50 Shades of a Blockbuster

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There’s a new film blockbuster in the works and it doesn’t center on a comic book and it most certainly won’t feature a superhero.  Oh, wait a minute – it kind of does and it absolutely will.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a trilogy of books about the S & M relationship between a sexy, billionaire businessman possessing gray/grey eyes (get it?), who’s into sexual domination, and aptly named Christian Grey, and his perfect submissive match, Anastasia/Ana Steele – a young college student who arrives in his office one day to interview him in advance of him giving the big keynote speech at her graduation. (Note:  Apologies to all former and current students who feel slighted at my school’s total failure to produce anything even vaguely comparable to CG in the past or, for that matter, in any part of our foreseeable futures.  And no, it is not lost on me that his initials are, indeed, CG).

We're more black and white.. than grey

We’re more black and white.. than grey

In any event, Mr. Grey, or Christian as Ana is quickly urged to call him, instantly became a sort of pop superhero phenomenon some time ago to many mega millions across the comic book world we now live in, though admittedly in a more adult, fantasy setting.  To be exact, the FSoG trilogy has sold in excess of 100 million copies since the first in its series began as a self-published E-BOOK three years ago.  Not to mention, by the time its rights and subsequent sequels were acquired and massively distributed worldwide, its writer, E.L. James, had vaulted to the #1 spot on Forbes 2013 list of top earning authors with an estimated $95 million of revenue in the till for all of her hard work.

EL James' house

EL James at home

Not that any of us do this for the money.

Understandably, there is great fascination as to how the novelistic fantasies of Christian and Ana will play out on the big screen, so much so that the potential of their celluloid (well, okay, digital) coupling is already beginning to build into a worldwide Twilight-like frenzy.  (Note: Interesting, enough, author James’ initial stories for these novels were first posted as Twilight fan fiction until sales soared, she chose new names for her characters and went about expanding the narrative).

It's like us... with whips!

It’s like us… with whips!

But back to FSoG:  The Movie.  The trailer was launched this week and, international fan bases being what they are, it quickly went viral.  The entertainment website The Wrap reported that in less than one day it had been viewed almost 7 million times on YouTube and it is nearing double that total (probably more) in less than a week.  Not to mention how many tens of millions more have watched it elsewhere in various iterations, myself included.

None of this is surprising in light of the phenomenon that is FSoG but is certainly not hurt by the fact that none other than Beyoncé has reworked a slower, more slutty sultry version of her megahit “Crazy In Love” as the theme song to all of the quick cutting, visual and/or implied sexual steaminess FSoG seeks to emit.  And yes, we must use the qualifier seeks because one person’s steaminess is someone else’s camp classic or moral offense.  Truth be told, I’d take any one of the three after a Saturday night spent watching this weekend’s number one film at the box-office, Lucy.  But judge for yourself right here and right now.

Whichever you prefer — steaminess, morality, campiness– the inevitable fact is this film will make a great deal of money – lots and lots and lots and lots of it.  So much so that one can only hope that those working on it have the greatest of deals established upfront with a guarantee to be involved in the next inevitable two or three more FSoG films in all of our pop culture futures.  Given the latter is most certainly the case whether we choose it or not, what is worth noting are several overall factors in how we view what is being touted as the new, hot (not to necessarily be confused with HOT!) film of the day.

1. The Blockbuster and potential Tentpole – Rather than argue about it, any observer of movies (which includes almost everyone you and I know) should recognize what truly makes the modern blockbuster and how many different facets of the industry contribute to it. It is rare, almost unheard of, for an original screenplay to bounce onto the scene – as say ET or Stars Wars or Home Alone did in past decades – and become an international phenomenon anymore.  One needs to be a sequel, a comic book or – the film embodiment of a best selling series of something written or conceived to great financial success in another medium.

Like me!

Like me!

This is not bad news or good news (depending on whether you’re a producer/studio head or creative talent) but simply reality.  That is, until some poor schnook is able to break through the morass and defy the odds.  Which is also inevitable given another reality – that the only sure thing in the world, aside from death and taxes, is change.  Perhaps you are that poor schnook (Note: author E.L. James was not poor before writing FsoG – she was, in fact, a British television executive).  If so, more power to you.  Still, all that being said – and as my gambler Dad tried to warn me – one should always understand the odds before taking the bet.  Not that it ever stopped he or I from making the leap at the things we both really wanted.  Which is probably the best piece of advice to follow but only if you want to wind up as either of us.

2. Women – As a gay guy I particularly LOVE women. Seriously.  No, this does not mean that I ever wanted to be a woman (well, aside from maybe Barbra Streisand when I was 13, but who didn’t?).  Women were always among my bestest friends as a boy and are among my favorite people as adults.  I had mothers and I have sisters – in all forms of the word.  This is why I am somewhat bothered yet openly recognize that big budget movies today deal mostly in archetypes – male and female – though the latter particularly seem to be getting the raw end of the stick.

I feel pretty?  From Jezebel

I feel pretty? From Jezebel

In terms of FSoG, the feminist website Jezebel referenced this as well as anyone else in one of its recent stories with the headline – Put A Cardigan On It:  How to Make a Beautiful Actress Less Beautiful.  The piece then went on to show a somewhat shameless array of mouse to swan images of young screen heroines from the past 40 years starting out in bad sweaters only to be transformed into sunnier versions of themselves in much better and skimpier outfits, not to mention hairstyles and cleavage.  Needless to say, this transformation was mostly due to their hot relationship with a hot guy – the big exception being Devil Wears Prada.  Well, with those as the only choices (Miranda Priestly vs. Christian Grey?) I guess most straight women I know would take the hot guy anytime.  Certainly I would.

This all begs the question of whether cardigans are the new eyeglasses. I for one can remember a time not that long ago in the movies when all it took was for a plain Jane to whip off her spectacles and – BOOM – you had a Bond girl.  Literally.  Which was a lot more efficient than making her shed a variety of badly colored, scratchy, ill-fitting outerwear.

QTers

On that note, I don’t know what to make of Woody Allen’s new Magic in the Moonlight, which seems to want us to root for a romance between a twenty-something young psychic who may or may not possess those powers, played by pert, pretty and perfectly dressed (sans cardigan) Emma Stone and a bitter, curmudgeonly fifty-something magician portrayed by Colin Firth.

However one feels about Mr. Allen’s real life involvements with women, the near thirty-year age difference is so creepy and unacknowledged, especially in the majority of reviews, that one wonders what exactly is the new normal out there in film land.  Sure, Eastwood, Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Michael Douglas have played movie heroes who often romanced women a decade or two younger than themselves.  But is…three now the new one or two?  And what will the standard be in another 20 or 30 years?  It makes the upcoming submissiveness of a young college girl to the desires of a billionaire who was at least born within the same decade feel like a relief.  Or a 1970s after-school special.  Which it might yet be in another 30 years.

Keep working on it!

Keep working on it!

3. Actors – There are movie star films and then there are movies that rise to the top without performers who are household names.  Young adult films and steamy love stories that enjoyed great success in other mediums tend to do the latter.  Twilight had no stars at the time of its launch.  Endless Love, based on the best selling steamy novel from the eighties, was cast with a known but very young model (Brooke Shields) who had limited acting experience and a totally unknown young actor, Martin Hewitt, who is, once again, unknown today. (Note: And please, can we just forget the more recent remake earlier this year? Please?). 9 1/2 Weeks, perhaps the best example of a big studio kinky sex film, starred Mickey Rourke and Kim Bassinger – experienced movie actor quantities but by no means Brad, Angie, Tom, Sandy, Julia or even Shailene.

The new "it" couple

The new “it” couple

This makes the casting of Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson as CG and AS in FSoG certainly in keeping with past choices.  Ms. Johnson has been in a few films and is the daughter and granddaughter of movie stars who know a thing or two about this sort of sexy screen area.  Mom Melanie Griffith first drew controversy for appearing naked at the age of 17 as a promiscuous teen runaway in the 1975 drama, Night Moves and I, for one, remember her father Don Johnson parading around in all his natural glory in 1973’s The Harrad Experiment to great effect – at least on my end.  We won’t even get into her maternal grandmother Tippi Hedren, not naked per se but best known as perhaps one of the most famous of all the Hitchcock blondes.  Which at the very least qualifies you as an expert in steam.  And certainly much more.

A different kind of masochism

A different kind of masochism

As for Mr. Dornan, he’s appeared in a few movies and starred in the recent British TV series The Fall. But like Ms. Shields he also got his start as a model, becoming famous enough to be nicknamed The Golden Torso.  Interesting Side Note: In most of his former work he had a beard (uh, I mean facial hair – don’t be bitchy).  Yet he will appear totally clean-shaven as CG – evoking a physical image slightly akin to that of another Christian – Bale – in American Psycho.

Dornan vs. Hunnam... everybody wins!

Dornan vs. Hunnam… everybody wins!

Of course, this was not the filmmakers’ original conception.  They had first cast Charlie Hunnam, who stars as a rugged, muscly biker in the hit cable series Sons of Anarchy.  But when Mr. Hunnam had to bow out due to scheduling they presumably decided to go in a different direction, as they say.   By the way, the word presumably is a proper one in this case because Mr. Hunnam initially gained acting notoriety as the lithe, blonde underage boy deflowered by one of the handsome leading men in the 1999 British miniseries Queer As Folk.  At least that’s how I first experienced him.  And from memory I can tell you that aside from his experience making steamy naked love onscreen early in his career, he would have cleaned up quite nicely if the FSoG filmmakers had desired it.  As for what images I am suddenly choosing to recall onscreen, #NoThereIsNotAPatternHere.

4. Audiences/The WorldNobody knows anything as William Goldman once famously said about people in the motion picture business predicting hits.   All of it is ultimately second-guessing.  But if one believes in the basics of science – which could be considered a controversial stance in many places in the US these days yet hopefully is not yet one here – there is certainly a cause and effect to everything.

FSoG, like the Twilight series of books, has been dubbed as Mommy Porn in more than some circles.   Confused?  Well, luckily we have a web dictionary handy.

mommy porn

A genre of mainstream erotic literature that primarily appeals to the sensibilities of mothers and housewives

Beware the power of the mom

Beware the power of the mom

Now certainly I am not here to besmirch those sensibilities or to even begin to define what they are because generally I subscribe to what Woody Allen once wrote/said in Manhattan re orgasms:  My worst one was right on the money.

Nevertheless, as stated above the world is not random.   Even musician/singer John Mayer wrote/sang about being nice, kind and honest to young women in Daughters, one of his most famous hit songs, despite his very well publicized and occasionally tawdry womanizing adventures during the last two decades.

Writes/Sings Mr. Mayer:

…On behalf of every man

Looking out for every girl

You are the god and the weight of her world.

So fathers be good to your daughters…

If you want John Mayer, who I don’t know but seems like a nice guy to hang out with, to date your daughter, well he comes off like the gold standard given his song but his actions seem otherwise. Of course, I don’t know because, as I said, I’ve never experienced him personally.  Or any of the women he dates, including any of your daughters.   As for the movies, apply similar logic.  Maybe creating and frequenting future blockbusters like Ffity Shades of Grey won’t come back to haunt us decades later in some odd shape or form.  Or maybe it will.  Like a date with Mr. Mayer, and most certainly Mr. Grey himself, there is room for fantasy on either side.  The only real fantasy is writing off what we do as a random choice – one that will have no effect on any of us or our world at all.

Final Note and full disclaimer: I’ll be seeing FSoG opening weekend – which is – wait for it — Valentine’s Day, 2015.  Like everyone else, I’m nothing if not curious. Whether that’s good, bad or just simply steamy, if for you to decide.

Learning to Shut Up

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There’s nothing like an international tragedy to bring out the wit in people. One doesn’t have to imagine the comic potential in Malaysia Airlines’ second airplane disaster killing hundreds of people because Jason Biggs does it for you.

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Hard up for a Hamas joke for the next cocktail party you attend this week? Hey, Bill Maher can take care of it on your end:

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And if you happen to be on TV hosting a live show when some horrific news story happens (which, let’s face it, is not an impossibility given the explosion of regular people like us on TV these days), you can always count on some random prankster to call in and lighten things the way this guy, posing as an eyewitness military expert, did for MSNBC’s Krystal Ball this week.

KB: Please tell us what you saw on the ground there in the Ukraine?

Prankster: Well, I was looking out the window and I saw a projectile flying through the sky, and it would appear that the plane was shot down by a blast of wind from Howard Stern’s ass.

KB: So it would appear the plane was shot down – can you tell us any more from your military training of what sort of missile system that may have been coming from?

Prankster: Boy, you’re a dumbass, aren’t you?

Click here to watch the unfortunate interview

Click here to watch the clip… if you can.

We’re all quite witty these days, aren’t we? And nothing’s off limits. Because if you think it is then you don’t understand comedy at all. And you’re too politically correct. Or a hypocrite who will laugh AT things YOU DO like but will become offended if someone pokes fun at something that hits too close to home – like a plane crash.

I mean, hell, even Dick Cheney chuckles in evil, ironic delight at being referred to as Darth Vader – what’s wrong with you?

The new way to be au courant, hip, happening and oh so clever is to publicly comment somewhere on something or, well, anything that is breaking news. And thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Twitter, Instagram and a handful of other people and stuff we all have ample means to do it. Yes, you get Warhol’s 15 promised minutes of fame for doing very little. What he didn’t bargain for is that the words and images you put out there will resonate for days, months or years later – long after your name has faded. Or perhaps even forever, which is a lot longer than that.

Unfortunately, this button does not exist.

Unfortunately, this button does not exist.

I’ve certainly been guilty of this too.   I mean, who could pass up a good rant against the extreme right wing, the US Supreme Court or the uncreative choices that double for mass entertainment from the Hollywood film and television industrial complex these days? Not me, it would seem.

Like many of us, I long to be heard by a world that too often seems either too noisy or indifferent to take the time out to listen to my pearls of wit and wisdom. How great that I get to be alive and in the orbit of Facebook, Twitter and many yet to be discovered systems that will now allow me to get my thoughts out there even faster –- perhaps even by boring a virtual hole through the cerebral cortex-ae of all of my millions of followers? You think I’m exaggerating? Hmmph – that’s what she (he?) said years ago.

It took the sudden death of a dear friend of 30 plus years yesterday to make me remember: Waitit’s actually okay NOT to weigh in on everything – or even anything – if you don’t care to.

This friend, who had an illustrious show biz career in his field and had been sick but died rather suddenly, left very specific instructions for no funeral, no obituary and, really, nothing at all organized to commemorate his death. Having spent a lifetime behind-the scenes presenting the public lives of more famous people than you or I could count in an afternoon, it is not surprising that at some point he learned the hard earned lesson that many of us will eventually realize (and I’m paraphrasing here):

…in the end the spotlight means nothing except the heat of the moment. It’s irrelevant to who you really are or what, if anything, your life was really about. And if you keep chasing it, it will eventually bore a real hole so deep into your soul (Note: your brain will already be gone by this time) that there will literally be nothing left to you at all…

This friend also taught me another valuable lesson, among so many others. And that is that sometimes, more often than one imagines, not commenting might be the best strategy of all. Or at least withholding comments until you’ve had time to think awhile about what’s happened.

First steps are the hardest

First steps are the hardest

My friend lived a lifetime of strategizing in both how to help people sell themselves and also speak to the media and was darned successful at it. It’s not that he wasn’t outspoken and didn’t speak up – it’s just that he knew that to do it all the time meant you were surrendering what little effect one has in the world. But to listen, and then think, and then listen some more before formulating your final thoughts and saying what was on your mind – was not only wiser but ultimately the most potent way of getting your own way.

Broadway legend Elaine Stritch, who died one day prior to my friend and whom I didn’t know personally, might disagree. She spent a lifetime speaking before she fully thought out anything and it seemed to work quite well for her. At least publicly. Or perhaps that was just acting and she kept much of what she really felt deep down inside. The latter just might be more likely, I can hear my friend saying to me and who am I to disagree with him.

She did it her way

She did it her way

No one knew their way around a celebrity better than he did and said celebrities adored him. I mean, can you say you turned down a full-time retainer with show biz’s one-time queen of media manipulation, Madonna, in her eighties heyday – – a moment when a truly skilled person could manage it all and a time, if you can imagine it , long before media was social and when tweeting was the sound of the noisy bird outside your bedroom window you wanted to shoot?

No, I didn’t think so. I thought he was a bit crazy to do so back then but years later I totally get the perils of working for a TRUE QUEEN. Though clearly all he had to do at the time was to take a bit of time to really, really, really think about it.

(Note: I do hope he can forgive me for dropping that one name when referring to him. Though if it’s any consolation, before writing, I did think about it).

In any event, back to the public’s right to know what you and I think about – everything. Do YOU stop and consider why anyone should even care what you think? OK, well I don’t. Not often enough. Forget about cats on Facebook and Instagram – we’re talking about off-the-cuff and immediate thoughts on death, carnage, politics, other people’s family members thrust into the public eye through rape, theft, divorce, robbery, pillaging, as well as attempted murder. On the other hand, it feels good to get it off your chest, doesn’t it? Okay, I’ll answer that, too – yes.

Of course, it is the height of personal irony that all of this is being written to you in a blog – a vehicle whose inherent purpose is to express personal views on a variety of subjects for public consumption. It is also quite paradoxical that you are most likely reading what is being said here through some social media tool whose entire existence has just been tried and found guilty by a jury of one (moi) for the deadened senses of the corrupt social culture we are all so (cue appropriate sarcasm) privileged to live in nowadays.

The Chair excluded, of course

The Chair excluded, of course

Well, yes, I am nothing if not a contrarian, and an often ironic one at that. But in tribute to my late friend, who was quite savvy about this kind of thing even though he didn’t subscribe to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – I’m going to from now on take a beat or two, or maybe even ten or twenty-three, before I open up my mouth, pen and fingers to type out my reaction to the grizzly events of the day. Or, well, at least think about doing so. Who knows, with all the pent up, thought out frustration I might become even more contrarily sarcastic than usual in a much more ironically intelligent way – lest you be concerned all of that self-reflection would cause me to lose my edge.

That’s probably the most fitting tribute I can give to a person who always did both – that is aside from shutting up entirely. Which, god knows, is not a real possibility for any of us anymore. Is it?

Little Orphan Emmy

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It’s wrong that Tatiana Maslany didn’t get a best actress Emmy nomination this week for playing EIGHT distinctly different female clones on BBC America’s Orphan Black. Quite simply, Ms. Maslany’s work was THE BEST of any actor this season and I dare any of you to prove what I say is FALSE.

Oh, show me all the clips you want of Julianna Marguiles in The Good Wife and keep banging the Kerry Washington drum of she deserves an Emmy for anchoring the craziness of Scandal.  It won’t matter.  Both shows bore the hell out of me.

NEXT!

NEXT!

Yeah, I love Claire Danes in Homeland, sort of want to hang out with Michelle Dockery’s character on Downton Abbey and will even admit to finding Lizzy Caplan a little hot on Masters of Sex, which scares me a lot, not a little. None of this counts because Tati is the very definition of brilliant  – my definition.  And since anyone who knows me is aware that the entertainment business is my religion, no other definition really matters.  Does it???

The US Supreme Court ruled recently in the Hobby Lobby case that a closely held company whose owners have strong religious beliefs can opt out of providing certain kinds of female contraceptive care it decides clashes with it’s deeply held views.  This includes two types of IUD’s and two variations of the morning after pill.

Since I am a gay male and certainly not a gynecologist I can’t pretend to be an expert on the anatomy of any woman or her reproductive apparatus.  In fact, not even Tatiana Maslany playing the Chair – which could undoubtedly be the role of her life – would convince you of that.  Instead, we should probably bow to our leading scientific experts in the medical field – the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists – since they represent 90% of those types of doctors in the US.

Orphan-Black-Helena-excuse-me

Emergency contraception will not disrupt an established pregnancy is their exact quote re the morning after pill in a brief the organization filed with the Court. You can read more if you like here.

They also agree with the overwhelming scientific evidence that IUDs are NOT in any way akin to abortion.  Read more of what the experts have to say on this and numerous other points of the Supreme Court case here.

Certainly any person, which includes all corporations since they are now people, has the legal right to accept or reject overwhelming expert opinion.  Hell, there are people who still believe the Earth is flat.  In fact, a non corporate but still otherwise united group of people – the Flat Earth Society – resurrected themselves five years ago and sport among its most prominent members the musician Thomas Dolby.  You don’t believe me on that one either?  Read on here.

What seems quite problematic – and granted it’s a feeling, though court rulings have been made on less – is when public policy is dictated by what people merely feel rather than what has been empirically proven to be true at the time through logic and science.  That is like allowing myself, my partner and two other close friends who watch Orphan Black to overrule the Emmy voters and present Tatiana Maslany that large pointy statuette even though she was not even in contention to receive it. Well, maybe that would be justice for SOME of us, but would that be justice for ALL? Yes I know, no one ever accused THE BiZ of being just – and God (or whoever I believe Her to be) knows I haven’t.  Nevertheless, the point does still ring true.

I mean really.. get it together Emmys.

I mean really.. get it together Emmys. You’re as bad as the government!

A closely held company in the U.S. is one that has more than 50 percent of the value of its outstanding stock owned (directly or indirectly) by five or fewer individuals at any time during the last half of the tax year, according to the IRS.  Well, that doesn’t sound like all that many, so who really cares about this ruling, right?  But as it turns out 90% of all of the companies in the US are closely held. In fact, they employ 52% of our total labor force and account for 51% of our private sector output.  Look it up here.

What this means is that all of the women employed at these types of companies who already pay for contraceptive coverage under their insurance policies will now be paying for double the coverage they seek in an area that goes against the beliefs of their employer.  It is also worth noting that adequate contraceptives could cost the average female minimum wage worker the equivalent of “a month’s salary,” according to another court expert.

Ain't that the truth.

Ain’t that the truth.

This might be off topic but I shudder to think what would have happened to me if my seventy something boss at Daily Variety in the late seventies had decided whether my psychotherapy bills gelled with his personal beliefs at the time. Suffice it to say I would probably not be well enough to be writing this now.  Though untreated I certainly would have had enough personalities for an actress the caliber of Tatiana Maslany to sink her teeth into.  So there is that.

It personally offends me that the voters in part of my TEMPLE OF ENTERTAINMENT, the Television Academy, have for SEVEN LONG YEARS denied Jon Hamm his much-deserved Emmy Award for, among other things, making the character of Don Draper an international icon of hyper-maleness.  And if you don’t think this goes against every moral fiber of my being on the scale of what’s right and wrong then you don’t know me very well and, most certainly, haven’t read enough of Notes (Note:  Click here for references).  But much as I still adore all things ham Hamm and Mad Men, and still believe Matt Weiner runs the best overall scripted show on television, I can’t make you adhere to my deeply held religious beliefs on this one.  Even a lawsuit to the Television Academy wouldn’t work since everyone knows nothing about Show Biz is democratic.  Certainly it’s barely legal.

Don't worry Chair. Let's go to Burger Chef.

Don’t worry Chair. Let’s go to Burger Chef.

That being said, the last time I checked we theoretically do live in a DEMOCRACY – not a THEOCRACY.  We are primarily a country of immigrants who left the very many countries of our collective births in order to escape oppression, often due to religious wars.  That was the case for my Jewish ancestors from Russia, Poland and Hungary.  What about yours?

Therefore it seems to me the height of hypocrisy in a non-sectarian society that any group of people (bosses) could opt out of the law of this land and decide some parts of legal public policy don’t apply to them due to their personal views.  The profits of any public or private corporation in the U.S. benefits from the infrastructure the country provides and is obligated to live under the laws of the land.  Not to mention its employees are entitled to benefit from the rights and laws that land provides them.  Would that I could have siphoned my tax money out of the War in Iraq – or better yet away from anything to do with George W. Bush’s inauguration.  Certainly I wouldn’t have paid for Dick Cheney’s salary or for one stick of furniture in his office.  Everything about the man goes against my deeply held moral beliefs and personally offends me.

Yet that’s not the way it works.  Not in government and not even at the Emmys.  Not only will Tati not win in her category but my favorite Hamm (which is saying something for a Jewish boy) will once again go away empty-handed because nothing is going to stop Bryan Cranston from winning best dramatic actor in a series for the final season of Breaking Bad.

Surely, the US Supreme Court is not lagging behind the amoral guidelines we here in Hollywood adhere to.  Or are they?

Ahead of Your Time

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It’s a sort of a tradition at our house on holiday weekends to at some point excitedly tune the television in to a Twilight Zone marathon.  (Note:  That would be the original black and white series first broadcast from 1959-1964, in case you were wondering, rather than any subsequent remakes or sequels).

What is unusual is not so much that we here are consistently entranced by the inventive storytelling and enduring themes of a classic television show – almost anything artistic that lasts has those qualities and more.  Rather, what stands out is that on any other particular day of the year we would only have to walk several feet over to our shelves of DVDs to watch any one of those episodes on our big screen TV, desktop or laptop computers at any time of the day or night.

These days we all have to be reminded of what’s really good from time to time, don’t we?  Yes, we’re living in a new golden age of television but sifting through it all has become a challenge that most of us simply don’t have the time for.  I don’t know about you, but too often I am willing to settle.  I think – all I want is to be entertained a little, or laugh a little or even be prodded to think a little bit more on a subject I hadn’t considered by what I’m watching.  And have it last in my mind a little bit longer than the time it takes to suck down a single Mentos.

... or really if it involves any home design with these two.

… or really if it involves any home design with these two.

We read and hear constantly about how a continuing explosion of networks and a myriad of new streaming opportunities make this the optimum moment to be what the entertainment biz calls a content creator.  And how privileged this new generation of Millennials (along with everyone else who is older, not dead and still working) are to be among those whose stuff is getting read, seen or generally played with via those or any other venues.  But…well….. here is what the top 1%/chattering class of those bull crappers are really saying:

You young people who are writers, directors, actors and even producers?!  Yeah you! Do you know how LUCKY you are?  There are so many places where all that stuff you make can now be seen.  So don’t complain to us about how difficult it is to get views or how much you’re not getting paid.  This is the LAND of opportunitythe wild west of new media landscapes.  Don’t you all realize how GOSH DARN fortunate YOU ALL ARE to even be a part of this????

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(Note: I might add that the same goes for middle-aged and older creative people.  It’s just that the top 1%/chattering class chooses not to include the rest of us among the content creators because, with some exceptions, they are not quite as interested in the types of content that we are creating).

So – here is both the really ugly and really reassuring truth about all of this:

It is no easier or difficult to be a writer, director, actor, producer or any other type of artist than it ever was.  The same blank canvas still exists and it still takes the same single-minded leap of faith, ingenuity and ever so slight craziness to believe that anything you have to say will prove interesting to anyone else or even be listened to.  That is both the challenge and, when it really works and lasts, the ultimate reward.

Twilight Zones don’t happen without a gigantic leap on everyone’s part  – the hardest and longest being from its creators. Nor does something light and classic on the other side of the spectrum like…well…I Love Lucy.  A 1950s television show about a Manhattan housewife married to a foreign musician we can’t understand, played by a “B” movie star and her real-life, non-actor foreign musician husband who we also can’t understand?  Are you kidding?  Well, this better be the funniest thing we’ve seen in years.

Still America's sweethearts

Still America’s sweethearts

Ah, yes – and lucky for them and for us it was.  In the same way that the unique idea of dealing with the timeless dramatic themes of conformity, prejudice, sexism and totalitarianism in a futuristic and alternate universe has also kept The Twilight Zone alive all this time.

One could go on and on with examples from the artistic discipline of one’s choice.  I simply chose The Twilight Zone and inserted I Love Lucy in the back-up position because they were most easily at hand and on the tube this holiday weekend.  And we’ve already established how much I – and we – enjoy easy.

It is not the wrong time for those of us in the Business of Show, or in any other business, to remind ourselves that the viability of one’s new idea can’t be measured so much against what’s out there but by what’s in there – meaning in your heart and soul and mind. Oh, pooh pooh that idea all you want – or as Bette Midler said several decades ago on her fine comedy album, Mud Will Be Flung Tonight – “hiss and boo your own selves” – it’s true.  Too many of us are not willing to go there nowadays, myself included.  There’s an emotional risk to failure and that is rejection, embarrassment, shame and depression.  There is also a financial risk and that’s loss of home, status or just plain poverty.  And certainly it’s no more fun that it ever was to be poor these days.  Probably less.

Still, the ugliest and tritest truism about art, and its even higher counterpart, innovation, is that nothing great is ever accomplished by dwelling on the what will happen instead of concentrating on the what could be.  That means taking a risk and going with what really moves you or gnaws at you.  No, this does not mean living in an artistic cocoon without taking in reality or the rest of the world.  That’s the kind of thing the top 1%/chattering class and all the other naysayers in your life and brain say to get you off track.

Not your ideal working environment

Not your ideal working environment

Take The Twilight Zone, for example.  At the time of its conception Rod Serling was a long form dramatic writer for live television who had served in the military and was married and had children.  It was the 1950s and he had a family to support and he didn’t have a chance to live in an artistic garrote and WRITE merely for himself.  So what did he do?  He embraced the most popular art form of the day but wrote about subjects he cared most about in just about the most commercial structure imaginable.  What were those subjects?  Oh, simple ideas fit for mainstream consumption in the escapist times of the fifties and early sixties.  (Note: Insert sarcasm here). Ideas that were ANTI-GOVERNMENT, ANTI-WAR, explored SEXISM TOWARDS WOMEN and addressed that popular old subject we’re still all always so willing and anxious to talk about – DEATH.

As I viewed Twilight Zone this weekend I was once again amazed to rediscover the timeless themes Mr. Serling managed to feature that few of us have the nerve to tackle today.  For example, Time Alone At Last in season one dealt with a bookish bank teller who loved to read classic literature but was perpetually ostracized for being strange and behind the times in then contemporary 1950s America.  Season 2’s The Obsolete Man went a step further and centered on the execution of one of the last thinking intellectuals living in a now totalitarian state where only people who are of direct use to the whims of its corporate-run government entity have the value to live.  Coincidentally, the leads in both episodes were played by veteran character actor Burgess Meredith, who gained greater fame the following decades as the original Penguin in the Batman television series and as the grizzled old trainer of Rocky in the first of all 22 of those films.  Hey, as Peter Fonda once told me his father Henry once told him: You go where the work is.

Meredith in Time Enough At  Last

Meredith in Time Enough At Last

Mr. Serling was also probably one of the first male dramatic writers on television to so prominently focus on feminist themes and address the devaluing of women in American society.  Season 2’s Eye of Beholder, first broadcast in 1960, is one of his most classic.  A woman with a bandaged face has endured her 11th and final (per legal limits) plastic surgery to make her face not necessarily beautiful but simply what is considered for the times to be normal – or at least not as ugly as the horrible features she was genetically cursed with.  But when her surgeon finally unmasks her he and everyone else cries out in horror that there has been no change at all while simultaneously we in the audience see for the first time that the woman is not only blonde and beautiful but everyone else in the room – and in society for that matter – are all hideously and literally pig-faced.  Look around at all of the surgically mangled faces of 2014 humans worldwide – especially those of women, who still face more stringent societal standards of beauty than men – and one can’t help but long for a fictional Twilight Zone limit of a mere eleven surgeries when the subject of voluntary facial augmentation comes up.

Are you sure we're not on Santa Monica Blvd?

Are you sure we’re not on Santa Monica Blvd?

Interestingly enough, as the 1960s continued and the feminist movement began to take root, along with The Twilight Zone, the series chose not to play it safe but to go even deeper.  One Serling-produced episode in Season 5, Number 12 Looks Just Like You, focused on a young, futuristic woman with a pleasant face who is refusing to go along with the government mandated surgical transformation all young women and men of 17 must endure. Forsaking their own genetics, each must decide which of several scores of prototypically beautiful yet perfectly vapid faces, bodies and minds they will choose to transform into.

Being like everybody, isn’t it the same as being nobody?, questions the young woman. To which her perfectly transformed doctor can only reply, Hey, what you need is a nice instant cup of Smile.

A nice instant cup of Smile, if such a thing existed, might be what any number of commercial production companies and their vast audiences would prefer nowadays. But that does not mean that it has be what we content creators make for the selling.  In fact, it is really up to the creator – the first line of defense for the integrity of the artistic endeavor, to fess up and take responsibility for the creation much in the way Mr. Serling did in his storytelling for not only that episode but the entire series.

Preach, Rod.

Preach, Rod.

On that note, this might be a good time to mention that the genesis of The Twilight Zone actually came from the extreme censorship Mr. Serling had to endure at the hands of the networks and sponsors who chose to cut and then severely edit much of the work he had done before it.  The final blow came on a drama he wrote that was broadcast in 1956 called Noon on Doomsday. Inspired by the real-life case of Emmett Till – a young Black man of 14 whose eyes were gouged out as he was brutally beaten and then shot to death for merely speaking to a White woman in Mississippi one year prior – Mr. Serling persevered as first the setting of his story was taken out of the South – and then his young Black male lead was changed to a Jewish pawnbroker – until the final, watered down product focused merely on the actions of a generic foreigner in an unknown town.

But had Mr. Serling thrown up his hands in disgust and walked away right then and there, or just simply thrown up, we would never have The Twilight Zone.  It was only when he decided to beat the marketplace at its own game and partnered with another producer who liked his idea of using a science fiction setting to tackle all of the timely yet difficult subjects he aspired to write about (in other words – owning the idea of that foreigner in that unknown town but making him anything but generic) that any television network or sponsor would come onboard.  Which is not to say they did so without continued rancor or distress at just how timely and topical Mr. Serling would choose to be.

We should all be wary of countering the lesson of The Twilight Zone with comments like – oh, but times have changed, it’s not so easy to do that stuff these days, or even thoughts like, well, for every Serling there are hundreds of those who don’t make it and, quite clearly aren’t geniuses, but could do decent work, what about them?  To say this is to miss the point entirely.  No great or even good idea happens on the first try and most geniuses are merely just hard-working people relentlessly going about their jobs with dogged determination in a self-created world where giving up is not an option.  People like Serling have no idea if and when they will ever be successful – or if their new idea will ever be accepted.  They just keep going.  And that is the recurring theme of creation whether it’s digitized, computerized or merely presented  – for your approval –  in black & white.