Stream of Culture

What keeps us apart is, in many ways, exactly what can bring us together. Well, not all of us. Let’s face it, there are always people on each side who are a lost cause and some subjects on which the most malleable of us choose to be unbendable.

For instance, there’s nothing you can say, do, write or text that will bring me around on our current Electoral College POTUS and, yes, the people who continue to support him.

Don’t even get me started

So don’t even try it. I’m not interested in understanding them, you or him. I’m only concerned with removal whether it be impeachment or otherwise –- as long as that otherwise is painful, messy and unforgiving.

But let’s leave politics out of it and go to the movies!!

See what I did there?

You… You’re Good

I watched two very different and relatively new films at home this weekend that got me thinking about this. Contrary to what we’ve all heard, there are popular films that DO make you think and some of them are available to you without leaving your home if you have access to home streaming or at least someone else’s account number to pilfer (Note: Oh, like THAT’S not happening – as we speak).

The struggle is real #butnotreally

The films? One was Mudbound and the other The Big Sick.

What makes these very different movies special is what actually makes them so similar: How they express our perpetual culture clash here in the US and worldwide – through various generations – and what interest, if any, we have in doing anything about it.

If you believe in the movies (and which of us doesn’t), there are always a few naysayers in the bunch, usually young people, who reject the purity and isolationist adherence to the true doctrinaire cultural heritage/thinking/values any said culture requires– in other words the dogma.

More than just beards and avocado toast

But I for one refuse to believe we have gotten so cynical that we reject the movies and the fact that they are actually reflective of real life today because, well, they have to be: — they’re always made by live humans who live in a particular time and those people in that time thus choose their subject matters for very particular, nee timely, reasons – for them.

Not sure exactly what was going on in the filmmaker minds of Mudbound and The Big Sick but we can guess.

They are both made by people of color exploring their backgrounds and the isolationist philosophies of their culture partly due to the repressiveness of the dominant white society. Of course, the same can be said about many white filmmakers who also feel the need to look back and understand these very same issues not only from their POVs but through the perspective of others not like them (Note: Yes, each of these above movies did also have Whites in prominent positions that helped get them made).

But guys, Judd Apatow flies coach! #endearing

In any event, if all of the above themes and reasons sound particularly timely for 2017 they should.   There are only so many superhero franchises and studio tent poles a conglomerate can afford and audiences will go see.   All you have to do is consider the box office results for Green Lantern, Fantastic Four, John Carter and The Lone Ranger in the last few years and you’ll understand.   Not even a conglomerate likes to write off $100,000,000 per asset. (Note: Yes, that’s what they call movies these days in the big glass tower/boardrooms and yes, that’s about on average, give or take some millions, what each of those films has lost).

That’s where movies like Mudbound and The Big Sick come in. Someone, and then more than one creative talent – and then some more – get committed to an idea or script that often burns a hole into their soul because they’ve either lived it, observed it or it resonates with them for some other very personal reason.

kind of like that pizza I can’t stop thinking about… but, you know, more important

In the case of Mudbound, it’s a book about a Black and a White family in the deep rural south that are involuntarily connected through racism, patriotism and all sorts of other isms. Yet putting it in the directorial hands of a Black, out lesbian director like Dee Rees (Pariah, Bessie Smith) takes it way beyond the usual Hollywoodization of this subject and gives us something uniquely 2017 even though it principal action occurs more than three quarters of a century ago.

it’ll stay with you

For The Big Sick, well – it’s a true and very personal autobiographical love story told from the perspective of standup comic Kumail Nanjadi – a unique talent who people felt comfortable enough to not only trust writing his own story (okay, co-writing) but to also play what is essentially a decade younger version of himself convincingly.

Still – there are numerous other reasons these films succeed creatively the way that they do.

And it’s not just the addition of Holly Hunter #itdoesnthurt

The Big Sick speaks to the difficulty and irony of love and how one never seems to find it in the right time and place – except when we do but are too dumb and/or scared to fully commit to it.   However, the magic of the film lies not only in the writing and performances but the fact that the onscreen (and real) Kumail is a transplanted Muslim-raised Pakistani who essentially grew up in the US with parents that still expected him to adhere to the ways of traditional culture and marry one of his own kind.

Yes, several decades ago we had the even more comedic breakout hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which, yes, too, was universal. But, um – NO, it didn’t quite have this kind of timeliness of being released into the world of Muslim bans and rash Trumpist nativism that is 2017 America. Though nothing like being lucky enough to catch time in a bottle….right???

That… and millions of dollars at the box office #winwin

In writing and starring in his own love story the real Kumail gives us what feels like an open and unvarnished (though certainly partially comic – hence the studio appeal) look into the truth of HIS family life and in the process de-myths some of the ridiculous stereotypes a large segment of the US clearly feels about his culture and families like his that they have, for THEIR own reasons, never taken the time to know.

On the other hand, as the film deftly communicates, maybe Kumail’s family also has not taken enough time to truly give the adopted country THEY chose to live in enough of a chance. This is why in the end The Big Sick is not a polemic for either side, which is why it is, indeed, a film uniquely today. When small windows of opportunity are jimmied open for non white, non-binary thinking creators it’s amazing how much color, critical acclaim and yes, even box office returns on one’s money, manage to sneak in.

Not to mention newfound mainstream fame #MrSaturdayNight

Mudbound, on the other hand, is an ugly look at an ugly past that we Americans never seen able to get past – southern racism – nee slavery. It’s sad and maddening yet somehow feels compelling and current.

This is partly due to the current US Senate race in Alabama with a Republican nominee (Roy Moore), an acknowledged white separatist and accused child molester, being this week wholeheartedly endorsed by our current sitting US president. It is also not coincidental it is being released at a time where Mr. Moore is running to claim a Senate seat vacated by our current US Attorney General (Jeff Sessions), a man once wholly rejected for a federal judgeship by an actual US Senate judiciary committee because he was deemed a racist.

Thank god for Kate McKinnon

Though Mudbound takes place in nearby rural Mississippi before, during and after World War II, and though it has a literary patina due to shifting narrative voiceovers by a handful of its primary characters, it is blunt in its depiction of how ethnicity and difference was (and by reflection, is) treated in large pockets of the Deep South. The foulness, the dirtiness and ever-pervading stench of what was and sometimes still is our uniquely American sin is reflected in every frame of the film.

Just giving it a fresh polish.. you know.. just in case

There is little true or enviable about this White family except that it has all the power in the world as it reigns over a Black family that is equally unenviable despite doing its best to be true to each other. Of course, the latter is impossible given the rigged system they’re living under where there isn’t a white billionaire in sight making big speeches promising to do so. This is one more among so many reasons everything about Mudbound has a scarily somber contemporary feel – the belief of so many that not only is the system they’re living under truly rigged but the fact that the one white billionaire continually making public speeches claiming he’ll help them will not be offering their family a helping hand at all. If anything, it will be quite the opposite.

Sly & The Family Stone – “Everyday People”

Giving (Extra) Thanks

Due to technical difficulties, enjoy this second serving of this week’s Notes post! 

There is a perfect little gem of a movie at your local theatre right now called Ladybird that perfectly evokes the real spirit of Thanksgiving. Or, at least, what it should be.

No, this is not because it has turkey dinners, enviable family gatherings or even any one real specific major revelation about what or whom we should all be majorly thankful for in life.

I mean, is there one such precious individual or experience that you can pinpoint from your past or present? Certainly I can’t think of one.

So instead what the immensely insightful writer-director Greta Gerwig (who will now finally be shed of the loaded and limiting moniker of “go-to indie actress”) has given us is a whole series of people and memories and hurts and pleasures from a fictionalized vision of her own last year of high school that trusts US to look inward and draw our own conclusions.

so angsty #inthebestway

Who was a jerk and who was wrong? Were you actually born into this family or unwillingly dropped into one of nature’s most regrettable mistakes? Are you right about more things than you’ve given yourself credit for or is that just your guilt or subconscious trying to sell you that there might have been two or more moments when THEY could have known better?

Of course we all have our THEYs but they differ depending on the age we are and what we’re experiencing.

This was the point of Ladybird for me and why it feels exactly right for Thanksgiving 2017.   We should be grateful for all of it – every last moment – for THEY have brought us to where WE are today.

If that’s not what we want we can choose to do better.

If that’s what we like we can look back in joy and appreciation – or in fear that it will inevitably one day all disintegrate and turn into dust and sand. Or we will.

a little light (and dark) humor

This is hardly revelatory stuff. Except in moments that you need to be reminded of it. Then it is.

It is also why the coming of age movie will always be a timeless and enduring genre that each generation or subset of a generation – yes that means anyone reading this – defines for itself.

No – this does not mean be grateful for the AWFUL (fill in this blank with the myriad sickening moments you’ve barely lived through or witnessed of your choice.

ah relief!

Please. This is not in any way meant to be inspirational and we have a whole host of upcoming holidays from which to draw those lessons from. But sometimes art – and yeah, many films these days still qualify as such – can remind all of us that what we get in any given year is usually a mixed bag that we figure out how to uniquely proceed through or get stuck in. It is this, all of this, that specifically makes us, individually – US.

And in the moments they are happening, we are usually the worst judges of US.

It seems not insightful but merely truthful to write this at the end of what has been a very difficult year for many of US – especially in the U.S. (Note: And its territories).

One supposes there are some – okay, at most a very small plurality – who get up each day singing the 2017 equivalent of Zippity-Doo-Da. But if you live in LA as I do, or in the NY or San Francisco areas, where many of my friends and relatives are located, it’s a tough lift to imagine.

Can we just stop with the term “Real Americans”? #dreamsfor2018

And yet –

I would like to see the negative events of 2017 – starting with Trumpism, moving through various climate and/or gun-related disasters, then segueing on to the public exposure of the nauseating ordinariness of sexual abuse in our culture, and finally ending with each of our own specific misfortunes in the last ten months – as part of a continuum.

They are part of what we are and have become – for sure.

But they DO NOT tell our ENTIRE story.

It’s too simplistic to define four years by 10 months or a single, seemingly cacophonic event. Just as it is way too reductive to define a young woman’s trajectory in life by the jerky boy she got rejected by in high school or the harsh, withholding mother who never understood her.

Even if your mother is played by the divine Laurie Metcalf

Ladybird respects her heroine enough not to underestimate her and it feels, at this time of the year, that we might all resist the temptation to pull the rug out from under ourselves or our worlds before our final scenes are played.

Some months ago I was seated at the bar of a hip restaurant in West Hollywood a dear friend had taken me to in order to cheer me up after some disconcerting news. (Note: Yes, the BAR – it was the only seating immediately available and it featured not only the same food but a real 180 degree CARRERA MARBLE countertop).

we’re very fancy

In any event, seated right next to me eating THE MOST FABULOUS food, was this very lovely, friendly and much more hip looking lesbian couple from London enjoying a pizza we knew we immediately had to order and, well many laughs we (well, I) clearly knew we had to be a part of.

After striking up a conversation, within minutes I’d somehow forgotten why we were there, tuned out the noise from any number of obnoxious Hollywood types within earshot and became thoroughly entranced with the very hip, funny London lesbianers’ tours of Venice Beach, the Hollywood sign, and tale of one particular dish at some other restaurant I’d been to many times that the most infectiously happy and hipper of the pair made me promise to go back and try because it would literally change my life.

me… 90% of the time

I felt better until it was almost time to leave when I suddenly and uncontrollably blurted out:

I just want you to know that Trump – so many of us didn’t support him. Please don’t think of us like that.

At which point, she put her hand on mine, looked me in the eye and replied:

Oh love, we know. We all know. Please, don’t take that on yourself.


She smiled, I nodded, she paid the check and she turned away. Then she got up and I noticed she was wearing a HUGE yet very stylishly hip diamond ring that sparkled her way towards the light by the door.

Wow, I thought, that’s quite a rock, no wonder she’s so happy.

Of course, as we know, nothing is ever that simple. Much as we’d like it to be.

Doris Day – “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”