense and intoxicating emotions associated with these problems that can be oddly difficult to part with.

Still, the chances of controlling any major illness alone without some qualified outside help are about as good as Michelle Bachman successfully running a PFLAG meeting in West Hollywood (Note: Not that we’d need one here). Meaning – it will not end well and any bookie would take that bet.

A parting Note:

Mr. Styron

Mr. Styron

One of our greatest novelists of the 20th century was a man named William Styron. Among other achievements, he won the National Book award for writing the acclaimed 1979 best-seller Sophie’s Choice, an epic story made into a memorable film starring Meryl Streep in the title role for which she won her first best actress Oscar. Mr. Styron later chronicled his 1985 plunge into a near fatal clinical depression and then his successful battle back in Darkness Visible, an exquisite 1990 memoir.

Here is how he chronicled the illness in an article for Vanity Fair.

The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne. The prevention of many suicides will continue to be hindered until there is a general awareness of the nature of this pain. Through the healing process of time—and through medical intervention or hospitalization in many cases—most people survive depression, which may be its only blessing; but to the tragic legion who are compelled to destroy themselves there should be no more reproof attached than to the victims of terminal cancer.

Mr. Styron could not have been in the best of moods when he wrote Sophie’s Choice – one of the most brilliant and disturbing books of the 20th century – but he was most certainly not in the throes of clinical depression. If he had been, he never could have had the wherewithal to produce such a masterwork. And had he not sought and received treatment after the escalation of his condition in 1985, he would never have been able to write the concise 88 page memoir five years later that grew out of a talk he was asked to give on the subject to doctors at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine after he had recovered. His work and these events all helped usher in a new contemporary understanding of the disease.

This is something to think about for artists and non-artists, depressed as well as non-depressed, people alike.

Your Evil Empire

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 2.05.57 PM

I received an email the other day that the Center Theatre Group will be presenting the first ever L.A. production of David Mamet’s 2009 Broadway play, Race, at the end of the month. Now, normally when there’s a new (or even newish) Mamet I’m there. Even if the play doesn’t quite work for me, Mamet’s a master provocateur and always writes about stuff that either interests me greatly or fascinates me deeply, albeit from a safe distance.

Yet I found myself physically recoiling at the idea of giving Mr. Mamet even one nickel since he’s turned into a right wing conservative and gone on a diatribe against brain dead Hollywood liberals. Not that I’m in an upper enough tier of Hollywood to even be considered as such but, well, I do live here, am a writer and most certainly am and always will be a LIBERAL.

Oh honey, going on Fox News... really?

Oh honey, going on Fox News… really?

By the way, many friends of my parents’ assured me this would change as I got older but it has not yet occurred – nor do I ever expect it to. Perhaps this is because when they said it they didn’t realize I was gay and thus failed to take into account the unlikelihood of me ever belonging to a political party that legislatively hates the idea that I exist. Well, what else am I to think when the overwhelming majority of the literature and leading voices from the Republican Party – an umbrella coven for conservatives that comprises one half of all major political covens parties (that would be two) in the U.S. – throw a major temper tantrum every time a new law is amended or passed guaranteeing me the same rights as everyone else?

Of course, what are they and any of us to make of the approximately 1 out of 5 LGBT Americans who still belong to said coven and, when confronted with the paradox, claim to be working for change from within? How do I know they answer this way? Well, that’s the response I’ve gotten for approximately 25 years of asking the question calmly. If any other excuses were offered I was probably seething, yelling or being physically restrained from strangulation (Note: theirs) at the time so I might not have heard them.

The gospel according to Kathy

The gospel according to Kathy

But back to Mr. Mamet and the five pennies of royalties (I’m estimating the amount based on his shelf full of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for drama) he will not be getting from me this time.

I do realize I am being a bit short sighted here. I mean, how are any of us to rectify our political and social points of view with our choices as consumers? For instance, I vowed I would never ever buy Barilla pasta again since last year their CEO proclaimed gays unfit to raise children — and haven’t. Yet last weekend I conveniently forgot this and a box of their multigrain rotini snuck into my basket at Gelson’s because I wanted to make something healthier and lighter for Sunday night dinner and the Significant Other wanted his favorite tomato eggplant toss to cheer him up.

Well at least after this week's news, I can go back to Target!

Well at least after this week’s news, I can go back to Target!

This summer a friend brought my attention to the website hollowverse.com, which has massive lists of the political and religious affiliations of the rich and famous in show biz and other bizzes. This dear friend, who is even more liberal than myself if such a thing is possible – and most certainly more virulently vocal about it (which doesn’t seem possible but is) – will do whatever is necessary to avoid the work of any single person on the list who voted against his beliefs. And if they do appear in or make something he does have an interest in seeing or buying he will be begrudgingly hard on them and their work now and in the future – voicing his disdain for them to whoever he meets – meaning many, many, many people. I can’t say I haven’t done this and still don’t continue to do so at times. On the other hand, I find it quite tiring at other moments and just want to turn it all off and put on HGTV – a place where no one has politics and everyone advocates for an open concept, or at least secretly longs for one.

Gay or straight I think we can agree this much space would be fab.

Gay or straight I think we can agree this much space would be fab.

The other problem with that website, as I pointed out to my friend, is that like all websites it markets in the occasional inaccuracy. Case in point: it lists Anderson Cooper contributing to the Republican Party and, by inference, claims he is a member of that coven.

Trust me, Anderson Cooper is NOT a Republican,! I insist to my friend.

He’s gay, he’s best friends with Kathy Griffin, and he lives in New York. Plus, I know someone who used to sleep with him (Note: Which gay guy in America doesn’t) and, well, he would have mentioned something.

When my friend still wasn’t buying it I pulled out the Trump (not Donald) card:

Listen, he’s a Vanderbilt and is probably on one of their boards that contributed and his name got attached. Seriously!

I mean... this is who he's photographed with. Let's be real, people.

I mean… this is who he’s photographed with. Let’s be real, people.

That seemed to calm him down but only slightly and I’m not sure it will hold in the long term. Unfortunately, it also got me to thinking – what if I’m wrong? Well, thank God (or whoever you imagine Her to be), AC doesn’t have a show on HGTV or I would be in serious trouble.

Of course, when Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon came out vociferously against the Iraq War in the post-9/11 climate, they were lambasted in much of the mainstream media, referred to as anti-American by many others on the fringe (Note: Is there a worse epithet from the extreme right wing except maybe being gay, poor, an immigrant or an unwed mother on food stamps?) and, as a result, their star power suffered.

Then there’s Jane Fonda – who has still not been forgiven by a group of my friends’ more conservative fathers for her virulent opposition to the Vietnam War. Forget that the years have pretty much proven all three of them correct – well at least in my unbiased left wing opinion.

But maybe looking this good at 76 should make me hate her?

But maybe looking this good at 76 should make me hate her?

Yes, we can take this further and we will. What about………………..…Woody Allen?

Do you not go to any of his movies if you believe any of the accusations hurled at him about his personal life by his estranged daughter Dylan Farrow; his ex-long term girlfriend, her mother Mia Farrow; and his estranged son, MSNBC’s Ronan (formerly Satchel) Farrow? (Note: The latter could conceivably be Frank Sinatra’s child in the final analysis, making his expertise on the subject almost beside the point, though the circumstances of his birth certainly could contribute as to whether members of any coven at all believe the accusations (or anything else) coming from the mouth of mother Mia).

Oy vey! I don't think Ronan's jewish!

Oy vey! I don’t think Ronan’s jewish!

Well, if I were a character in one of Mr. Allen’s movies I might avoid answering the question altogether and say this:

I don’t feel entirely comfortable equating Woody Allen to the artistic works of, say, Leni Riefenstahl – who filmed aesthetically seductive Nazi imagery under the protective wing of Adolph Hitler and German nationalism in the 1930s. Still, is her work on Triumph of the Will and Olympia 1 & 2 any less, well – beautiful – because what it sells is abhorrent? Can’t you admire the art while repeatedly hitting the artist with 3 dozen baseball bats and a sack of manure until she dies, you nihilist you?

I found myself making this very argument in my mind last week with all the publicity surrounding the HBO broadcast of its Nixon by Nixon – a documentary that included never released secret tapes from the former president. (Note: Yes, there were more of them). I really loathed the guy and his politics, even as a young teenager. He smeared Helen Gahagan Douglas in order to win his first seat in the US Senate; hated the free press and sought to control it; and sold the country a non-existent bill of goods about a secret plan to end the Vietnam War in order to get elected president in 1968, taking four years plus to do it as many thousands of young men died needlessly. Not to mention finally capping it all off with using an illegal financial slush fund and his vast presidential powers in order to spy on political opponents via the Watergate break-in and then lying about it, thus bringing down his presidency and almost the entire country in the process.

Happy 40th Anniversary, Dick!

Happy 40th Anniversary… DICK

Add to that the guy was a classic Jew hater (Copyright Woody Allen) as confirmed on his new (and old) tapes, his “friendship” with Henry Kissinger notwithstanding.

Nevertheless, as a young man I still did watch the entire 1977 broadcast of Nixon’s multi-part interview with David Frost about all things Nixon, including Watergate – and waited for him to say anything to make me understand where he was coming from at the time. So I did and still do want both sides. But with some people or in some cases we all finally just have to say ourselves:

Enough is enough and really, I have little to no interest in you or the warped POV you rode in on anymore.

This is not necessarily a good thing and the truth is I will probably weaken and watch at least a portion of Nixon by Nixon at some point because I like to stay current.  Yet this also doesn’t mean I have ever quite forgiven Diane Sawyer for going to work for Nixon in the White House (as a press aide from 1970-1974) through the writing of his memoirs in her younger days and then using that experience to advance her career. In fact, it’s always caused a larger dollop of doubt in my mind about anything she’s said as a news anchor despite her sweet as silk, honey-dripping delivery and smile. Yeah, she married Mike Nichols and show business friends who know her tell me I’m being ridiculous, petty and small-minded because I’d really like her if we met. And to this I answer:

I might be ridiculous and petty but someone with a truly small mind would not remember the fact that she worked to maintain and then rehabilitate the image of the most corrupt president in US history. AND got paid handsomely for it.

I just can't shake the "ick" factor here.

I just can’t shake the “ick” factor here.

Of course, everyone we support (even ourselves) has probably said or done something we disagree with or perhaps loathe. Certainly every time we buy a product manufactured by a corporation or large institution we put what little is left of our high-minded moral principles in jeopardy because if some magical fairy (Note: Not Me) were able to take the time to learn ALL the facts about what we just bought or who we bought it from, the world economy and everyone in it would come to a disquieting and paralyzing standstill.  I’m thinking Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream might be one of the rare exceptions, though that too could be wishful thinking. After all, there must be a conservative, anti-gay version of the two hippies who built that billion dollar empire somewhere in this world – though perhaps none living in Vermont who made their fortunes making highly fattening dessert items. Still, I can’t quite claim to know any of that for sure.

What I do know is that I have zero plans to see the new Mamet play at the Kirk Douglas Theatre this month or any other month, at least for right now. That’s MY five cents – for what it’s worth. It may or may not concern Mr. Mamet in the long run but is certainly not going to him any time soon.

A Little Bit of Magic

Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 2.04.55 PMTruly great screen actors are amazing and quite rare. Even Meryl Streep, one of our best living examples, has said numerous times she chooses not to analyze the process too much for fear of the magic disappearing.

So what are the rest of us to do when routinely questioned about that magic in reference to almost every film or TV show that passes before our eyes these days? Well, fall back on the famous quote given by US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in 1964 when he was asked to define obscenity.

I know it when I see it.

I sat for two hours watching the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in a John le Carre spy thriller called A Most Wanted Man this week knowing in my heart of hearts that the movie must really star some middle-aged German guy who physically bore some resemblance to Mr. Hoffman but most certainly had no real relation on any other viable plane of existence to him. Wrong. Unfortunately I was with a friend who managed to convince me, with the help of IMDB, dreaded logic and the contractually agreed upon billing on the movie poster (which can never really lie to that extreme) that somehow this guy in that film was actually and indeed the late Mr. Hoffman in his final leading role.

The Magic Man

The Magic Man

My first, almost immediate thought – and I’m extremely embarrassed to reveal this but then what else is a blog for – was that I have an easier time believing Mr. Hoffman is dead of a drug overdose than accepting the fact that no film ever again will in any way, shape or form have him as its star. (Note: Hunger Games: Mockingjay? You’re not seriously going to go there, are you?). How selfish can I be in the name of being in the presence of something so rare and, well, great? I guess very.

Great art is certainly not even a fraction as important to the average person as a great life but it’s also been said that a life lived entirely without being exposed to a little great art in there somewhere – whether by observation or one’s own actions in pursuit of such – can’t truly be all that great at all. Who exactly said that? Well, um, I did just now.

Maybe it was Jebediah?

Maybe it was Jebediah?

The above statement already begins to deflate a bit of the fairy type dust Ms. Streep eludes to but I for one periodically need reminding that there’s artistic brilliance to strive for and view in the world – and that there are also those among us who capable of delivering it. No, most of us will not reach the aforementioned peak but that is not the point. The idea is in some way to continue to both aspire and inspire as an artist rather than to try and fit in to some non-existent current standards of the day. Even in the likely event we don’t reach the pinnacle we will most very certainly come across someone or something in our travels that did. And be all the richer for it not so much in dollars and cents but in the ability to see the world in a new or slightly altered way that has the chance of initiating a profound and just possibly life-altering change in us for the better. And, in turn – who knows –the world

How do I absolutely believe in this stuff?   Because I know it to be absolutely true for myself.

The first time I read an Edward Albee play, The Zoo Story, I knew I had picked up something created by the kind of writer I wanted to be – or at least read. He managed to write about situations I hadn’t lived but somehow tapped into profound feelings I had certainly experienced – even at 18 years old. I felt the same way when I saw a small theatre production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. Or watched Bette Midler perform onstage live at the Palace theatre in the 1970s for the very first time as a very wee (well, teenage) lad. Or got to go standing room and witness the original Broadway production of A Chorus Line. And all of them, each and every one, contribute to what you’re reading now, which you will do with as you will. I might not be a great artist (yet) but I just might possibly influence one. Or some great artist might be influenced by some lesser artist than myself who passed on information about some even greater artist or piece of art that they had read about here or experienced elsewhere.

"I'd like to thank Notes From A Chair..."

“I’d like to thank Notes From A Chair…”

But let’s get back to actors. Their performances are the most popular to categorize as great probably due to the fact they are the easiest for us to review, at least on a superficial basis. After all, the actor must individually physicalize a role and LITTERALLY transform into another person long before one millimeter of film/digital whatever is shot. Never mind that there are countless technical people, including the guy or gal (aka writer) who first created the damned person you’re seeing onscreen to begin with. Every reasonably intelligent screenwriter knows that despite whatever has been conceived, once an actor is cast he or she will forever BE the character in the audience’s minds and that person you wrote/intended will now and forever (Note: Do NOT think Cats) only be seen as on offshoot of them. This doesn’t seem fair, you say? Well, few things in life are.

Ralph who?

I used to be called Ralph Fiennes

In any event, this is why truly great screen acting is so valued. It appears in that moment and is the literal manifestation of that person. Mr. Hoffman does this with little makeup, ordinary clothing, and sans little gunfire or exploding dramatic flourishes in A Most Wanted Man. He is merely a man – taking small actions like speaking, looking and staring. As he discreetly interacts with others of all ages and nationalities he himself comes across only as a middle-aged, slightly out of shape German guy who has been working undercover too hard and too long with too few examples of success.   In fact, the accent and mannerisms are so convincing that after a while we can’t help but feel like we’re watching an unknown German character actor given a chance at his first meaty role in what becomes a decidedly un-American styled film the longer it continues. Yet in the end what is ultimately most astounding is that an American actor from a small town in upstate New York could so thoroughly convince us he bears so little affinity or understanding of anything to do with the Western Hemisphere.  At least onscreen.

How did you do it?

How did you do it?

If you’re looking for an answer as to how or an analysis of the magic, you won’t find it. But I do know that watching a performance like that in a 2014 release once again reminded me of what is possible in the film industry ever so often – a person reaching the pinnacle of their work, even within the parameters of today’s commercial market. At this stage in my career and life I somehow find that not only profoundly important and encouraging but also thrilling and informative.

It’s not the same but akin to how I felt as a gay man when this summer I stood in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and saw Michelangelo’s statue of the David live for the first time. I was not only astounded by the talent, workmanship and beauty but also reminded that even in the 15 century there were men who saw other men as quite hot – that’s how NOT NEW being gay truly is in the world. Take that National Organization for Marriage.

I'm sexy and I know it.

I’m sexy and I know it.

You can’t talk about great, or your version of it, without sounding a bit like a pretentious windbag. This is especially so when innocent children are exploding in the Middle East and people are starving to death or dying from known and unknown viruses all over the world. But one has to wonder what we are all fighting for if not the right to live our peaceful everyday lives – which by very definition have at their peak moments the potential to experience, at the very least, a few little bits of the aforementioned Streepian-type magic. Isn’t that the point of this entire thing?

What is magical to you might not be magical to me. But in that highest and much lauded tip-top layer of work, the vast majority of us do agree. Oh, you can be a naysayer and opine Ms. Streep has too much technique or Mr. Hoffman is now overrated due to his untimely death. But on the same token you can also stand on your head in Macy’s window and complain when you’re being arrested or stubbornly defy medical science and keep claiming the earth is not getting hotter as our annual temperatures consistently rise with each passing year. In other words, that still does not make any of it so.

Oh Meryl... I want to believe

Oh Meryl… I want to believe

Nevertheless, in the arts we all deserve to believe in whatever magic we choose to believe in wherever we see it. That is why I, for one, will not express my concern here that the trailer that broke this week for Disney’s big Christmas release – the long-awaited film version of the Broadway musical, Into the Woods - looks to me like a not very special episode of ABC’s Once Upon A Time – Meryl Streep or not. Or voice my sense that NBC’s just announced upcoming live production of Peter Pan this Thanksgiving starring Girls’ Allison Williams will be a festival in bland-ola save for Christopher Walken’s canny tap dancing turn as Captain Hook.   I know both can simply just be – well – uh – very entertaining. To lots of people…all over the world…meaning worldwide…to see and to enjoy.

Great fun as all that is, it’s not the same as what Mr. Hoffman is doing onscreen in A Most Wanted Man. Not by a long shot. And that’s important to remember and to experience – for both artists and audiences alike. A more, or even less pretentious writer might go so far as to call it his legacy – to us.