DER ORANGE FUEHRER

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It’s difficult to watch the real life Leni Riefenstahl style propaganda film Donald Trump is trying to live each day he serves as the Electoral College president of the United States.

And yes – Riefenstahl was the official director of the Nazis – Hitler’s personal chronicler – with such films as Triumph of the WILL (Note that word in the title) to her credit.

And double yes – I am saying Trump fashions himself as a modern day Hitler – one who demands to be adored and rule with an iron hand as he WILLS to personally wipe out ANYONE and EVERYTHING that stands in the way of his adoration.

WAH!

WAH!

And, well, um – yeah – I’m not ruling out his attempts at future US concentration camps for particular groups of outliers he doesn’t like if he continues to remain in power. It will have to be craftier, done in a 2017 style and method, and I doubt he could pull it off. But I’m not eliminating it as his final solution.   Because I also doubted this ignoramus would be elected.

We don’t want people with bad, bad ideas coming into our country.

That was just one of many rousingly vague bromides that spewed out of his mouth in Saturday’s latest propaganda speech in Florida.

In the context of the remarks he was referring to immigrants.   So let’s take him at his word, even though he doesn’t seem to have one worth taking, only many that stream out of his sub-consciousness in scattershot directions.

What exactly ARE bad, bad ideas? Who decides they are bad? And how?

Believe me, this country already knows BAD ideas

Believe me, this country already knows BAD ideas #SAD

Well, he indicated in his speech the answer laid somewhere between his skewed interpretation of the appeals court opinion overturning his recent executive order to limit immigration and the actual special powers granted a president to enforce laws via our Constitution. So to prove his point he quoted said law in his speech, reading the following from a piece of paper.

Whenever the president finds that the entry of any alien, or any class of aliens, to the US detrimental to the interests of the U.S., he may by proclamation and such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens…or any restriction he may deem to be appropriate.

What the subject of his own Riefenstahl mind movie leaves out – and what separates the U.S. from past and present dictatorships – is presenting some sort of reasonable proof or argument of one’s assertions of detriment to the gatekeepers of checks and balances enshrined in our constitution. That is to say that blanket refusal of entry – and in many cases – RE-ENTRY of tens of thousands of people, many of whom already hold green cards and are actually re-entering their own homes, dorm rooms or childhood homes – needs to be reasonably defensible in court, in life, or otherwise – or it is illegal.

And we know a few things about illegal dealings... don't we Don?

And we know a few things about illegal dealings… don’t we Don?

As is the case with dictatorial thinkers (nee the president who lost the popular vote by almost 3 million), there is an outright rejection of anything that challenges their ultimate power. In fact, his voice grew fiery and his body physically jolted as he bridled at how his people were now hard at work on a NEW (world?) ORDER to challenge the court’s blockage of his original executive one. This was most apparent in the words he chose to describe his view of what the Constitutional statute enshrining his powers that he had just read from did to anyone who opposed him.

Every word here is a total KILL for the other side.

That’s right – KILL. As in – you’re dead. Lie down.

LET ME HEAR YOU SAY IT!

LET ME HEAR YOU SAY IT!

There is a style and rhythm to the way this guy speaks, haphazard though it might often be. One of the few consistencies is – there is not a lot of nuance. KILL means just that. Whether in a competition, or the court system, or perhaps literally. In America we will win, win, win. At what cost? Well, you tell me. Or perhaps he is already telling – us.

Again, he’s not that complicated.

As the man continues to speak about fake news from our most vetted and fact checked information sources (eg. The New York Times and Washington Post); appoint people who have fought their entire adult lives to dismantle the very government agencies they are now being charged to steward (eg Scott Pruitt EPA, Betsy DeVos Dept. of Education, Rick Perry, Dept of Energy); and stacks his closest inner circle of advisors with white men who, like himself, have ZERO to little experience in governing or foreign affairs (son-in-Law Jared Kushner, charged with achieving peace in the middle east, and the unmentionable former Breitbart “news” chief and avowed Leninist Steve Bannon, who I’ve unfortunately just mentioned, as his top consigliere on EVERYTHING) – we all need to CONTINUALLY ask ourselves.

WHAT. EXACTLY. IS. THIS?

Gotta get it together!

Gotta get it together!

Since the majority among us, certainly among those reading here, are reasonable people, the answer is, once again, as uncomplicated as a Trump speech:

IT. IS. EXACTLY. WHAT. YOU. THINK. IT. IS.

What this in turn means is that we all need to act accordingly:

#RESIST #DEMONSTRATE #ACT #DONATE

LOL (but also, YES!)

LOL (but also, YES!)

Do not stop. Call your representatives in Congress. Post on social media. Talk to friends. Go to meetings. Argue with relatives. Take to the streets. This is how the country came into being centuries ago, has continued to flourish through difficult decades, and is the ONLY road for survival. Despite how much our new dictator-in-chief rails against it.

How do I know this is needed? Because these days I even find myself, a life-long liberal, occasionally agreeing with John McCain from the sidelines. Yes, that’s right. The guy who brought us Sarah Palin.

We need a free press. If you want to preserve democracy as you know it you have to preserve a free and adversarial press. That’s how dictators get started.

Nailed it #maverick?

Nailed it #maverick?

Sure, he walked back that statement hours later by saying he wasn’t equating Trump with a dictator. But I’m not. I’m in full equating mode. Well okay – perhaps that’s a bit harsh in light of recent court opinions. Let’s just say that at this point – he’s an aspiring dictator.

When I told my husband about what I was writing, he reminded me of the brilliant Susan Sontag’s 1975 essay for the New York Review of Books on the work of Leni Riefenstahl entitled, Fascinating Fascism. In it, she factually and intellectually goes on to debunk and devastate the Nazi chronicler’s attempt to rehabilitate the reality of the extensive period of her life in service to Hitler into a gauzy creative representation of an unfairly marginalized artist who simply shot what she saw.

I'll save you the trouble it looked something like this #dumpsterfire

I’ll save you the trouble it looked something like this #dumpsterfire

Let’s hope someone, or more than one, are able to do the same thing en masse with Trump that Sontag did with Leni. And that it sticks.   If history is any indication, this person, or people, will come from what our modern-day American Fuehrer in training likes to most sourly call: THE CROOKED MEDIA. Which, given the reach of global internet platforms these day, is not only the NY Times and the Washington Post but each and every one of us Americans who gives even a whit about democracy and freedoms – not only for ourselves but for all of our non-immigrant, and immigrant, brothers and sisters throughout the world.

Sage Advice

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Every year I take my students to see a panel of people who wrote the most acclaimed films of the previous year. This time they included the writers of:

La La Land, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Hidden Figures, Arrival, Hell or High Water, and yes, Deadpool.

Lil Deady (Pooly?) getting some love.

Lil Deady (Pooly?) getting some love.

These people are all among the current nominees for this year’s Writers Guild of America awards and at the point they speak on the “Beyond Words” panel they are ending an intense series of talks, interviews and other generalized discussions about their process, their work, their careers and their futures.

But what everyone seems to really want from the possible valedictorians of their class is:

THE ANSWER.

How DID you do it? How DO you do it? What can I DO to also do it? And am I FOOLING MYSELF by even thinking that I can do it?

Getting my listening face on! #readysetgo

Getting my listening face on! #readysetgo

The panel consists of writers (or writer-directors) but you can substitute the same questions for anything, really – actors, producers, directors, cinematographers, editors and script supervisors.

WHAT IS THE KEY?

Well, it’s exactly what you think it is. You work at it. And you do it harder and more consistently and with as much abandon as you have ever done anything in your life. In fact, more so.   And chances are, you will GET THERE.

Yes, this is quite encouraging. But then — oh my. You should see the series of scared, young and old DISAPPOINTED faces in the audience.

For here is the real answer they begin to realize minutes, hours, weeks or months later if they do follow that sage advice (Note: If you prefer to stay away from harsh truths stop reading now):

You will definitely get somewhere, certainly a better place artistically. But not necessarily on a future panel that’s before you.

Maybe not in your future... and that's OK!

Maybe not in your future… and that’s OK!

And I would add this nugget of information that perhaps never crosses one’s mind. Certainly it didn’t cross mine years ago.

Perhaps that (panel) is not exactly where you belong or where you would even want to be given the compromises, sacrifices and cost of the single-mindedness it takes to achieve what you think (or may even know) are your dreams. Perhaps the work you do will be honored in some different way entirely.

This is not meant to be any more discouraging or encouraging than anything those writers told the audience of movie fans, aspiring writers or curious industry-ites who had nothing better to do on a Thursday evening than look for hope, information or just plain intellectual entertainment. But I guarantee you it is also the same truth spoken by any one of those same artists, as well as many others, on that night or on any other night on any other year.

You can take away all kinds of things when people tell you to work really hard at what you do, follow some of the rules and break others, and to listen to your inner voice and then dig in deeper.

Inspiration can come in all forms. #sarcasmworkstoo

Inspiration can come in all forms. #sarcasmworkstoo

You can be encouraged and enlightened, buoyed by the brave soldiers that came before you and succeeded.

Or you can become depressed because you know you’re already doing all of that and more and haven’t gotten anywhere close to that result.

And, in some cases, you might even become frozen with fear when you run your entire life around your brain because suddenly you realize you’ve been doing all this and MORE for years (or perhaps decades) and are so much farther away from that place on that stage than you would ever care to admit to anyone out loud, most particularly yourself.

everyone's path is a little bit different

everyone’s path is a little bit different

Well, that’s fine. All of it is fine. Except, it doesn’t mean anything. At all.

There are numerous X factors in life. And in show business, in particular, we all measure art and practicality and talent and then divide it by happenstance. For instance, did you know:

— Damien Chazelle, all of 32 now, wrote La La Land six years prior. At which point it sat around, landed briefly at a studio, was put in turnaround, and then sat around for many years more. Which prompted him to then write and direct Whiplash out of his anger to the system. Which in turn forged La La Land.

Mr. Chazelle... or one of my students? #hardtotell #stillinspirational

Mr. Chazelle… or one of my students? #hardtotell #stillinspirational

— Taylor Sheridan quit work as an actor on a lucrative TV show as he approached his 40th birthday to write what became Hell or High Water, but not before he ran out of money and moved him and his wife and 10 month old kid into a small one bedroom apartment on Sunset and Laurel. (Note: He voluntarily gave the location).

— Kenneth Lonergan got raked over the Hollywood coals when the movie he made in 2000, Margaret, languished in legal battles, was recut and even then barely released eleven years later. And didn’t direct another film until Manchester by the Sea. In fact, his friend Matt Damon said that that he brought him the kernel of the idea for the film to get him out of his funk just so his creative voice could be heard again.

And so on and so forth.

You and I and certainly few of the rest of us are likely reach the successes above with our own projects. For there is always a certain amount of timing, luck, talent, karma and cosmic grace (Note: Not to be confused with Karma) that comes into play with these things.

Sometimes timing is everything

Sometimes timing is everything

But surely if we all don’t bear down and focus in on our work, and continue to dream big – despite our experience, age, economic circumstances or emotional places we currently occupy in our lives, we will never get there.

And if we do – who knows? We could possibly surpass them.

Why does this stuff always seem so trite and cliché?

Because the very nature of clichés is that they are references and expressions of stuff we have heard time and time again that offer nothing new to our view of the world.

Which doesn’t mean they’re incorrect.

What I’ve found to be the key is exactly what WE – you and I – DO with all of this advice. Not the advice itself.

Resist the eyeroll! Stay with me

Resist the eyeroll! Stay with me

It’s the actions we take, the people we engage with and disagree with and love and scream and yell with and the art we make – based on our own reactions and experiences – that comprise the sum of our output.   Which in turn shows up on the page, in the film, on the screen, in the machine and before the next doorkeeper determined to slam that door in all of our collective faces, that can and will make the difference.

I know this because I’ve seen this and lived this. Just look around you and you’ll see it too. And then look within and start working. And let the chips fall where they may.

But if this still sounds a bit too new agey, self-helpish and yes, cliché, don’t take my word for it.

This week I also went to see 84-year-old Broadway legend Chita Rivera do her one-woman show in Los Angeles. She recalled the time half a century ago in the 1960s when another Broadway legend, Gwen Verdon, and her then husband, director Bob Fossse, still another Broadway AND soon-to-be movie legend, asked her to star in the touring company of Sweet Charity in a role created to smashing success by Ms. Verdon herself.

The Unsinkable Ms. Rivera

The Unsinkable Ms. Rivera

Ms. Rivera confesses to at first being thrilled with the offer, which soon turned to total terror knowing she couldn’t possibly fill her predecessor’s shoes. Or even come close. Until finally, she shared with us, it occurred to her:

Chita, just bring your own shoes.

I tell that to all the kids, she added. Just bring your own shoes. And it’ll be fine.

The Crowning Achievement

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The major strength of Netflix’s acclaimed series The Crown is that finally and once and for all an outsider (Note: Me) understands the pros and cons behind the idea of a King or Queen.

That is not to say that one (Note: Me) likes or accepts the idea of a hierarchy of humanity – i.e. a whole country required to bow and curtsy to another citizen wearing a crown – but at least the tradition and the people wearing the hardware are both clear and recognizable as something approaching human.

Heavy is the head, they say #werkitgurl

Heavy is the head, they say #werkitgurl

I’m not much for bowing down to idols – true, false or otherwise – but in one brief scene in its season one 10-episode arc, The Crown is succinct on this one heretofore elusive point:

The monarchy represents something Divine that can serve as a sort of model for what mankind can aspire to. (Note: One assumes that includes lowly females).

So despite the fact that the actual monarch, be it female or male, is indeed human, once he/she is anointed with oil by a leading British religious figure, he/she also all at once (and forever) becomes Divine He/She and therefore worthy of genuflection and ring kissing by everyone in It’s orbit.

Or so the thought processes go.

Not to mention, and to its further credit, this fine series also shows that a Queen (The British kind, that is) doesn’t necessarily want or is even qualified to be a Deity and that more than a few in the inner circle have their own worries that this vast spectacle is indeed nothing more than their own high-priced version of The Emperor’s New Clothes.  

... which most certainly includes The Crown's Miss Shade, Princess Margaret

… which most certainly includes The Crown’s Miss Shade, Princess Margaret

Moreover, it ultimately and finally posits (and this is the what really brings it all home), that despite all of the doubts and handwringing about it, the vast majority of its SUBJECTS are indeed on some level TRUE BELIEVERS in it all and will actually VOLUNTARILY indulge en masse in the tradition of genuflection to this Chosen Human Deity.

This thus reinforces the point of the monarchy to whatever doubting royals there may be and, judging by the continued fascination with them across the globe, proves an even larger point about societies in general:

The PEOPLE indeed do WANT and NEED a HIGHER IDEAL in which to BELIEVE IN and strive towards.

We Americans, of course, have no such thing as a national royalty and if we did it certainly wouldn’t be in Washington, D.C. – at least at the moment.   Except, of course, for one thing —

THE OSCARS.

Behold... our golden god!

Behold… our golden god!

Yes, I know this is a long way to go for an analogy and moan and groan at HOLLYWOOD all you like – led by PRETEND POTUS DJT (aka The Non-Deity who lost the Popular vote by 2.86 million). But let’s be honest:

The vast majority of the TV watchers here and worldwide WILL tune in to the television coronation of Oscar. And even if they don’t and/or claim not to – see what happens when the BIGGEST MOVIE STAR IN THE WORLD walks into a room, a bar, a party, a restaurant or a hardware store in your neighborhood in your presence.   You will see the closest thing approaching GENUFLECTION you will EVER, EVER WITNESS IN YOUR LIFETIME ON AMERICAN SOIL.

Bow down to our undisputed QUEEN

Bow down to our undisputed QUEEN

(Note: If this hasn’t happened to you yet or you think it never will take my word for it. I have witnessed it in more than several cities big and small across the country over several decades in my lifetime and it is ALWAYS the same unmistakably American version of a mass CURTSY and BOW).

(Note 2: And please don’t write in and say what about The Pope? America is a secular country (so far) and He (It?) doesn’t count).

This is not a defense of the Oscars because that would be a defense of an indefensible DEITY. It is just an effort on the part of a lover of this year’s favorite for best picture, La La Land, to get the movie fans and pop culture lovers and prognosticators worldwide to calm the f-k down and, as the young people say (right?), get out of my grill.

I say believe the hype

I say believe the hype

Those of us who adore this movie for its reinforcement of hope and belief in the creative dream and Hollywood-ized version of love and romance, are not the intellectual equivalent of “Make America Great Again” as one essayist whose name I won’t mention recently pondered. Nor do we have crappy taste in films or suffer from too much white privilege (though which White person among us White people doesn’t?). In fact, we simply were transported by something we’ve never quite seen before on the Big Screen and want to sing its praises and share it with you.

Which brings me to another chief complaint about the movie – Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are not… Hugh Jackman and Barbra Streisand? Beyonce and Jay-Z?   Adele and Sam Smith? (You sooo don’t want that even though you think you do). Jennifer Hudson and Pharrell?

... or original casting choices Emma Watson and Miles Teller. #HermoinegetsWhiplash

… or original casting choices Emma Watson and Miles Teller #HermoinegetsWhiplash

Listen up. It’s not always about the notes you can hit and how well you can sing – especially in a movie musical where performance is everything. It’s about telling the story, the emotion, the passion, the joy and the sadness.   And consider that after five decades of concert tours, Bob Dylan still can’t sing a lick. No, honestly. Can he really “sing” – as you crave? Yet he’s captivating. As are many singer-songwriter-actors. Rappers don’t sing the way Sinatra did. Which is fine. Aretha Franklin is still the Queen of Soul and the late Karen Carpenter will always have perfect pitch. That’s a whole other subject and has nothing to do with carrying the story of a movie with your performance in a slightly imperfect yet surreal world.

Which brings us to what looks to be the three-way race for best picture between La La Land, Moonlight and Hidden Figures.

Ready to place your bets?

Ready to place your bets?

They’re all wonderful films in their own way and yeah, perhaps you don’t agree that La La Land has the inside shot at being this year’s DEITY. But that doesn’t lessen the impact of the story and its filmic luster for many or change the fact that in the system you are choosing to participate in there can only be one QUEEN. (Note: Ahem).

So instead take a broader cosmic view of the whole process. Think of them each as planets. La La Land is Earth, Hidden Figures is Saturn and Moonlight is Pluto.

Although gravity works a little bit differently in La La Land

Although gravity works a little bit differently in La La Land

Pluto is the furthest away from mass reality and therefore probably won’t win. Hidden Figures is certainly the most enjoyable to look at and understand from an en masse point of view.   But La La Land is not only surreal and visually interesting – it has managed to capture something else in the minds of many – a kind of magic that feels like home to the majority. It doesn’t mean we’re right and you’re wrong. That we worship The Deity and you are heathens.

NOR, does it mean the reverse.

We’re talking movies and planets – each floating in their own solar systems. I mean, can you compare Uranus with Venus? Or would you be too embarrassed to even try? Well, if you wouldn’t be, you should be.

Crown or not, in the end we’re all the King and Queen of our Own Existence and the stars of our Own Movies.

The point is not to be swayed by someone else’s version of royalty. And to never genuflect

To anyone.